Problem with CPU frequency scaling

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ATTENTION!
CPU frequency limitation is a safety feature of your ThinkPad, do not work around it! If you have set the BIOS to performance mode and it is still limiting maximum CPU frequency, there is almost always a good reason for it.

Contents

Symptom

If the battery pack is removed and the laptop is powered by a 65W AC adapter only, the CPU downclocks to the lowest multiplier and remains locked in low speed. This happens irrespective of the scaling method in use (kernelspace or userspace) and of the frequency governor selected (ondemand, performance, etc.).

Output of cpufreq-info (on AC power without battery):

 analyzing CPU 0:
 driver: centrino
 CPUs which need to switch frequency at the same time: 0 1
 hardware limits: 1000 MHz - 1.83 GHz
 available frequency steps: 1.83 GHz, 1.33 GHz, 1000 MHz
 available cpufreq governors: ondemand, userspace, powersave, performance
 current policy: frequency should be within 1000 MHz and 1000 MHz.
                 The governor "ondemand" may decide which speed to use
                 within this range.
 current CPU frequency is 1000 MHz (asserted by call to hardware).
 
 analyzing CPU 1:
 driver: centrino
 CPUs which need to switch frequency at the same time: 0 1
 hardware limits: 1000 MHz - 1.83 GHz
 available frequency steps: 1.83 GHz, 1.33 GHz, 1000 MHz
 available cpufreq governors: ondemand, userspace, powersave, performance
 current policy: frequency should be within 1000 MHz and 1000 MHz.
                 The governor "ondemand" may decide which speed to use
                 within this range.
 current CPU frequency is 1000 MHz (asserted by call to hardware).

Output of cpufreq-info (on AC power with battery plugged in):

 analyzing CPU 0:
 driver: centrino
 CPUs which need to switch frequency at the same time: 0 1
 hardware limits: 1000 MHz - 1.83 GHz
 available frequency steps: 1.83 GHz, 1.33 GHz, 1000 MHz
 available cpufreq governors: ondemand, userspace, powersave, performance
 current policy: frequency should be within 1000 MHz and 1.83 GHz.
                 The governor "ondemand" may decide which speed to use
                 within this range.
 current CPU frequency is 1000 MHz (asserted by call to hardware).
 
 analyzing CPU 1:
 driver: centrino
 CPUs which need to switch frequency at the same time: 0 1
 hardware limits: 1000 MHz - 1.83 GHz
 available frequency steps: 1.83 GHz, 1.33 GHz, 1000 MHz
 available cpufreq governors: ondemand, userspace, powersave, performance
 current policy: frequency should be within 1000 MHz and 1.83 GHz.
                 The governor "ondemand" may decide which speed to use
                 within this range.
 current CPU frequency is 1000 MHz (asserted by call to hardware).

Explanation

The 65W AC adaptor does not supply enough power to handle peak power draws from the CPU/disk/GPU on the later ThinkPads. The battery is required to supply the peak demand and ensure correct system operation.

Messing with this can cause data loss, data corruption, and hardware damage.

Solution

Is thermal mangament limiting the speed?

  • Make sure no BIOS setting is limiting the CPU frequency range (e.g., thermal management = "BALANCED").

Is the ThinkPad running on a 65W power adapter?

  • Either replace the 65W AC adapter with a 90W AC adapter, or
  • Install a battery

Nothing else works and you know what you are doing?

  • Add "processor.ignore_ppc=1" to kernel boot command line. This allows to disable BIOS frequency limit, but can be cause the computer to malfunction if its power consumption is higher than 65W and you are running off a 65W AC power adapter with no battery installed.

Affected Models

Confirmed for these models

but it is probably true of all Lenovo ThinkPads. One can actually track this through the DSDT, but it is not worth the effort.

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