PC Perspective Advanced Power Testing

Update (6/30/16): I have posted another story that looks at concerns surrounding the Radeon RX 480 drawing more power than the PCI Express specification allows. There are very interesting and important details to see, so I would encourage you to check it out.

For our power consumption tests on new GPUs, we previewed a new measurement method last year that we are finally taking advantage of. This isn’t an “at the wall” measurement with a Watts Up or something similar to that; instead we are measuring power directly from the graphics card itself.

How do we do it? Simple in theory but surprisingly difficult in practice, we are intercepting the power being sent through the PCI Express bus as well as the ATX power connectors before they go to the graphics card and are directly measuring power draw with a 10 kHz DAQ (data acquisition) device. A huge thanks goes to Allyn for getting the setup up and running. We built a PCI Express bridge that is tapped to measure both 12v and 3.3v power and built some Corsair power cables that measure the 12v coming through those as well.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Things are a bit cluttered at the center of our graph with the new Radeon RX 480, Radeon R9 380 and the GeForce GTX 970 all consuming around 150 watts in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The GTX 960 is definitely a class below, using less than 100 watts in our measurements, with the aging Hawaii design pulling 260 watts or more. Considering the performance results we just witnessed on the preceding pages, this is impressive efficiency on the part of Polaris.

Under The Witcher 3 we see a similar story – the R9 390 is using the full 275 watts of juice that its TDP allows while new Radeon RX 480 is hitting the 155 watt mark or so, 5 watts lower than the GTX 970. 

Now that we are have direct power measurement numbers to use, rather than power from the wall results that could be tainted by increased CPU usage at any of these points, we can do some interesting performance per watt measurements for all parties involved.

Comparing the RX 480 to the R9 390 and the GTX 970, it's most direct performance competitors, its clear that Polaris is a more efficient architecture than Hawaii and Maxwell. Based on these results, the RX 480 is 1.7x more power efficient than its last generation products and as much as 50% more efficient than the GTX 970.

Overclocked Power Consumption

Another quick data point that I took that I thought was worth sharing: direct measurements of power consumption while overclocked. How much did our power numbers go up with that pretty basic 3.5% overclock?

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version

Ouch! In Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Radeon RX 480 was using about 200 watts of power when overclocked, a 33% increase over stock settings. In The Witcher 3 that number falls to about 180 watts while overclocked, but you can clearly see we are hitting a power limit on the card and it is throttling back.

This leaves us with an interesting question: will partner cards with better coolers allow us to better utilize the additional power this card can draw? My hunch is not really; we may be seeing some early limits of Polaris 10 silicon. We'll be waiting for some custom coolers to make their way into our offices to find out quickly!

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