Sunday, January 13, 2013

More cores, more power and still no effective cooling system


I think we really have a problem here. Watching the world of technology, there is a clear tendency to equip mobile devices with more and more power. Looking at the specifications of fleshly unveiled Nvidia Tegra 4 (72 custom Nvidia GeForce GPU cores, new quad-core variant of ARM's Cortex-A15 CPU) I can say I'm already pretty amazed. But this enthusiasm might be suppressed very soon!

Where is the issue? You might say we've already been there few years ago, when multi-cores CPUs were gaining more and more attention from non-professional desktops/notebooks users. Marketing did a great job then. Nobody cared that most of consumers wouldn't be able to use the power of multi-cores. Nobody told them, that powerful CPU in pair with 1 GB of RAM memory and 5.400 RPM hard drive will be a waste of money and power. But it's not the point here.

What matters is the method of heat extraction. Air or water cooling systems are very advanced these days and can be very effective when it comes to PC. So if you really want to use 4 cores CPU for MS Word Editing or Internet browsing on your PC, there is nobody stopping you, apart of your own pocket. But what about mobile phones, tablets or so popular these days ultrabooks? Cooling systems on those devices are really bad. And what makes it even worse, there is no revolution coming. At least not for mobile phones or tablets.

Most of new ultrabooks (equipped with powerful CPUs and dedicated GPU) suffers from so called "throttling", caused by too much heat generated by the CPU and GPU when under heavy load together. Extra thin constructions are not effective when it comes to cooling, because the size of cooling heaps and fans needs to be reduced to minimum. Of course there is some room for improvements. For example, in  new MacBook Pro you can find two fans and quite smart arrangement of cooling pipes. Notebooks/ultrabooks designers surely have more options and more space than mobile phones designers. So I believe this might get better in time.

What's the situation when it comes to mobile phones? As I mentioned before, I think it's really bad. First of all, you can't put any fan inside your phone. The space inside is so limited, so forget about advanced system of micro cooling pipes. So what is the current solution? For example, idea of 5th companion core presented by Nvidia in Tegra 3. When device is in idle state, 5th core is taking care of low level tasks, running at very low frequency. Yes, this is quite smart. Tegra 4 will have the same mechanism. Another example - smart governors. When you turn your screen off, you CPU frequency will be limited to let's say 340 MHz. When turning screen on, it will go back to let's say 1,7 GHz. Nice, huh?

So... wait a minute!

It seems that from one hand we are buying super powerful devices, and from the other hand there are plenty of methods to limit this power. People are happy these days when they can use their super phone for more then 16 hours without charging. They do everything to achieve that - they are limiting GPU power, CPU power, turning off capacitive buttons lights or changing screen backlight to minimum (and they can barely see what's written on the screen). So take a moment, sit on the chair and count - how many times have you actually used the power of your device? Do you really need 4 cores and 2GB of RAM for Gmail, Chrome or Andry Birds? I don't think so. You might say you are playing heavy 3D games. Okay - how long can you play Need For Speed on your device in the bus? I'm pretty sure your device will be discharged after less then 1 hour. So, you might say you can always play it at home, with a device connected to the charger. Personally, when sitting home I prefer playing Need For Speed on PC or notebook.

What's the point in having 4 cores CPU, 2GB RAM and 72 custom Nvidia GeForce GPU cores if you can't use it? In idle this will be limited to 1 hidden core running something like 70 MHz. When using the phone for daily tasks (photos, internet, mail, calling) it will use about 20% of the potential power. When playing games it might use the full power for some period of time, then will be down-clocked because of generated heat. Is it comfortable to hold a device in your hand that have a temperature of 59 °C? I don't think so...
Of course there is a matter of reducing the size of the chipsets. Newer production processes mean lower power consumption. But this wont help.

So is it a right and good direction, when a companies are making more and more powerful hardware, trying to figure out better and more effective way to limit this power at the same time? It's like putting in and out. And all for the money from customers.

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16 comments:

  1. very good wordssss and very good subject

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  2. Hm. Good points... it's like the cat that bites its own tale... And yes, having a HTC One X+ as daily driver with pure power underneath the cover I run the power save mode in order to have longer battery life...

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  3. Actually a very valid point! Makes me wonder why I still want so many cores in my phone..
    Since all we do on a phone that's pretty heavy is watching Youtube or something. Those few games aren't going to do it.
    Next time I buy a new phone I'll definitely think about this. 'Cause just upgrading to something that'll heat up like a black car in full sun is just useless.

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  4. You are right, I do not need powered device all the time, but it is nice to have it when you need it.

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    1. I agree it's nice to have it when you need it. But my point is, there is a tendency to improve the power and to reduce the power at the same time. And if you want to use the power you have, you will most probably be limited to short battery life.

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  5. I have a slightly different meaning. You're right with your statement that companies are trying to produce more powerful hardware and - at the same time - try to limit this power to allow an efficient and easy daliy use. But what would be if no one developed mobile CPUs or hardware for smartphones? Then we would get stuck in the same techology. It may be that 4 core CPUs for smartphones aren't that necessary but I am overwhelmed by the speed of my Galaxy S3 with 4 cores compared to my Sensation XE with 2 cores and I don't see another way to reduce the power when you don't need it.

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    1. I think it's great what we already have, but also keep in mind that code optimization plays a great role here as well. HTC Sense is well known to be heave UI.

      But my point was different. It would be fine to increase the number of cores and the overall performance of the devices, but at the same time someone should really focus on creating new cooling system. Such system must be implemented as soon as possible. There is no use of power if you can't dissipate generated heat.

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    2. I see your point but I think if it would be possible to implement an effective cooling sytem into a smartphone someone already had done it. In every case cooling systems consume a lot of extra power. Therefore you would have to build in stronger batteries which would increase the size and the weight of the phone. Moreover imagine there would be a little fan in the phone. The smaller the fan the louder it is so if you want to cool the phone effectively it would be awfully noisy i think.

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    3. ...so I think at first they should focus on developing stronger an lighter batteries so the overall power consumption of the phones can be covered.
      Btw I love your Roms :D

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    4. I don't think that active cooling is the solution. Adding little fan is not an option. As you said - there are not many solutions right now. That's why I wrote this article. We need someone to invent more effective native cooling. There are many concepts already, but we need something that can be implemented in a next couple of years and it wont rise up mobile devices price dramatically.

      Stronger and lighter batteries are good direction as well, indeed!

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    5. It's a good point and I also think that passive solutions are the only way. But wouln't you aggree that even when all of the emitted heat could be absorbed by a cooling system, the phone would still be discharged in about an hour?

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    6. I agree! But the capacity of batteries and the power consumption is another limit for another article maybe :)

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    7. Right and i'd like to read more of your articles soon :)

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  6. Multi tasking on 350mb vs 2gb ram quad core ......

    What will you choose

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  7. Multi tasking on 350mb vs 2gb ram quad core ......

    What will you choose

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  8. My lg86c will get to 114°· when at home i take back off abd put it on towel w/ freezer pack under it. Of course this happens when using and charging at same time! Hope it will last longer that way. Pain in the ass!!!!

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