CPU Power Consumption

The power consumption measurements are probably the most eagerly awaited and sought-after part of this piece, as they’re crucial for determining just how much of an effect the 14nm manufacturing process has on power efficiency. To get the numbers, we hook up the Galaxy S6 to an external power supply and energy meter.

Results labeled “load power” represent the difference between idle power consumption and the total power of a given scenario. This means for a given test, we measure the power consumption of the device while it is not doing any activity other than displaying the appropriate screen content. This method allows us to compensate for screen and miscellaneous device component power consumption. By controlling power management and performance of the device we can thus recreate very accurate active power figures for the SoC. One has to keep in mind though that this methodology doesn’t allow us to granularly separate always-used blocks of an SoC such as interconnects or DRAM – so there’s always a slight overhead on top of the IP block we’re interested in measuring power on.

We start by looking at the A53’s cluster and core power consumption. We use a power-virus that creates an artificial load on the CPU cores. This method gives us a good representation of the maximum power consumption at a given frequency, thus detailing the power curve of the silicon at various frequencies and voltage levels. Real-world use-cases will seldom be able to fully load the CPU to such extent, as even high loads will only reach 80-90% of the CPU’s capacity at a given frequency, and thus only consume about the same percentage in power.

Measured power consumption very largely follows the P = C * f *V² formula for dynamic power consumption, where power is a function of frequency times voltage squared multiplied by a constant value representing capacitance of the IP block. Semiconductor vendors also follow this formula in their thermal management drivers as they model the estimated power consumption.

We see that the little cores on the Exynos 7420 use up to 1W when loading up 4 threads on the cluster. This is a slightly higher value than what we saw on the Exynos 5433, but could be explained by the fact that the CPU is running at a 200MHz higher frequency state. Top voltage on the Note 4 unit I measured piece reached 1150mv while the Galaxy S6 tops out at 1037mV. A quick calculation of the fV² factor of the dynamic power formula points out to a value of 1613 for the 7420 and 1719 for the 5433, meaning that if we would just consider voltage and frequency the 7420 should definitely consume less power even at the higher clock rate. The logical explanation is that we’re seeing increased capacitance due the new chipset's implementation and layout. Capacitance can be deducted by verifying that the remaining missing term after fV² results in a steady constant value among all measurement points – and indeed it looks like the A53 cores on the Exynos 7420 have 30% higher capacitance than what we saw on the 5433.

An odd behavior that I’ve already measured on the Exynos 5430 is that the power increase diminishes with every added thread. ARM at the time had explained to me that this was caused by the A7 cores fighting for cluster resources and that each added thread would result in diminishing returns as each core would do less work (and thus consume less power). Supposedly the A53’s new architecture in the 5433 was able to handle the load much better and avoid this bottleneck and that is why we were able to see even increases in power with each added thread. Yet the 7420 exhibits the same issue as seen on the 5430, pointing out this may not have been an architectural characteristic of the cores after all. I’m not too sure what to make of this behavior and probably only Samsung knows the exact behind-the-scene changes that lead to it.

The core average maximum power consumption is the average between the power differences of core 1-2, 2-3 and 3-4. This metric is lower than the 1-core results of the power curve graph because it tries to account for the power overhead of the non-CPU consumption such as cluster, interconnect and memory which come out of their low-power states when the CPU is doing work. Even though the maximum power for the Exynos 7420’s A53 cores is higher than the 5433’s, it manages to beat the 5433 by 30-40% on a per-frequency efficiency basis. The massive voltage drop that the new 14nm FinFET brings to the table is enough to outweigh the increased capacitance of the cores.

A non-trivial part of the power figures that I’m not able to properly measure is the static leakage of the SoC. I tried to reach out to Samsung to comment on the improvement, but wasn’t able to get a concrete answer in regards to their SoC products.

Device Minimum Screen-on Power
(~2 cd/cm² Brightness)
Device Power Consumption (mW)
Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801) 258mW
Galaxy S5 LTE-A (Snapdragon 805) 354mW
Galaxy S6 (Exynos 7420) 358mW
Galaxy Note 4 (Exynos 5433) 452mW
Meizu MX4Pro (Exynos 5430) 530mW
Huawei P8 (Kirin 930) ~500mW

The Note 4 Exynos turned on black screen and idling consumed a minimum of 440mW while the S5 LTE-A (S805) uses 354mW. Other devices such as the Meizu MX4Pro or the Huawei P8 bottom out at respectively 530 and 500mW. The S6 on the other hand reaches down to only 330mW, a significant 25%+ reduction over other handsets, but still not enough to beat the efficiency of last year's Galaxy S5 which came in at only 258mW. This is an important metric as this is a power value that represents a non-avoidable constant drain whenever you actively use the device (Deep sleep states when the screen is off will power-gate most of the SoC and turn off other device components).

Besides the SoC, the display controller IC is one of the main power drains while it drives the pixel matrix of either LCD or AMOLED devices. ARM had previously shared with us that measuring the dedicated voltage rail of the display assembly on a Galaxy S5 lead to power values of around 90mW when displaying pure black. This value must have subsequently gone up as devices moved to 1440p resolution screens.

Moving on to the A57 cores we should be seeing some big improvements in power consumption. I’ve mentioned in the Note 4 Exynos review that I thought Samsung shipped the 5433 with too high clocks as the increased power consumption may not have been worth the small performance boost of the last 200-300 MHz. We first have a look at the variable thread-count power curves:

Maximum power consumption of the A57 cores comes in at 5.49W – a much more reasonable figure than the 7.39W seen in the 5433. When we look at the per-frequency power numbers this difference becomes even more significant as 1.9GHz on the 7420 uses only 4.12W compared to the 7.39W of the 5433. Similarly to the A53 cores, Samsung was able to take full advantage of the new process node as the maximum CPU voltage drops from 1.235V at 1.9GHz down to 1.037V at 2.1GHz (0.962V at equivalent 1.9GHz). The bottom frequencies see even larger reductions as we go from 900mV down to 675mV on the 700/800MHz states.

The core average maximum power consumption gives a simplified view the power curve. Here we see the drastic reduction in power the Exynos 7420 is able to provide as we see an overall decrease of 35-45% throughout the frequency curve. At 1900MHz the 7420 falls just a bit short of half the power of the 5433, which is impressive. Capacitance on the A57 also went up a bit; I was able to derive an average of 10% higher capacitance on the new chip, which isn’t quite as high an increase as on the A53 cores, but still a curious change in the physical characteristic of the new implementation.

PCMark is a great benchmark that shows of different kind of use-cases that one would daily encounter when using a smartphone. Thus it offers a great repeatable test-bench which can measure overall device efficiency. We measure the whole device's power as we cannot factor out the screen's power for on-screen dynamic tests, so this is also an apples-to-apples comparison to other devices we have figures on such as the Note 4 and MX4Pro.

Overall device power during the tests is very good. It's especially the web test which offers largest improvement over other devices as total power comes in at only 1.42W, over 1W less than the MX4Pro and Note 4. Overall the Galaxy S6 is currently the most least power consuming device I've yet come to measure, which should be very encouraging for the power metric of the device and SoC.

When taking into account the scores the device was able to achieve, we see an even greater improvement over past devices. The performance per Watt figures which depict efficiency are across the board 1.5-2x better than what we see in other devices. Of course the Galaxy S6's shows improved OLED efficiency as part of the whole package, but to be able to post such significant imrovements is nonetheless impressive. It's now understandable why Samsung deemed that a 2550mAh battery was enough for the Galaxy S6 as the device is able to use the available energy much more efficiently.

One of the first things I did when receiving my S6 review unit was to compile a custom kernel with access to the SoC’s voltage tables and try to see how far the chip allowed me to reduce voltages. Undervolting, much like overclocking in the PC space, is a popular modification for enthusiast users that like to tinker with their devices to try to squeeze out as much potential as possible. For mobile device we’re trying to aim for more power efficiency instead of more performance as today’s devices in a way already come overclocked at much higher maximum frequencies than what they’re able to sustain in terms of thermal loads.

Exynos 7420 Undervolting Results
4-Core Load Power (mW)
  A53 Cluster A57 Cluster
-50mV -75mV Stock
-50mV -75mV
2100 - 5481 4911 4661
2000 - 4781 4331 3991
1900 - 4111 3671 3441
1800 - 3641 3111 2944
1700 - 3089 2677 2500
1600 - 2621 2312 2186
1500 1026 916 894 2254 1928 1882
1400 859 768 743 1964 1791 1664
1300 699 634 625 1793 1577 1444
1200 606 536 509 1590 1351 1259
1100 491 459 424 1330 1151 1069
1000 391 354 337 1153 1009 921
900 340 298 277 969 829 761
800 270 230 221 843 695 690
700 225 192 180 -
600 172 139 128 -
500 132 108 98 -
400 104 79 71 -

To keep things simple, I measured power on the A53 and A57 cores when applying a global -50 and -75mV undervolt over the stock voltages of the individual power planes. As can be seen in the table, one can gain significant power efficiency as one reduces voltage. The theoretical reduction in power is easily calculated if one has the stock voltages and original power consumption at hand. It is possible estimate the power after undervolting by using the following formula:

PUndervolt = POriginal / (VOriginal² / VUndervolt²)

For example on the 2100MHz state of the A57, this would come to: 5481mW / (1.037V² / 0.987V²) = 4965mW. The measured power indeed comes near that value at 4911mW. The difference should be explained due to factors we’re not taking into account in the simplified formula for power consumption as we’re disregarding static power leakage scaling, and most importantly in this case, temperature scaling.

This can be verified in the lower frequency states which dissipate a lot less power, such as the 1GHz A57 state: 1153mW / (0.712V² / 0.662V²) = 996mW, closer to the measured 1009mW.

I was able to go down to a global -87.5mV global undervolt before the device would crash and fail. It is generally difficult to find the minimal stable voltages for undervolting as it takes weeks to be able to fully test stability for a given voltage at each frequency. Again, it’s SoC temperature which is the big unknown variable here, as a transistor’s voltage threshold rises the colder the silicon gets. An undervolt can be unstable and crash the device if one leaves it to cool down below a certain level, while at the same voltage it can be perfectly usable in active usage or when it’s not allowed to cool down too much such as in one’s jeans pocket. For actual usage it’s always preferred to raise the voltages back up a step or two when one has identified an instability. Samsung’s closed-loop voltage control is an interesting new mechanism for undervolting as it allows further reducing of the safety margin without sacrificing stability. Since reassembling the S6 I’ve been using it as a daily device on a static -50mV across most frequencies and increased the voltage threshold the APM was allowed to undervolt up to -37.5mV, providing the best of both worlds.

CPU, Memory Performance & Device Disassembly CPU Power Management


View All Comments

  • jjj - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    The power doesn't look that great, for the A57 seems to allow 300-350Mhz higher clocks, granted it's not a clean shrink. It looks good here because on 20nm they pushed the clocks way high. Reply
  • name99 - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    Insofar as rumors can be believed, the bulk of A9's are scheduled to be produced by Samsung, presumably on this process. It seems strange to have Apple design/layout everything twice for the same CPU, so if these same rumors (30% going to TSMC) are correct, presumably that means the A9X will be on TSMC.

    As for characterizing Apple CPUs, while there are limits to what one can learn (eg in the voltage/power tradeoffs), there is a LOT which can be done but which, to my disappointment, has still not been done. In particular if someone wanted, I think there's scope for learning an awful lot from carefully crafted micro benchmarks. Agner Fog has give a large number of examples of how to do this in the x86 space, while Henry Wong at stuffedcow.net has done the same for a few less obvious parts of the x86 architecture and for GPUs.

    It strikes me as bizarre how little we know about Apple CPUs even after two years.
    The basic numbers (logical registers, window, ROB size) seem to about match Intel these days, and the architecture seems to be 6-wide with two functional clusters. There appears to be a loop buffer (but how large?) But that's about it.
    How well does the branch prediction work and where does it fail?
    What prefetchers are provided? (at I1, D1, L2. L3)
    Do the caches do anything smart (like dead block prediction) for either performance or power?
    Does the memory manager do anything smart (like virtual write queue in the L3)?
    etc etc etc

    Obviously Apple doesn't tell us these. (Nowadays the ONLY company that does is IBM, and only in pay-walled articles in their JRD.) But people write the micro benchmarks to figure this out for Intel and AMD, and I wish the same sort of enthusiasm and community existed in the ARM world.
  • SunnyNW - Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - link

    Believe word on the street is the A9 will be Sammy 14nm and the A9X TSM 16nm+ Reply
  • SunnyNW - Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - link

    Please ignore this comment, should have read the rest of the comments before posting since Name99 already alluded to this below. Sorry Reply
  • CiccioB - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    Is the heterogeneous processing that allows all 8 cores working together active?
    Seen the numbers of the various bench it seems this feature is not used.
    What I would like to know exactly is that is the bench number of this SoC can be directly compared to SoC with only 4 cores like the incoming Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 based on custom architecture which has "only" 4 cores and not a big.LITTLE configuration.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    HMP is active. Why do you think it seems to be not used? Reply
  • CiccioB - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    Because with 8 cores active (or what they should be with HMP) results is not even near 4x the score of a single core.
    So I wonder if those 8 core are really active. And whether they are of any real use if, to keep consumption adequate, frequencies of higher cores get limited.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    All the cores are always active and they do not get limited other than in thermal stress situations. I didn't publish any benchmarks comparing single vs multi-core performance so your assumption must be based on something else. Having X-times the cores doesn't mean you'll have X-times the performance, it completely depends on the application.

    It's still a perfectly valid comparison to look at traditional quad-cores vs bL octa-cores. In the end you're looking at total power and total performance and for use-cases such as PCMark the number of cores used shouldn't be of interest to the user.
  • Refuge - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    I would hazard a guess that thermal throttling has something to do with part of it. Reply
  • ruturaj1989@gmail.com - Monday, June 29, 2015 - link

    It does have 4 cores but I guess they are in big.LITTLE configuration too. We will see shortly. HMP is active but I am not sure if every bench app uses all the cores. Reply

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