Tag Archives: power supply

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

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

Energy Efficient Power Supplies: Part 2

A Seasonic 80+ Gold Modular Power Supply is the Perfect PSU for my Dual Opteron 4184 12-Core Server

A Seasonic 80+ Gold Modular Power Supply is the Perfect PSU for my Dual Opteron 4184 12-Core Server

The last post gave an overview of why efficiency matters for power supplies. This post is focused on how to pull this off in practice.  The 80+ (80 Plus) certification is an optional certification that power supply makers can get on their retail PSUs by submitting samples for testing at an independent lab. There are various levels of efficiency rankings within the standard, but any unit that achieves the basic 80+ rating can be considered efficient compared to the average 60-70% efficient PSUs of old.

80+ Efficiency Table

80+ Efficiency Table

For around the clock computer operation, you should get the most efficient unit possible, although the 80+ Platinum and Titanium units can be cost prohibitive.  My recommendation is to stick with an 80+ Gold unit, because they are significantly more efficient than most power supplies and can be obtained without first having to sell a kidney on the black market.  Note that the greatest efficiency can theoretically be achieved by selecting a power supply that has a rated maximum wattage of twice what your computer requires to run F@H full-blast.  For example, if your shiny new F@H rig requires 300 watts of power to run, getting an 80+ Gold PSU rated at 600 watts should guarantee you an excellent efficiency rating of 90%.  This is because power supplies tend to be most efficient at 50% of their rated maximum load.

For many power supplies you can find an efficiency curve that graphs out the unit’s efficiency vs. load, but to save yourself valuable time you might as well just buy a reputable power supply from a good manufacturer that has the 80+ Gold certification.  As with any computer part, read the user reviews before purchase to avoid a serious frowney face later.  JonnyGuru.com has some excellent power supply reviews, and they test their review samples in a much more grueling temperature environment than the 80+ standard requires. When buying from Newegg, just filter your PSU search by efficiency rating and then by user reviews to immediately find some good candidates.  My personal favorite is the Seasonic X-series of Gold-rated PSUs, although Antec, PC Power & Cooling, Thermaltake, Cooler Master, Corsair, and many others also make good units.  I have been using the Seasonic X-650 Gold, which is a great power supply for a bunch of reasons other than efficiency (modular cables, multiple PCI Express power connections, a smart fan, the latest ATX standard, great build quality, and so on until I’m blue in the face).  The Seasonic has reduced my desktop’s power consumption by over 32 watts at idle and 49 watts at load, compared to the Ultra X2 connect 500 watt PSU I had before.  I pitched the old one into the computer recycling bin at the local transfer station to make sure it stays out of service.  It made a nice sounding kerthunk, by the way.  (Random environmental tip: Most city dumps take recycle computer electronics for free, so take your old wasteful power supply as well as any of those nasty compact fluorescent mercury-ridden light bulbs to the dump for recycling instead of throwing them in the trash.)

Efficient Power Supplies: Part 1

Good morning!  This is an intro article…feel free to skip if you already know what efficiency means for power supplies.  Part 2 goes into detail of the 80 Plus standard and is likely a more enthralling read for you spec heads!

Let’s talk about the most important piece of hardware that a desktop computer can have…the power supply!  This little guy is responsible for electrifying all the goodies inside your computer.  Furthermore, a good power supply protects your computer from dirty power (voltage spikes, EMI ripple, power fluctuations, etc).  If you have ever read an article on custom desktop building, you probably know how crucial a good power supply is, as well as the consequences of using a cheap PSU.  Suffice it to say that, for the sake of your computer’s health, this is one area where you don’t want to skimp on cost.

There is one trait of quality power supplies that is often overlooked, and that is energy efficiency.  In a perfect world, a PSU would convert every watt of 120 V AC input power into usable DC power.  In reality a portion of the power is lost as heat.  The more efficient a power supply, the less energy it wastes as heat.  In other words, your computer simply draws fewer watts from the wall.

Having an efficient power supply is crucial for F@H contributors and non-folders alike, because it will make your computer less power hungry no matter what it is doing.  From gaming and graphics design to office work and Folding@Home, an efficient PSU will put a smile on your P3’s cute little face.  (If you don’t get the reference, please also read the previous post about Watt meters)

Before I go on, I should note that the target audience of this article is those who have built or are building their own custom desktop.  People with laptops or with name-brand consumer desktops are sometimes out of luck because the power supplies are often proprietary and can’t be upgraded.  However, it doesn’t hurt to find out from the manufacturer of your computer what the efficiency of your power supply is.  Some brands, such as Dell, HP, and Apple (among others) do have energy efficient power supplies of varying levels in their machines.

Cheap No-Name Brand Power Supply Unit that Came with a Case Bundle

Cheap No-Name Brand Power Supply Unit

If your power supply looks as lame as the one in the above pic, then it probably has an efficiency rating of 60 to 70 percent.  This means that if your computer parts need roughly 200 watts of power to run, your PSU might draw 250 watts or more from the wall in order to supply the 200 watts of DC power.  That extra 50+ watts is wasted as heat.

PC Power & Cooling SILENCER PSU

PC Power & Cooling SILENCER PSU

Seasonic SS-380GB PSU Installed

But, if your power supply looks like the one in Pic # 2 or #3, it might be closer to 80 or 90 percent efficient.  For that same 200 watt load, it is only drawing perhaps 220 watts from the wall.  The thirty watt difference might not seem like much, but for a Folding rig running 24/7 the wasted wattage of the el-cheapo unit adds up.  Let’s assume we are running a machine with the craptastic PSU.  To calculate the total extra energy wasted relative to the better PSU (remember, watts is a power quantity, which means energy/time), we need to multiply the wasted wattage by the amount of time the computer was in service to get an energy quantity in watt-hours.  So, 30 watts * 24 hours/day * 365 days/year = 262800 watt-hours.  Converting to kilowatt hours (dividing by 1000) gives 262.8 kWh.  Assuming an average electricity cost of ten cents per kWh, we get an annual cost of 262.8 * 0.10 $/kWh = $26.28.  Assuming the folding computer is running with that same power supply for 5 years (mine has been going for longer), that is over $125 wasted dollars, not to mention a slap in the face for poor planet Earth!  A good energy efficient PSU could have been bought for $40 in the first place to negate this wasted energy cost and lessen the environmental impact.

So how can you spot an efficient power supply unit?  Well, for that you can go by the independent test & certification program known as 80+.  I will cover this in detail in the next article, so that people who want to jump right into the specs and skip this intro can do so.