Friday, December 17, 2010

Using Powertop to Lower System Power Usage

Ever wonder what's sucking the life out of your Linux laptop's battery or contributing to higher electric bills in the server room?

Check out Powertop, a tool for profiling a system to see what is using the most power.

Powertop was developed a few years ago to help profile systems and see what could be done to make Linux better at power savings.

It was aimed primarily at laptops, as many folks would install Linux on a laptop and then find out that battery performance was far worse under Linux than Windows.

You don't even need to run Powertop to benefit from it. Some of the most common power-gulping culprits are listed on the LessWatts.org website.

Many of these have been fixed in the upstream projects that caused unnecessary wakeups (like ntp waking up every second, or Pidgin checking every 5 seconds to check on idle time). Something as simple as a blinking cursor can cause a wake up every few seconds, and additional power consumption.

screenshot of the open source tool, Powertop
Screenshot of Powertop

But you might want to get a look at what's going on under your system's hood specifically. Powertop should be packaged for all major Linux distros, though it might not be installed by default.

After installing Powertop, start it up as root (or using sudo) by running powertop. Now you'll see an output that's very similar to top but showing the top causes for wakeups.

It also displays the ACPI estimate for power usage; at the bottom of the output, it will show suggestions (if any) to improve power performance -- or it will notify you of processes preventing the disk from going into powersave mode.

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