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Mac Pro Nehalem Power Usage Spike Playing Music
In late 2009, a reader brought a bizarre problem to my attention. It seemed innocuous enough, and I could not pay much attention at the time, due to other pressing projects. That same reader sent me more detailed information in late January which showed just how irksome the problem actually was: a massive power usage and very hot CPUs. Of special concern, at least long term, is very hot CPUs with no apparent attempt by the CPU fans to cool them.
Playing a sound track consumes 143 watts!
Launch iTunes and play a track. Mozart did the trick for me, but it doesn’t matter. I played through the awful built-in speaker; that doesn’t matter either.
Power usage at idle vs maxed-out vs full CPU usage
To determine how much power fully-loaded CPUs could consume, the MemoryTester program was used with the command 'mt compute'.
The 'mt compute' command maxes-out all 16 virtual cores, using all available computing power (1600% CPU usage). Yet power usage peaks at 393 watts, only 14% more than when playing music.
Other circumstances cause the issue
Some users report that merely having sound-related equipment attached via USB or Firewire can cause similar symptoms. I did not investigate this.
Some users have reported impaired performance in some programs while playing music.
Using MemoryTester with 'mt compute', I detected no impact on compute performance while playing music, as measured by the aggregate speed reported.
Using MemoryTester with 'mt stress', I detected no impact on memory bandwidth.
Those results show no impairment, but they also use all 16 virtual cores. simultaneously.
I haven’t yet run real-world tests, such as RAW-file conversion in a program like Lightroom.
Substantial performance impairment while playing music looks to be a serious concern, which I'll be looking into more.
Consuming 143 watts to play a music track is ridiculous. On less “loaded” machines, it’s likely that the power usage would double over the idle usage (my machine is stuffed full with memory, drives and cards).
Perhaps it’s just a bizarre side effect that is “normal”, but it’s offensive to the conscience to consume 143 additional watts to listen to one music track, let alone the extra heat it dumps into my office, and my higher power bills (my bill hits the $.44/kilowatt hour tier).