What Is TDP for CPUs and GPUs?

A processor that falls into the blue water.Nattapol_Sritongcom / Shutterstock

You often see TDP measurements on datasheets and this is important information for desktop users. But the PDT definitions are like opinions – everyone has one. Let's cut short the confusion and discuss the meaning of a TDP number for you.

What does TDP mean?

TDP is an acronym used to designate all of the following: thermal design power, thermal design point, and thermal design parameter. Fortunately, all of this means the same thing. The most common is Thermal Design Power, this is what we will use here.

Thermal Design Power is a measure of the maximum amount of heat generated by a processor or graphics processor under a heavy workload.

The components generate heat when the computer is running, and the harder it runs, the hotter it gets. It's the same with your phone. Play a game like Brawl Stars for about 30 minutes and you'll notice that the back of your phone gets hotter as the components consume more electricity.

Some PC enthusiasts also refer to TDP as the maximum amount of power that a component can use. And some companies, like NVIDIALet's say it's both:

"The TDP is the maximum power that a subsystem is allowed to use for a" real "application, as well as the maximum amount of heat generated by the component that the cooling system can dissipate under real-world conditions."

Most of the time, however, the term TDP means the amount of heat generated by a component and that a cooling system must eliminate. It is expressed in watts, which is generally a measure of power (such as electricity), but can also refer to heat.

The TDP is often used as a substitute for power because the two often end up being equivalent or close. This is not always the case, so you should not use TDP to decide on the size of your PC's power supply.

TDP for processors

A water cooling system inside a desktop PC.Phuwadach Pattanatmon / Shutterstock

AMD vs Intel

If the TDP is based on the amount of heat generated during a heavy workload, who decides on the workload or how fast the chip should work? As there is no standard method for evaluating TDP, chip manufacturers offer their own methods. This means that PC enthusiasts have very different opinions on TDPs for AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) compared to Intel processors.

In general, enthusiasts claim that AMD's PDT figures are more realistic. Meanwhile, Intel often publishes lower TDP ratings than users of their systems, making TDP less reliable as a substitute for power consumption.

Anandtech recently explained how Intel comes to its TDP ratings, and why they always seem to be off. Processors operate at their acceleration levels (faster speeds) when they are subjected to heavy workloads for extended periods of time. The problem is that Intel bases its TDP estimates on cases where the processor runs at the base frequency rather than the increase. Thus, an Intel processor is often hotter than Intel can expect. If the cooling system fails to handle these higher heat levels, the processor slows down to protect itself from damage. This results in a lower system performance. With a better cooler, however, these problems are less likely to occur.

On the other hand, on the AMD side, many posts on the forum indicate that even with moderate overclocking, AMD's stock-coolers are more than enough.

It's all about cooling

A processor cooler with a large fan and copper pipes protruding from the bottom.Cooler Master

You can manage the TDP of your system if you use the best cooling solution for its processor. If you do not modify your system and do not extend the AAA games, the stock cooler that came with your processor should be fine. However, players should look around, especially if you play games that rely heavily on the processor.

A replacement chiller can most likely absorb the heat your processor sends it. This web page lists more than 60 coolers from Cooler Master, a well-known computer equipment manufacturer. More than half of them have a TDP rating equal to or greater than 150 watts, which should be enough for most mainstream processors. You can find CPU coolers at all kinds of prices. There are liquid cooling solutions that cost hundreds of dollars and 150-watt heat sinks and heaters costing between $ 20 and $ 50.

A proper cooler is only part of your PC's heat removal system. Adequate airflow is also essential. Be sure to check out our introduction on how to manage your PC's fans for optimal airflow and cooling.

TDP, T-Junction and Max Time

TDP helps you choose the right type of cooling system for your CPU. However, this does not tell you how much heat a component can tolerate safely. For this you have to look at one of two things.

If you have an Intel processor, you have to check the T-junction. Intel says it's the "maximum allowed temperature on the processor chip." The "chip" refers to the tiny circuit areas on a silicon wafer. For example, for the Core i9-9900K, the TDP is 95 watts and the T-junction is 100 degrees Celsius. To find the T-junction of your CPU, go to Intel's Ark website and look for your processor model.

AMD uses the simpler term "Max Time". The Ryzen 5 3600 has a TDP of 65 watts, the Ryzen 5 3600X has a TDP of 95 watts and both have a Max Time of 95 degrees Celsius.

These are good numbers to know if you need to troubleshoot a PC that is heating up too much. But overall, it's better to focus first on the TDP.

Graphics cards

Radeon RX 5700 XT from AMD.Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card from AMD.

For mainstream consumers, the TDP is more important for processors. Graphics cards have TDPs, but they also include built-in cooling solutions. GPU coolers are available in the aftermarket, but they are more difficult to install and generally unnecessary, unless you are in a heavy overclocking situation. If you want to know the TDP of your graphics card, techPowerUp is a reliable source.

Thermal design power is an important specification, especially for processors. But do not be confused by its meaning. TDP helps you choose the right cooling solution for your components. And that's all.

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