ATI, Nvidia Increase Power Gluttony

While AMD and Intel continue to beat the drum about reducing power consumption in computers, new graphics processors from ATI and Nvidia are planning to engage in a gluttonous feast of wattage to the point that they will need their own power supplies.

Hardcore PC enthusiast site Anandtech reports that at the Computex tradeshow in Taiwan, ATI and Nvidia have told power supply manufacturers that their next-generation chips will require from 130 to 300 watts of power per card.

It was just a few years ago that a decent desktop computer could be powered by a 300-watt power supply, now you need that for just the video card.

As it is now, the high-end ATI chips, the 1800/1900, and top of Nvidia’s line, the 7800 and 7900, require a minimum of a 550-watt power supply to run and recommend a 750-watt power supply.

The solution for the upcoming chips is PC power supplies in the 1,000- to 1,200-watt range, or secondary power supplies, which were on display at the show.

One company, OCZ, was demonstrating a secondary power supply, capable of producing 300 watts, that fits in the 5.25-inch drive bay of a desktop computer.

ATI is preparing the R600 chip while Nvidia is prepping the G80 for release either late this year or early next year. Both chips will be designed for Microsoft’s upcoming DirectX 10 graphics library.

ATI would not discuss the details of its upcoming chip, but would say that “this demonstrates the amount of power required to drive a modern discrete graphic card. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to give good graphic performance and use less power,” said Terry Makedon, Group Manager at ATI, in an e-mail to

The high-end users aren’t as concerned with power consumption as business users and “live in the cutting-edge gaming world. For the business or corporate user who does not have the same processing needs, a discreet graphics card that doesn’t require it’s own power supply… and still offers a great deal of processing power,” said Makedon.

Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, echoed the notion that these video chips are meant for high-end gamers who pride themselves on how many fans they have in their systems, not business users.

These kinds of chips have up to 300 million transistors, three times the number of transistors in a Pentium D CPU, he said. That means more power needed and subsequently, more heat. Business users will use mid-range parts that use simpler chips with half the complexity, performance and power consumption.

None of this would be a concern for business users if it weren’t for the fact that the Aero interface in Windows Vista is entirely dependent on the video card, and it’s believed the better the video card, the better the Aero performance.

In his own internal tests, Peddie found that Aero, the 3-D graphics system of Windows Vista that requires a powerful GPU, could run adequately on a system with Intel’s 945 integrated chipset. He also found Aero ran on a variety of ATI’s mid-range cards with a 350 watt power supply.

“Even though the preferred configuration would be to have a higher-end graphics board, if it’s out of your reach, you can enjoy the Aero features with a good, new-generation integrated part, like the 945 and above,” he said.

A good measure is that if the integrated video can run DirectX 9c, it’s good enough for Aero, he said. And Makedon stressed that integrated video chips consume considerably less power than those used on a video card.

Eventually, he said, the GPU makers will get the memo on reducing power consumption.

“Not every computer has a high-powered GPU in it, but every computer has a CPU in it, so logically you would go after the CPU first just on a population basis,” said Peddie.

If anyone will do it, he speculates it will be AMD, which tweaked Intel’s nose about power consumption and got its nemesis to come around on the subject. AMD is running The Green Grid project to increase awareness about power consumption and has gotten quite a bit of industry support.

In its report, Anandtech said that the next generation of GPUs after the G80 and R600 will reduce power consumption.

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