Silicon Week: Making power pay: how AMD’s Polaris graphics cards could save gamers money

Silicon Week: Making power pay: how AMD's Polaris graphics cards could save gamers money

Introduction

PC gaming isn't cheap. First, you have to buy powerful hardware if you want to play the best PC games, then there's the cost of AAA games themselves. As we all know, Steam sales only go so far.

Most people barely stop to think about the ongoing electricity cost of running a typical gaming PC, which, according to a 2015 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, can consume as much power as three refrigerators in a single year.

AMD has doubled down on the energy efficiency of its GPUs and APUs in recent years. In 2014, it launched an initiative to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency of its A-Series APUs.

In its new Carbon Footprint Study, the company now claims that its Polaris-based Radeon RX 400 series (including the Radeon RX 480) can achieve up to 2.8 times the energy efficiency of its previous generation Radeon R9 390 GPU.

Level up

The suggestion, then, is that upgrading from AMD's older card to one of its newer ones can save you a wad of cash. Approximately 888 kWh is saved per year by making the switch, according to AMD, which it translates to around $112/£85/AUS$147 over three years. That may not sound like much, but if you upgrade your card every three years, it's a chunk shaved from the cost of the next one while helping out the planet.

Robert Hallock, Technical Manager at AMD, says that the energy efficiency savings were made through a combination of architectural improvements to Polaris and a move to the 14nm FinFET manufacturing process, one of the biggest generational leaps the industry has seen. TechRadar spoke to Hallock to find out more.

TechRadar: Why did AMD conduct the Carbon Footprint study?

Robert Hallock: We did the study because, when you say that you've improved performance-per-watt of your product, it's jargon and slang that most people don't understand. We wanted to put a human face on the power savings of Polaris and ask the question of what it actually means to upgrade from a card that you had two years ago to a Polaris architecture-based one. It can have implications for your power bill and the environment.

What savings did you uncover?

In the paper, we mapped it out to dollars, kilowatt-hours and carbon dioxide saved per year. If you add up all of the savings from the paper, we could offset emissions from 500,000 automobiles in the US, which is equivalent to 88 million trees. There are 50 million dollars of energy savings to be made each year, and these are "up to" figures depending on how many people buy an RX 480. It's a much better way to describe power efficiency and savings than talking about performance-per-watt.

AMD Polaris

How were energy efficiency gains made by moving to Polaris?

It gave us up to 2.8 times the performance per every watt of power versus a few years ago. Around 1.7 of that is simply switching to the 14nm FinFET manufacturing process, and the other 1.1 is from AMD-built circuits and decisions that we specifically made to create this chip.

What is the significance of moving to 14nm?

It's been five years since the last major jump in the manufacturing process happened. The last one was 28nm in early 2012. That half a decade in-between is the longest period between two process nodes for graphics cards. The industry had to figure out clever ways of getting increased performance and lower power out of the same manufacturing techniques. It's been a long time coming and has allowed us to be flexible and efficient with our designs.

The report says that "Dennard Scaling," or the improvements gained by moving to a new architecture, is slowing down. Why is this?

There are any number of billions of transistors inside each and every graphics card or processor. As we move to smaller transistor sizes, the amount of physical area space in a chip that you can save on smaller nodes diminishes over time. It's not necessarily the transistor size that's taking up space any more; it's the spaces in-between them. You can only make each transistor so small before individual electrons can pop out into the environment, which is called electron leakage.

AMD

While running electrons can increase heat, it can reduce reliability, and diminishing returns becomes the name of the game. That's why the industry is collectively looking at the next process node, and the one after that, to figure out what makes sense. We have to ask what the technique is to build the next chip smaller, because there will be a point where something different must be done.

Polaris arranges compute units in a parallel formation, rather than linear. What's the advantage of that?

That's specific to Polaris. One of the advantages of having smaller transistors is that you can fit more circuitry into the same amount of space. It may open up room for a cache, buffer or new instruction that you didn't previously have room for.

Every transistor costs a certain amount of money, and the bigger you make your chip, the more expensive it becomes. That scaling is not linear in nature, so you have to make choices about what to put into the chip. If we can fit more into the exact same space today than you could yesterday, then we can extract more performance for every compute unit by improving their fundamental design.

How difficult is it to make gamers more aware of how much energy graphics cards and other components in gaming PCs consume?

I think we've seen a pretty stark uptick in the average gamer's interest in power efficiency, especially in the last three years. They're starting to understand the cost in two ways: the power bill, and in terms of fan RPMs that have to be used to cool a high-power, hot-running graphics card.

It's relatively easy to do that, but users are starting to appreciate the engineering elegance of a graphics card that can do more with less. Talking to gamers daily inside and outside of work, I see more interest, broadly, in power efficiency as a metric and it's something that's widely discussed.

The United Nations has called for a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Are there any regulatory incentives that penalize or encourage AMD when it comes to targets?

Currently there are none that I am aware of, although there are awards and whatnot that encourage us. The fun thing about the silicon industry is that doing more with less power is the natural evolution of things, at least when it comes to energy efficiency.

As we switch to smaller manufacturing nodes, like we did with Polaris moving to 14nm Fin FET, AMD investigated and built new circuit designs that are responsible for around half of the improved power efficiency for the Polaris architecture. We also work with several labs on that – especially in North America – feed into regulatory agencies.

So, it's in the whole silicon industry's interest to make those energy efficiency gains?

Yes, because having cooler running, lower power and lower wattage parts makes it easier to build the rest of the product around it; you don't need as complicated a cooler or as expensive a fan; or voltage regulators to control higher power; it just simplifies the whole system – so there's an economic incentive there, too.

Where will energy efficiency gains come from when it comes to Polaris' successor?

I can't speculate on future products, and 14nm is very new. It will be around for a while, so it seems to me that emphasizing circuit design and physical layout of the chip will be the key factors going forward.

This article is part of TechRadar's Silicon Week. The world inside of our machines is changing more rapidly than ever, so we're looking to explore everything CPUs, GPUs and all other forms of the most precious metal in computing.

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iPhone 6 touch problems? The gray flickering is an epidemic

iPhone 6 touch problems? The gray flickering is an epidemic

iPhone 6s flickering gray bar and touch issues

If your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus stopped responding to touch, you're not alone. Many iPhone users are reporting the loss of touch combined with a strange flickering gray bar at the top of the display.

The problem has been around since the launch of the phone, but didn't manifest until recently because the phones are getting older, according to a recent report from iFixit. It's being called "Touch Disease" because it has become such a widespread problem.

iPhone 6 "Touch Disease" is said to stem from Apple's design of its logic board for this particular phone. This board is home to most of the circuits that make your iPhone work, including the processor, storage, and touch controllers.

iPhone 6 logic board

Over time, shock from normal use or drops slowly strain the connectors on the two integrated circuits (IC) that control touch on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Once the ICs become disconnected, touch becomes intermittent or stops working completely, often accompanied by a gray flickering bar at the top of the screen.

So why is this happen only to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? Apple didn't use a substance called "underfill" to help support the touch ICs, according to independent repair specialists like Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab and Louis RossmannThe reason we haven't seen this in older handsets is because Apple has used in previous iPhone models.

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhJW140kLCY

This underfill works like a glue that helps mount the circuits to the board and also helps absorb impacts. Without this underfill, the touch circuits tend to flex and strain their connectors, eventually disconnecting from the logic board.

Additionally, Jones and Rossmann both point to the fact that Apple also decided not to put a metal shield over the touch circuits, which would have prevented the logic board from flexing. Instead, the company simply put a sticker over part of the iPhone 6 logic board where the touch controllers reside.

iPhone 6 logic board

All of these factors, combined with the fact that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were prone to bending, has resulted in many iPhone users stuck with unresponsive phones.

The fix for gray flickering and unresponsive touch

Apple has yet to acknowledge the fact that Touch Disease is a known issue on its phones, leading to users seeking out independent repair shops to fix their phones. Since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are now out of warranty, Apple only offers customers the option to purchase a new phone.

Independent shops like iPad Rehab offer to fix the issue for less than what Apple charges for a new phone. iPad Rehab actually replaces the touch controller circuits with new ones and goes as far as to put their own metal shield around the circuits to prevent flex.

iPhone 6 logic board replacements

This problem is unique to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, as Apple has previously designed iPhones with rigid metal shields covering the entire logic board, like that found in the iPhone 5s. Apple's current phones, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus don't suffer from this issue either, as Apple strengthened the weak points of the case and moved the touch controllers from the logic board to the display assembly, which is less prone to flex. It's unknown why Apple decided not to put a metal shield over the iPhone 6 logic board.

Some users have "fixed" the issue by putting pressure on the screen so that the touch controllers would make contact with the logic board again. But this is only a temporary solution, as the touch circuits could be damaged, not just their connections.

The only foolproof solution for iPhone users plagued by Touch Disease is to buy a new phone or to reach out to independent repair shops to replace and reinforce the touch circuits, neither of which is an ideal solution.

A known issue

Many users have taken to Apple's support forums to discuss the issue, but the company has yet to provide an official response. There are pages and pages of users reporting on the same unresponsive touch issue. Apple has not returned our request for comment at the time of writing.

Jones claims she has been banned three separate times for speaking about the issue on Apple's support forums. Others have had their posts censored by Apple's moderators.

"People often bring us a screen problem that isn't really a screen problem," said Ed Varga of iPhone Repair SF. "It's hard to catch this particular issue but we've seen it for a few months now."

Varga has seen a few phones brought into his shop with the same touch issue over the last few weeks.

"My theory is that the iPhone 6 is prone to bending, resulting in problems with the touch screen and network connectivity. I've seen phones have trouble connecting to the network but would work again after twisting it," said Varga. "I think [the iPhone 6 Plus] is not a very durable phone compared to other models."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iX7TyEjJ2E

Like many other small phone repair shops, iPhone Repair SF turns away customers who have logic board issues. "It's just not time efficient for us to do it," said Varga, whose shop makes most of its money on screen repairs.

While there are independent repair shops that can replace the touch circuits, they're extremely difficult to find and require talented technicians who can perform the phone equivalent of open heart surgery.

For iPhone users facing this issue, it's a tough decision: either buy a new phone or seek out a repair shop that can fix it. But buying a new phone is expensive and seeking out a repair shop that can fix it can take days or weeks.

Rossmann thinks Apple should acknowledge that "Touch Disease" is a problem, and to offer an extended warranty to its affected customers. However, that's unlikely to happen unless droves of customers publicly call Apple out for the problem.

In the past, Apple faced a class action lawsuit for not acknowledging a persistent graphics issues on its MacBook Pro laptops. It also faced another lawsuit for "Error 53," which locked iPhone users out of their devices after replacing parts like the screen, flex cable, and Home button.

"Touch Disease" will likely continue to plague users, as their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models become older and more susceptible to broken touch controllers. There's no easy fix for Apple, as it would likely have to redesign and remanufacture the logic boards for the iPhone 6 models and recall the affected phones.

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Epic Games Forums hacked and info for 800K Accounts Leaked

According to a representative from LeakedSource.com, an alleged data dump of accounts from Unreal Engine and Epic games are being traded on the darkweb and underground communities.These data dumps consist of 530,590 leaked user accounts from the Unreal Engine forum and 277,944 leaked user accounts from the Epic Games forum. [...]
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