Android CPU Governors in Samsung Galaxy Nexus Explained


This is a list of Android CPU governors that are available in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone for reference in case you are tweaking the CPU with CPU tweaking apps.

What is a CPU Governor ?

A CPU governor controls how the CPU changes it's speed depends on various conditions defined in the governors.

Android CPU Governors

Performance

This governor locks the CPU frequency at maximum speed.

Powersave

This governor is the opposite of Performance governor. It locks the CPU frequency at minimum speed.

OnDemand

Quote from reference (1):
Default governor in almost all stock kernels. One main goal of the ondemand governor is to switch to max frequency as soon as there is a CPU activity detected to ensure the responsiveness of the system. (You can change this behavior using smooth scaling parameters, refer Siyah tweaks at the end of 3rd post.) Effectively, it uses the CPU busy time as the answer to "how critical is performance right now" question. So Ondemand jumps to maximum frequency when CPU is busy and decreases the frequency gradually when CPU is less loaded/apporaching idle. Even though many of us consider this a reliable governor, it falls short on battery saving and performance on default settings. One potential reason for ondemand governor being not very power efficient is that the governor decide the next target frequency by instant requirement during sampling interval. The instant requirement can response quickly to workload change, but it does not usually reflect workload real CPU usage requirement in a small longer time and it possibly causes frequently change between highest and lowest frequency.

Conservative

Quote from reference (1):
A slower Ondemand which scales up slowly to save battery. The conservative governor is based on the ondemand governor. It functions like the Ondemand governor by dynamically adjusting frequencies based on processor utilization. However, the conservative governor increases and decreases CPU speed more gradually. Simply put, this governor increases the frequency step by step on CPU load and jumps to lowest frequency on CPU idle. Conservative governor aims to dynamically adjust the CPU frequency to current utilization, without jumping to max frequency. The sampling_down_factor value acts as a negative multiplier of sampling_rate to reduce the frequency that the scheduler samples the CPU utilization. For example, if sampling_rate equal to 20,000 and sampling_down_factor is 2, the governor samples the CPU utilization every 40,000 microseconds.

Userspace

Quote from reference (2):
This governor, exceptionally rare for the world of mobile devices, allows any program executed by the user to set the CPU's operating frequency. This governor is more common amongst servers or desktop PCs where an application (like a power profile app) needs privileges to set the CPU clockspeed.

Interactive

Quote from reference (1):
Can be considered a faster ondemand. So more snappier, less battery. Interactive is designed for latency-sensitive, interactive workloads. Instead of sampling at every interval like ondemand, it determines how to scale up when CPU comes out of idle. The governor has the following advantages: 1) More consistent ramping, because existing governors do their CPU load sampling in a workqueue context, but interactive governor does this in a timer context, which gives more consistent CPU load sampling. 2) Higher priority for CPU frequency increase, thus giving the remaining tasks the CPU performance benefit, unlike existing governors which schedule ramp-up work to occur after your performance starved tasks have completed. Interactive It's an intelligent Ondemand because of stability optimizations. Why??
Sampling the CPU load every X ms (like Ondemand) can lead to under-powering the CPU for X ms, leading to dropped frames, stuttering UI, etc. Instead of sampling the CPU at a specified rate, the interactive governor will check whether to scale the CPU frequency up soon after coming out of idle. When the CPU comes out of idle, a timer is configured to fire within 1-2 ticks. If the CPU is very busy between exiting idle and when the timer fires, then we assume the CPU is underpowered and ramp to max frequency.

Quote from reference (2):
Much like the OnDemand governor, the Interactive governor dynamically scales CPU clockspeed in response to the workload placed on the CPU by the user. This is where the similarities end. Interactive is significantly more responsive than OnDemand, because it's faster at scaling to maximum frequency.
Unlike OnDemand, which you'll recall scales clockspeed in the context of a work queue, Interactive scales the clockspeed over the course of a timer set arbitrarily by the kernel developer. In other words, if an application demands a ramp to maximum clockspeed (by placing 100% load on the CPU), a user can execute another task before the governor starts reducing CPU frequency. This can eliminate the frequency bouncing discussed in the OnDemand section. Because of this timer, Interactive is also better prepared to utilize intermediate clockspeeds that fall between the minimum and maximum CPU frequencies. This is another pro-battery life benefit of Interactive.
However, because Interactive is permitted to spend more time at maximum frequency than OnDemand (for device performance reasons), the battery-saving benefits discussed above are effectively negated. Long story short, Interactive offers better performance than OnDemand (some say the best performance of any governor) and negligibly different battery life.
Interactive also makes the assumption that a user turning the screen on will shortly be followed by the user interacting with some application on their device. Because of this, screen on triggers a ramp to maximum clockspeed, followed by the timer behavior described above.

Hotplug

Quote from reference (2):
The Hotplug governor performs very similarly to the OnDemand governor, with the added benefit of being more precise about how it steps down through the kernel's frequency table as the governor measures the user's CPU load. However, the Hotplug governor's defining feature is its ability to turn unused CPU cores off during periods of low CPU utilization. This is known as "hotplugging."
Obviously, this governor is only available on multi-core devices.

References, Sources and Credits:

  1. Kernel Governors, Modules, I/O Schedulers, CPU Tweaks, AIO App Configs
  2. Android CPU governors explained

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