Utilites to control a laptop’s CPU/GPU – Joe
Laptops are rapidly becoming the dominant factor in the PC market. I am curious as to what our readers are doing to optimize their laptops, so I am asking for responses to three questions:
- What software have you added to your laptop to enhance performance, such as for cooling or CPU frequency shifting.
- What hardware have you added to enhance your laptop’s performance, such as for cooling or performance enhancement.
- What software or hardware would you LIKE to see on the market to enhance your laptop’s performance or cooling.
One of you who respond will win a prize, the winner selected at random.
Readers identified a number of programs which allow varying degrees of control over voltage and CPU frequency – some allow control over battery functions as well. I have listed below freeware programs mentioned as well as some I have used; I have included a summary of each program’s functions as taken from their website.
“RightMark CPU Clock Utility (RMClock) is a small GUI application designed for real-time CPU frequency, throttling and load level monitoring and on-the-fly adjustment of the CPU performance level on supported CPU models via processor’s power management model-specific registers (MSRs).”
- “Control the hardware and system power management
- Customize the notebook (open source ACPI Control System)
- Prolong the battery lifetime
- Cool down the system and reduce power consumption
- Monitor the hardware to avoid system failure
- Make your notebook quiet”
“SpeedswitchXP is a small applet that sits in the system tray and allows dynamic switching of the frequencies of mobile Intel and mobile AMD CPUs under Windows XP.”
- Support AMD64/EM64T
- Intel SpeedStep Control
- AMD K6/K7/K8/GeodeLX Multiplier/Voltage Control
- VIA CyrixIII/C3 Multiplier Control
- Multiplier Management
- MSR Editor/MSR Walker
- Clock, Cache, System Clock, Multiplier
- Feature Flags
- Process Rule
- Code Name
- Multi Processor
- PCI Device List
- Chipset/VGA information
- BIOS Information
- Change Dialog Font
- Change Wallpaper
“By using this software you are changing the thermal management of your DELL notebook. This program is not supported by DELL, so any damage caused by this program is not covered by your system’s warranty nor by me. YOU’RE USING THIS PROGRAM AT YOUR OWN RISK!”
“SpeedFan is a program that monitors voltages, fan speeds and temperatures in computers with hardware monitor chips. SpeedFan can even access S.M.A.R.T. info for those hard disks that support this feature and show hard disk temperatures too, if supported. ”
“CPUMSR is a program that allows users to change selected values in processor Model Specific Registers (MSR). Model Specific Registers are processor Family / Type (see. Processor CPUID) specific registers (or micro-memory) that specifies processor behavior in certain situations. It allows to enable, disable or modify certain features that processors incorporate and that are, under normal circumstances, hidden from users.”
Currently Unvailable as of 10/29/07.
“This application is a plug-in which consists of two new tree elements which will appear under a Rage3D heading in the advanced display view of the CCC. The two new sections are: Overclocking, and OC Testing… The Overclocking display allows complete control of clock speeds for all Radeon cards supported by the CCC. Core and Memory clocks can be changed…OC Testing enables automatic testing of maximum core and memory clock speeds.”
These freeware programs give laptop users a degree of control that is lacking in almost all laptops’ BIOS settings. I would suggest that the use of any of these programs to monitor CPU temps is worth installing, even if you don’t intend to overclock the CPU – note that Notebook Hardware Control also gives you hardrive temps as well – a nice addition to temp monitoring. At a minimum, a CPU Temp Monitoring program will tell you if that laptop cooler you are using is worth keeping.
It is also feasible to use these programs to moderate your CPU’s speed so that it only kicks into high gear when needed – this certainly helps to keep your laptop cooler and enhance battery life.
A number of readers indicated that they have added RAM and larger hard drives to their laptops – these mods are usually drop-dead easy to do on your own and very cost-effective upgrades.
The most common “hardware” mod mentioned was to replace the TIMs used for CPU and GPU heatsinks with AS5 for noticeable improvements in CPU/GPU temps. This is not all that easy as some laptops require almost a complete disassembly to get to these components – I have to say that my Asus A71V is notably easy on this score – the back comes off with a handful of screws and everything is exposed for easy cleaning and maintenance.
The more intrepid users have boosted CPU frequency by physically jumping pins on the CPU – the “pinmod” hack. This allows 400 MHz CPUs to run at 533 MHz to increase speeds. This is NOT recommended for the novice. For those interested in how this works, here are links to an
“Interactive Pin-Mod guide v1.2 for AMD Athlon XP, T-Bred and Barton CPUs” and
“The Ultimate Pentium-m Pinmod/Voltmod Guide”. You can do a search and find numerous references and How-To’s.
Many laptop owners have purchased laptop coolers to moderate CPU Temps – Lyndon Harder aka Leonardo at Icrontic.com sent me a link to his
“Ghetto Cooling Your Laptop”.
“The link describes the method for the bizarre contraption and also has decent photography. The device actually worked very well for cooling.”
Leonardo’s ghetto cooler is a good, if somewhat bulky, idea for enhanced cooling.
Overall, hardware mods are limited in general by limited space and power available in laptops.
Tim’s comments very nicely summarized how many users feel about what they’d like to see as to cooling mods:
“My preferred mod on a laptop would actually be a pretty easy one: I’d like to improve some subtle details in the cooling system of a laptop. Allow me to explain myself:
Most laptops you can buy have enough cooling when they are fresh and dust free. Unfortunately, laptops are even more limited in available space than desktops. As a result, the volume of the cooling system decreases, but the total heatsink surface is made as big as possible.
The result? Where a normal desktop starts to get clogged up with dust and dirt after 3-5 years (depending on where it stands), most laptops get buried in dust after 1-2 years. Even more than in a desktop, cooling performance is dead and buried as well. A nice example of this was the HP zd8320ea I repaired some time ago. Using a pentium 4 630 is a design failure on itself, but after 1 year and 1 month (read: one month after warranty ends), it crashes. The problem: the processor is overheating to an uncomfortable 98°C before crashing. After cleaning of the cooling: processor gets up to 66°C.
1. I’d like to have a laptop with easy access to its cooling components. You know, something with a few screws, with the whole heatsink array beneath it. Or, why can’t we have good access to the inflow and outflow of laptop heatsinks? Canned air (or a vacuum cleaner) has more of an effect when they are closer to the dust.
2. Or, give them removable dust filters. The problem here would be that those would clog up really fast and should be cleaned on a regular basis (which nobody would do). But even when people treat those filters well, some dust will pass and in the end, the heatsinks will get blocked. But then, if it only happens after 3-5 years…
3. Add more surface to the heatsinks, without increasing the fin density. We had those marvellous solutions where the back of the LCD was used to emit heat, transported there through flexible heatpipes, but they never came through.
Designs that partially compensate the heat production:
1. Laptop stands: They are effective, but spacious and less portable. I have recommended and used a few of them, and generally they reduce temps in the 3-5°C range.
2. Cooling pads: Generally a bit more effective, but still only 5-7°C difference. Btw, I do not believe that the passive cooling pad produced by Thermaltake has more than a placebo effect on the buyer.
Designs that could work, if I could find them:
1. Screw-on or click-on fans. Every recent laptop I know has an exhaust opening somewhere. I should be easy to add a big ugly turbine fan there, which aids the main (too little, too light and too expensive to replace if broken) fan of the laptop. It looks ugly (until somebody integrates a cup cooler into it), but it will work, will be relatively cheap and most of all, would be fairly universal. But alas, I haven’t found any decent yet.”
Stephen mentioned the following:
“I know the feature already exist, but I really miss it on my machine: the ability to turn the fan off completely. When I plug it in (battery lasts 10 -15 min, so I always have to plug it in), it always runs the fan at the lowest setting. In a quiet room that’s a horrible noise and keeps me from concentrating. When on batteries it keeps the fan shut down. It’s so much better but the temps almost don’t increase at all. I would need to somehow get access to the ACPI control to set that myself, which is beyond my knowledge and/or goes beyond the time I’m willing to sacrifice to find it out. (BTW: the fan bearing does not sound damaged, it’s just the typical annoying sound of very small fans).”
Many users would like to see cooling enhancements so that laptops do not run so hot – this is a very difficult issue for laptop designers. There is only so much space for CPU/GPU cooling and the small footprint is a severe constraint on effective cooling. Considering the available footprint, external enhanced cooling solutions seem like a feasible approach, although with non-standardized cases, a generic solution may be difficult to design.
Jason’s comments on software are interesting:
“I would like to see more software control over the devices in the laptop. Mine has the ability to shutdown the gigabit NIC for 20 second periods, at which point it wakes up to check for connectivity and then shuts off. My wife’s gigabit NIC doesn’t have that feature. It would be nice to be able to turn off circuitry for all devices that are not in use, even if it is a case where it periodically wakes up to check.
Battery life is my laptop’s main source of performance with on-demand computing performance a close second. I wish more manufacturers put effort into creating their own power management tools like Toshiba does (Sony and IBM are good too). I think the LCD, CPU, video or chipset are the biggest power consumers in that order and everything they can do to lower the power consumption is good, like LED backlit screens.”
Overall, aside from some very specific requirements, most users are not looking for anything radical for their laptops. I think this reflects the inherently limited flexibility of laptops, a fact of life dictated by space and power requirements constrained by footprint and weight factors.
And the winner picked at random is Bobby Creel – I have a GigPod III 3.5″ External HD Enclosure as a prize. Many thanks to all who responded!