CPU Folding Revisited: AMD FX-8320E 8-Core CPU

In the last article, I made the statement that running Stanford’s Folding@home distributed computing project on CPUs is a planet-killing waste of electricity.  Well, perhaps I didn’t say it in such harsh terms, but that was basically the point.  Graphics cards, which are massively multi-threaded by design, offer much more computational power for molecular dynamics solutions than traditional desktop processors.  More importantly, they do more science per watt of electricity consumed.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably noticed that the processors I’ve been playing around with are relatively elderly (if you are still using a Core2 anything, you might consider upgrading).  In this article, I’m going to take a look at a much newer processor, AMD’s Vishera-based 8-core FX-8320e.  This processor, circa 2015, is the newest piece of hardware I currently have (although as promised in the previous article, I’ve got a brand new graphics card on the way).  The 8-core FX-8320e is a bit of a departure for AMD in terms of power consumption.  While many of their high end processors are creeping north of 125 watts in TDP, this model sips a relatively modest (for an 8-core) 95 watts of power.  As shown previously here, with more cores, F@H efficiency increases along with overall performance.  The 8320e chip should be no exception.

Processor Specs:

  • Designation: AMD FX-8320e
  • Architecture: Vishera
  • Socket: AM3+
  • Manufacturing Process: 32 nm
  • # Cores: 8
  • Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz (4.0 Turbo)
  • TDP: 95 Watts

Side Note: As many will undoubtedly mention, this processor isn’t really a true 8-core in the sense that each pair of cores shares one Floating Point Unit, whereas an ideal 8-core CPU would have 1 FPU per core.  So, it will be interesting to see how this processor does against a true 1 to 1 processor such as the 1100T (six FPUs, reviewed here).

All of my power readings are at the plug, so the host system plays a part in the overall efficiency numbers reported.  Here is the configuration of my current test computer, for reference:

Test Setup Specs:

  • CPU: AMD FX-8320e
  • Mainboard : Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon 7970 HD
  • 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: Win7 64 bit

Folding Results

Since I’ve been out of CPU folding for a while, I had to run through 10 CPU work units in order to be eligible to start getting Stanford’s quick return bonus (extra points received for doing very fast science).  You can see the three regions on the plot.  The first region is GPU-only folding on the 7970.  The second region is CPU-only folding on the FX-8320e prior to the bonus points being awarded.  The third region is CPU-only folding with QRB bonus points.  Credit for the graph goes to http://folding.extremeoverclocking.com/.

Radeon 7970 GPU vs AMD FX 8320e CPU Folding@home Performane

An 8-core processor is no match for a graphics card with 2048 Shaders!

The 8-core AMD chip averages about 20K PPD when doing science on the older A4 core. Stanford’s latest A7 core, which supports Advanced Vector Extensions, returns about 30K PPD on the processor.  In either case, this is well short of the 150K PPD on the graphics card, which is also about three years older than the CPU!  Clearly, if your goal is doing the most science, the high-end graphics card trumps the processor.  (Update note: Intel’s latest processors such as the 6900X have been shown to return in excess of 120K PPD on the A7 core.  This makes CPUs relevant again for folding, but not as relevant as modern high-end graphics cards, which can return up to a million PPD!  I’ll have more articles on these later, I think…)

Efficiency Numbers

I used both HFM.net and the local V7 client to obtain an estimated PPD for the A7 core work unit, which should represent about the highest PPD achievable on the FX-8320e in stock trim.

FX 8320e PPD Performance

According to the watt meter, my system is drawing about 160 watts from the wall.  So, 29534 PPD / 160 watts is 185 PPD/Watt.  Here’s how this stacks up with the hardware tested so far.

Folding@Home Performance Table with AMD 8320e

Conclusion

Even though the Radeon HD 7970 was released 3 years earlier than AMD’s flagship line of 8-core processors, it still trounces the CPU in terms of Folding@home performance. Efficiency plots show the same story.  If you are interested in turning electricity into disease research, you’d be better off using a high-end graphics card than a high-end processor.  I hope to be able to illustrate this with higher end, modern hardware in the future.

As a side note, the FX-8320e is the most efficient folder of the processors tested so far. Although not half as fast as the latest Intel offerings, it has performed well for me as a general multi-tasking processor.  Now, if only I could get my hands on a new CPU, such as a Kaby Lake or a Ryzen (any one want to donate one to the cause?)…

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Folding on Graphics Cards

After focusing on CPUs only, it’s time to turn up the performance and discuss graphics card folding.  Today’s graphics cards are massively parallel, and lend themselves to molecular dynamics problems more so than general CPUs.  Folding@home has benefited from developing projects to run on graphics cards.  Gamers, naturally competitive creatures by nature, have taken the F@H stats by storm.  Except for a few incredibly complex multi-CPU systems, high-end folding rigs are almost entirely GPU based at this point in time.

GPUs offer increased performance and efficiency compared to CPUs.  In order to offer a fair comparison to the CPU hardware tested on this blog (all very old by 2017 standards), I loaded up F@H on my 5-year-old Sapphire RADEON HD 7970 to see how it compares to the elderly hardware I’ve tested so far.  The results speak for themselves (production plot courtesy of http://folding.extremeoverclocking.com/)

7970 Graph

GPU vs CPU Table

I ran F@H for multiple days in order to get some good averaging on the results.  As you can see from the production graph, some projects return more points than others, but at an average PPD of nearly 150K, the Radeon 7970 destroys the CPU-based competition. More importantly, it does so with much more efficiency than processors.

Performance Summary: GPU vs CPU

Performance 7970 Efficiency Summary: GPU vs CPU

Efficiency 7970

Conclusion

Even though more total power was consumed, running Folding@home on a high-end graphics card results in much more science for a given amount of power.  Next time, we’ll put a modern mid-range graphics card to the test to see how far things have come in the past 5 years…

I Got a New Watt Meter!

Yay!

No, really…I have been without a watt meter for over a year.  This is a tragic thing for an engineer.  What happened is that I lent my trusty P3 Kill-A-Watt Meter to a co-worker, who then quit and moved.  He did kindly pay me for it on his last day, when he realized he’d never given it back, so there are no hard feelings…

Well, with the restart of this blog, it was obviously time to pickup a new watt meter.  I decided to buy the Belkin Conserve meter based on the fact that the display is separate from the wall outlet.  This makes it much easier to read…no more bending over to peer behind the desk.

https://www.amazon.com/Belkin-Conserve-Insight-Monitor-F7C005Q/dp/B003WV5DBU/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1490828032&sr=8-4&keywords=watt+meter

I also picked up a new P3 Kill-A-Watt meter, because I missed my old one so dearly.  Also, this is the watt meter that all other watt meters are judged by!  See my previous article here:

Fun with Watt Meters

Both of these power meters cost about $25.  The P3 is loaded with many more features, such as monitoring phantom power, real power, line voltage, etc, but for the purpose of this blog all I looked at is the basic power monitoring function.

Of course I then needed to test these two meters against each other.  Since the P3 is what I had been using, I wanted to make sure the Belkin reports similar wattage results for a given load. As with any power electronics, it is important to test the circuitry and different load levels to make sure results are consistent with draw.  So, I used three household items to benchmark these two watt meters against each other.  The items I selected are constant-load items, which means that the power usage doesn’t jump around much during the test.  This makes things comparable.  Using a computer here would have been difficult, because computer power consumption is all over the place depending on what the darn thing is thinking about in the background.

Test 1: Yamaha Piano

The trusty old Yamaha piano was used to test how these watt meters report power for a low-load condition.  I set the piano playing one of the generic, annoying songs it came pre-programmed with (all of these songs are now annoying since our 2-year old plays them constantly on repeat).  Anyway, here the new Belkin meter showed a slightly higher power consumption than the P3 (8.8 vs 8.2 watts).  For these low power levels, the discrepancy was about 7%, which isn’t a great number.  This would be a bit disconcerting if we were intending to measure the power consumption of low-draw devices.  Thankfully, computers typically draw 100 watts or more.

Test 2: Humidifier 

 

Our bedroom humidifier was used as a representative medium-load device.  It draws nominally 40 watts, and some ultra-efficient desktops and many small laptops will have a power consumption in this range.  Here, the Belkin meter reported a slightly lower power consumption than the P3 (33.7 vs 35.2 watts).  The delta between meters in this case is about 4 percent, which is better than the low-load test but still annoying.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any convienant constant-load items in the 200-300 watt range, so the next test really ramps up the power.

Test 3: Space Heater

The space heater was used to represent a high-load. With a power draw near 900 watts, this would represent a monster desktop with multiple graphics cards. The Belkin reported two less watts consumed than the P3 (874 vs 876 watts).  Here, the percent difference is only 0.2%.  This is a good number.

Conclusion

For the expected power consumption of desktop computers in the 100-300 watt range, the Belkin and P3 meter will probably be within 2% of each other.  The more power consumed, the less the % difference between these two meters.  So, I think power readings taken with either meter should be comparable enough to each other.  Still, I will likely make all computer measurements with the Belkin, for the aforementioned reasons of ease of viewing.  With this meter properly positioned, you can geek out while gaming, folding, or playing the piano.  Not bad for 25 bucks, right?

IMG_20170317_080456010

Where I’ve Been

So two years later and I’m finally posting.  Phew!  It was hard enough just finding time to write this.  The short of it is that life happened, and I just didn’t have the time to keep going with the blog.  Actually, I stopped folding as well, due to very high electricity costs in Connecticut (averaging about 18 cents per kWh, which is insane).

But now that our second child is a little less cranky, and now that we are out of that tiny apartment (we bought a house), I think I’m finally feeling settled enough to resume this blog.

Consider this a second kick-off.

As some of you have mentioned, the real computational power these days is in graphics cards. Actually, even when I was writing regularly two years ago, GPUs were the ticket to massive PPD and better efficiency.  The reason I wasn’t talking about them was because I felt it was important to start where F@H started and discuss CPUs.

Over the years I have folded on many graphics cards.  The list, as I recall it, goes as follows:

  • NVidia Geforce 8400 GS (PCI)
  • Nvidia Geforce 240 GT
  • AMD Radeon 3870
  • AMD Radeon 4870
  • AMD Radeon 5870
  • NVidia Geforce 460 GTX
  • AMD Radeon 7970 HD

You’re probably looking at this list and thinking, wow, those are some old GPU’s.  Well you’re right!  Originally I was going to write a blog post about each one of them, and include tuning info and lots of pictures.  Since I don’t have any of those GPUs anymore, with the exception of the 7970, that’s not going to happen.  Oh well…

The takeaway of all those articles though would have been this:  any of those GPUs (with the exception of the wimpy 8400) offered better performance and efficiency than the contemporary CPUs in the similar price range.  The higher end graphics cards (7970) offer significantly more points per day performance, and although power consumption is typically higher than a CPU-only folding rig, the performance  gains are exponential and efficiency is greater.  This is because the massively parallel architecture of today’s graphics cards offers tremendous floating point computational capability compared to central processors.

Going forward, I plan to take a look at new graphics cards (think 2017 vintage).  These cards generate anywhere from 100K PPD up to well over a million PPD.  But first I need to describe my new power meter, which will be the focus of the next post.

F@H Efficiency on Dell Inspiron 1545 Laptop

Laptops!  

When browsing internet forums looking for questions that people ask about F@H, I often see people asking if it is worth folding on laptops (note that I am talking about normal, battery-life optimized laptops, not Alienware gaming laptops / desktop replacements).  In general, the consensus from the community is that folding on laptops is a waste of time.  Well, that is true from a raw performance perspective.  Laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices are not the way to rise to the top of the Folding at Home leader boards.  They’re just too slow, due to the reduced clock speeds and voltages employed to maximize battery life.

But wait, didn’t you say that low voltage is good for efficiency?

I did, in the last article.  By undervolting and slightly underclocking the Phenom II X6 in a desktop computer, I was able to get close to 90 PPD/Watt while still doing an impressive twelve thousand PPD.

However, this raised the interesting question of what would happen if someone tried to fold on a computer that was optimized for low voltage, such as a laptop.  Lets find out!

Dell Inspiron 1545

Specs:

  • Intel T9600 Core 2 Duo
  • 8 GB DDR2 Ram
  • 250 GB spinning disk style HDD (5400 RPM, slow as molasses)
  • Intel Integrated HD Graphics (horrible for gaming, great for not using much extra electricity)
  • LCD Off during test  to reduce power

I did this test on my Dell Inspiron 1545, because it is what I had lying around.  It’s an older laptop that originally shipped with a slow socket P Intel Pentium dual core.  This 2.1 GHz chip was going to be so slow at folding that I decided to splurge and pick up a 2.8 GHz T9600 Core 2 Duo from Ebay for 25 bucks (can you believe this processor used to cost $400)?  This high end laptop processor has the same 35 watt TDP as the Pentium it is replacing, but has 6 times the total cache.  This is a dual core part that is roughly similar in architecture to the Q6600 I tested earlier, so one would expect the PPD and the efficiency to be close to the Q6600 when running on only 2 cores (albeit a bit higher due to the T9600’s higher clock speed).  I didn’t bother doing a test with the old laptop processor, because it would have been pretty bad (same power consumption but much slower).

After upgrading the processor (rather easy on this model of laptop, since there is a rear access panel that lets you get at everything), I ran this test in Windows 7 using the V7 client.  My computer picked up a nice A4 work unit and started munching away.  I made sure to use my passkey to ensure I get the quick return bonus.

Results:

The Intel T9600 laptop processor produced slightly more PPD than the similar Q6600 desktop processor when running on 2 cores (2235 PPD vs 1960 PPD). This is a decent production rate for a dual core, but it pales in comparison to the 6000K PPD of the Q6600 running with all 4 cores, or newer processors such as the AMD 1100T (over 12K PPD).

However, from an efficiency standpoint, the T9600 Core2 Duo blows away the desktop Core2 Quad by a lot, as seen in the chart and graph below.

Intel T9600 Folding@Home Efficiency

Intel T9600 Folding@Home Efficiency

Intel T9600 Folding@Home Efficiency vs. Intel Desktop Processors

Intel T9600 Folding@Home Efficiency vs. Desktop Processors

Conclusion

So, the people who say that laptops are slow are correct.  Compared to all the crazy desktop processors out there, a little dual core in a laptop isn’t going to do very many points per day.  Even modern quad cores laptops are fairly tame compared to their desktop brethren.  However, the efficiency numbers tell a different story.

Because everything from the motherboard, video card, audio circuit, hard drive, and processor are optimized for low voltage, the total system power consumption was only 39 watts (with the lid closed).  This meant that the 2235 PPD was enough to earn an efficiency score of 57.29 PPD/Watt.  This number beats all of the efficiency numbers from the most similar desktop processor tested so far (Q6600), even when the Q6600 is using all four cores.

So, laptops can be efficient F@H computers, even though they are not good at raw PPD production.  It should also be noted that during this experiment the little T9600 processor heated up to a whopping 67 degrees C. That’s really warm compared to the 40 degrees Celsius the Q6600 runs at in the desktop.  Over time, that heat load would probably break my poor laptop and give me an excuse to get that Alienware I’ve been wanting.  

F@H Efficiency: Overclock or Undervolt?

Efficiency Tweaking

After reading my last post about the AMD Phenom II X6 1100T’s performance and efficiency, you might be wondering if anything can be done to further improve this system’s energy efficiency.  The answer is yes, of course!  The 1100T is the top-end Phenom II processor, and is unlocked to allow tweaking to your heart’s content.  Normal people push these processors higher in frequency, which causes them to need more voltage and use more power.  While that is a valid tactic for gaining more raw points per day, I wondered if the extra points would be offset by a non-proportional increase in power consumption.  How is efficiency related to clock speed and voltage?  My aim here is to show you how you can improve your PPD/Watt by adjusting these settings.  By increasing the efficiency of your processor, you can reduce the guilt you feel about killing the planet with your cancer-fighting computer.  Note that the following method can be applied to any CPU/motherboard combo that allows you to adjust clock frequencies and voltages in the BIOS.  If you built your folding rig from scratch, you are in luck, because most custom PCs allow this sort of BIOS fun.  If you are using your dad’s stock Dell, you’re probably out of luck.

AMD Phenom II X6: Efficiency Improved through Undervolting

The baseline stats for the X6 Phenom 1100T are 3.3 GHz core speed with 2000 MHz HyperTransport and Northbridge clocks. This is achieved with the CPU operating at 1.375v, with a rated TDP (max power consumption) of 125 watts. Running the V7 Client in SMP-6 with my pass key, I saw roughly 12K ppd on A3 work units.  This is what was documented in my blog post from last time.

Now for the fun part.  Since this is a Black Edition processor from AMD, the voltages, base frequencies, and multipliers are all adjustable in the system BIOS (assuming your motherboard isn’t a piece of junk).  So, off I went to tweak the numbers.  I let the system “soak” at each setting in order to establish a consistent PPD baseline.  I got my PPD numbers by verifying what the client was reporting with the online statistics reporting.  Wattage numbers come from my trusty P3 Kill-A-Watt meter.

First, I tried overclocking the processor.  I upped the voltage as necessary to keep it stable (stable = folding overnight with no errors in F@H or my standard benchmark tests).  It was soon clear that from an efficiency standpoint, overclocking wasn’t really the way to go.  So, then I went the other way, and took a bit of clock speed and voltage out.

F@H Efficiency Curve: AMD Phenom II X6 1100T

F@H Efficiency Curve: AMD Phenom II X6 1100T

These results are very interesting.  Overclocking does indeed produce more points per day, but to go to higher frequencies required so much voltage that the power consumption went up even more, resulting in reduced efficiency.  However, a slight sacrifice of raw PPD performance allowed the 1100T to be stable at 1.225 volts, which caused a marked improvement in efficiency.  With a little more experimenting on the underclocking / undervolting side of things, I bet I could have got this CPU to almost 100 PPD / Watt!

Conclusion

PPD/Watt efficiency went up by about 30% for the Phenom II X6 1100T, just by tweaking some settings in the BIOS.  Optimizing core speed and voltage for efficiency should work for any CPU (or even graphics card, if your card has adjustable voltage).  If you care about the planet, try undervolting / underclocking your hardware slightly.  It will run cooler, quieter, and will likely last longer, in addition to doing more science for a given amount of electricity.

F@H Efficiency: AMD Phenom X6 1100T

Welcome back to the fold!  In the last post, I showed how increasing the # of CPU cores has a massive positive impact on the amount of cancer-fighting research your computer does, as well as how efficiently it does it.  In stock form, the quad core Intel Q6600 delivered just shy of 6000 points per day of F@H with all 4 cores engaged.  My computer’s total power draw at the wall was 169 watts.  So, that works out to be 6000 PPD / 169 Watts = 35 PPD/Watt.  Not too bad, considering the horrible efficiency numbers of the uniprocessor client.

In this article, I’m jumping forward in time to a more modern processor…the AMD Phenom II X6 1000T.  This six-core beast is the last of the true core-for-core chips from AMD (Bulldozer and newer CPUs have 2 integer units but only 1 floating point unit per core).  With 6 physical floating point cores, the AMD 1100T should be good at folding.

Note that I am obviously using a completely different computer setup here than in the last post (I have an AMD machine and an Intel machine).  So, the efficiency numbers aren’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, due to the different supporting parts in both computers.  However, the difference between processors is so large that the differences in the host computers really doesn’t matter.  The newer AMD chip is much better, and that is what is driving the results!

Test Rig Specs:

AMD Phenom II X6 1100T
Gigabyte GA-880GMA-USB3 Micro ATX Motherboard
8 GB Kingston ValueRam DDR3 1333 MHz (4 x 2GB)
Seasonic S12 II 380W 80+ PSU
Hitachi 80 G SATA Hard Drive
Linkworld MicroATX
Fans: 2 x 80mm Side Intake, 1 x 80mm front intake, 1 x 92 mm Exhaust
Noctua NH-C12P SE14 140mm SSO CPU Cooler

A note about the operating system…

The previous tests on my Intel Q6600 were performed using Windows 7 with the V7 folding client.  Due to Windows costing money, I used Ubuntu Linux on my AMD system with the V7 folding client.  Linux is a bit more capable of maxing out a PC’s hardware than Windows, so the resulting PPD numbers are likely slightly higher than they would be had the machine been running Windows.  However, the difference is typically small (5 percent or so).  Note that over time, this performance bonus can really add up.  This is why Linux is the preferred operating system for many dedicated Folding at Home users.

AMD Folding Rig - Phenom II X6 Configuration

AMD Folding Rig – Phenom II X6 Configuration

Test Results

AMD Phemom II X6 1100T Folding at Home Performance and Efficiency

AMD Phemom II X6 1100T Folding at Home Performance and Efficiency

AMD 1100T 6-core CPU pushes the efficiency curve further

AMD 1100T 6-core CPU pushes the efficiency curve further

As expected, the 6-core 1100T is a performer when it comes to F@H.  Producing just shy of 13,000 Points Per Day with a total system power draw of 185 watts, this setup has an efficiency of 67 PPD/Watt.  This is almost twice that of the older Intel quad-cores.  Note that I am not Intel-bashing here…if you do some google searching, you will likely see that the new Intel Core I5 and I7’s do even better in both raw PPD and PPD/W than the AMD 1100T.  The moral of the story is that you should try and set up your folding Rig with the most powerful, latest-generation processor you can.  I recommend upgrading at least once a year to keep improving the performance and efficiency of your F@H contributions.  Don’t be that guy running an old-school Athlon X2 generation 300 points per day (while using 150 watts to do it).