Power and Power Management

Power is a major concern of many tech companies going forward, and just adding features "because we can" isn't the modus operandi anymore. Now it's cool (pardon the pun) to focus on power management, performance per watt, and similar metrics. To that end, NVIDIA has beat their GT200 into such submission that it's 2D power consumption can reach as low as 25W. As we will show below, this can have a very positive impact on idle power for a very powerful bit of hardware.

These enhancements aren't breakthorugh technologies: NVIDIA is just using clock gating and dynamic voltage and clock speed adjustment to achieve these savings. There is hardware on the GPU to monitor utilization and automatically set the clock speeds to different performance modes (either off for hybrid power, 2D/idle, HD video, or 3D/performance). Mode changes can be done on the millisecond level. This is very similar to what AMD has already implemented.

With increasing transistor count and huge GPU sizes with lots of memory, power isn't something that can stay low all the time. Eventually the hardware will actually have to do something and then voltages will rise, clock speed will increase, and power will be converted into dissapated heat and frames per second. And it is hard to say what is more impressive, the power saving features at idle, or the power draw at load.

There is an in between stage for HD video playback that runs at about 32W, and it is good to see some attention payed to this issue specifically. This bodes well for mobile chips based off of the GT200 design, but in the desktop this isn't as mission critical. Yes reducing power (and thus what I have to pay my power company) is a good thing, but plugging a card like this into your computer is like driving an exotic car: if you want the experience you've got to pay for the gas.

Idle Power 

Idle power so low is definitely nice to see. Having high end cards idle near midrange solutions from previous generations is a step in the right direction.

Load Power 

But as soon as we open up the throttle, that power miser is out the door and joules start flooding in by the bucket.

Cooling NVIDIA's hottest card isn't easy and you can definitely hear the beast moving air.  At idle, the GPU is as quiet as any other high-end NVIDIA GPU.  Under load, as the GTX 280 heats up the fan spins faster and moves much more air, which quickly becomes audible. It's not GeForce FX annoying, but it's not as quiet as other high-end NVIDIA GPUs; then again, there are 1.4 billion transistors switching in there.  If you have a silent PC, the GTX 280 will definitely un-silence it and put out enough heat to make the rest of your fans work harder.  If you're used to a GeForce 8800 GTX, GTS or GT, the noise will bother you.  The problem is that returning to idle from gaming for a couple of hours results in a fan that doesn't want to spin down as low as when you first turned your machine on.  

While it's impressive that NVIDIA built this chip on a 65nm process, it desperately needs to move to 55nm.

GT200 vs. G80: A Clock for Clock Comparison The Test


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  • skiboysteve - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    FANTASTIC write up on fine-grained TMT. I was unaware about this threading technique and was always thinking of this in class or whenever someone would talk about hyperthreading. this technique was literaly in my head for well over a year and I didn't know what it was called or that it even had a name. I always thought there had to be a more elegant way than hyperthreading to do multithreading down at the chip level without doing the OS style time slicing.

    i was sitting there wondering how the hell the schedule and run these SPs and then bam whole page about it

    really appreciate the effort that goes into researching the core of these chips. i know not everyone likes it but for guys that are educated and work in the field its really interesting
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    remember though that this type of fine-grained TMT only has payoffs in systems running millions of threads concurrently.

    on an OS you'll see hundreds or even thousands of threads on heavily used systems, but there still wouldn't be enough concurrent action to justify this type of architecture for general purpose computing.

    of course, as developers push towards an effort to thread their code as much as possible, who knows what architectures might be worth exploring on the desktop ...
  • coder0000 - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    Very well written! A couple of points:

    1) Last week at WWDC Apple announced OpenCL as an alternative to CUDA. It's a C99 based HLL for creating compute kernels that can be deployed to GPU's and CPU's. Today Khronos officially announced a working group for this, and NV is a part of the committee. As such, your wish for an industry standardized compute language similar to CUDA that runs on all platforms and vendors HW may not be so far off.

    2) I believe your interpretation of how multiple threads simultaneously execute in an SM is incorrect. Per thread context switching is not free, and you would never be able to execute a different thread every cycle in the manner described. There is far too much context that needs to be swapped out, and there would be significant power implications for doing that, in addition to the latency. Instead, I believe what NV is claiming is that any given SP executes a single thread. All threads in the SM can all be a single warp, but you can also have multiple threads (one per SP) all executing simultaneously in an SM.
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    1) I haven't had a good chance to look at OpenCL, but I certainly hope that if it's everything everyone is saying it is in the comments here that it takes off in a bigger way than CUDA :-)

    2) it does not context switch per thread -- warps define a context, and you have 32 threads grouped together. these threads all share the same instruction stream, which is why if threads in a warp take different directions on a branch all 32 threds must follow both paths.

    NVIDIA has flat out stated that every schedule clock a new warp is scheduled and that it takes 4 clock cycles to process one warp on an SM. For both of these to be true, we conclude that the scheduler alternates scheduling SPs and SFUs on altenating clocks which means the SPs would be scheduled every 4 clocks relative to itself.

    On 8 SPs per SM, you some how need to execute 32 threads in 4 clock cycles. This makes sense if you execute 4 threads per SP in some way. The details at this point are fuzzy though.

    regardless, if an SP executes 4 different threads from the same warp, there is no need to context switch to execute any of these threads -- again, threads in the same warp share context.
  • skiboysteve - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    could be a large explanation of the 2x register file size. and remember that the SP doesn't have to worry about the context switch, the SM handles having the data in the right place Reply
  • anandtech02148 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    From this conclusion, Amd seems to be the shrewd player, let nvidia and intel duke it out in the high voltage, heat, meaningless speed gpu while Amd can pull something like its first dualcore or athlon64 for the win.
    this new beast from Nvidia will have how many developers making games for it right away? i'm guestimating maybe 2yrs-4yrs down the road we'll see a decent title that take full advantage of this hardware.
    by then Amd will have something of a midrange that can more than handle the games.
    2 things nvidia could work on that it already has, the ps3 market, and small graphic devices to improve profits. shrink the ps3 gpu further so Sony can shrink it's machinel and sell more.

  • PrinceGaz - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    The GT200 core may be a technical masterpeice in terms of actually making something that big which is fully functional on GTX280 cards, but it seems to me the penalty of fabbing it at 65nm negates much of the benefits of such a wide GPU.

    They've had to drop the clock speeds throughout presumably because of the ridiculous amount of heat such a large core generates, which means the ~60% performance advantage in current games over the G80 core at similar clock-speeds is somewhat reduced.

    Given that ATI are not producing their 55nm cores in AMD's fabs but instead are getting them churned out reliably elsewhere, nVidia have made a mistake this time around in having their high-end product rely on previous-generation fabrication as it makes it run too hot to allow the clock-speeds needed for it to be the product it should be. There is always a risk in transitioning to a smaller fab technology, and nVidia suffered badly in the past by doing so too early, but with a chip the size of the GT200, they really should have gone to 55nm even if it meant a delay of a month or three, whilst the smaller cut-down derivatives were rolled out first.
  • ekpyr - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Great article, but what about the microstuttering issues present in Nvidia's 9800GX2 cards (both SLI and Quad-SLI)? There is very little discussion on this, but I've seen some benchmarks where the FPS floor is 4fps with the 9800GX2s. Can you add a subjective review of whether or not the actual gameplay is smoother with the GTX280s across these games? Aggregate numbers may say one thing, but I've returned a 9800 GX2 Quad-SLI setup because it was unable to handle the incredible amount of texture loading that was done in Age of Conan (2560x1600 4xAA 'High' settings = 4fps). The 8800 GTX Tri-SLI configuration I am currently using is more resilient to microstuttering with its increased bus and memory capacities, but I'm very curious about the GTX280s and their increased memory and bus on texture-heavy games like Age of Conan. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    the only game that came close to having this issue with quad sli for us was oblivion.

    in that game at high res lag and stutter are unbearable and the game is unplayable.

    we didn't notice any stuttering issues with a single GX2.

    i'm working on some analysis tools to show details like this better in future articles.
  • TheJian - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    I find it humorous that nobody discusses the fact that the shrink has already taped out and will likely be out in two months or just after. This humongous chip was only released so that when AMD releases in the next few weeks they will be behind still in single GPU cards. This is basically what Intel does to AMD every time AMD has a better chip. For all intents and purposes this is a PAPER release of what will come in 2-2.5 months (In Intel's case they just show you what will be out 6 months from now, and a large portion of people don't buy an AMD because Intel might be ahead by xmas...LOL - works like a charm every time AMD is ahead). THE DIE SHRUNK CHIP! Most likely with faster speeds. I suspect they'll come with "ULTRA" version first (and stick it on top of the price heap, so as to not kill all FAT cards in the channel already) and then filter down as these big suckers leave the channel. That's if they even plan to sell more than a few of these to begin withat 65nm. It's only out there so AMD won't look any good in two weeks.

    MIND SHARE is everything, which is why Intel's KING of the paper launch when behind strategy. They've even went to doing it for all chips no matter what now. Nehalem scores 6 months before availability. AMD's marketers have no clue an should be fired. You have to play the same DIRTY game as your enemy or you've already lost. If AMD had half a brain in their head they'd paper launch an ultra or 2x4870 version for the same reason...LOL. Then claim "our 4870x2 makes nvidia look like crap for $600"...ROFL. Who cares when it's available, just say it. Having said that, Nvidia will wipe the floor with them in 2 months anyway on a 2xGTX280 that's die shrunk. Which is all they are doing today...BUYING TIME!

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