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3.2. Using CPUfreq Governors

One of the most effective ways to reduce power consumption and heat output on your system is to use CPUfreq. CPUfreq — also referred to as CPU speed scaling — allows the clock speed of the processor to be adjusted on the fly. This enables the system to run at a reduced clock speed to save power. The rules for shifting frequencies, whether to a faster or slower clock speed, and when to shift frequencies, are defined by the CPUfreq governor.
The governor defines the power characteristics of the system CPU, which in turn affects CPU performance. Each governor has its own unique behavior, purpose, and suitability in terms of workload. This section describes how to choose and configure a CPUfreq governor, the characteristics of each governor, and what kind of workload each governor is suitable for.
The main concerns surrounding power management are:
As a rule, lowering the power consumption of a specific component (or of the system as a whole) will lead to lower heat and naturally, performance. As such, you should thoroughly study and test the decrease in performance afforded by any configurations you make, especially for mission-critical systems.
The following sections explain how optimal hardware performance benefits your system in terms of energy consumption.

3.2.1. CPUfreq Governor Types

This section lists and describes the different types of CPUfreq governors available in Fedora 15.
cpufreq_performance
The Performance governor forces the CPU to use the highest possible clock frequency. This frequency will be statically set, and will not change. As such, this particular governor offers no power saving benefit. It is only suitable for hours of heavy workload, and even then only during times wherein the CPU is rarely (or never) idle.
cpufreq_powersave
By contrast, the Powersave governor forces the CPU to use the lowest possible clock frequency. This frequency will be statically set, and will not change. As such, this particular governor offers maximum power savings, but at the cost of the lowest CPU performance.
The term "powersave" can sometimes be deceiving, though, since (in principle) a slow CPU on full load consumes more power than a fast CPU that is not loaded. As such, while it may be advisable to set the CPU to use the Powersave governor during times of expected low activity, any unexpected high loads during that time can cause the system to actually consume more power.
The Powersave governor is, in simple terms, more of a "speed limiter" for the CPU than a "power saver". It is most useful in systems and environments where overheating can be a problem.
cpufreq_ondemand
The Ondemand governor is a dynamic governor that allows the CPU to achieve maximum clock frequency when system load is high, and also minimum clock frequency when the system is idle. While this allows the system to adjust power consumption accordingly with respect to system load, it does so at the expense of latency between frequency switching. As such, latency can offset any performance/power saving benefits offered by the Ondemand governor if the system switches between idle and heavy workloads too often.
For most systems, the Ondemand governor can provide the best compromise between heat emission, power consumption, performance, and manageability. When the system is only busy at specific times of the day, the Ondemand governor will automatically switch between maximum and minimum frequency depending on the load without any further intervention.
cpufreq_userspace
The Userspace governor allows userspace programs (or any process running as root) to set the frequency. This governor is normally used in conjunction with the cpuspeed daemon. Of all the governors, Userspace is the most customizable; and depending on how it is configured, it can offer the best balance between performance and consumption for your system.
cpufreq_conservative
Like the Ondemand governor, the Conservative governor also adjusts the clock frequency according to usage (like the Ondemand governor). However, while the Ondemand governor does so in a more aggressive manner (that is from maximum to minimum and back), the Conservative governor switches between frequencies more gradually.
This means that the Conservative governor will adjust to a clock frequency that it deems fitting for the load, rather than simply choosing between maximum and minimum. While this can possibly provide significant savings in power consumption, it does so at an ever greater latency than the Ondemand governor.

Note

You can enable a governor using cron jobs. This allows you to automatically set specific governors during specific times of the day. As such, you can specify a low-frequency governor during idle times (for example after work hours) and return to a higher-frequency governor during hours of heavy workload.
For instructions on how to enable a specific governor, refer to Procedure 3.2, “Enabling a CPUfreq Governor” in Section 3.2.2, “CPUfreq Setup”.