Power Hungry Desktops

I’ve been mucking about with a Linux desktop again, and doing electrical power measurements to figure out how efficient it is. Most home users probably aren’t thinking about this, as the difference between 100W and 200W is inconsequential to them. But I’m curious about processing capacity per unit power, or perhaps processing capacity per CPU core. When you consider that it takes about 1 pound of coal to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity (equivalent to running a computer using 100W, for 10 hours), the difference is no longer inconsequential over even normal periods of operating time.

At the moment, my usage pattern bounces between two systems: a Macbook Pro from 2009, and a Dell desktop from 2011.

The Macbook Pro has an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, which according to this performs at an abstract level of 1484. That works out to a performance level of 742 per processor core. It does feel slower using this system, when I’m developing and compiling software, but then it uses half the power of the bigger system (100W).

The Dell desktop has an AMD Phenom II X6 1055T Processor, which according to this performs at an abstract level of 5059. This works out to a performance level of 843 per processor core. The system uses 250W overall, to run everything.

But let’s say I’ve been thinking about buying a new Macbook Pro with Retina Display. The late-2013 model uses an Intel Core i5-4258U processor, which according to this performs at an abstract level of 4042, which works out to a performance level of 2021 per processor core. If its processor cores are 2.5 times the performance of my current Macbook Pro, and at least twice the speed of the Dell desktop, there’s a good chance that for many single-threaded apps the overall experience of using the device would be better anyway. And let’s face it, most of the time the user-interface is running on a single thread anyway. If the system also only draws 100W at idle (likely less, given the improvement in process technologies), then it offers almost the same amount of performance at half the energy consumption, which is a huge win.

The trouble with all existing processors is the fact that they can’t completely shut off processor cores when they aren’t needed. If 99% of the time, I’m idle at the computer, and it’s able to handily process everything I’m doing, then the power used in running extra cores all of the time even at the lowest C-state seems like a terrible waste.

Power Hungry GPUs

One other thing that struck me as a bit odd is the fact that when I hook up a second monitor to the desktop, the power utilization measured at the wall jumps from 128W (idle) to 200W (idle). Powering each monitor uses about 20W, so I can only assume that the graphics card is chewing up the 50W difference, but I don’t understand how the GPU architecture can be so power hungry or the drivers can be so poor. It doesn’t make sense to me that the difference between driving one monitor and two is a 60% increase in total power consumption.

In a nutshell, this desktop system is burning 2 pounds of coal every 10 hours, which seems a bit much since it spends 99% of its time idling.

Quite Possibly

Quite possibly the world’s worst-labeled option on a WordPress plugin:

Force SSL Exclusively - Any page that is not secured via Force SSL or URL Filters will be redirected to HTTP.

What you might assume, as I did, is that setting this option would enable HTTPS to be used on the entire WordPress installation and that it would make the site exclusively HTTPS-based. And you’d be wrong, too.

Instead the option really means: “If you set this, you have to explicitly mark each and every post you want to be secured by HTTPS. Your entire site will now remain completely HTTP-only.” And somewhat snidely, it might add: “Thanks for defeating the purpose of this plugin!”

Now, I can’t imagine who would actually want to do that, and/or what their site configuration would look like. But HTTPS always seems to me to be an all-or-nothing proposition and this mis-labeled option only led to time wasted looking for a culprit in the .htaccess file, in the mod_rewrite rules, the wp-config file, and elsewhere.

A Lack Of Negative Reinforcement

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that if you couldn’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. When I grew up, I figured out that that was bullshit, but I still tend to hold the line.

Google, Facebook, and others don’t seem to understand that the lack of a negative reinforcement signal does not help to generate results that users want.

I’m tired, namely, of this appearing in various, completely unrelated search results on YouTube:

The Ultimate Girls Fail Compilation 2012

How about a “never show me this again” option? Or an Unlike button. Without Unlike, all of the possible Likes in the universe are biased in such a way that you have only two choices, with the first being a conflated form of “I dislike it and would gladly never see it again / I am ambivalent about it and couldn’t care less” and the second being “Like”.

On YouTube, I believe you can downvote a video, after you’ve clicked on it, which seems kind of stupid, since it gives the uploader the view they so desperately want. There should be an option to remove items you find stupid when you’re hovering over suggestions, and that ought to count in some way against them.

I suppose the only saving grace is that it’s a good thing that the social network operators of the world only know my Likes, but not yet my Dislikes. The higher their signal to noise ratio gets, the creepier the online experience becomes.

Twit(ter) Houses

Articles about the impending smartification of home appliances always crack me up:

Because they always remind me of one of Ray Bradbury’s finest short stories from the days when rocket ships and going to Mars and the horrors of thermonuclear war were all eminently possible:

The article’s protagonist’s ending quote is golden:
“When the dishwasher or the washing machine are running, I want them to tell me when they’re finished or how long there is to go,” he says. “I want that kind of information, because it’s just irritating not knowing.”

Which raises the existential question:
If he’s home, he’ll probably hear the ending beeps. But if he’s not home, and a bear shat in the woods, what difference would it make?

I’m not sure what the global market for smarter home appliances is, or ever will be. But I’m guessing its appeal is somewhere between 3D movies at home and internet-capable televisions that require text input via on-screen keyboards. There may be benefits, but just getting them set up might be such a hair-tearing experience, that the average user won’t bother.

In any case, I do know that the last thing I’ll probably ever need is something like the following:

Picture of a hypothetical washing machine Twitter feed.