When Santa delivered Fallout 3 and GTA IV a couple of years ago, their minimum requirements exceeded the capabilities of my previous rig substantially, so I built my current gaming rig based on an Intel Core i7 920 and an ATI Radeon HD 4870. I have been extremely happy with the performance, conquering a number of games at the highest graphical settings possible. The exception: “VPU Recover has reset your graphics card.”

This error has plagued me for the last two years, popping up anywhere between minutes and hours into 3D gaming. A search online will reveal thousands with similar problems on various ATI cards. For those two or three of you unfamiliar with the issue, your game or application will seize up for a moment or two, and once you clear the dialog back on the desktop, action will resume. Actually a neat idea, being able to recover from a non-responsive piece of hardware. But then it will happen again, and again. In my experience, it gets worse with each reset until eventually VPU Recover does not… recover. Reboot and start afresh. I have tried every suggestion out there: increased airflow to combat potential overheating, turning off virtual memory, disabling VPU Recover, driver updates all along. All to no avail. Until now.

I stumbled across this thread (wayback) in the AMD game forums, which summarizes info from this thread. And here is another thread that is relevant. In a nutshell:

The actual problem, which some people started calling the PowerPlay problem, was that the ATI card would keep switching the GPU clock speed between 500 Mhz and 750 Mhz. This would cause the card to, at some point, stop responding as it couldn’t cope with the switches. As these switches happened nearly every second when running a 3D game. The switching is normally required when running either a 2D application (500 Mhz, require less GPU) or a 3D application (750 Mhz, require more GPU).

After firing up RivaTuner and hardcoding my clock speed at 750 Mhz, it has been over a month since I have seen VPU Recover, even while gaming at the highest settings. The post recommends other more elegant solutions, but at this point I think the card (and AMD/ATI for that matter) deserve a bit of grilling.