Consumers usually watch the total Thermal Design Power (TDP) when researching computer parts to assemble one. However, people new to computers might not know how to handle this aspect. Therefore, this article will focus on understanding TDP so that new consumers can effectively build their first gaming rigs.
Also Read: PC Building Mistakes To Avoid
- TDP isn’t used as a value to determine the power draw but rather as a value to determine the heat dissipated by a processor or graphics card.
- AMD and Intel calculate their processor’s TDP values differently, causing further confusion on which value is more accurate.
- Lithography, ambient temperatures, and how manufacturers calculate TDP value are a few factors that affect the TDP of a component.
- When looking at the TDP of graphics cards, there are two similar terms, Total Board Power (TBP) and Total Graphics Power (TGP).
- Four components of a PC consume the most wattage: the processor, graphics card, RAM and CPU cooler.
- The wattage label on the CPU cooler signifies the amount of heat it can eliminate, not its power draw.
- Lower TDP doesn’t always mean more efficiency. Testing components for their performance-per-watt value is important before making a purchase.
What Is TDP?
The first step to understanding Thermal Design Power is knowing what TDP means. To explain, TDP is the total heat outputted by a CPU or GPU. By finding this value, we can understand the wattage required by a processor and a graphics card. Although, TDP does not directly equate to the maximum wattage of a particular component.
For example, in the above image, the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT‘s highest wattage rating is 287.1W in God of War. But, the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT’s listed TDP rating goes up to 300W. On the other hand, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080’s highest wattage rating is 303W in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Whereas the listed TDP rating of the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080 goes to 320W.
Therefore, we use TDP ratings to determine what cooling solution our PC requires. Furthermore, using the TDP values, we calculate and figure out which power supply to buy and how much wattage our PC will consume.
Moreover, for lower-wattage PCs, we don’t require lots of cooling. But, for higher-wattage PCs, we might even need water cooling. So, while the term TDP is not directly applicable to the required wattage of components, it is closely attached.
If you’re building a PC for the first time, you might want to know the power usage of your PC. Also, you might want to read through our guide on how to water-cool a GPU.
How Is TDP Measured?
Thermal Design Power is measured in Watts (W), but Intel and AMD do it differently. To explain, as we discussed previously, TDP measures the cooling a component requires and not its actual wattage limitations. Also, both the heat output and wattage are calculated in Watts.
However, these are not different units that share the same name. Instead, they signify the same energy is being converted from thermal to electrical energy. So, the processor will always take more electrical power than thermal energy to function, which is why TDP values can be wrong.
While Intel calculates its TDP based on electrical energy, it only focuses on its base clocks. Therefore, whatever TDP values you find on Intel processors are miles apart from the actual wattage you’ll see. Additionally, put on overclocking capabilities, and any resemblance to the original TDP goes down to dust.
On the other hand, AMD calculates its TDP based on thermal energy at the maximum boost clock. So, AMD processors showcase a more realistic approach than Intel, at least in terms of TDP. Furthermore, AMD has the formula to calculate the TDP, which is as follows:
TDP (Watts) = (tCase°C – tAmbient°C)/(HSF θca)
If you want to understand the formula more, Gamer’s Nexus has broken it down to understand it in more straightforward terms.
Also Read: Does Overclocking Reduce CPU Lifespan?
Factors That Affect TDP
Of course, a few factors affect the TDP of a processor and graphics card. They range from lithography to ambient temperatures and how manufacturers calculate TDP. Although, even with these factors affecting TDP, the value does not accurately calculate the amount of heat outputted and the total wattage required. But, knowing these factors will help in understanding TDP better.
One of the biggest things that affect the TDP of a CPU and GPU is its lithography or process node. To explain, a CPU is made of billions of transistors etched on a computer chip made of silicon.
According to “Moore’s Law,” the size and costs of CPUs should be halved while the transistors increase every generation. So, through smaller process nodes, CPUs don’t need to send data farther and can function more efficiently.
Moreover, the processor becomes more efficient through a smaller process node, thus consuming less power. If the CPU consumes less power, it generates and outputs less heat, lowering its TDP. Therefore, processors with a smaller process node might be more potent than those with a higher TDP.
However, we must note that a processor with a higher TDP might either be more powerful, less efficient, or both. For example, Intel’s 13th gen processors and AMD’s Ryzen 7000 series processors are less efficient but more powerful. Please read through our Intel Core i7-13700K Vs AMD Ryzen 9-7900X comparison article to understand more.
Another aspect affecting the TDP of a processor and graphics card is the room’s ambient temperature. Manufacturers create specialized test rooms for many variables when testing their products.
As a rule of thumb, AMD and Intel usually test their processors at an ambient temperature of 25°C. So if your room is hotter, your TDP ratings will vary and be inaccurate to a certain degree. However, if your room is colder, it might benefit you due to the lower heat generated by the processor and graphics card.
To control the ambient temperature of your room, you can attempt to use the air conditioner. Also, you could place your PC in a place where light doesn’t directly come from, reducing the temperature of that spot slightly.
All-in-all, lower room temperatures benefit the TDP of processors and graphics cards. But, if you can’t reduce ambient temperatures, you can still lower temperatures within the PC. Go through these 15 methods to learn how to lower CPU temperatures. Learning how to reduce GPU temperatures is also essential.
The last variable that affects the TDP value is how manufacturers calculate it. While the formulae may seem significant, they aren’t necessary for understanding TDP. Moreover, as stated above, Intel and AMD calculate TDP differently.
On the one hand, we see Intel calculate TDP using a processor’s electrical energy. On the other hand, we see AMD calculate TDP using dissipated thermal energy. Furthermore, according to Gamer’s Nexus, a trustworthy computer tech YouTuber, Intel and AMD don’t “calculate” the TDP.
Instead, both companies “choose” the number for TDP and create a formula around it to conclude. Additionally, as electrical and thermal energy units are the same, consumers usually confuse each other.
But we see AMD’s Robert Hallock state in a Reddit Post that “TDP is about thermal watts, not electrical watts.” If we examine the terms literally, “thermal” and “electrical” watts are the same unit. Similar to how one cup of coffee is the same as one cup of flour. Or how one kilogram of feathers is the same as one kilogram of rocks.
Because AMD and Intel calculate TDP differently and reach similar conclusions, they negate a few variables. For example, Intel negates its boost clocks completely, while AMD negates electrical energy as an output. So, it becomes difficult to wholeheartedly trust the TDP values written on the processor and cooler boxes.
Also Read: How Long Do Power Supplies Last?
Importance Of TDP In CPU And GPU
When understanding TDP, we must examine the Thermal Design Power’s importance in processors and graphics cards. While TDP can be misleading, its importance isn’t diminished.
For example, through TDP, consumers understand how much heat the processor and graphics card will generate. Using those values, consumers select CPU coolers and case fans as needed. Most consumers on a budget might want to use stock coolers. However, go through our best-budget CPU coolers list and check what fits your bill!
Furthermore, knowing the TDP value of a processor and graphics card helps us realize how much power they consume. So, depending on the TDP, we can guess the power supply we require. Also, a component with a higher TDP may not have a better performance-per-watt.
Other aspects of knowing the TDP of a processor and graphics card include guessing whether the component is faster. Sometimes components dissipate more heat than the performance they provide, increasing their TDP. Although, higher TDP can also state better performance due to greater wattage limits.
Therefore, TDP values are an excellent source for determining your required cooling and power supply. Moreover, you can understand the performance-per-watt value of processors and graphics cards using their TDP values and game performance.
Also Read: 120mm Vs 140mm Case Fans.
TDP As A Limiting Factor In Performance
When handling TDP, manufacturers must strive to achieve an ideal combination of performance, temperature, and power consumption. However, doing so can be a significant limiting factor in performance.
To explain, higher TDP might equate to more excellent performance. But, a higher TDP also equals higher temperatures and power consumption. So, the component may waste more energy than it utilizes. Additionally, in trying to balance the TDP, manufacturers may have to cut performance gains.
We have seen higher temperatures and lower performance gains in older processors and graphics cards. On the other hand, with Intel’s latest 13th gen processors and AMD’s latest Ryzen 7000 series processors, we have seen higher temperatures and better performance.
Furthermore, NVIDIA’s latest RTX 4000 series graphics cards consume over 400W power but provide more performance. So, through various mixes and combinations, manufacturers need to adjust the power increments for their next-gen products.
Therefore, TDP can be a limiting factor for performance in multiple ways. Moreover, realizing how is important while understanding TDP. Finally, you can conduct similar tests with your gaming computer at home. Please read our guide on benchmarking your gaming PC to learn how to get the readings!
TDP And Overclocking
When discussing how TDP affects performance, we must examine how TDP and overclocking are related. While there isn’t a direct relationship between the overclocking capabilities and the TDP of a particular component, both are closely matched. The reason for so is due to the involvement of temperature and voltage control of components in both terms.
To signify, overclocking requires a higher voltage output while keeping the temperatures low. So, if the stock temperatures of a processor or graphics card are high, it’ll not be easy to overclock. On the other hand, overclocking might be inefficient if the component provides less performance due to its stock voltage and TDP.
When a processor or graphics card starts reaching its maximum temperature, it will stay on boost clocks lower. Thus, the performance of the component will gradually decrease. For that reason, if you overclock your CPU or GPU when it is not appropriately cooled, your overclocks won’t be sustainable for long.
However, if you’re using AMD’s latest Ryzen 7000 series processors, temperatures shouldn’t be a problem because these processors are modified to run efficiently, specifically at higher temperatures. Therefore, overclocking the Ryzen 7000 series processors is easier but not practical due to almost zero headroom for temperature control.
If attempting to overclock your PC, ensure proper cooling and a more significant power supply. To learn the nuances of overclocking, read our guide on what overclocking is!
Similar Terms For Graphics Cards
While processors usually use “Thermal Design Power” (TDP) to vilify heat and power draw, graphics cards use more terms. When learning and understanding TDP, we must also be familiar with Total Graphics Power (TGP) and Total Board Power (TBP). Although the terms sound similar, there is a slight difference between all three and how they affect the performance of a graphics card.
Thermal Design Power
As stated above, TDP is a numerical value that helps consumers understand various components’ power draw and heat dissipation. Similarly, TDP has the same role for graphics cards.
While lower TDP means less power draw and lower temperatures, it can also mean lower performance. However, with higher TDP, we see high temperatures and greater power draw. Manufacturers try to balance their graphics cards’ TDP, power draw, and temperatures.
Although, we have seen greater power draw and performance gains with the latest NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards. So, to keep the market leader spot, NVIDIA has opted to increase the TDP of its graphics cards as high as possible to ensure greater performance values. On the other hand, while AMD has also increased TDP ratings, they are more reasonable.
All-in-all, we use TDP values to figure out the power draw and heat dissipation of graphics cards. We can identify the kind of PC cooling and power supply we require through these numbers.
Also Read: RX 7900 XTX Vs RTX 4070 Ti
Total Graphics Power
Moving on, unlike TDP, a graphics card’s Total Graphics Power (TGP) is a more specific value. The TGP of a graphics card is the total power consumption of its Printed Circuit Board (PCB) without any cooling and lighting effects. So, unlike the TDP, a general value, the TGP is more reasonable and precise.
TGP values are important because every Add-in Board (AIB) partner utilizes different cooling and lighting methods. Therefore, AIB partners use the same TGP values, as they don’t calculate the lighting and cooling elements. So, comparing various graphics cards, you will always see a separate TDP, TBP, and TGP value.
While the TGP of a graphics card will be the same, its Total Board Power (TBP) will always differ based on different AIBs. Thus, we see the same TGP values amongst various AIBs but slightly different TBP values.
Also Read: Best RTX 4090 Graphics Cards
Total Board Power
Unlike TGP, Total Board Power (TBP), while similar, is a slightly different term. Moreover, AMD uses TBP values more than NVIDIA does. To explain, TBP differs in only a basic element, where the graphics card’s total and peak consumptions are calculated. So, unlike TGP, which doesn’t calculate the cooling and lighting elements, the TBP calculates all of them.
Therefore, the TBP of a graphics card is always slightly higher than its TGP, giving consumers a better idea of the total load and peak consumption. Furthermore, the VRMs, VRAMs, coils, capacitors, and other graphics card elements are considered when calculating the TBP values.
To conclude, when understanding the TDP of graphics cards, you must look at the TBP to know your graphics card’s total power draw. But, if you only want to know the power draw of the GPU die, then checking the TDP value is enough. On the other hand, if you want to know the board power draw, you should check the TGP values.
Also Read: RX 7900 XT Vs RTX 3080
Power Consumption Of Computer Components
While we have discussed most of the ins and outs related to TDP and the terms surrounding it, we must also learn the power consumption of computer components. If a consumer doesn’t have an average benchmark, they won’t be able to tell whether a certain component’s TDP is too high. Therefore, we’ll look at the power consumption of processors, graphics cards, RAM, and the CPU cooler.
Looking at the first component, we have the processor. Of course, when understanding TDP, it’s important to know the power draw of a processor as it is one of the most important components of a PC.
Most modern processors have a power consumption of between 65W and 100W. However, these numbers jump significantly if we move to the high-end Intel and AMD processors. For example, the AMD Ryzen 5-3600 processor consumes around 65W of power, whereas the AMD Ryzen 9-7900X processor consumes around 110W to 120W of power.
Similarly, looking at Intel processors, the Intel Core i5-12600K consumes around 104W of power. Additionally, the high-end Intel Core i9-13900K consumes around 150W of power. So, most AMD processors consume less power than Intel processors but might not offer the same level of performance.
Thus, when purchasing a processor, you should go through the power draw and TDP values of the component you’re buying. Although, if your requirements allow, a higher TDP processor shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can provide adequate cooling.
If you’re looking for a processor under a lower budget, please read our comparison article on the Intel Core i5-10400F Vs AMD Ryzen 5-3600 processors. But if you’re on the hunt for a high-end processor, reading our comparison article on the Intel Core i9-13900K Vs AMD Ryzen 9-7950X processors will be more beneficial.
The graphics card is the most power-consuming computer product, which consumes more than half the power your PC requires. On average, a mid-range graphics card requires anywhere between 150W to 200W of power. In contrast, high-end graphics cards eat up more than 400W of power.
To explain, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card has an average power consumption of over 170W. Meanwhile, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080 graphics card uses around 280W to 290W power for gaming purposes.
On the other hand, the AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT consumes around 135W to 145W. In contrast, the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT consumes around 270W to 280W power for moderate gaming.
While the AMD graphics cards might be slightly power efficient at the mid-range, there is almost no power difference in the high-end spectrum. However, even so, the NVIDIA graphics cards are significantly faster than their counterparts, making them the better option.
Of course, purchasing a graphics card isn’t a simple task, but when you’re hunting for one, remember to check its TDP, TGP, and TBP values. While lower power consumption and temperatures are good, ensure the performance-per-watt of the graphics card you choose is greater.
For a budget graphics card with a reasonable power draw, please go through our comparison article on the AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT Vs NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060. But if you can purchase expensive graphics cards, consider reading our comparison article on the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 Ti Vs AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX graphics cards.
Although not as much as processors and graphics cards, RAM also consumes a slight amount of power. Thus, it’s important to know the power draw of RAM when understanding TDP and the power consumption of computer components. A modern DDR4 8GB RAM stick usually consumes 6 to 8W. So, a 16GB DDR4 RAM kit can consume up to 16W of power.
On the other hand, if we look at DDR5 RAM, due to the greater memory, DDR5 RAM kits have a slightly higher power consumption. For example, the Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR5 RAM has a power consumption of around 25W. While the numbers cannot be directly compared, due to DDR5 RAM being available in more quantities, they consume slightly more power.
Furthermore, if you overclock your RAM past its XMP capabilities, it will consume even more power. Therefore, when purchasing RAM, ensure your power supply can handle the slight upgrade without pushing it.
Besides that, higher-end DDR4 and DDR5 RAM consume similar amounts of power. For instance, the high-end G Skill Trident Z DDR4 16GB RAM consumes around 20W power compared to the average 16W.
In any case, if you’re wondering whether you should buy DDR4 or DDR5 RAM, our thorough guide on DDR4 Vs DDR5 RAM should prove useful. Additionally, if you’re looking for great DDR5 RAM, our review of the best DDR5 RAM in 2023 will be helpful.
For the last component, we have CPU coolers. There are three kinds of CPU coolers, all of which require different amounts of power. These are air coolers, All-in-One (AIO), and water cooling.
It is important to note that the power wattage labeled on CPU coolers shouldn’t be confused with their power draw. Instead, the label states the amount of heat that can be cooled. So, if a CPU cooler is labeled at 125W, it can cool 125W of heat dissipated by the processor. That’s why AIOs and custom water loops are helpful in high-end builds, which keep components cool even at extreme workloads.
Most PCs use traditional air coolers because they get the job done and aren’t heavy on the pocket, either. Moreover, air coolers don’t require much wattage and consume around 10W at best. For example, the be quiet Dark Rock Pro 4 only consumes 10W to 12W on average. On average, an air cooler can cool around 100W to 150W of heat.
All-in-One coolers are a step up from traditional air coolers as they have a water block attached to a radiator for the processor. AIO coolers don’t require much wattage but consume more than an average air cooler. For instance, the Corsair H150i Pro has an average consumption of 15W to 17W. Furthermore, AIOs can cool around 150W to 180W of heat.
You can make your PC as cool as possible through custom water loops. However, water looping isn’t simple and requires more power than AIOs or air coolers. To explain, a custom water loop can need around 20W to 25W of power. For example, the Raijintek Scylla Elite water cooling kit consumes 25W of power while cooling over 200W of heat.
Thus, depending on your budget and components, you should buy an equivalent CPU cooler. Although you must keep in mind that extra cooling will be helpful if you’re overclocking your system. Moreover, case fans also assist in cooling the PC, so you shouldn’t skip out on them, even if you opt for water cooling.
Relationship Between TDP And Performance-Per-Watt
When understanding TDP, we must understand one of the most critical aspects of the term. Consumers care about a processor’s or graphics card’s TDP to determine its performance-per-watt. While figuring out the power supply and CPU cooler requirements is essential, buying an efficient component is also important.
To explain, a component that dissipates more heat than it converts into performance has a lousy performance-per-watt. On the other hand, a computer part that performs better without dissipating a lot of heat is more efficient.
However, we have seen greater power consumption with AMD’s latest Radeon RX 7000 series graphics cards and NVIDIA’s latest GeForce RTX 4000 series graphics cards. These graphics cards have greater performance-per-watt values than their predecessors.
For example, looking at the above graph, we see a comparison between the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT and AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX graphics cards. On average, the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT consumes 263W of power. In contrast, the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX consumes 319W of power.
Now, from the above image, we see that the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX is massively faster than its predecessor. The AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX averages 1,424 FPS throughout ten games. On the other hand, the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT averages 901 FPS.
To find the performance-per-watt value of both graphics cards, we have to divide the average FPS by the average power consumption. Thus, we find that the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT has a performance-per-watt value of 3.4 while the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX has a performance-per-watt value of 4.4.
Thus, the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT provides 3.4 frames per 1 watt of power consumed, while the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX provides 4.4 framers per 1 watt of power consumed. So, by knowing the TDP value of both graphics cards, we found out which is more efficient. On the outside, the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT seems more efficient. However, through testing, we found out otherwise.
In the end, when learning and understanding TDP, you must remember what the term stands for. Rather than mistaking TDP for the power draw of the CPU and graphics card, the term is used as a value to determine the amount of heat each component dissipates.
Moreover, Intel and AMD calculate TDP differently for their processors. While Intel only estimates TDP based on its base clocks, AMD does so at maximum load. Additionally, when observing graphics cards, multiple terms are similar to TDP, such as TGP and TBP. NVIDIA often uses TGP, while AMD uses TBP, a more accurate representation for measuring power draw.
Furthermore, there are several limiting factors for TDP, such as the processor’s and GPU’s lithography, ambient temperatures, and how manufacturers calculate the value. Similarly, using the TDP, when you figure out what CPU cooler to buy, ensure it can at least cool the heat the processor dissipates. Otherwise, the processor is bound to overheat and slow down, deterring performance.
Lastly, when purchasing a processor or graphics card, ensure its performance-per-watt value is more significant than its competitor’s. Else the processor or graphics card will dissipate more heat and provide less. An easy rule of thumb is to compare two pieces of hardware in multiple games, calculate the average FPS and power draw, and divide both numbers to find the exact performance-per-watt.
All-in-all, the component with the higher performance-per-watt can be your choice if you’re concerned about efficiency. If not, then go with the hardware that provides more outstanding performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does TDP matter when buying a CPU cooler?
TDP can be a deciding cause when purchasing a CPU cooler. Using the TDP value of the CPU cooler and processor, you can determine whether the cooler can eliminate the amount of heat the processor will dissipate. If not, you must look for another cooler or use an AIO or a custom water loop.
What does 250W TDP mean?
For processors and graphics cards, 250W TDP states the component’s theoretical value of heat it is expected to dissipate. However, in the case of a CPU cooler, 250W would mean that the cooler can eliminate at least 250W of heat.
Is higher or lower TDP better?
The answer to this question depends on the specific component you’re buying and your requirements. While lower TDP means lower temperatures and less power draw, it can also mean fewer performance gains. While we have efficient processors and graphics cards, the latest gen hardware has proved otherwise. As a rule of thumb, before making a purchase, test the hardware’s performance-per-watt values to determine if it is efficient for its TDP.
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