In an effort to make as much use of the colder months in New England as I can, I’m running tons of Stanford University’s Folding@Home on my computer to do charitable science for disease research while heating my house. In the last article, I reviewed a slightly older AMD card, the RX 480, to determine its performance and efficiency running Folding@Home. Today, I’ll be taking a look at one of the favorite cards from Nvidia for both folding and gaming: The 1070 Ti.
The GeForce GTX 1070 Ti was released in November 2017, and sits between the 1070 and 1080 in terms of raw performance. As of February 2019, the 1070 Ti can be for a deep discount on the used market, now that the RTX 20xx series cards have been released. I got my Asus version on eBay for $250.
Based on Nvidia’s 14nm Pascal architecture, the 1070 Ti has 2432 CUDA cores and 8 GB of GDDR5 memory, with a memory bandwidth of 256 GB/s. The base clock rate of the GPU is 1607 MHz, although the cards automatically boost well past the advertised boost clock of 1683 Mhz. Thermal Design Power (TDP) is 180 Watts.
The 3rd party Asus card I got is nothing special. It appears to be a dual-slot reference design, and uses a blower cooler to exhaust hot air out the back of the case. It requires one supplemental 8-pin PCI-E Power connection.
One thing I will note about this card is it’s length. At 10.5 inches (which is similar to many NVidia high-end cards), it can be a bit problematic to fit in some cases. I have a Raidmax Sagitta mid-tower case from way back in 2006, and it fits, but barely. I had the same problem with the EVGA GeForce 1070 I reviewed earlier.
Testing was done in Windows 10 on my AMD FX-based system, which is old but holds pretty well, all things considered. You can read more on that here. The system was built for both performance and efficiency, using AMD’s 8320e processor (a bit less power hungry than the other 8-core FX processors), a Seasonic 650 80+ Gold Power Supply, and 8 GB of low voltage DDR3 memory. The real key here, since I take all my power measurements at the wall with a P3 Kill-A-Watt meter, is that the system is the same for all of my tests.
The Folding@Home Client version is 7.5.1, running a single GPU slot with the following settings:
These settings tend to result in a slighter higher points per day (PPD), because they request large, advanced work units from Stanford.
Initial Test Results
Initial testing was done on one of the oldest drivers I could find to support the 1070 Ti (driver version 388.13). The thought here was that older drivers would have less gaming optimizations, which tend to hurt performance for compute jobs (unlike AMD, Nvidia doesn’t include a compute mode in their graphics driver settings).
Unfortunately, the best Nvidia driver for the non-Ti GTX 10xx cards (372.90) doesn’t work with the 1070 Ti, because the Ti version came out a few months later than the original cards. So, I was stuck with version 388.13.
I ran F@H for three days using the stock clock rate of 1823 MHz core, with the memory at 3802 MHz. Similar to what I found when testing the 1070, Folding@Home does not trigger the card to go into the high power (max performance) P0 state. Instead, it is stuck in the power-saving P2 state, so the core and memory clocks do not boost.
The PPD average for three days when folding at this rate was 632,380 PPD. Checking the Kill-A-Watt meter over the course of those days showed an approximate average system power consumption of 220 watts. Interestingly, this is less power draw than the GTX 1070 (which used 227 watts, although that was with overclocking + the more efficient 372.90 driver). The PPD average was also less than the GTX 1070, which had done about 640,000 PPD. Initial efficiency, in PPD/Watt, was thus 2875 (compared to the GTX 1070’s 2820 PPD/Watt).
The lower power consumption number and lower PPD performance score were a bit surprising, since the GTX 1070 TI has 512 more CUDA cores than the GTX 1070. However, in my previous review of the 1070, I had done a lot of optimization work, both with overclocking and with driver tuning. So, now it was time to do the same to the 1070 Ti.
Tuning the Card
By running UNIGINE’s Heaven video game benchmark in windowed mode, I was able to watch what the card did in MSI afterburner. The core clock boosted up to 1860 MHz (a modest increase from the 1823 base clock), and the memory went up to 4000 MHz (the default). I tried these overclocking settings and saw only a modest increase in PPD numbers. So, I decided to push it further, despite the Asus card having only a reference-style blower cooler. From my 1070 review, I found I was able to fold nice and stable with a core clock of 2012 MHz and a memory clock of 3802 MHz. So, I set up the GTX 1070 Ti with those same settings. After running it for five days, I pushed the core a little higher to 2050 Mhz. A few days later, I upgraded the driver to the latest (417.71).
With these settings, I did have to increase the fan speed to keep the card below 70 degrees Celsius. Since the Asus card uses a blower cooler, it was a bit loud, but nothing too crazy. Open-air coolers with lots of heat pipes and multiple fans would probably let me push the card higher, but from what I’d read, people start running into stability problems at core clocks over 2100 Mhz. Since the goal of Folding@home is to produce reliable science to help Stanford University fight disease, I didn’t want to risk dropping a work unit due to an unstable overclock.
Here’s the production vs. time history from Stanford’s servers, courtesy of https://folding.extremeoverclocking.com/
As you can see below, the overclock helped improve the performance of the GTX 1070 Ti. Using the last five days worth of data points (which has the graphics driver set to 417.71 and the 2050 MHz core overclock), I got an average PPD of 703,371 PPD with a power consumption at the wall of 225 Watts. This gives an overall system efficiency of 3126 PPD/Watt.
Finally, these results are starting to make more sense. Now, this card is outpacing the GTX 1070 in terms of both PPD and energy efficiency. However, the gain in performance isn’t enough to confidently say the card is doing better, since there is typically a +/- 10% PPD difference depending on what work unit the computer receives. This is clear from the amount of variability, or “hash”, in the time history plot.
Interestingly, the GTX 1070 Ti it is still using about the same amount of power as the base model GTX 1070, which has a Thermal Design Power of 150 Watts, compared to the GTX 1070 Ti’s TDP of 180 Watts. So, why isn’t my system consuming 30 watts more at the wall than it did when equipped with the base 1070?
I suspect the issue here is that the drivers available for the 1070 Ti are not as good for folding as the 372.90 driver for the non-Ti 10-series Nvidia cards. As you can see from the MSI Afterburner screen shots above, GPU Usage on the GTX 1070 Ti during folding hovers in the 80-90% range, which is lower than the 85-93% range seen when using the non-Ti GTX 1070. In short, folding on the 1070 Ti seems to be a bit handicapped by the drivers available in Windows.
Comparison to Similar Cards
Here are the Production and Efficiency Plots for comparison to other cards I’ve tested.
The Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti is a very good graphics card for running Folding@Home. With an average PPD of 703K and a system efficiency of 3126 PPD/Watt, it is the fastest and most efficient graphics card I’ve tested so far. As far as maximizing the amount of science done per electricity consumed, this card continues the trend…higher-end video cards are more efficient, despite the increased power draw.
One side note about the GTX 1070 Ti is that the drivers don’t seem as optimized as they could be. This is a known problem for running Folding@Home in Windows. But, since the proven Nvidia driver 372.90 is not available for the Ti-flavor of the 1070, the hit here is more than normal. On the used market in 2019, you can get a GTX 1070 for $200 on ebay, whereas the GTX 1070 Ti’s go for $250. My opinion is that if you’re going to fold in Windows, a tuned GTX 1070 running the 372.90 driver is the way to go.
To fully unlock the capability of the GTX 1070 Ti, I realized I’m going to have to switch operating systems. Stay tuned for a follow-up article in Linux.