Skip to main content

Ryzen Burnout? AMD Board Power Cheats May Shorten CPU Lifespan (Updated)

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Update 6/20/20 7:25am PT: We tested several motherboards and firmware revisions, finding that one motherboard vastly misreported its power telemetry data, resulting in higher performance. However, newer BIOS revisions corrected the issue. We also found that other motherboards send power data that can result in slightly reduced performance. According to our testing, while the HWinfo tool does shine a light on some issues, it's readings aren't entirely accurate. You can see the full testing here.  

Update 6/11/2020 8:10am PT: 

AMD issued a statement today to Tom's Hardware regarding a feature from software vendor HWinfo that exposes that motherboard vendors have developed firmwares that misreport key power telemetry data to Ryzen processors. As covered in the article below, the developers stated this could have an impact on processor longevity. Here's AMD's statement:

"We are aware of the reports claiming that select motherboards may be under-reporting certain power telemetry data that could alter the performance and/or behavior of AMD Ryzen processors under certain conditions. We are looking into the accuracy of these reports. 

"We want to be clear with our customers: AMD Ryzen processors contain a diverse array of internal safeguards that operate independently of external data sources. These safeguards enforce the safety and reliability of the processor during stock operation. Based on our initial assessment, we do not believe that altering external telemetry in the manner described by those public reports would have a material impact on the longevity or safety of a user's processor."

It's good to hear that AMD is investigating the matter and that based on its initial assessment, the company doesn't believe the misreported power values will cause the processor to work in a way that will have a material impact on longevity. AMD's statement doesn't entirely rule out the possibility of a reduced lifespan due to the adjustments, but given the company's engineering teams have obviously studied the matter to some extent, it's obvious they haven't yet seen any adjustments that could result in significant degradation during the warranty period that users should worry about. 

The statement seemingly confirms that AMD wasn't aware of the manipulations. It will be interesting to see if motherboard vendors end the practice, or if AMD finds that the adjustments don't adversely impact longevity, the company allows it to continue. According to our testing, the condition does exist on a few motherboards we have in the lab. Stay tuned for our full report. 

Original Article: 

Unbeknownst to you, your motherboard may be silently killing your Ryzen processor faster than expected. HWinfo introduced a new feature today that the vendor says exposes that some X570 motherboard vendors are clandestinely misreporting key measurements to AMD's Ryzen processors, thus boosting performance. Unfortunately, this tactic is similar to overclocking, but occurs at stock settings. As a result, the chip draws more power and generates more heat, thus potentially reducing the lifespan of Ryzen chips – but all without the user's knowledge.

It's a common practice for motherboard vendors to adjust the chip's stock power limits to squeeze out more performance from a processor, thus positioning their motherboards as faster than competing models. In fact, nearly every motherboard vendor makes adjustments with Intel's chips, but there's a big difference: Intel expressly approves and even encourages motherboard vendors to adjust power limits to differentiate their products, and those adjustments don't impact chip longevity within the warranty period.

According to a post by The Stilt on HWinfo forums, the method used by some motherboard vendors to boost performance on X570 motherboards consists of the motherboard willfully misrepresenting power consumption to Ryzen processors that are assigned to operate at normal stock settings. In contrast to the approach taken with Intel processors, this practice reportedly isn't sanctioned by AMD and could result in a shorter lifespan for the chip.

The Stilt's post is worth reading over for the details, but here's a nice summation from the report:

"In short: Some motherboard manufacturers intentionally declare an incorrect (too small) motherboard specific reference value in AGESA. Since AM4 Ryzen CPUs rely on telemetry sourced from the motherboard VRM to determine their power consumption, declaring an incorrect reference value will affect the power consumption seen by the CPU. For instance, if the motherboard manufacturer would declare 50% of the correct value, the CPU would think it consumes half the power than it actually does.

"In this case, the CPU would allow itself to consume twice the power of its set power limits, even when at stock. It allows the CPU to clock higher due to the effectively lifted power limits; however, it also makes the CPU run hotter and potentially negatively affects its life-span, the same ways as overclocking does. The difference compared to overclocking or using AMD PBO, is that this is done completely clandestine and that in the past, there has been no way for most of the end-users to detect it, or react to it." [Emphasis added]

(Image credit: HWinfo)

HWinfo's new tool provides a means for users to determine if their motherboard is lying to their Ryzen chips with the rationale that, "Since at least two of the largest motherboard manufacturers still insist on using this exploit to gain an advantage over their competitors despite being constantly asked and told not to, we thought it would be only fair to allow the consumers to see if their boards are doing something they're not supposed to do."

"I'd like to stress that despite this exploit is essentially made possible by something AMD has included in the specification, the use of this exploit is not something AMD condones with, let alone promotes. Instead they have rather actively put pressure on the motherboard manufacturers, who have been caught using this exploit," The Stilt added. 

HWinfo's new "CPU Power Reporting Deviation" feature allows a user to detect any shenanigans in the motherboard firmware, and it's free to download and use. You simply have to put your CPU under load by using any common multi-threaded test (Cinebench R20 is recommended) and then monitor the value to see its relation to 100%, which represents that the motherboard is feeding correct values to the Ryzen processor so it can modulate performance within expected tolerances. 

We're spinning up a few power tests of our own to assess how well the feature works, and of course, to see which vendors are misrepresenting their power consumption figures. We're also reaching out to all the relevant players, AMD included. Stay tuned. 

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.