The computer processor in your laptop or desktop has a standard clock speed. The CPU clock speed partially determines how quickly it performs. The CPU will periodically lower its clock speed to conserve power, especially on laptops.
But did you know your CPU can also periodically activate a Turbo Boost mode to deliver some extra processing oomph?
Intel Turbo Boost and AMD Turbo Core technology can dynamically scale up CPU speed, depending on the thermal headroom available. Boost capacity is sometimes worth almost an extra 1GHz in CPU power.
So, how does Intel Turbo Boost work? And is AMD Turbo Core different?
How Does Intel Turbo Boost Work?
Intel Turbo Boost monitors the usage of an Intel Core CPU to determine how close the processor is to its maximum thermal design power, or TDP. The processor TPD is the maximum amount of power
the processor is supposed to use. If the Intel Turbo Boost Technology sees that the CPU is operating well within limits, the Turbo Boost can kick in.
Intel Turbo Boost is a dynamic feature available to Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Xeon CPUs. Not all Intel CPUs feature Turbo Boost, although it is a common feature for most CPUs manufactured since 2008.
There is no set-in-stone speed that the processor will reach in Turbo Boost mode. There is, however, a Maximum Turbo Frequency, which defines the absolute limit the CPU will reach. For example, the Intel Core i5-9600K has a Processor Base Frequency of 3.70GHz, and a Max Turbo Frequency of 4.60GHz. The Turbo Boost can provide up-to 0.9GHz additional processing power.
Furthermore, the CPU Turbo Boost doesn’t propel your processor from 3.70GHz to 4.60GHz in a single action. Turbo Boost operates in small increments.
The very early Intel Core CPUs, using the Nehalem and Westmere microarchitectures (such as the Intel Core i5-750 and the Core i7-950), operate with 133MHz frequency increments. Intel changed the frequency increment with the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, switching to 100MHz frequency increments. The 100MHz frequency increment features in every Intel microarchitecture since.
However, Intel still advertises these processors by their base clock speed. This is because Intel does not guarantee that a processor will ever hit its maximum Turbo Boost speed. I have yet to hear of an Intel processor that cannot hit its maximum Turbo Boost speed. But hitting the maximum Turbo Boost is dependent on workload—it won’t happen all of the time.
What Is Turbo Boost Max Technology?
Turbo Boost Max Technology (TBMT) 3.0 is an Intel CPU technology that boosts the performance of your CPUs fastest cores.
No two CPUs are the same. They have the same specs, look the same, and probably smell the same. But the CPU manufacturing process means that two CPUs have minute differences. These microscopic differences mean the CPU cores all have slightly different strengths.
TBMT harnesses those slight differences and provides an additional CPU frequency boost. The TBMT frequency boost is up to 200MHz higher than the regular Turbo Boost frequency.
TBMT doesn’t replace Turbo Boost. Rather, for certain Intel CPUs, it compliments it. In that, Turbo Boost Max Technology isn’t available to all Intel CPUs. At the time of writing, TBMT is only available to Intel Core i7 and Core i9 Extreme Edition CPUs—the top tier of Intel processors.
Why Turbo Boost Helps with High Performance
Turbo Boost is a core Intel CPU feature. The operation of Turbo Boost may feel unpredictable. However, it provides an excellent processing power boost, which is vital at all CPU levels.
In the days before Turbo Boost, the choice of purchasing a dual-core or quad-core processor was a compromise. Many dual-core processors came with a faster clock speed than quad-core processors simply because having more cores increases power consumption and heat generation.
Some programs, like games, favored dual-core processors, while other programs, like 3D rendering software, favored quad cores. If you used both types of applications, you had to make a choice about which was most important to you. You couldn’t receive maximum performance in both from a single processor.
The introduction of Turbo Boost did away with this compromise.
Modern Intel CPUs with Turbo Boost Technology all have different strengths and weaknesses, though for different reasons. You can use an Intel CPU with a 3D rendering application, high-performance game, video editing, and more, knowing that Turbo Boost will provide some extra processing power where possible.
You can see the difference Turbo Boost has on performance in the following video.
Does Turbo Boost Affect Laptop Battery Life?
With extra processing power comes extra power draw. On a desktop computer, the extra power demands of Intel Turbo Boost are not an issue. Whereas, if you’re using a laptop with a finite battery, Turbo Boost will affect your battery life.
However, quantifying the exact effect of CPU Turbo Boost on a laptop battery is difficult. This is primarily because there are so many CPU and battery combinations. There are, however, some handy studies that illustrate the issue. For example, check out Marco Arment’s Turbo Boost test with a 16-inch MacBook Pro and a 2.4GHz Intel Core i9 CPU.
He found that after switching Turbo Boost off, the MacBook Pro used 62-percent less power and ran some 35°C cooler. Which, on the one hand, is brilliant for extending your laptop battery life. The flipside is that the MacBook Pro also took a 29-percent performance hit.
There are two options available for switching off Turbo Boost on your laptop. First, you should check for a specific Turbo Boost switch in the system BIOS. From here you can toggle Turbo Boost on or off, depending on the level of performance you require.
Do AMD CPUs Have Turbo Boost?
AMD CPUs do have a version of Turbo Boost, known as AMD Turbo Core. AMD Turbo Core, also known as AMD Core Performance Boost, dynamically adjusts the processor frequency depending on the headroom between the operating temperature and the processor TDP.
AMD Ryzen CPUs come with some pretty nifty CPU frequency boost technologies, too. For one, AMD Ryzen CPUs move in 25MHz frequency increments, as in comparison to Intel’s 100MHz. That means you can maintain a higher clock speed for a longer period. Other features work alongside those increments:
- Precision Boost: Implements a frequency increase in “two-core boost” or “all-core boost” modes. The two-core boost mode provides a larger boost to two cores, whereas the all-core mode spreads the boost across all available cores.
- Precision Boost 2: The second iteration enables all cores to operate at maximum frequency, up to the limits of frequency, power consumption, or temperature.
- Precision Boost Overdrive: Although it carries the same name as the previous two entries, Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) is more akin to Intel’s Turbo Boost Max Technology. PBO alters the direct voltage of the CPU cores, allowing for performance gains outside the advertised frequency range under certain circumstances.
- Extended Frequency Range 2: The Extended Frequency Range 2 (XFR2) works with Precision Boost 2 to continually assess how far the CPU frequency can extend in relation to the system cooling capacity. The better the system cooling, the more boost the CPU can handle.
At one time, AMD’s Turbo Core was nowhere near as useful or advanced as Intel’s Turbo Boost. Now, AMD’s Turbo Core and Precision Boost technologies put AMD alongside Intel—if not ahead.
How to Enable Intel Turbo Boost
If you’ve read through this and wonder how you turn Intel Turbo Boost on, you don’t have to worry. Your computer will use Turbo Boost automatically. Some system BIOS will allow you to switch the Turbo Boost on or off, while others wont.
The likelihood is that you use Intel Turbo Boost all of the time without realizing—because that’s how it is meant to work.
As mentioned in the section regarding laptops and Intel Turbo Boost, there are some reasons why you might consider switching Turbo Boost off. But you should only do that if you absolutely must.
Intel Turbo Boost Will Boost Your CPU
Turbo Boost is a great feature. It was one of the reasons Intel CPUs were superior to AMD’s processors. Now that AMD CPUs feature the same technology with a few additions, that bonus is gone.
Still, Intel Turbo Boost provides an extra bit of processing power when you need it. The extra CPU frequency is perfect for gamers, video editors, developers, and anyone pushing their CPU to the limit. Even if you’re not pushing the CPU, you know that you have the processing headroom if you desire.
It appears the days of set-in-stone processor clock speeds are over. The future will be about changing a processor’s performance on the fly to meet the demands of the user.