Raising the Bar for Energy Efficient Graphics Processors

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We know that PC gaming is on the threshold of a grand new era of virtual reality (VR) thanks to advances in resolutions and performance. But the high-end graphics processors that power gaming PCs and other 3D rendering applications have been called into question for using a lot of power.

So what if generating superior, life-like graphics can be achieved through exceptionally energy efficient technology? What if the gaming industry is actually where the giant breakthroughs arise for delivering cutting-edge, energy efficient computing for countless other technologies?

In many ways, developing a best-in-class GPU (graphic processing unit) is like gaming itself: it requires a solid strategy to balance energy consumption, computing power and visual graphics to come out on top.

Let’s not sugarcoat this. GPUs can be energy-intensive. Rendering billions of pixels into a seamless and immersive experience can use considerable power. However, in a recent carbon footprint study, AMD showed that our Polaris family of GPUs is up to 2.8 times more energy efficient than our products shipped just two years ago. For example, upgrading from the Radeon™ R9 390 to the new Radeon™ RX 480 can help cut electricity use and carbon emissions by up to 40% from active gaming, and up to 32% across all use modes. And the savings add up, amounting to $112 USD in energy costs, approximately 888 kWh of electricity use, and 613 kg of carbon emissions over a three-year service life per gaming PC.

What’s exciting about this study is that it recognizes advancing energy efficiency in VR-capable gaming PCs may raise the bar for how the rest of the tech industry approaches performance-per-watt.

Because importantly–it’s not just about gamers. AMD is passionate about taking our VR-capable Polaris-based Radeon™ RX 480 GPU beyond gaming, for use in groundbreaking ways that brings positive change to people’s lives. We’re driven to lower energy consumption for all VR experiences, including those that promote empathy, education, action and healing. Whether its immersive journalism bringing you directly into war torn regions, or interactive VR classroom tools to engage students in STEM education. Or maybe it’s non-profits bringing viewers into the ocean to see the effects of pollution, or healthcare organizations helping patients manage pain or PTSD. That’s no game.

While the new Polaris GPU architecture represents a huge step on our journey of energy efficient VR, frankly we are just at the beginning. Our goal, the path we are on, is to design powerful, mirror-like graphics that also can be rendered from mobile energy-efficient devices. We call this the “immersive era,” or “full presence.” It will embrace GPUs that achieve the amazing resolution of the human eye – which is 64 times better than what a Full HD screen can display today – while consuming barely any energy.

While we have a great start, we know we can’t do it alone. The solution requires an “all of the above” approach with hardware, manufacturing and software technologies. AMD engineers designed the innovative Polaris GPU using a combination of architectural enhancements and intelligent circuit designs. Our wafer foundry partner provided the cutting edge 14-nanometer FinFET silicon manufacturing technology that squeezes billions of transistors closer to add more hardware capabilities, reduce power use, and lower heat generation. And for software, in an unprecedented move in GPU technology, AMD has given developers direct access through the GPUOpen initiative. This is a key strategy for taking VR beyond gaming, because open access drives new content, and new content drives the VR-enabled world.

Our GPU quest is audacious for sure, but AMD has been breaking through technological barriers for decades. With our motivated engineers and committed technology partners, I’m confident we will usher in an immersive era where VR solutions deliver unimaginable benefits for the human race. And we’ll do it while rapidly accelerating the performance-per-watt of our GPUs, because as our recent study shows, AMD is doubling-down on the energy efficiency game. And we’re in it for the long haul.

To access the full AMD Polaris (Graphics) Carbon Footprint Study, click here.

Stephen Presant, RPPG (Radeon Power Performance Group) Sr Director, has over 30 years of CPU, GPU, and computer systems experience. RPPG measures and analyzes GPU power and performance, and coordinates development of new low power and performance per watt efficiency initiatives within RTG (Radeon Technology Group).

2 thoughts on “Raising the Bar for Energy Efficient Graphics Processors

  1. There are so many assumptions in that carbon footprint analysis. It is completely dependent on carbon footprint of your electricity sources. In a low carbon power grid like Ontario and Quebec energy efficiency of the gpu could perversely increase carbon emissions as less excess heat from your computer is forcing your natural gas furnace to work harder to heat your house.

    1. The carbon footprint study used a weighted average emission factor from the 10 countries represented by AMD GPU sales, and it was 3rd party verified. In addition, the carbon footprint percentage delta between the RX 480 and the R9 390 (40% while gaming, 32% across all modes) is based on and equal to energy consumption, so regional variation in emission factor does affect the study findings.

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