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What price Freedom?

Graphics drivers (for X11 under whatever Free Software operating system you care to use) are one area where Free Software has plenty of room for improvement. My laptop has an nVidia GeForce 9600M in it, which means that there are two drivers I can use for it: the Free Software nv driver, or the proprietary nvidia one. There are qualitative differences (based on what’s available in Kubuntu 9.04 in this case): the proprietary one has the technical advantage that suspend works, compositing works and that logout is faster (because there’s a screen capture thing happening that is used to grey out the display). But there’s also an interesting quantitative difference: power use. This is one I hadn’t thought about at all — the laptop simply gets very warm under normal usage, to the point that my hands get uncomfortable resting on the keyboard. After switching video drivers, though, I thought the laptop felt a lot cooler in normal use. So, measurements. I used a watt-meter that sits between the wall socket and the power brick of the laptop to measure the following:

  • System idle, display on, nvidia driver: 40W
  • System idle, display blanked, nvidia driver: 33W
  • System idle, display on, nv driver: 42W
  • System idle, display blanked, nv driver: 35W

Non-idle the machine draws just as much: clearly regular end-user activities (writing email, writing letters, writing blog entres, but no compiling) don’t exactly stress the machine or draw extra power. Given the numbers, I don’t understand the perceived difference in temperature or comfort of working on the machine. But it does help me put a price on Freedom: two watts.

12 Responses to “What price Freedom?”

  1. Jens Says:

    What about the nouveau driver? I do not know if this one will be more efficient than nv or not, though…

  2. AdeBe Says:

    You can also try nouveau driver.
    I’ve heard it’s quite good these days (at least compared to nv).
    You can find few articles about it on phoronix.

  3. emisca Says:

    Hi, the difference you have seen is due to the powermizer function, that lowers the clock speed of the nvidia gpu and video ram, and the voltage of the gpu core. That’s were the 2 watt power saving and lower heat comes.

    You can try to use the nouveau driver (that currently does not support powermizer, but supports KMS and suspend, at least on Fedora 12) and read
    You can help to improve that driver. Probably the nv driver will die in the next years.


  4. Manish Runwal Says:

    We also need to check with different drivers as well with Power consumption. I am from India, We know that how much electricity is important for all our peoples. so If such things are really taking too much power consumption we definitely need solution for it. What do you think nVidia People help Open Source code people to go green?

  5. Manish Runwal Says:

    Yes thats really important to check what are other drivers which is taking so much power. As India is already lacking power. and most of the cities in india unable to get Electricity. so This is highly critically important to resolve. Does nVidia people helps open source guys to reduce power consumption?

  6. Lunarcloud Says:

    Yea, you have to remember that nv is made by nvidia to let you see the desktop and realize you need their proprietary driver. Abstraction to the point of the nv driver can have costs.

    Nouveau is probably better than both.

  7. Adam Williamson Says:

    Manish: NVIDIA has an explicit corporate policy that they will not help the development of open source drivers for their hardware in any way at all.

  8. Socceroos Says:

    2 watts you say? Hmm, that could give Microsoft some fuel for its TCO argument! =)

  9. adridg Says:

    Rather 5% of the total power budget. I should take a look what the power budget is when I run other operating systems on the same machine.

  10. Mkesper Says:

    Have you already tried nouveau? I think the devs of that driver would be really interested in results.
    Nonetheless, if you have the chance of buying new graphics hardware, be sure _not_ to chose nvidia because they – until now – were extremely unhelpful to Free Software in contrast to Intel or ATI/AMD.

  11. adridg Says:

    Not sure I entirely believe that, though: in my experience at least, the Free Software drivers available for Radeon are wretched and everyone suggests installing the proprietary fglrx drivers which have their own problems. This may have a little to do with the low-end Radeon cards (X300, X1200 and X1300) that I’ve used and the time I used them (2008) more than anything else.

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