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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting to the root of GPU overheating.

TL;DR Reduce your video resolution if you want quality or change to Optimized for Performance if you want dual monitors (or high resolution like 1080p.)

We've all read the reports of GPU melt-downs due to Incarna. There was even a somewhat sideways admission by CCP that such issues might exist. However, we've not had (to my knowledge) pictures of slagged video cards directly attributable to Incarna. However, I have personal knowledge of how Incarna heats up my #1 Nvidia GTX 580 - more than any other game in my library.

Since I recently posted about my cooling system failure, you can understand I'm a little sensitive about heat issues now. In fact, when the system got back to me they'd also replaced the mother board and both video cards (I can't say enough good things about Cyberpower PC for this) because if reliability issues. One of the first things I did when I got it turned on was download better temp (CPU and GPU) monitoring software. I decided on a neat little Windows 7 gadget called GPU Meter.

So, as I sat the other day in my Captain's Quarters and watched my GPU temp hit 86C (97C is max operating temp) I started wondering why and how could I mitigate it. I undocked and watched as my GPU utilization dropped by more than 50% and the GPU temperature dropped accordingly. I docked. My GPU went to 99% utilization and its temp started to go up quickly. Indeed, Incarna seems guilty as charged. But what is a capsuleer to do?

Before I could decide what needed done, I needed data on which to base my decision. My scientific bent kicked in. I started changing parameters in EVE and captured the affect each had on my GPU. Here are the results of those tests.

Here is how I normally play EVE - 3200x1200.
These are the settings I run under.
This is a fairly high end system. I purchased it 5 months ago and it was state of the art then. I don't run it overclocked. Frankly, I've found no reason to do that. It handles everything with ease. Even EVE runs well though Incarna heats the GPU a lot. Here are the GPU stats running in this mode.

Notice the temp and GPU usage while I do nothing.
So the first thing I noticed here (besides the scorching temp) was that the fan was only running at 60%. At more than 80C I expected the fan to work harder. Then it hit me. I hadn't reinstalled the EVGA Precision control software for my video cards. Once I got that installed, I configured the fan control thusly.

Make the fan work 10% harder every 10 degrees until it hits 90 and then max.
After activating the Precision fan controls my GPU fan immediately jumped to 80%. The temperature began to drop.

System better... well, at least not getting hotter.
This pretty much resolved my heat issue. However, I still had unanswered questions. For instance, why was Incarna driving my GPU so hard when I was doing nothing. I get the whole polygonal thing, etc. I know the game has to constantly refresh the screen and that with certain graphics modes, blah, blah, blah. That's all great. None of it really answers why the GPU screams in Captains Quarters and gets positively mellow after launch.

As I thought about the differences I was reading the latest Incursion update. That's when it hit me. Captains Quarters is a very active place. Even though I wasn't doing anything my display panel most certainly was! My basic premise of nothing happening was flawed. With that realization, I began to wonder if it was possible to scale all that activity back. I began quality settings.

The first thing I did was turn off Physically Simulated Cloth and Hair. I was certain the simulating that level of detail would account for a large portion of the GPU utilization. Man, was I wrong.

Physical Simulation off.
Turning off the Physical Simulation caused my GPU to nearly have a stroke. The temperature jumped 5 degrees in less than that many seconds. My utilization hit 99% and stuck. It was, as Spock would say, fascinating. Evidently I was getting assistance from either my second GTX 580 (not shown on the other meter I had running) of the CPU was doing the calculations (possible as I have an i&-2600K.) I quickly turned Physical Simulation back on. That was certainly not the route I wanted to go.

Next I took a look at the affects the three settings for Physical Simulation had on the GPU. These settings are high, medium and low, which is mostly a duh. My standard setting is Physical Simulation on and set at high. You've seen that above. Here are the results for medium and low.

Physical Simulation Medium Quality

Physical Simulation Low Quality
As you can see, there is most certainly a positive result running at less than high. However, there really was no appreciable difference between medium and low. Both gave the same benefit in GPU utilization reduction and thus heat production.

After seeing the benefits of reducing quality, I decided to see what CCP's optimization routine came up with. There are three choices when you click the Optimize Settings button under Graphic Content Settings. They correspond to optimizations for quality, memory usage and performance. Naturally, performance scales bat quality for speed. I picked it. Here are the settings EVE chose.

Optimized for Performance
And, here is what my GPU meter had to say about it.

Optimized for Performance
Now that is a serious difference in GPU utilization! It seems that CCP does have a built in method for dealing with the video issues reported on the forums, etc. Nevertheless, capsuleers have to sacrifice the fine details to get it. Frankly, my Captain's Quarters looked like crap at these settings. At one point, I even went invisible in a way that would make Roc Wieler green with envy.

I can haz hair?
So, if you can live with settings this low it will probably resolve your overheating issues. Still, I didn't like it. I play EVE in part because it IS beautiful - even Captain's Quarters. I want all of the gorgeousness that is EVE. There had to be another solution.

There was. I run in 3200x1200 mode because I have two monitors. I put all my open windows on the right and leave the left monitor open to gorgeous vistas. CCP even put a camera offset into EVE to facilitate this. Thank you CCP. But, back to the other solution. If Incarna at 3200x1200 drives my GPU at 100%, what would it do at half that resolution? So I made the change. After all, I'd just finished three (3) weeks of playing on a single monitor using my M11x.

EVE as it was - 1600x1200.
And the meter says?

Laaaaazzyyyyy.

In fact, I took this test a step further. I turned off my Precision fan control and went back to the driver default. Here is what the meter looked like after I made the adjustment.

Just as Laaaaazzyyyyy.
And after 10 minutes?

Still Laaaaazzyyyyy.
Half the resolution translates into half the load. That's logical isn't it? Now, if CCP would follow through on their promised revamp of the UI, it wouldn't be such a hard pill to swallow. I've gotten very used to having a very wide cockpit window in my pod. Part of me wants to say I shouldn't have to go backwards to go forward. Is that an unreasonable expectation?

So there you have it. I can't tell you in precise technical terms why Incarna has to use so much GPU at very high resolution. Suffice to say it does. I can't test this against other highly graphic programs. The ones I have actually force play on only one monitor. There is a curious question begged in that fact. Is this something CCP gives us in EVE beyond what other companies do? Shouldn't we acknowledge that? If this isn't so, I'd be very interested running tests like these against those other games that allow expanded monitors like EVE. If anyone knows of one, let me know. I'll check it out and report back. Until then...

Fly Careful.

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