The Difficulty in Analyzing GPU Turbo

I still haven’t managed to get two identical devices with and without GPU Turbo. The closest practical comparison I was able to make is between the Huawei P20 and the Honor Play. These are two devices that use the same SoC and memory, albeit in different chassis.

The differences between the two phones are not just the GPU Turbo introduction, but the Honor Play also includes a newer Arm Bifrost driver, r12p0, while the P20 had the r9p0 release. Unfortunately no mobile vendor publishes driver release notes, so we can’t differentiate between possible improvements on the GPU driver side, and actual improvements that GPU Turbo makes.

Huawei P20 (no GPU Turbo)

Honor Play (GPU Turbo)

For raw frame rate numbers, it was extremely hard to tell the two phones apart. PUBG tops out at 40 FPS as well, although it should be noted that we could have invested a lot more time inspecting jitter and just how noticeable that would be in practice, but one thing that can be very empirically be measured is power consumption.

Here the Honor Play seemingly did have an advantage, coming in at ~3.9W while rendering the above scene. This was a tad less than the P20’s ~4.7W. These figures are total device power, and obviously the screen and rest of device components will be different between the two models. It does however represent a 15% difference in power, although to be clear we can't rule out the possibility that they could be different bins; i.e. they have different power/voltage characteristics as per random manufacturing variance, which is common in the space.

Huawei has quoted data for the Kirin 980:

Still, it does very much look like GPU Turbo has an efficiency advantage, however again a 10% figure as presented during the Kirin 980 keynote seems to be a lot closer to reality than the promised 30% marketing materials.

GPU Turbo Is Real, Just Be Wary of Marketing Numbers

One thing that should not be misunderstood in this article is that GPU Turbo itself is not just a marketing ploy, but rather a very real and innovative solution that tries to address the weaknesses of the current generation Kirin chipsets. Kirin still sits well behind both the performance and efficiency of Snapdragon-based Adreno graphics, and because Huawei cannot license Adreno, it has to try and make the best of what it has, aside from dedicating more die space to their GPUs.

However much of the technical merit of GPU Turbo has been largely overshadowed by quite overzealous marketing claims that are nothing short of misleading. More on this on the next page.

By nature of it being a software solution, it is something that augments the hardware, and if the hardware can’t deliver, then so won’t the software. Here a lot of the confusion and misleading material can be directly attributed to the way the Honor Play was presented to the public. Reality is, even with GPU Turbo, the Honor Play is still not competitive with Snapdragon 845 devices, even when it wants to portray itself as such. Here, the differences in the silicon are just too great to be overcome by a software optimization, not matter how innovative the new mechanism is.

The Detailed Explanation of GPU Turbo Problems with PUBG: Not All GPUs Render Equally
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  • Ian Cutress - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    In the past, those 'cheats' were often from not rendering parts of the scene. This is still doing the full render that any Mali GPU does, but in a more power efficient way. The key to benchmarking is to test across several titles regardless, which is going to be important moving forward.
  • Manch - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Does Mali or any mobile GPUs do culling of unseen objects? If not, can that be implemented to further reduce load?
  • The Hardcard - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    That isn’t a quandry, it solves the problem. The problem before is that the makers showed benchmark performance that they didn’t feel the device could handle in normal user apps. If this pans out and users can have it everyday apps means no harm, no foul.

    Having it be a special mode for apps that can use it, while turning it off when it is not necessary is exactly what is needed and what everyone is trying to do and should do.

    If they do it properly, then it is on the developers to use it. Sure, older, unupdated apps will be left behind. That is the nature of advancing technology.
  • melgross - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    A benchmark cheat is just for benchmarks. There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the fact that the SoC, and the device, as a whole, can’t perform at that level commercially, otherwise something negative will happen, such as overheating, and battery failure.

    So, no, they can’t extend cheating to regular apps, and that’s the entire point to the cheat. If they could, then they would, and it wouldn’t be a cheat. This cheating is different from the turbo mode the article is about.
  • s.yu - Monday, September 10, 2018 - link

    The only way this is working is the apparent popularity of MMO games. They only plan on catering to low end customer who only play whatever "everybody else" plays. I for one avoid them like the plague, IAP rigged games are cheap stimulation, too cheap.
  • tipoo - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Reminds me of the good old ATI vs Nvidia days when there were notable differences in render quality, usually with the edge to ATI. That all but went away at least as far back as the 8800, maybe before. Now for mobile to repeat that process.
  • Ian Cutress - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - link

    Just to make sure you're aware, that's kind of orthogonal to GPU Turbo. It's Mali behaviour right now, which explains some of the perf differences, but GPU Turbo is something separate.
  • Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - link

    Not ALWAYS to ATI, though. Sometimes they got a little aggressive in their "optimizations" too.
    QUAFF3 NEVER FORGET! ffor the kiddos that never saw this one. Back when men were men, and PC gaming was the exclusive domain of nerds that knew what IRQ and DMA meant(but probably not PCMCIA. No one could remember PCMCIA).
  • Holliday75 - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    I recently found a PCMCIA 10mb NIC in one of my file cabinets and a 28.8k modem. I looked at them a second like wtf then remembered what they were.
  • nils_ - Friday, September 7, 2018 - link

    People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms

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