Up For Debate - How Important is TDP Power Draw and Efficiency When Buying Gaming Hardware?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sat, Jul 22, 2017 2:00 PM

For the last few years now we’ve coasted by in some little dreamland when it comes to power efficiency. The CPU manufacturers have been busy trying to drive TDP (Thermal Design Power) down to rock bottom levels, spurred on by the rise of mobiles, laptops and tablets, while Nvidia made power efficiency its calling card with its Maxwell GPU, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti representing a turning point for Team Green.

It’s been great. A lot of us have been sat here with 450W or 500W power supplies, with nary a care in the world. Just buy the hardware, slot it in, and we’re good to go. The arrival of AMD’s Radeon RX Vega graphics cards is reigniting the debate though, and while Nvidia preoccupies itself with performance efficiency and eking more out of less, AMD looks to be going the brute force approach in order to match Nvidia’s performance, driving TDP sky high.

Take the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition liquid cooled. It carries a 375W rated TDP, and under high load testing can reach as high as 440W. For a single GPU graphics card. That’s insane. By comparison, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti consumes ‘just’ 250W, while the base GTX 1080 is 180W. We’re entering a world where we can install two GeForce GTX 1080’s in a SLI configuration while consuming less power than AMD’s like-for-like Vega equivalent. TDP and power efficiency is most definitely a question that is back on the table again.

So what is TDP? Known as thermal design power, it’s the maximum amount of heat generated by a component that can be effectively dissipated by its cooling system. It isn’t the maximum amount of heat that can be generated full stop and overclocking or high loads can push it beyond this figure, beyond the safe recommended levels of the hardware and/or cooling solution.

The cost of inefficient design doesn’t just hit us on the hardware front either; it’s not just new PSUs that we require. As I explored in a previous article on Radeon RX Vega, the rumoured 375W TDP for the flagship model would cost me an estimated £98.56 in electricity bills, compared to £65.71 for the (we expect more powerful) GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. That’s an increase of 50%, and it amounts to £100 extra every three years. In addition to this, the higher the TDP, the better the cooling solution you will typically require. Factor in a new PSU, and you can begin to uncover the hidden costs of GPU inefficiency.

The flipside to this is that for some of you, power draw is a non-issue. If you’ve got a no holds barred, beastly rig with a 1200W PSU, it ultimately doesn’t matter what you throw into it. Lay out the big bucks for a highly rated, efficient PSU in the first place and the only real cost is your electricity bill at the end of the month.

Another factor to consider is that manufacturer provided TDP info is often completely wrong in a real world setting. Graphics cards can often use vastly more wattage under high load than they claim, which is why you want a significant headroom between the power you believe your PC uses and the capacity of your PSU. Overclocking will also push GPU TDP well beyond the stated amount. Generally speaking though, the higher the rated TDP, the more power is going to be consumed.

So in this world of escalating power guzzling and rising bills, how important a factor is TDP to you when picking up new hardware? Could AMD be playing a risky game with Radeon RX Vega? Let us know!

How important is TDP for you when buying a GPU or CPU? 1 is low 10 is high

Our favourite comments:

Power efficiency/power draw is important to me (voted for 8) coz that is what I pay in the long run as "operational cost" of my gaming machine. As for TDP in thermal dissipation, I would give it a 6. Running at stock or slightly overclocked it doesn't matter really much except when overclocking I need to figure how much thermal headroom I still have for my cooler to handle.

iSilverX

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04:45 Jul-24-2017

No matter how you look at it, the idea of a gaming rig is entertainment - in other words, you really do not care how much total power draw you have and never will - if you care about TDP, don't use it for gaming

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07:49 Jul-24-2017

this is exactly right, this is a concern of mine as I want to build a highly mobile nano CAD ready machine that can also run a robot, it'll require being able to be moved from one spot to another over a short distance while being run on a UPS. The design requires low power draw and low heat output but a laptop won't work as a RAID array, 3 video outputs and several ethernet ports are needed

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14:16 Jul-24-2017

In other words, you are actually concerned about work-related issues and not how to waste your time xD

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22:15 Jul-24-2017

bingo ;)

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21:58 Jul-25-2017

Well, why waste power if same work can be done with less power consumption for about same price? I don't really care that badly about it, but I see no reason why waste power if it is not necessary. And then again, power is not exactly free either. And why pay 100EUR higher bill per year, if result is same.

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09:31 Jul-26-2017

To pay that much more additionally would mean to have a consumption 70%+ more than the "smart" product - with the hardware from the last 3 years, that is no longer an issue, you can not give that much more money, unless you are comparing rigs with different levels of performance...

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09:39 Jul-26-2017

Ok, than I have a simple question 4 everyone who is interested on power efficiency. What is the light source in your home?


LED, incandescent light bulb or something else?

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09:49 Jul-26-2017

Mostly LEDs for indoor lighting and some fluorescent bulbs for outdoor.

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10:01 Jul-26-2017

That's smart. I stared using LED-s about 3 years ago. They are just way better than anything else.

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14:23 Jul-26-2017

All LED in my home, and in the winter I use wood for heat instead of gas or electricity. I cut the wood myself. Hard work, but it saves a lot of money.

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18:16 Jul-27-2017

Cut your own wood and it will warm you twice.

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16:49 Jul-29-2017

Amen! XD

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20:02 Jul-23-2017

i have gone full mobile and ditch my desktop (4770k/rx480) use almost 1/3 the power and better in gaming, but usually tdp is the last thing i look at but i also don't want no gtx 590 power pull, but performance is the decider.

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14:25 Jul-26-2017

I have done the same. I ditched desktops several years ago, and now there really is no reason to ever go back to them.

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12:02 Jul-23-2017

Yeah, that is only thing that is nudging me back to nVidia. I have RX480 and while it is good card performance wise, it does consume more power and fans tend to get loud. Undervolting helps, but it does not work in all games, in some it just randomly crashes, even if it worked for a week prior.

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12:04 Jul-23-2017

Sure I would lose FreeSync, but I can't say I can clearly tell if I notice difference between it and Vsync or limiting FPS to refresh rate. I like RX480 from performance standpoint. Though it still has some games where it struggles on ultra for some reason, like maxed out World of Warcraft or Anno 2205.

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21:18 Jul-23-2017

Both WoW and Anno 2205 are CPU bound games...

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22:00 Jul-25-2017

CPU on all 4 cores sits at about 60% max for both. Never saw it go to 80%+. So that shouldn't be an issue. Also GPU sits at constant 100%.

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20:00 Jul-23-2017

what tessellation mode do you run the card in? In a lot, games will run better if you select 'use application settings', there is a bit of fiddling with the drivers to get things to work (like display scaling), also if you are using a ROG board, some games don't play well with Sonic Studio or Sonic Radar (you have to disable them) that if you use an AMD card

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22:07 Jul-25-2017

I have tessellation mode on AMD optimized and display scaling is off. Maybe I should try playing with that, I thought AMD would know what is best for me... silly me. :-D


And I don't have ROG board, so no Sonic stuff for me. I have Gigabyte GA-Z170-HD3P.


Thanks for advice.

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04:26 Jul-26-2017

it depends on the game, it's something to play around with, some run much better with AMD optimized while others run better with application optimized, meanwhile some run just the same with either, you just need to experiment to see what works

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09:56 Jul-23-2017

I actually my have a solution 4 the elec bill. Now this depends on where you live & how much you are willing to spend, but how many solar panels would you need to power a monster pc that uses 800+ W.
And yes I do know that you would need batteries when the sun doesn't shine etc...

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10:57 Jul-23-2017

Game debate already had that idea back in April.

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11:04 Jul-23-2017

Has there been any progress in that regard?

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11:58 Jul-23-2017

You would have ask Jon about that.

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13:28 Jul-23-2017

Copy. I'll give Jon a shout.

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09:42 Jul-24-2017

Next up, how to make you own thorium reactor so you can brag to your hipster friends o look, I'm NUCLEAR.

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11:06 Jul-23-2017

LOVE the AMD card in the fire. ;)

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18:24 Jul-24-2017

yes AMD makes affordable cards

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10:02 Jul-26-2017

Cool comment Lion ;)

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08:57 Jul-23-2017

I run on Solar and batteries, and I like to reduce strain as much as I am able. So Very high, despite my current rig. XD

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09:07 Jul-23-2017

Lol :D

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22:27 Jul-23-2017

YOU MOCK MY MICROWAVE? But seriously. This thing puts out more heat than my heater. XD

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14:54 Jul-24-2017

Well 2x in one :D

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09:34 Jul-23-2017

solar panel looks so hot

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22:27 Jul-23-2017

Physically, they are. NEVER get solar shingles.

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07:50 Jul-23-2017

yeah 5 more bucks on electricity is a major deal breaker

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06:42 Jul-23-2017

My newest rig is the most power hungry rig I've ever built. Skylake-X draws ALOT of power. 300W for the processor alone at full load with 100% LLC/currentcap. Nevermind increasing LLC to 140% which can increase total power draw to 500W by the CPU alone in Prime 95. My PSU is only a 760W so I leave the LLC/currentcap at 100%.
In total, the rig fully loaded runs 680W. TDP isn't actual power draw.

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06:32 Jul-23-2017

tdp is important but when i buying things i look at price and performance and then TDP and power consomption and then i decide whatever im going to buy or not

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06:04 Jul-23-2017

This is how much more a RX 580 would be (in my situation) compared to a GTX 1060:
https://s1.postimg.org/r3tlr077j/power_consumption.png
Power Draw matters people and I haven't even mentioned things such as temperature and noise.

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11:00 Jul-23-2017

TDP is relatively how hot the gpu would run and thus the cooling requirement.... and i cannot see why noise is that big of an issue of course i run with delta fans so haha.

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08:12 Jul-29-2017

Noise can be harsh, I had a computer a couple of years ago with a loud CPU fan a loud GPU blower fan and a cheap case. The noise was so bad I had to wear a headphone to watch videos and hear it properly.

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05:35 Jul-23-2017

a RX 580 would cost more than a 1070 if you include a 2-3 year electricity bill. I've done the math myself based on power consum. per kilowatt-hour under load. Got the metrics from sites as gamers nexus and pcper. Don't overlook power draw.

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09:53 Jul-23-2017

Never considered that bit. Thx 4 the head's up.

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01:58 Jul-23-2017

I do take my electric bill seriously. So yeah it matters to me.

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00:34 Jul-23-2017

I had a XFX 390X and that card was hot and noisy. Not extremely noisy, but I had to ramp up the case fans too to keep it cool. Now, with the 1070 there is no difference between idle or gaming, same level of noise and that is great.

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16:14 Jul-23-2017

lol I had to 2 290x in crossfire now that was some noise and heat XD and thankfully my electricity was all inclusive in this duplex but the pc sounded like a jet engine :P

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22:07 Jul-22-2017

As long as it isn't something too crazy that produces too much heat (FX 9590 for example) I don't care about higher TDP.

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21:46 Jul-22-2017

as long as I have enough power connectors to run the card and it will max out my display with maxed settings, I don't really care

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09:57 Jul-23-2017

A fellow after my own heart. :)

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20:18 Jul-22-2017

My honest opinion abt power draw is tht it still matters in most of the countries including mine where my electricity bills could go higher if i have a very power hungry rig. wht i feel is tht Vega GPU is gonna force every gamer who wants to upgrade their GPU to buy a better PSU and also i think this power draw is gonna be a temporary issue like RX 480 which AMD would address quickly. go Team RED!!

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20:20 Jul-22-2017

and i am gonna throw my current PSU shortly for a better one and upgrade my GPU to gtx 1070. i am also thinking of Vega too if it is well optimized like it's Nvdia counterpart to run all games with ultra settings @1080p 60fps.

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19:08 Jul-22-2017

Don't care, as long as a 600W PSU with 45AMPs or more on the +12V rail can run a system with that hardware. Power consumption barely makes a difference for the bills, heat usually is cooled with a cooler and the more TDP the bigger and better the cooler is, so no worries there either.


On the other hand if it is like in intel's case where you can NOT cool the hardware(in this case CPU), because they are using toothpaste for heat conductor between the chip and heat spreader, then sure, I would like it to have as low TDP and power consumption as possible, since the cooling solutions will NOT be of almost any benefit.

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17:45 Jul-22-2017

Never cared about TDP. If you can afford anything above 200$, I assume that the TDP is of no concern, in most cases ofc. If one barely saves to buy then one should game less.

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17:44 Jul-22-2017

I only really care about price to performance leading me to usually buy hardware from the used market somewhere. I do have a good liquid cooler that I got used, and a 1000w power supply sooo... When my next machine gets built I probably won't care then either

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17:01 Jul-22-2017

what is should've said was: " How Important is TDP Power Draw and Efficiency When Buying Gaming Hardware THATS THE SAME PRICE?" !... honestly... what i think should matter more is price to performance ratio...

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16:51 Jul-22-2017

I keep an eye on it mostly for the cooling needed (as that's what it is per definition). Power usage from the wall is not thàt inportant in my opinion. Also because 1 Watt more for 12 hours a day, every day, cost only .5 to 1 dollar/euro more in a year

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