Category Archives: Computer Efficiency

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Folding@Home Review: Part 3: SMT (Hyperthreading)

Hi all. In my last post, I showed that the AMD Ryzen 9 3950x is quite a good processor for fighting diseases like Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and COVID-19. Folding@Home, the distributed computing project helping researchers understand various diseases, definitely makes good use of the 16 cores / 32 threads on the 3950x.

In this article, I’m taking a look at how virtualized CPU cores (Simultaneous Multithreading in AMD speak or Hyperthreading for you Intel fans) helps computational performance and efficiency when running Folding@Home on a high-end CPU such as the Ryzen 9 3950x.

Instead of regurgitating all of the previous information, here are some links to bring you up to speed if you haven’t read the previous posts.

Socket AM4 Benchmark Machine

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Review: Part 1 (Overview)

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: Part 2 (Average Results vs. # of Threads)

Test Setup

For this test, I used the same settings as in Part 2, except that I disabled SMT in the BIOS on my motherboard. Thus, Windows 10 will only see the 16 physical CPU cores, and will not be able to run two logical threads per CPU core. As before, I ran all testing using Folding@Home’s V7 client. I set the CPU slot configuration for a thread value of 1-16. At each setting, I ran five work units and averaged the results. Note that AMD’s core performance boost was turned off for all tests, so at all times the processor ran at 3.5 GHz.

Performance

As expected, as you throw more CPU cores at a problem, the computer can chew through the math faster. Thus, more science gets done in a given amount of time. In the case of Folding@Home, this performance is rated in terms of Points Per Day (PPD). The following plot shows the increase in computational performance as a function of # of threads utilized by the solver. Unlike in my previous testing on the 3950x, here an increase of 1 thread corresponds to an increase of 1 engaged CPU core, since virtual threads (SMT / Hyperthreading) are disabled.

The plot below includes the individual samples at each data point as light gray dots, as well as a + / – 2 sigma (95%) confidence interval. This means that 95% of the results for a given thread setting are statistically predicted to fall within the dashed lines.

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Performance SMT Off

As a side note, certain settings of thread count actually result in the exact same performance, because the Folding@Home client is internally using a different number than the specified value. For example, setting the CPU slot to 5 threads will still result in a 4-thread solve, because the solver is avoiding the numerical issues that occur when trying to stitch the solution together with 5 threads (5 is a tricky prime number to work with numerically). I noted these regions on the plot. If you would like more detail about this, please read the previous part of this review (part 2).

One interesting observation is that the maximum performance occurs with 15 CPU cores enabled, not the complete 16! This is somewhat similar to what was observed in Part 2 of this review (SMT enabled), where 30 threads provided slightly more points than 32 threads. More on that in a moment…

Power Consumption

Using my P3 Kill A Watt Power Meter, I measured the power consumption of the entire computer at the wall. As expected, as you increase the number of CPUs engaged, the instantaneous power consumption goes up. The power numbers reported here are averaged by “the eyeball method”, since the actual instantaneous power goes up and down by a few watts as the computer does its thing. I’d estimate that these numbers are accurate within 5 watts.

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Power Consumption SMT Off

Efficiency

The ultimate goal of this blog is to find the most efficient settings for computer hardware, so that we can do the most scientific research for a given amount of power consumption. Thus, this next plot is just performance (in PPD) divided by power consumption (in watts). I left off all the work unit variation and confidence interval lines, since it looks about the same as the performance plot, and it’s cleaner with just the one average line.

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Efficiency SMT Off

As with performance, setting Folding@Home to use 15 CPUs instead of the full 16 is surprisingly the best option for efficiency. The difference is pretty profound here, as the processor used more power at 16 threads than at 15 threads while producing less points at 16 threads than at 15.

Comparison to Hyperthreaded Results

To get a better idea of what’s going on, here are the same three plots again with the average results overlaid on the previous results from when SMT was enabled. Of course the SMT results go up to 32 threads, since with virtual cores enabled, the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950x can support 32 total threads.

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Performance SMT Off vs On

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Performance: SMT Study

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Power SMT Off vs On

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Power Consumption: SMT Study

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Efficiency SMT Off vs On

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Efficiency: SMT Study

Conclusion

Disabling SMT (aka Hyperthreading) essentially limits the Ryzen 9 3950x to a maximum thread count of 16 (one thread per physical core). The results from 1-16 threads are very similar to those results obtained with SMT enabled. Due to work unit variation, the performance and efficiency plots show what I would say is effectively the same result with SMT on vs. off, up to 16 threads. One thing to note was that the power consumption in the 12-16 thread range did trend higher for the SMT off case, although the offset was small (about 5-10 watts). This is likely due to Windows scheduling work to a new physical core to handle the higher thread count when SMT is disabled, as opposed to virtualizing the work onto an already-running core using SMT. Ultimately, this slightly higher power consumption didn’t have a noticeable effect on the efficiency plot.

The big takeaway is that for thread counts above 16 (the physical core count), the Ryzen 9 3950x can utilize thread virtualization very well. The logical processors that Windows sees don’t work quite as well as true physical cores (hence the decrease in slope on the performance and efficiency plots above 16 CPUs). However, when the thread count is doubled, SMT still does allow the processor to eek out an extra 100K PPD (about 33% more) and run more efficiently than when it is limited to scheduling work to physical CPUs.

Pro Tip #1: Turn on Hyperthreading / SMT and run with high core counts to get the most out of Folding@Home!

The final observation worth noting is that in both cases, setting the F@H client to use the maximum available number of threads (16 for SMT off, 32 for SMT on) is not the fastest or most efficient setting. Backing the physical core count down to 15 (and, similarly, the SMT core count down to 30) results in the fastest and most efficient solver performance.

My theory is that by leaving one physical core free (one physical core = 2 threads with SMT on), the computer has enough spare capacity to run all the crap that Windows 10 does in the background. Thus, there is less competition for CPU resources, and everything just works better. The computer is also easier to use for other tasks when you don’t fully max out the CPU core count. This is also especially valuable for those people also trying to fold on a GPU while CPU folding (more on that in the next article).

Pro Tip #2: For high core count CPUs, don’t fold at 100% of your processor’s core capacity. Go right to the limit, and then back it off by a core.

Since you’re using SMT / Hyperthreading due to Pro Tip #1, this means setting the CPUs box in the client to 2 less than the maximum allowed. On my 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950x, this means CPUs = 32 (theoretical max) – 2 (2 threads per core) = 30

CPU Slot Config

This result will be different on CPUs with different numbers of cores, so YMMV…I always recommend testing out your individual processor. For lower core count processors such as Intel’s quad core Q6600, running with the maximum number of cores offers the best performance. I previously showed this here.

Future Work

In the next article, I’m going to kick off folding on the GPU, an Nvidia GeForce 1650, which I previously tested by its lonesome here. In a CPU + GPU folding configuration, it’s important to make sure the CPU has enough resources free to “feed” the GPU, or else points will suffer.

I’ve also started re-running the thread tests with Core Performance Boost enabled. This allows the processor to scale up in frequency automatically based on the power and thermal headroom. This should significantly change the character of the SMT On and SMT Off plots, since everything up till now has been run at the stock speed of 3.5 GHz.

Support My Blog (please!)

If you are interested in measuring the power consumption of your own computer (or any device), please consider purchasing a P3 Kill A Watt Power Meter from Amazon. You’ll be surprised what a $35 investment in a watt meter can tell you about your home’s power usage, and if you make a few changes based on what you learn you will save money every year! Using this link won’t cost you anything extra, but will provide me with a small percentage of the sale to support the site hosting fees of GreenFolding@Home.

If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you are in the market for an AMD Ryzen 9 3950x or similar Ryzen processor. If so, please consider using one of the links below to buy one from Amazon. Thanks for reading!

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Direct Link

AMD Ryzen (Amazon Search)

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Folding@Home Review: Part 2: Averaging, Efficiency, and Variation

Welcome back everyone! In my last post, I used my rebuilt benchmark machine to revisit CPU folding on my AMD Ryzen 9 3950x 16-core processor. This article is a follow-on. As promised, this includes the companion power consumption and efficiency plots for thread settings of 1-32 cores. As a quick reminder, I did this test with multi-threading (SMT) on, but with Core Performance Boost disabled, so all cores are running at the base 3.5 GHz setting.

Performance

The Folding@Home distributed computing project has come a long way from its humble disease-fighting beginnings back in 2000. The purpose of this testing is to see just how well the V7 CPU client scales on a modern, high core-count processor. With all the new Folding@Home donors coming onboard to fight COVID, having some insight into how to set up the configuration for the most performance is hopefully helpful.

For this test, I simply set the # of threads the client can use to a value and ran five sequential work units. I averaged the performance (Points Per Day), but I also plot the individual work unit performance values to give you a sense of the variation. Since the Ryzen 9 3950x supports 32 threads, I essentially ran 160 tests. Since I wanted the Folding@Home Consortium to get useful data in their fight against COVID-19, I let each work unit run to completion, even though I only need them to run to about 10-20% complete to get an accurate PPD estimate from the client.

So, without further blabbing on my part, here is the graph of Folding@Home performance vs. thread count in Windows 10 on the Ryzen 9 3950x

Ryzen_3950x_Performance_SMT_Off_CPB_On

Here, the solid blue line is the averaged performance, and the gray circles are the individual tests. The dashed blue lines represent a statistical 95% confidence interval, which is computed based on the variation. The expected Points Per Day (PPD) of a work unit run on the 3950x is expected to fall within this band 95% of the time.

My first observation is, holy crap! This is a fast processor. Some work units at high thread counts get really close to 500K PPD, which for me has only been achievable by GPU folding up to this point.

My second observation is that there is a lot of variation between different work units. This makes sense, because some work units have much larger molecules to solve than others. In my testing, I found the average variation of all 160 tests to be 12.78%, with individual variance up to 25%.

My third observation is that there seems to be two different regions on this plot. For the first half, the thread count setting is less than the number of physical cores on the chip, and the results are fairly linear. For the second half, the thread count setting is higher than the number of physical cores on the chip (thus forcing the CPU to virtualize those cores using SMT). Performance seems to fall off when the CPU cores become fully saturated (threads = 16), and it takes a while to climb out of the hole (threads = 24 starts showing some more gains).

As a side note, the client does not actually run all of these thread count settings, since some prime numbers, especially large primes (7, 11) and multiples thereof cause numerical issues. For example, when you try to run a 7-thread solve, the client automatically backs the thread count down to 6. You can see warnings in the log file about this when it happens.

Prime Number Thread Adjust

I noted all the relevant thread counts where this happens on the x-axis of the plot. Theoretically, these should be equivalent settings. The fact that the average performance varies a bit between them is just due to work unit variation (I’d have to run hundreds of averages to cancel all the variation out).

Finally, I noticed that the highest PPD actually occurred with a thread count of 30 (PPD = 407200) vs a thread count of 32 (PPD = 401485). This is a small but interesting difference, and is within the range of statistical variation. Thus I would say that setting the thread count to 30 vs 32 provides the same performance, while leaving two CPU threads free for other tasks (such as GPU folding…more on that later!).

Power Consumption

Power consumption numbers for each thread setting were taken at the wall, using my P3 Kill A Watt meter. Since the power numbers tend to walk around a bit as the computer works, it’s hard to get an instantaneous reading. Thus these are “eyeball averaged”. There was enough change at each CPU thread setting to clearly see a difference (not counting those thread settings that are actually equivalent to an adjacent setting).

Ryzen_3950x_Power_SMT_Off_CPB_On

The total measured power consumption rose fairly linearly from just under 80 watts to just under 160 watts. There’s not too much surprising here. As you throw more threads at the CPU, it clocks up idle cores and does more work (which causes more transistors to switch, which thus takes more power). This seems pretty believable to me. At the high end, the system is drawing just under 160 watts of power. The AMD Ryzen 9 3950x is rated at a 105 watt TDP, and with CPB turned off it should be pretty close to this number. My rough back of the hand calculation for this rig was as follows:

  1. CPU Loaded Power = 105 Watts
  2. GPU Idle Power (Nvidia GTX 1650) = 10 Watts
  3. Motherboard Power = 15 Watts
  4. Ram Power = 2 watts * 4 sticks = 8 watts
  5. NVME Power = 2 watts * 2 drives = 4 watts
  6. SSD Power = 2 watts

Total Estimated Watts @ F@H CPU Load = 144 Watts

Factor in a boat load of case fans, some silly LED lights, and a bit of PSU efficiency hit (about 90% efficient for my Seasonic unit) and it’ll be close to the 160 watts as measured.

Efficiency

This being a blog about saving the planet while still doing science with computers, I am very interested in energy efficiency. For Folding@Home, this means at doing the most work (PPD) for the least amount of power (watts). So, this plot is just PPD/Watts. Easy!

Similar to the PPD plot, this efficiency plot averages five data points for each thread setting. I chose to leave off the individual points and the confidence interval, because that looks about the same on this plot as it does on the PPD plot, and leaving all the clutter off makes this easier to read.

Ryzen_3950x_Efficiency_SMT_Off_CPB_On

As with the PPD plot, there seem to be two regions on the efficiency curve. The first region (threads less than 16) shows a pretty good linear ramp-up in efficiency as more threads are added. The second region (threads 16 or greater) is what I’m calling the “core saturation” region. Here, there are more threads than physical cores, and efficiency stays relatively flat. It actually drops off at 16 cores (similar to the PPD plot), and doesn’t start improving again until 24 or more threads are allocated to the solver.

This plot, at first glance, suggests that the maximum efficiency is realized at # of threads = 30. However, it should be noted that work unit variation still has a lot of influence, even with reporting results of a 5-sample average. You can see this effect by looking at the efficiency drop at threads = 31. Theoretically, the efficiency should be the same at threads = 31 and threads = 30, because the solver runs a 30-thread solution even when set to 31 to prevent domain decomposition.

Thus, similar to the PPD plot, I’d say the max efficiency is effectively achieved at thread counts of 30 and 32. My personal opinion is that you might as well run with # of threads = 30 (leaving two threads free for other tasks). This setting results in the maximum PPD as well.

Weird Results at Threads = 16-23

Some of you might be wondering why the performance and efficiency drops off when the thread count is set to the actual number of cores (16) or higher. I was too, so I re-ran some tests and looked at what was happening with AMD’s built-in Ryzen Master tool. As you can see in the screen shot below, even though the # of threads was set to 18 in Folding@Home (a number greater than the 16 physical cores), not all 16 cores were fully engaged on the processor. In fact, only 14 were clocked up, and two were showing relatively lazy clock rates.

Two Cores are Lazy!

Folding@Home 18-Thread CPU Solve on 16-Core Processor

I suspect what is happening is that some of the threads were loaded onto “virtual” CPU cores (i.e. SMT / hyper threading). This might be something Windows 10 does to preserve a few free CPU cores for other tasks. In fact, I didn’t see all of the cores turbo up to full speed until I set Folding@Home’s thread count to 24. This incidentally is when performance starts coming back in on the plots above.

This weird SMT / Hyper-threading behavior is likely what is responsible for the large drop-off / flat part of the performance and efficiency curves that exists from thread count = 16 to 23. As you can see in the picture below, once you fully load all the available threads, the CPU frequencies on each core all hit the maximum value, as expected.

Ryzen_Master_32_Thread_Solve

Folding@Home 32-Thread CPU Solve on 16-Core Processor

Results Comparison

The following plots compare overall performance, power consumption, and efficiency of my new AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Folding@Home rig to other hardware configurations I have tested so far.

Performance

As you can see from the plot below, the Ryzen 9 3950x running a 32-thread Folding@Home solve can compete with relatively modern graphics cards in terms of raw performance. High-end GPUs will still offer more performance, but for a processor, getting over 400K PPD is very impressive. This is significantly more PPD than the previous processors I have tested (AMD Bulldozer-based FX-8320e, AMD Phenom II X6 1100t, Intel Core2Quad Q6600, etc). Admittedly I have not tested very many CPUs, since this is much more involved than just swapping out graphics cards to test.

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Performance

Power Consumption

From a total system power consumption standpoint, my new benchmark machine with the AMD Ryzen 9 3950x has a surprisingly low total power draw when running Folding. Another interesting point is that since the 3950x lacks onboard graphics, I had to have a graphics card installed to get display. In my case, I had the Nvidia GTX 1650 installed, since this is a relatively low power consumption card that should provide minimal overhead. As you can see below, folding on the 3950x CPU (with the 1650 GPU idle) uses nearly the same amount of power as folding on the 1650 GPU (with the 3950x idle).

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Power Consumption

Efficiency

Efficiency is the point of this blog, and in this respect the 3950x comes in towards the upper middle of the pack of hardware configurations I have tested. It’s definitely the most efficient processor I have tested so far, but graphics cards such as the 1660 Super and 1080 Ti are more efficient. Despite drawing more total power from the wall, these high-end GPUs do a lot more science.

Still, a PPD/Watt of over 2500 is not bad, and in this case the 3950x is more efficient than folding on the modest GPU installed in the same box (the Nvidia GTX 1650). Compared to the much older AMD FX-8320e, the Ryxen 9 3950x is 14x more efficient! What a difference 7 years can make!

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Efficiency

Conclusion

The 16-core, 32-thread AMD Ryzen 9 3950x is one fast processor, and can do a lot of science for the Folding@Home distributed computing project. Although mid to high-end graphics cards such as the 1080 Ti ($450 on the used market) can outperform the $700 3950x in terms of performance and efficiency, it is still important to have a smattering of high-end CPU folding rigs on the Folding@Home network, because some molecules can only be solved on CPUs.

There is a general trend of increasing efficiency and performance as the # of CPU threads allocated to Folding@Home increases. For the Ryzen 9 3950x, using a setting of 30 or 32 threads is recommended for maximum performance and efficiency. If you plan on using your computer for other tasks, or for simultaneously folding on the GPU, 30 threads is the ideal CPU slot setting.

Please Support My Blog!

If you are interested in measuring the power consumption of your own computer (or any device), please consider purchasing a P3 Kill A Watt Power Meter from Amazon. You’ll be surprised what a $35 investment in a watt meter can tell you about your home’s power usage, and if you make a few changes based on what you learn you will save money every year! Using this link won’t cost you anything extra, but will provide me with a small percentage of the sale to support the site hosting fees of GreenFolding@Home.

If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you are in the market for an AMD Ryzen 9 3950x or similar Ryzen processor. If so, please consider using one of the links below to buy one from Amazon. Thanks for reading!

AMD Ryzen 9 3950x Direct Link

AMD Ryzen (Amazon Search)

Future Work

In the next article, I’ll disable multithreading (SMT) to see the effect of virtualized CPU cores on Folding@Home performance.

Later, I plan to enable core performance boost on the 3950x to see what effect the automatic clock frequency and voltage overclocking has on Folding@Home performance and efficiency.

 

 

How to Make a Folding@Home Space Heater (and why would you want to?)

My normal posts on this site are all about how to do as much science as possible with Folding@Home, for the least amount of power. This is because I think disease research, while a noble and essential cause, shouldn’t be done without respecting the environment.

With that said, I think there is a use case for a power-hungry, inefficient Folding@Home computer. Namely, as a space heater for those in colder climates.

The logic is this: Running Folding@Home, or any other piece of software, makes your computer do work. Electricity flows through the circuits, flipping tiny silicon switches, and producing heat in the process. Ultimately all of the energy that flows into your computer comes back out as heat (well, a small amount comes out as light, or electromagnetic radiation, or noise, but all of those can and do get converted back into heat as they strike things in the room).

Have you ever noticed how running your gaming computer with the door to your room closed makes your feet nice and toasty in the winter? It’s the same idea. Here, one of my high-performance rigs (dual NVidia 980 Ti GPUs) is silently humming away, putting off about 500 watts of pleasant heat. My son is investigating:

My Folding@Home Space Heater Experiment

Folding@Home uses CPUs and GPUs to run molecular dynamic models to help research understand and fight diseases. You get the most points per day (PPD) by using cutting-edge hardware, but the Folding@Home Consortium and Stanford University openly encourage everyone to run the software on whatever they happen to have.

With this in mind, I started thinking about all the old hardware that is out there…CPUs and graphics cards that are destined for landfills because they are no longer fast enough to do any useful gaming or decode 4K video. People describe this type of hardware as “bricks” or “space heaters”–useful for nothing other than wasting power.

That gave me an idea…

It didn’t take me long to find a sweet deal on an nForce 680i-based system on eBay for $60 shipped (EVGA board with Nvidia n680i chipset, supporting three full-length PCI-E X16 slots). I swapped out the Core 2 Duo that this machine came with for a Core 2 Quad, and purchased four Fermi-based Nvidia graphics cards, plus a used 1300 Watt Seasonic 80+ Gold power supply. All of this was amazingly cheap. The beautiful Antec case was worth the $60 cost of the parts that came with it alone. Because I knew lots of power would be critical here, I spent most of the money on a high-end power supply (also used on eBay). Later on, I found that I needed to also upgrade the cooling (read: cut a hole in the side panel and strap on some more fans).

  • Antec Mid-Tower Case + Corsair 520 Watt PSU, EVGA 680i motherboard, Core 2 Duo CPU, 4 GB Ram, CD Drives, and 4 Fans = $60
  • 2x EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards: $40
  • 1 x EVGA NVidia GeForce GTX 580 Graphics Card: $50
  • 1 x EVGA NVidia GeForce GeForce GTX 460 Graphics Card: $20
  • 1 x PCI-E X1 to X16 Riser: $10
  • 1 x Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU (Socket 775) – $6
  • 1 x Seasonic 1300 Watt 80+ Gold Modular Power Supply: $90
  • 2 x Noctua 120 MM fans + custom aluminum bracket (for modifying side panel): $60
  • 1 x Arctic Cooling Freezer Tower Cooler – $10
  • 1 x Western Digital Black 640GB HDD – $10

Total Cost (Estimated): $356

This is the cost before I sold some of the parts I didn’t need (Core 2 Duo, Corsair PSU, etc).

Here is a shot of the final build. It took a bit of tweaking to get it to this point.

F@H_Space_Heater_Quad_GPUs

Used Parts Disclaimer!

Note that when dealing with used parts on eBay, it’s always good to do some basic service. For the GPUs in this build, I took them apart, cleaned them, applied fresh thermal paste (Arctic MX-4), and re-assembled. It was good that I did…these cards were pretty gross, and the decade-old thermal paste was dried on from years of use.

 

I mean, come on now, look at the dust cake on the second GTX 480! Clean your graphics cards, random eBay people!

GTX 480 Dust

Here’s how the 3 + 1 GPUs are set up. The two GTX 480s and the GTX 580 are on the mobo in the X16 slots. I remotely mounted the GTX 460 in the drive bay. I used blower-style (slot exhaust) cards on purpose here, because they exhaust 100% of the hot air outside the case. Open-fan style cards would have overheated instantly in this setup.

To keep costs down, I just used Ubuntu Linux as the operating system. I configured the machine for 4-slot GPU folding using proprietary Nvidia drivers. Although I ultimately control all of my remote Linux machines with TeamViewer, it is helpful to have a portable monitor and combo wireless keyboard/mouse for initial configuration and testing. In the shot below (of an earlier config), I learned a lot just trying the get the machine stable with 3 cards.

Space_Heater_Early_Config_Initial_Fireup_small

Initial Testing on the Space Heater (3 GPUs installed). This test showed me that I needed better CPU cooling (hence I chucked that stock Intel cooler)

I also did some thermal testing along the way to make sure things weren’t getting too hot. It turns out this testing was a bit misleading, because the system was running a lot cooler with the side panel off than with it on.

Some Thermal Camera Images During Initial Burn-In (3 GPUs, stock CPU cooler):

Now that’s some heat coming out of this beast! Thankfully, the upgraded 14-gauge power plug and my watt meter aren’t at risk of melting, although they are pretty warm.

Once I had the machine up and running with all four GPUs the final configuration, I found that it produced about 55-95K PPD on average (based on the work unit), with the following breakdown

  • GTX 460: 10-20K PPD
  • GTX 480: 20-30K PPD each
  • GTX 580: 25-45 K PPD

Power consumption, as measured at the wall, ranged from 900 to 1000 watts with all 4 GPUs engaged. By turning different GPUs on and off, I could get varying levels of power (about 200 Watts idle. I typically ran it with one 580 and one 480 folding, for an average power consumption of about 600 watts).

Space_Heater_Power_Consumption

After running the machine for a while, my room was nice and toasty, as expected!

One thing that I should mention was the effect of the two additional intake fans that I mounted in the side panel. Originally I did not have these, and the top graphics card in the stack was hitting 97 degrees C according to the onboard monitoring! After modding this custom side-intake into the case (found a nice fan bracket on Amazon, and put my dremel tool to good use), the temps went down quite a lot. I used fan grilles on the inside of the fans to keep internal cables out of them, and mesh filters on the outside to match the intake filters on the rest of the case.

 

The top card stays under 85 degrees C (with the fan at 50%). The middle card stays under 80 degrees C, and the bottom card runs at 60 degrees C. The GTX 460 mounted in the drive bay never goes over 60 degrees C, but it’s a less powerful card and is mounted on the other side of the case.

Here’s some more pictures of the modded side panel, along with a little cooling diagram I threw together:

PPD, Wattage, and Efficiency Comparison

I debated about putting these plots in here, because the point of this machine was not primarily to make points (pun intended), or to be efficient from a PPD/Watt perspective. The point of this machine was to replace the 1500 watt space heater I use in the winter to keep a room warm.

As you can see, the scientific production (PPD) on this machine, even with 4 GPUs, is not all that impressive in 2020, since the GPUs being used are ten years old. Similarly, the efficiency (PPD/Watt) is terrible. There’s no surprise there, since it averages just under 1000 watts of power consumption at the wall!

Conclusion

It is totally possible to build a (relatively) inexpensive desktop computer out of old, used parts to use as a space heater. If the primary goal is to make heat, then this might not be a bad idea (although at $350, it still costs way more than a $20 heater from Walmart). The obvious benefit is that this sort of space heater is actually doing something useful besides keeping you warm (in this case, helping scientists learn more about diseases thanks to Folding@Home).

Other benefits that I found were the remote control (TeamViewer), which lets me use my cellphone to turn GPUs on and off to vary the heat output. Also, I think running this machine for extended durations in its medium-high setting (700 watts or so) is much healthier for the electrical wiring in my house vs. the constant cycling on and off of a traditional 1500 watt space heater.

From an environmental standpoint, you can do much worse than using electric heat. In my case, electric space heaters make a lot of sense, especially at night. I can shut off the entire heating zone (my house only has two zones) to the upstairs and just keep the bedroom warm. This drastically reduces my fossil fuel usage (good old New England, where home heating oil is the primary method of keeping warm in the winter). Since my house has an 8.23 KW solar panel array on the roof, a lot of my electricity comes directly from the sun, making this electric heat solution even greener.

Parting Thoughts:

I would not recommend running a machine like this during the warmer months. If warm air is not wanted, all the waste heat from this machine will do nothing but rack up your power bill for relatively little science being done. If you want to run an efficient summer-time F@H rig that uses low power (so as to not fight your AC) , check out my article on the GTX 1660 and 1650.

In a future article, I plan to show how I actually saved on heating costs by running Folding@Home space heaters all last winter (with a total of seven Folding@Home desktops placed strategically throughout my house, so that I hardly had to burn any oil).

 

New Folding@Home Benchmark Machine: It’s RYZEN TIME!

Folding@Home, the distributed computing project that fights diseases such as COVID-19 and cancer, has hit an all-time high in popularity. I’m stunned to find that my blog is now getting more views every day than it did every month last year. With that said, this is a perfect opportunity to reach out and see if all the new donors are interested in tuning their computers for efficiency, to save a little on power, lighten the burden on your wallet, and hopefully produce nearly the same amount of science. If this sounds interesting to you, let me know in the comments below!

In my last post, I noted that the latest generation of graphics cards are starting to push the limits of what my primary GPU Folding@Home benchmark rig can do. That computer is based on an 11-year-old chipset (AMD 880), and only supports PCI-Express 2.0. In order for me to keep testing modern fast graphics cards in Windows 10, I wanted to make sure that PCI-Express slot bandwidth wasn’t going to artificially bottleneck me.

So, without further ado, let me present the new, re-built Folding@Home rig, SAGITTA:

Sagitta Desktop

I’ve (re)created a monster!

This build leverages the Raidmax Sagitta case that I’ve had since 2006. This machine has hosted multiple builds (Pentium D 805, Core 2 Duo e8600, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom II X6 1100T, and the most recent FX-8320e Bulldozer). There have been too many graphics cards to count, but the latest one (Nvidia GTX 1650 by Zotac) was carried over for some continuity testing. The case fans and power supply (initially) were also the same since the previous FX build (they aren’t the same ones from back in 2006…those got loud and died long ago). I also kept my Blu-Ray drive and 3.5 inch card reader. That’s where the similarities end. Here is a specs comparison:

Sagitta Rebuild Benchmark Machine Specs

  • Note I ended up updating the power supply to the one shown in the table. More on that below…

System Power Consumption

Initially, the power consumption at idle of the new Ryzen 9 build, measured with my P3 Kill A Watt Meter, was 86 watts. The power consumption while running GPU Folding was 170 watts (and the all-core CPU folding was over 250 watts, but that’s another article entirely).

Using the same Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, these idle and GPU folding power numbers were unfortunately higher than the old benchmark machine, which came in at 70 watts idle and 145 watts load. This is likely due to the overkill hardware that I put into the new rig (X570 motherboards alone are known to draw twice the power of a more normal board). The system’s power consumption difference of 25 watts while folding was especially problematic for my efficiency testing, since new plots compared to graphics cards tested on the old benchmark machine would not be comparable.

To solve this, I could either:

A: Use a 25 watt offset to scale the new GPU F@H efficiency plots

B: Do nothing and just have less accurate efficiency comparisons to previous tests

C: Reduce the power consumption of the new build so that it matches the old one

This being a blog about energy efficiency, I decided to go with Option C, since that’s the one that actually helps the environment. Lets see if we can trim the fat off of this beast of a computer!

Efficiency Boost #1: Power Supply Upgrade

The first thing I tried was to upgrade the power supply. As noted here, the power supply’s efficiency rating is a great place to start when building an energy efficient machine. My old Seasonic X-650 is a very good power supply, and caries an 80+ Gold rating. Still, things have come a long way, and switching to an 80+ Titanium PSU can gain a few efficiency percentage points, especially at low loads.

80+ Table

80+ Efficiency Table

With that 3-5% efficiency boost in mind, I picked up a new Seasonic 750 Watt Prime 80+ Titanium modular power supply. At $200, this PSU isn’t cheap, but it provides a noticeable efficiency improvement at both idle and load. Other nice features were the additional 100 watts of capacity, and the fact that it supported my new motherboard’s dual pin (8 + 4) CPU aux power connection. That extra 4-pin isn’t required to make the X570 board work, but it does allow for more overclocking headroom.

Disclaimer: Before we get into it, I should note that these power readings are “eyeball” readings, taken by glancing at the watt meter and trying to judge the average usage. The actual number jumps around a bit (even at idle) as the computer executes various background tasks. I’d say the measurement precision on any eyeball watt meter readings is +/- 5 watts, so take the below with a grain of salt. These are very small efficiency improvements that are difficult to measure, and your mileage may vary. 

After upgrading the power supply, idle power dropped an impressive 10 watts, from 86 watts to 76. This is an awesome 11% efficiency improvement. This might be due to the new 80+ Titanium power supply having an efficiency target at very low loads (90% efficiency at 10% load), whereas the old 80+ Gold spec did not have a low load efficiency requirement. Thus, even though I used a large 750 watt power supply, the machine can still remain relatively efficient at idle.

Under moderate load (GPU folding), the new 80+ titanium PSU provided a 4% efficiency improvement, dropping the power consumption from 170 watts to 163. This is more in line with expectations.

Efficiency Boost #2: Processor Underclock / Undervolt

Thanks to video gaming mentality, enthusiast-grade desktop processors and motherboards are tuned out of the box for performance. We’re talking about blistering fast, competition-crushing benchmark scores. For most computing tasks (such as running Folding@Home on a graphics card), this aggressive CPU behavior is wasting electricity while offering no discernible performance benefit. Despite what my kid’s shirt says, we need to reel these power hungry CPUs in for maximum GPU folding efficiency.

Never Slow Down

Kai Says: Never Slow Down

One way to improve processor efficiency is to reduce the clock rate and associated voltage. I’d previously investigated this here. It takes exponentially more voltage to support high frequencies, so just by dropping the clock rate by 100 MHz or so, you can lower the voltage a bunch and save on power.

With the advent of processors that up-clock and up-volt themselves (as well as going in the other direction), manual tuning can be a bit more difficult. It’s far easier to first try the automatic settings, to see if some efficiency can be gained.

But wait, this is a GPU folding benchmark rig? Why does the CPU’s frequency and power settings matter?

For GPU folding with an Nvidia graphics card, one CPU core is fully loaded per GPU slot in order to “feed” the card. This is because Nvidia’s implementation of open CL support using a polling (checking) method. In order to keep the graphics card chugging along, the CPU constantly checks on the GPU to see if it needs any data. This polling loop is not efficient and burns unnecessary power. You can read more about it here: https://foldingforum.org/viewtopic.php?f=80&t=34023. In contrast, AMD’s method (interrupts) is a much more graceful implementation that doesn’t lock up a CPU core.

The constant polling loop drives modern gaming-oriented processors to clock up their cores unnecessarily. For the most part, the GPU does not need work at every waking moment. To save power, we can turn down the frequency, so that the CPU is not constantly knocking on the GPU’s metaphorical door.

To do this, I disabled AMD’s Core Performance Boost (CPB) in the AMD Overclocking section of the BIOS (same thing as Intel’s Turbo Boost). This caps the processor speed at the base maximum clock rate (3.5 GHz for the Ryzen 9 3950x), and also eliminates any high voltage values required to support the boost clocks.

Success! GPU folding total system power consumption is now much lower. With less superfluous power draw from the CPU, the wattage is much more comparable to the old Bulldozer rig.

Ryzen 9 3950x Power Reduction Table

It is interesting that idle power consumption came down as well. That wasn’t expected. When the computer isn’t doing anything, the CPU cores should be down-clocked / slept out. Perhaps my machine was doing something in the background during the earlier tests, thus throwing the results off. More investigation is needed.

GPU Benchmark Consistency Check

I fired up GPU folding on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650, a card that I have performance data for from my previous benchmark desktop. After monitoring it for a week, the Folding@Home Points Per Day performance was so similar to the previous results that I ended up using the same value (310K PPD) as the official estimate for the 1650’s production. This shows that the old benchmark rig was not a bottleneck for a budget card like the GeForce GTX 1650.

Using the updated system power consumption of nominally 140 watts (vs 145 watts of the previous benchmark machine), the efficiency plots (PPD/Watt) come out very nearly the same. I typically consider power measurements of + / – 5 watts to be within the measurement accuracy of my eyeball on the watt meter anyway, due to normal variations as the system runs. The good news is that even with this variation, it doesn’t change the conclusion of the figure (in terms of graphics card efficiency ranking).

GTX 1650 Efficiency on Ryzen 9

* Benchmark performed on updated Ryzen 9 build

Conclusion

I have a new 16-core beast of a benchmark machine. This computer wasn’t built exclusively for efficiency, but after a few tweaks, I was able to improve energy efficiency at low CPU loads (such as Windows Idle + GPU Folding).

For most of the graphics cards I have tested so far, the massive upgrade in system hardware will not likely affect performance or efficiency results. Very fast cards, such as the 1080 Ti, might benefit from the new benchmark rig’s faster hardware, especially that PCI-Express 4.0 x16 graphics card slot. Most importantly, future tests of blistering fast graphics cards (2080 Ti, 3080 Ti, etc) will probably not be limited by the benchmark machine’s background hardware.

Oh, I can also now encode my backup copies of my blu-ray movies at 40 fps in H.265 in Handbrake (old speed was 6.5 fps on the FX-8320e). That’s a nice bonus too.

Efficiency Note (for GPU Folding@Home Users)

Disabling the automatic processor frequency and voltage scaling (Turbo Boost / Core Performance Boost) didn’t have any effect on the PPD being generated by the graphics card. This makes sense; even relatively slow 2.0 GHz CPU cores are still fast enough to feed most GPUs, and my modern Ryzen 9 at 3.5 GHz is no bottleneck for feeding the 1650. By disabling CPB, I shaved 23 watts off of the system’s power consumption for literally no performance impact while running GPU folding. This is a 16 percent boost in PPD/Watt efficiency, for free!

This also dropped CPU temps from 70 degrees C to 55, and resulted in a lower CPU cooler fan speed / quieter machine. This should promote longevity of the hardware, and reduce how much my computer fights my air conditioning in the summer, thus having a compounding positive effect on my monthly electric bill.

Future Articles

  • Re-Test the 1080 Ti to see if a fast graphics card makes better use of the faster PCI-Express bus on the AM4 build
  • Investigate CPU folding efficiency on the Ryzen 9 3950x

 

Shout out to the helpers…Kai and Sam

Folding@Home on Turing (NVidia GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1650 Combined Review)

Hey everyone. Sorry for the long delay (I have been working on another writing project, more on that later…). Recently I got a pair of new graphics cards based on Nvidia’s new Turing architecture. This has been advertised as being more efficient than the outgoing Pascal architecture, and is the basis of the popular RTX series Geforce cards (2060, 2070, 2080, etc). It’s time to see how well they do some charitable computing, running the now world-famous disease research distributed computing project Folding@Home.

Since those RTX cards with their ray-tracing cores (which does nothing for Folding) are so expensive, I opted to start testing with two lower-end models: the GeForce GTX 1660 Super and the GeForce GTX 1650.

 

These are really tiny cards, and should be perfect for some low-power consumption summertime folding. Also, today is the first time I’ve tested anything from Zotac (the 1650). The 1660 super is from EVGA.

GPU Specifications

Here’s a quick table I threw together comparing these latest Turing-based GTX 16xx series cards to the older Pascal lineup.

Turing GPU Specs

It should be immediately apparent that these are very low power cards. The GTX 1650 has a design power of only 75 watts, and doesn’t even need a supplemental PCI-Express power cable. The GTX 1660 Super also has a very low power rating at 125 Watts. Due to their small size and power requirements, these cards are good options for small form factor PCs with non-gaming oriented power supplies.

Test Setup

Testing was done in Windows 10 using Folding@Home Client version 7.5.1. The Nvidia Graphics Card driver version was 445.87. All power measurements were made at the wall (measuring total system power consumption) with my trusty P3 Kill-A-Watt Power Meter. Performance numbers in terms of Points Per Day (PPD) were estimated from the client during individual work units. This is a departure from my normal PPD metric (averaging the time-history results reported by Folding@Home’s servers), but was necessary due to the recent lack of work units caused by the surge in F@H users due to COVID-19.

Note: This will likely be the last test I do with my aging AMD FX-8320e based desktop, since the motherboard only supports PCI Express 2.0. That is not a problem for the cards tested here, but Folding@Home on very fast modern cards (such as the GTX 2080 Ti) shows a modest slowdown if the cards are limited by PCI Express 2.0 x16 (around 10%). Thus, in the next article, expect to see a new benchmark machine!

System Specs:

  • CPU: AMD FX-8320e
  • Mainboard : Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3
  • GPU: EVGA 1080 Ti (Reference Design)
  • 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

Goal of the Testing

For those of you who have been following along, you know that the point of this blog is to determine not only which hardware configurations can fight the most cancer (or coronavirus), but to determine how to do the most science with the least amount of electrical power. This is important. Just because we have all these diseases (and computers to combat them with) doesn’t mean we should kill the planet by sucking down untold gigawatts of electricity.

To that end, I will be reporting the following:

Net Worth of Science Performed: Points Per Day (PPD)

System Power Consumption (Watts)

Folding Efficiency (PPD/Watt)

As a side-note, I used MSI afterburner to reduce the GPU Power Limit of the GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1650 to the minimum allowed by the driver / board vendor (in this case, 56% for the 1660 and 50% for the 1650). This is because my previous testing, plus the results of various people in the Folding@Home forums and all over, have shown that by reducing the power cap on the card, you can get an efficiency boost. Let’s see if that holds true for the Turing architecture!

Performance

The following plots show the two new Turing architecture cards relative to everything else I have tested. As can be seen, these little cards punch well above their weight class, with the GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1650 giving the 1070 Ti and 1060 a run for their money. Also, the power throttling applied to the cards did reduce raw PPD, but not by too much.

Nvidia GTX 1650 and 1660 performance

Power Draw

This is the plot where I was most impressed. In the summer, any Folding@Home I do directly competes with the air conditioning. Running big graphics cards, like the 1080 Ti, causes not only my power bill to go crazy due to my computer, but also due to the increased air conditioning required.

Thus, for people in hot climates, extra consideration should be given to the overall power consumption of your Folding@Home computer. With the GTX 1660 running in reduced power mode, I was able to get a total system power consumption of just over 150 watts while still making over 500K PPD! That’s not half bad. On the super low power end, I was able to beat the GTX 1050’s power consumption level…getting my beastly FX-8320e 8-core rig to draw 125 watts total while folding was quite a feat. The best thing was that it still made almost 300K PPD, which is well above last generations small cards.

Nvidia GTX 1650 and 1660 Power Consumption

Efficiency

This is my favorite part. How do these low-power Turing cards do on the efficiency scale? This is simply looking at how many PPD you can get per watt of power draw at the wall.

Nvidia GTX 1650 and 1660 Efficiency

And…wow! Just wow. For about $220 new, you can pick up a GTX 1660 Super and be just as efficient than the previous generation’s top card (GTX 1080 Ti), which still goes for $400-500 used on eBay. Sure the 1660 Super won’t be as good of a gaming card, and it  makes only about 2/3’s the PPD as the 1080 Ti, but on an energy efficiency metric it holds its own.

The GTX 1650 did pretty good as well, coming in somewhere towards the middle of the pack. It is still much more efficient than the similar market segment cards of the previous generation (GTX 1050), but it is overall hampered by not being able to return work units as quickly to the scientists, who prioritize fast work with bonus points (Quick Return Bonus).

Conclusion

NVIDIA’s entry-level Turing architecture graphics cards perform very well in Folding@Home, both from a performance and an efficiency standpoint. They offer significant gains relative to legacy cards, and can be a good option for a budget Folding@Home build.

Join My Team!

Interested in fighting COVID-19, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other diseases with your computer? Please consider downloading Folding@Home and joining Team Nuclear Wessels (54345). See my tutorial here.

Interested in Buying a GTX 1660 or GTX 1650?

Please consider supporting my blog by using one of the below Amazon affiliate search links to find your next card! It won’t cost you anything extra, but will provide me with a small part of Amazon’s profit so I can keep paying for this site.

GTX 1660 Amazon Search Affiliate Link!

GTX 1650 Amazon Search Affiliate Link!

Folding@Home Review: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

Released in March 2017, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti was the top-tier card of the Pascal line-up. This is the graphics card that super-nerds and gamers drooled over. With an MSRP of $699 for the base model, board partners such as EVGA, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and Zotac (among others) all quickly jumped on board (pun intended) with custom designs costing well over the MSRP, as well as their own takes on the reference design.

GTX 1080 Ti Reference EVGA

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti – Reference

Three years later, with the release of the RTX 2080 Ti, the 1080 Ti still holds its own, and still commands well over $400 on the used market. These are beastly cards, capable of running most games with max settings in 4K resolutions.

But, how does it fold?

Folding@Home

Folding at home is a distributed computing project originally developed by Stanford University, where everyday users can lend their PC’s computational horsepower to help disease researchers understand and fight things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and most recently the COVID-19 Coronavirus. User’s computers solve molecular dynamics problems in the background, which help the Folding@Home Consortium understand how proteins “misfold” to cause disease. For computer nerds, this is an awesome way to give (money–>electricity–>computer work–>fighting disease).

Folding at home (or F@H) can be run on both CPUs and GPUs. CPUs provide a good baseline of performance, and certain molecular simulations can only be done here. However, GPUs, with their massively parallel shader cores, can do certain types of single-precision math much faster than CPUs. GPUs provide the majority of the computational performance of F@H.

Geforce GTX 1080 Ti Specs

The 1080 Ti is at the top of Nvidia’s lineup of their 10-series cards.

1080 Ti Specs

With 3584 CUDA Cores, the 1080 Ti is an absolute beast. In benchmarks, it holds its own against the much newer RTX cards, besting even the RTX 2080 and matching the RTX 2080 Super. Only the RTX 2080 Ti is decidedly faster.

Folding@Home Testing

Testing is performed in my old but trusty benchmark machine, running Windows 10 Pro and using Stanford’s V7 Client. The Nvidia graphics driver version was 441.87. Power consumption measurements are taken on the system-level using a P3 Watt Meter at the wall.

System Specs:

  • CPU: AMD FX-8320e
  • Mainboard : Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3
  • GPU: EVGA 1080 Ti (Reference Design)
  • 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

I did extensive testing of the 1080 Ti over many weeks. Folding@Home rewards donors with “Points” for their contributions, based on how much science is done and how quickly it is returned. A typical performance metric is “Points per Day” (PPD). Here, I have averaged my Points Per Day results out over many work units to provide a consistent number. Note that any given work unit can produce more or less PPD than the average, with variation of 10% being very common. For example, here are five screen shots of the client, showing five different instantaneous PPD values for the 1080 Ti.

 

GTX 1080 Ti Folding@Home Performance

The following plot shows just how fast the 1080 Ti is compared to other graphics cards I have tested. As you can see, with nearly 1.1 Million PPD, this card does a lot of science.

1080 Ti Folding Performance

GTX 1080 Ti Power Consumption

With a board power rating of 250 Watts, this is a power hungry graphics card. Thus, it isn’t surprising to see that power consumption is at the top of the pack.

1080 Ti Folding Power

GTX 1080 Ti Efficiency

Power consumption alone isn’t the whole story. Being a blog about doing the most work possible for the least amount of power, I am all about finding Folding@Home hardware that is highly efficient. Here, efficiency is defined as Performance Out / Power In. So, for F@H, it is PPD/Watt. The best F@H hardware is gear that maximizes disease research (performance) done per watt of power consumed.

Here’s the efficiency plot.

1080 Ti Folding Efficiency

Conclusion

The Geforce GTX 1080 Ti is the fastest and most efficient graphics card that I’ve tested so far for Stanford’s Folding@Home distributed computing project. With a raw performance of nearly 1.1 Million PPD in windows and an efficiency of almost 3500 PPD/Watt, this card is a good choice for doing science effectively.

Stay tuned to see how Nvidia’s latest Turing architecture stacks up.

GTX 460 Graphics Card Review: Is Folding on Ancient Hardware Worth It?

Recently, I picked up an old Core 2 duo build on Ebay for $25 + shipping. It was missing some pieces (Graphics card, drives, etc), but it was a good deal, especially for the all-metal Antec P182 case and included Corsair PSU + Antec 3-speed case fans. So, I figured what the heck, let’s see if this vintage rig can fold!

Antec 775 Purchase

To complement this old Socket 775 build, I picked up a well loved EVGA GeForce GTX 460 on eBay for a grand total of $26.85. It should be noted that this generation of Nvidia graphics cards (based on the Fermi architecture from back in 2010) is the oldest GPU hardware that is still supported by Stanford. It will be interesting to see how much science one of these old cards can do.

GTX 460 Purchase

I supplied a dusty Western Digital 640 Black Hard Drive that I had kicking around, along with a TP Link USB wireless adapter (about $7 on Amazon). The Operating System was free (go Linux!). So, for under $100 I had this setup:

  • Case: Antec P182 Steel ATX
  • PSU: Corsair HX 520
  • Processor: Intel Core2duo E8300
  • Motherboard: EVGA nForce 680i SLI
  • Ram: 2 x 2 GB DDR2 6400 (800 MHz)
  • HDD: Western Digital Black 640GB
  • GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX 460
  • Operating System: Ubuntu Linux 18.04
  • Folding@Home Client: V7

I fired up folding, and after some fiddling I got it running nice and stable. The first thing I noticed was that the power draw was higher than I had expected. Measured at the wall, this vintage folding rig was consuming a whopping 220 Watts! That’s a good deal more than the 185 watts that my main computer draws when folding on a modern GTX 1060. Some of this is due to differences in hardware configuration between the two boxes, but one thing to note is that the older GTX 460 has a TDP of 160 watts, whereas the GTX 1060 has a TDP of only 120 Watts.

Here’s a quick comparison of the GTX 460 vs the GTX 1060. At the time of their release, both of these cards were Nvidia’s baseline GTX model, offering serious gaming performance for a better price than the more aggressive GTX -70 and -80-series variants. I threw a GTX 1080 into the table for good measure.

GTX 460 Spec Comparison

GTX 460 Specification Comparison

The key takeaways here are that six years later, the equivalent graphics card to the GTX 460 was over three and a half times faster while using forty watts less power.

Power Consumption

I typically don’t report power consumption directly, because I’m more interested in optimizing efficiency (doing more work for less power). However, in this case, there is an interesting point to be made by looking at the wattage numbers directly. Namely, the GTX 460 (a mid-range card) uses almost as much power as a modern high-end GTX 1080, and uses seriously more power than the modern GTX 1060 mid-range card. Note: these power consumption numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, because the GTX 460 was installed in a different host system (the Core2 Duo rig) as the other cards, but the resutls are still telling. This is also consistent with the advertised TDP of the GTX 460, which is 40 watts higher than the GTX 1060.

GTX 460 Power Consumption (Wall)

Total System Power Consumption

Folding@Home Results

Folding on the old GTX 460 produced a rough average of 20,000 points per day, with the normal +/- 10% variation in production seen between work units. Back in 2006 when I was making a few hundred PPD on an old Athlon 64 X2 CPU, this would have been a huge amount of points! Nowadays, this is not so impressive. As I mentioned before, the power consumption at the wall for this system was 220 Watts. This yields an efficiency of 20,000 PPD / 220 Watts = 90 PPD/Watt.

Based off the relative performance, one would think the six-year newer GTX 1060 would produce somewhere between 3 and 4 times as many PPD as the older 460 card. This would mean roughly 60-80K PPD. However, my GTX 1060 frequently produces over 300K PPD. This is due to Stanford’s Quick Return Bonus, which essentially rewards donors for doing science quickly. You can read more about this incentive-based points system at Stanford’s website. The gist is, the faster you return a work unit to the scientists, the sooner they can get to developing cures for diseases. Thus, they award you more points for fast work. As the performance plot below shows, this quick return bonus really adds up, so that someone doing 3-4 times more (GTX 1060 vs. GTX 460 linear benchmark performance) results in 15 times more F@H performance.

GTX 460 Performance and Efficiency

Old vs. New Graphics Card Comparison: Folding@Home Efficiency and PPD

This being a blog about energy-conscious computing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out just how inefficient the ancient GTX 460 is compared to the newer cards. Due to the relatively high power consumption for a midrange card, the GTX 460 is eighteen times less efficient than the GTX 1060, and a whopping thirty three times less efficient than the GTX 1080.

Conclusion

Stanford eventually drops support for old hardware (anyone remember PS3 folding?), and it might not be long before they do the same for Fermi-based GPUs. Compared with relatively modern GPUs, the GTX 460 just doesn’t stack up in 2020. Now that the 10-series cards are almost four years old, you can often get GTX 1060s for less than $200 on eBay, so if you can afford to build a folding rig around one of these cards, it will be 18 times more efficient and make 15 times more points.

Still, I only paid about $100 total to build this vintage folding@home rig for this experiment. One could argue that putting old hardware to use like this keeps it out of landfills and still does some good work. Additionally, if you ignore bonus points and look at pure science done, the GTX 460 is “only” about 4 times slower than its modern equivalent.

Ultimately, for the sake of the environment, I can’t recommend folding on graphics cards that are many years out of date, unless you plan on using the machine as a space heater to offset heating costs in the winter. More on that later…

Addendum

Since doing the initial testing and outline for this article, I picked up a GTX 480 and a few GTX 980 Ti cards. Here are some updated plots showing these cards added to the mix. The GTX 480 was tested in the Core2 build, and the GTX 980 Ti in my standard benchmark rig (AMD FX-based Socket AM3 system).

Various GPU Power Consumption

GTX 980 and 480 Performance

GTX 980 and 480 Efficiency

I think the conclusion holds: even though the GTX 480 is slightly faster and more efficient than it’s little brother, it is still leaps and bounds worse than the more modern cards. The 980 Ti, being a top-tier card from a few generations back, holds its own nicely, and is almost as efficient as a GTX 1060. I’d say that the 980 Ti is still a relatively efficient card to use in 2020 if you can get one for cheap enough.

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.

Folding@Home: Nvidia GTX 1080 Review Part 3: Memory Speed

In the last article, I investigated how the power limit setting on an Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 graphics card could affect the card’s performance and efficiency for doing charitable disease research in the Folding@Home distributed computing project. The conclusion was that a power limit of 60% offers only a slight reduction in raw performance (Points Per Day), but a large boost in energy efficiency (PPD/Watt). Two articles ago, I looked at the effect of GPU core clock. In this article, I’m experimenting with a different variable. Namely, the memory clock rate.

The effect of memory clock rate on video games is well defined. Gamers looking for the highest frame rates typically overclock both their graphics GPU and Memory speeds, and see benefits from both. For computation projects like Stanford University’s Folding@Home, the results aren’t as clear. I’ve seen arguments made both ways in the hardware forums. The intent of this article is to simply add another data point, albeit with a bit more scientific rigor.

The Test

To conduct this experiment, I ran the Folding@Home V7 GPU client for a minimum of 3 days continuously on my Windows 10 test computer. Folding@Home points per day (PPD) numbers were taken from Stanford’s Servers via the helpful team at https://folding.extremeoverclocking.com.  I measured total system power consumption at the wall with my P3 Kill A Watt meter. I used the meter’s KWH function to capture the total energy consumed, and divided out by the time the computer was on in order to get an average wattage value (thus eliminating a lot of variability). The test computer specs are as follows:

Test Setup Specs

  • Case: Raidmax Sagitta
  • CPU: AMD FX-8320e
  • Mainboard : Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3
  • GPU: Asus GeForce 1080 Turbo
  • 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: 372.90

I ran this test with the memory clock rate at the stock clock for the P2 power state (4500 MHz), along with the gaming clock rate of 5000 MHz and a reduced clock rate of 4000 MHz. This gives me three data points of comparison. I left the GPU core clock at +175 MHz (the optimum setting from my first article on the 1080 GTX) and the power limit at 100%, to ensure I had headroom to move the memory clock without affecting the core clock. I verified I wasn’t hitting the power limit in MSI Afterburner.

*Update. Some people may ask why I didn’t go beyond the standard P0 gaming memory clock rate of 5000 MHz (same thing as 10,000 MHz double data rate, which is the card’s advertised memory clock). Basically, I didn’t want to get into the territory where the GDDR5’s error checking comes into play. If you push the memory too hard, there can be errors in the computation but work units can still complete (unlike a GPU core overclock, where work units will fail due to errors). The reason is the built-in error checking on the card memory, which corrects errors as they come up but results in reduced performance. By staying away from 5000+ MHz territory on the memory, I can ensure the relationship between performance and memory clock rate is not affected by memory error correction.

1080 Memory Boost Example

Memory Overclocking Performed in MSI Afterburner

Tabular Results

I put together a table of results in order to show how the averaging was done, and the # of work units backing up my +500 MHz and -500 MHz data points. Having a bunch of work units is key, because there is significant variability in PPD and power consumption numbers between work units. Note that the performance and efficiency numbers for the baseline memory speed (+0 MHz, aka 4500 MHz) come from my extended testing baseline for the 1080 and have even more sample points.

Geforce 1080 PPD Production - Ram Study

Nvidia GTX 1080 Folding@Home Production History: Data shows increased performance with a higher memory speed

Graphic Results

The following graphs show the PPD, Power Consumption, and Efficiency curves as a function of graphics card memory speed. Since I had three points of data, I was able to do a simple three-point-curve linear trendline fit. The R-squared value of the trendline shows how well the data points represent a linear relationship (higher is better, with 1 being ideal). Note that for the power consumption, the card seems to have used more power with a lower memory clock rate than the baseline memory clock. I am not sure why this is…however, the difference is so small that it is likely due to work unit variability or background tasks running on the computer. One could even argue that all of the power consumption results are suspect, since the changes are so small (on the order of 5-10 watts between data points).

Geforce 1080 Performance vs Ram Speed

Geforce 1080 Power vs Ram Speed

Geforce 1080 Efficiency vs Ram Speed

Conclusion

Increasing the memory speed of the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 results in a modest increase in PPD and efficiency, and arguably a slight increase in power consumption. The difference between the fastest (+500 MHz) and slowest (-500 MHz) data points I tested are:

PPD: +81K PPD (11.5%)

Power: +9.36 Watts (3.8%)

Efficiency: +212.8 PPD/Watt (7.4%)

Keep in mind that these are for a massive difference in ram speed (5000 MHz vs 4000 MHz).

Another way to look at these results is that underclocking the graphics card ram in hopes of improving efficiency doesn’t work (you’ll actually lose efficiency). I expect this trend will hold true for the rest of the Nvidia Pascal series of cards (GTX 10xx), although so far my testing of this has been limited to this one card, so your mileage may vary. Please post any insights if you have them.