Monthly Archives: November 2019

Power Supply Efficiency: Let’s Save Some Money

A while ago, I wrote a pair of articles on why it’s important to consider the energy efficiency of your computer’s power supply. Those articles showed how maximizing the efficiency of your Power Supply Unit (PSU) can actually save you money, since less electricity is wasted as heat with efficient power supplies.

Efficient Power Supplies: Part 1

Energy Efficient Power Supplies: Part 2

In this article, I’m putting this into practice, because the PSU in my Ubuntu folding box (Codenamed “Voyager”) is on the fritz.

This PSU is a basic Seasonic S12 III, which is a surprisingly bad power supply for such a good company as Seasonic. For one, it uses a group regulated design, which is inherently less efficient than the more modern DC-DC units. Also, the S12 is prone to coil whine (mine makes tons of noise even when the power supply is off). Finally, in my case, the computer puts a bunch of feedback onto the electrical circuits in my house, causing my LED lights to flicker when I’m running Folding@Home. That’s no good at all! Shame on you, Seasonic, shame!

Don’t believe me on how bad this PSU is? Read reviews here:

https://www.newegg.com/seasonic-s12iii-bronze-series-ssr-500gb3-500w/p/N82E16817151226

Now, I love Seasonic in general. They are one of the leading PSU manufactures, and I use their high-end units in all of my machines. So, to replace the S12iii, I picked up one of their midrange PSU’s in the Focus line…specifically, the Focus Gold 450. I got a sweet deal on eBay (got a used one for about $40, MSRP new on the SSR-450FM is $80).

SSR-450M Ebay Purchase Price

Here they are side by side. One immediate advantage of the new Focus PSU is that it is semi-modular, which will help me with some cable clutter.

Seasonic PSU Comparison: Focus Gold 450W (left) vs S12iii 500W (right)

Seasonic PSU Comparison: Focus Gold 450W (left) vs S12iii 500W (right)

Inspecting the specification labels also shows a few differences…namely the Focus is a bit less powerful (three less amps on the +12v rail), which isn’t a big deal for Voyager, since it is only running a single GeForce 1070 Ti card (180 Watt TDP) and an AMD A10-7700K (95 Watt TDP). Another point worth noting is the efficiency…whereas the S12iii is certified to the 80+ Bronze standard, the new Focus unit is certified as 80+ Gold.

 

 

 

 

Now this is where things get interesting. Voyager has a theoretical power draw of about 300 Watts max (180 Watts for the video card, 95 for the CPU, and about 25 Watts for the motherboard, ram, and drives combined). This is right around the 60% capacity rating of these power supplies. Here is the efficiency scorecard for the various 80+ certifications:

80+ Table

80+ Efficiency Table

As you can see, there is about a 5% improvement in efficiency going from 80+ bronze to 80+ gold. For a 300 watt machine, that would equate to 15 watts of difference between the Focus and the S12iii PSU’s. By upgrading to the Focus, I should more effectively turn the 120V AC power from my wall into 12V DC to run my computer, resulting in less total power draw from the wall (and less waste heat into my room).

I tested it out, using Stanford’s Folding@Home distributed computing project of course! Might as well cure some cancer, you know!

The Test

To do this test, I first let Voyager pull down a set of work units from Stanford’s server (GPU + CPU folding slots enabled). When the computer was in the middle of number crunching, I took a look at the instantaneous power consumption as measured by my watt meter:

Voyager_Old_PSU_Peak

80+ Bronze PSU: 259.1 Watts @ Full Load

260 Watts is about the max I ever see Voyager draw in practice, since Folding@Home never fully loads the hardware (typically it can hit the GFX card for about 90% capacity). So, this result made perfect sense. Next, I shut the machine down with the work units half-finished and swapped out the 80+ Bronze S12iii for the 80+ Gold Focus unit. I turned the machine back on and let it get right back to doing science.

Here is the updated power consumption number with the more efficient power supply.

Voyager_New_PSU_Peak

80+ Gold PSU Power Consumption @ 100% Load

As you can see, the 80+ Gold Rated power supply shaved 11.8 watts off the top. This is about 4.5% of the old PSU unit’s previous draw, and it is about 4.8% of the new PSU unit’s power draw. So, it is very close to the advertised 5% efficiency improvement one would expect per the 80+ specifications. Conclusion: I’m saving electricity and the planet! Yay! 

As a side note, all the weird coil whine and light flickering issues I was having with the S12iii went away when I switched to Seasonic’s better Focus PSU.

But, Was It Worth It?

Now, as an environmentalist, I would say that this type of power savings is of course worth it, because it’s that much less energy wasted and that much less pollution. But, we are really talking about just a few watts (albeit on a machine that is trying to cure cancer 24/7 for years on end).

To get a better understanding of the financial implications of my $40 upgrade, I did a quick calc in Excel, using Connecticut’s average price of electricity as provided by Eversource ($0.18 per KWH).

Voyager PSU Efficiency Upgrade Calc

Voyager PSU Efficiency Upgrade Calc

Performing this calculation is fairly straightforward. Basically, it’s just taking the difference in wattage between the two power supply units and turning that into energy by multiplying it by one year’s worth of run time (Energy = Power * Time). Then, I multiply that out by the cost of energy to get a yearly cost savings of about $20 bucks. That’s not bad! Basically, I could pay for my PSU upgrade in two years if I run the machine constantly.

Things get better if I sell the old PSU. Getting $20 for a Seasonic anything should be easly (ignoring the moral dilemma of sticking someone with a shitty power supply that whines and makes their lights flicker). Then, I’d recoup my investment in a year, all while saving the planet!

So, from my perspective as someone who runs the computer 24/7, this power supply efficiency upgrade makes a lot of sense. It might not make as much sense for people whose computers are off for most of the day, or for computers that just sit around idle, because then it would take a lot longer to recover the costs.

P.S. Now when I pop the side panel off Voyager, I am reminded to focus…

Voyager New PSU

AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB Folding@Home Review

Hello again.

Today, I’ll be reviewing the AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card in terms of its computational performance and power efficiency for Stanford University’s Folding@Home project. For those that don’t know, Folding@Home lets users donate their computer’s computations to support disease research. This consumes electrical power, and the point of my blog is to look at how much scientific work (Points Per Day or PPD) can be computed for the least amount of electrical power consumption. Why? Because in trying to save ourselves from things like cancer, we shouldn’t needlessly pollute the Earth. Also, electricity is expensive!

The Card

AMD released the RX 580 in April 2017 with an MSRP of $229. This is an updated card based on the Polaris architecture. I previously reviewed the RX 480 (also Polaris) here, for those interested. I picked up my MSI-flavored RX 580 in 2019 on eBay for about $120, which is a pretty nice depreciated value. Those who have been following along know that I prefer to buy used video cards that are 2-3 years old, because of the significant initial cost savings, and the fact that I can often sell them for the same as I paid after running Folding for a while.

RX_580

MSI Radeon RX 580

I ran into an interesting problem installing this card, in that at 11 inches long, it was about a half inch too long for my old Raidmax Sagitta gaming case. The solution was to take the fan shroud off, since it was the part that was sticking out ever so slightly. This involved an annoying amount of disassembly, since the fans actually needed to be removed from the heat sink for the plastic shroud to come off. Reattaching the fans was a pain (you need a teeny screw driver that can fit between the fan blade gaps to get the screws by the hub).

RX_580_noShroud

RX 580 with Fan Shroud Removed. Look at those heat pipes! This card has a 185 Watt TDP (Board Power Rating). 

RX_580_Installed

RX 580 Installed (note the masking tape used to keep the little side LED light plate off of the fan)

RX_580_tightFit

Now That’s a Tight Fit (the PCI Express Power Plug on the video card is right up against the case’s hard drive bays)

The Test Setup

Testing was done on my rather aged, yet still able, AMD FX-based system using Stanford’s Folding@Home V7 client. Since this is an AMD graphics card, I made sure to switch the video card mode to “compute” within the driver panel. This optimizes things for Folding@home’s workload (as opposed to games).

Test Setup Specs

  • Case: Raidmax Sagitta
  • CPU: AMD FX-8320e
  • Mainboard : Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3
  • GPU: MSI Radeon RX 580 8GB
  • Ram: 16 GB DDR3L (low voltage)
  • Power Supply: Seasonic X-650 80+ Gold
  • Drives: 1x SSD, 2 x 7200 RPM HDDs, Blu-Ray Burner
  • Fans: 1x CPU, 2 x 120 mm intake, 1 x 120 mm exhaust, 1 x 80 mm exhaust
  • OS: Win10 64 bit
  • Video Card Driver Version: 19.10.1

 

Performance and Power

I ran the RX 580 through its paces for about a week in order to get a good feel for a variety of work units. In general, the card produced as high as 425,000 points per day (PPD), as reported by Stanford’s servers. The average was closer to 375K PPD, so I used that number as my final value for uninterrupted folding. Note that during my testing, I occasionally used the machine for other tasks, so you can see the drops in production on those days.

RX 580 Client

Example of Client View – RX 580

RX580 History

RX 580 Performance – About 375K PPD

I measured total system power consumption at the wall using my P3 Watt Meter. The system averaged about 250 watts. That’s on the higher end of power consumption, but then again this is a big card.

Comparison Plots

RX 580 Performance

AMD Radeon RX 580 Folding@Home Performance Comparison

RX 580 Efficiency

AMD Radeon RX 580 Folding@Home Efficiency Comparison

Conclusion

For $120 used on eBay, I was pretty happy with the RX 580’s performance. When it was released, it was directly competing with Nvidia’s GTX 1060. All the gaming reviews I read showed that Team Red was indeed able to beat Team Green, with the RX 580 scoring 5-10% faster than the 1060 in most games. The same is true for Folding@Home performance.

However, that is not the end of the story. Where the Nvidia GTX 1060 has a 120 Watt TDP (Thermal Dissipated Power), AMD’s RX 580 needs 185 Watts. It is a hungry card, and that shows up in the efficiency plots, which take the raw PPD (performance) and divide out the power consumption in watts I am measuring at the wall. Here, the RX 580 falls a bit short, although it is still a healthy improvement over the previous generation RX 480.

Thus, if you care about CO2 emissions and the cost of your folding habits on your wallet, I am forced to recommend the GTX 1060 over the RX 580, especially because you can get one used on eBay for about the same price. However, if you can get a good deal on an RX 580 (say, for $80 or less), it would be a good investment until more efficient cards show up on the used market.

Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 Folding@Home Quick Review

For today’s review, I’m taking a quick look at a little 75 watt graphics card from a few years ago: the Nvidia GTX 1050 2GB. As far as the now somewhat aged Pascal architecture goes, this one is pretty near the bottom of the pile in terms of performance. But, that means you can also get it at a decent discount. I got mine earlier this year for a mere $75 shipped (the card’s MSRP was about $110 back in October 2016).

GeForce GTX 1050 Purchase

GeForce GTX 1050 Purchase Screen Shot

Geforce_1050_2gb_stats

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 2GB Stats

As you can see above, I picked up a beefy version…a big dual fan open cooler design by Gigabyte. This is massive overkill for a card with a meager 75 watt TDP (it doesn’t even have a connection for supplemental PCI Express power).

So, you might ask why I would bother reviewing a card of this type, given that all my testing to date has shown that the higher-end cards are also more efficient. Well, in this case I realized that summer in New England means I run a lot of air conditioning, and any extra wattage my computer uses is ultimately dumped into the house as heat. In the winter that’s a good thing, but in the summer it just makes air conditioners do more work removing that waste heat. By running a low-end card, I hoped to continue contributing to Folding@Home while minimizing the electric bill and environmental impact.

Testing was done in the usual manner, using my standard test rig (Windows 10 running the V7 Client) and measuring power at the wall with a watt meter. Normally this is the point where I put up a bunch of links to those previous articles, or sometimes describe in detail the methods and hardware used. But, today I’m feeling lazy so I’m skipping all that. The key is that I am as consistent as I can be (although now I am on Windows 10 due to Windows 7 approaching end of life). If you would like more info on how I run my tests, just go back a few posts to the 1080 and 1070 testing.

Results:

GTX 1050 Point History

GTX 1050 Point History

The circled region on the plot shows what happens in terms of Points Per Day when I “downgraded” from a 1080 to the 1050. The average PPD of about 150K pales in comparison to the 1080. However, when you think about the fact that this is similar performance to cards like the 300 Watt dual-GPU GTX 690 Ti from 2012 (a $1000 card even back then), things don’t seem so bad.

Here’s how the little vanilla 1050 stacks up against the other cards I have tested:

GTX 1050 Production

GTX 1050 Production

From a performance standpoint, this card isn’t going to win any races. However, as I mentioned above, it is actually pretty good compared to high-end old cards (the only one of which I have tested is the Radeon 7970, which cost $550 back in December 2011 and uses nearly three times the power as the 1050.

Efficiency is where things get interesting:

GTX 1050 Efficiency

GTX 1050 Efficiency

Here, you can see that the GTX 1050 has actually leapfrogged up the chart by one place, and is actually slightly more efficient than my copy of an AMD RX 480, which uses the 2016 Polaris architecture–something supposedly designed for efficiency according to AMD. Still, for about $10 more on eBay, you can get a used 1050 Ti, which shows a marked efficiency improvement as well as performance improvement vs the 1050. In my case, I found that both the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti drew the same amount of power at the wall (140 watts for the whole system). Thus, for my summertime folding, I would have been better off keeping the old GTX 1050 Ti since it does more work for exactly the same amount of wall power consumption.

Conclusion

Nvidia’s GTX 1050 is a small, cheap card that most people use for casual gaming. As a compute card for molecular dynamics, the best things about it is the price of acquiring one used ($75 or less as of 2019), the small size, and no need for an external PCI-Express power connector. Thus, people with low-end desktops and small form-factor PC’s could probably add one of these and without much trouble. I’m going to miss how easy this thing fits in my computer case…

GTX 1050 Easy Fit.jpg

At the end of the day, it was a slow card, making only 150K PPD. The efficiency wasn’t that good either. If you’re going to burn the electricity doing charitable science, it would be good to get more science per watt than the 1050 provides. Given the meager price difference in the used market of this card vs. it’s big Titanium edition brother, go with the Ti (exact same environmental impact but more performance), or better yet, a GTX 1060.