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Introduction

A couple weeks back, I contacted AMD to let them know I was working on a notebook review—a Clevo P170EM from AVADirect with HD 7970M graphics. Much to my surprise, when I received the notebook I discovered it used AMD’s Dynamic Switchable Graphics, now rebranded as Enduro. It has been just over a year since my last look at the technology, where things were so bad that I felt most users would be better off if they had only discrete AMD GPUs and no switchable graphics—or they could simply buy NVIDIA Optimus enabled laptops. The short story is that my initial experience with the P170EM was largely the same, only the lack of driver updates was even more damning when looking at a notebook sporting such a high-end GPU. What could be done? AMD scheduled a meeting with me to go over the latest updates, and thankfully things aren’t quite so grim as I first thought.

First, let’s get everyone up to speed. Historically speaking, AMD/ATI has been on the forefront of switchable graphics technology. While the first laptop with switchable graphics tested at AnandTech used NVIDIA’s implementation (the ASUS UL80Vt), Radeon-based alternatives also existed in a similar time frame. The main problems with early switchable graphics solutions is that they required extra hardware on the manufacturer side (muxes), increasing cost, and more importantly you were generally locked in to getting graphics driver updates from the laptop OEM. NVIDIA addressed both problems when they launched Optimus in early 2010, and while there were certainly some teething pains the vast majority of users have been pleased with the result. Where did that leave AMD? Simply put: out of most laptops.

Was it because NVIDIA had superior technology, better drivers, or better marketing? I’d say yes to all three, and it has been painful to watch as the number of laptops with discrete GPUs (at least in the US) has largely shifted to being NVIDIA products. Up until now, if you wanted a laptop with a discrete GPU, the ability to switch off that GPU, and you wanted regular driver updates, your only viable option has been NVIDIA equipped laptops. Perhaps that’s why every major OEM (along with most smaller OEMs/ODMs) ships at least some of their laptops with NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology. With laptop sales now outpacing desktop sales, giving up so much ground to their competitor is a serious problem AMD needs to overcome.

I should note that AMD has other products that actually help get around our concerns with Enduro. The Llano and Trinity APUs for example offer integrated GPU that are as fast (faster in some cases) as discrete GPUs. If you’re looking for a good budget laptop that gets excellent battery life and you don’t want to deal with switchable graphics at all, Llano started the trend of providing a decent GPU with acceptable CPU performance and Trinity continues that trend. Even better: driver updates aren’t a problem as there’s only one AMD GPU to contend with. Trinity/Llano didn’t win any awards for pure performance, but in terms of bang for the buck and creating a well-rounded device, the APUs have proven successful. But we’re not going to worry about Trinity/Llano or other APUs; today’s focus is on discrete GPUs and switching between these high-power, high-performance GPUs and low-power, low-performance integrated graphics.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the history of AMD’s switchable graphics as well as where they intend to go in the near future.

Recap: AMD’s PowerXpress, aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics, aka Enduro
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  • Vozier - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    what you say is all true, but many here are really missing that there is no real alternative to the 7970M, the 680M i so much more expensive that its on another league, and the 675 and 670 are old techonolgy and not really a lot cheaper or better.
    SO right now almost all 7970M buyers are faced more with an upgrade than an alternative. At least for me the option to spend 300 extra its not a valid one.
    If 7970 wouldnt exist i would have probably gone for a 650M notebook and saved 500 or 600 bucks.

    That the 7970M can be as good as the 680M si really amazing, as for myself i prefer to BET 300 that the drivers will be fixed (i actually did because i bought once the issue was known), and for the time being play games not affected or not so badly affected by enduro.

    Of course there is no justification for AMD and its whole public management of this whole issue. They have already lost many customers and will loose many more if they dont rise to the ocasion.
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Great so a fix is coming soon it appears - about time thank goodness.

    But do you really expect that we should turn the other cheek as regards AMD's overt attack against its customers? The driver will fix the problem, however, my immediate focus has now switched to what needs to be done in response to AMD's attack against ME. That arrogance needs to be dressed down a notch or two.

    This has gone far beyond a driver fix issue Jarred, and it appears you think we should just swallow that corporate arrogance and move on.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    As I posted elsewhere, it takes more than AMD to delete a forum thread and/or posts. For instance, if I started deleting all the negative comments on this article, I would expect most of the people who posted to be pissed and move to another forum. Put a different way, if Sager opened a thread and then AMD asked Sager to close it, while it's bad of AMD it's also bad of Sager -- and hopefully NBR wasn't complicit in the deleting of threads. Reply
  • Seanzky - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Well, they were. And guess what, the thread started at AMD forums obviously got locked pretty quickly because we couldn't keep it civil. Mind you, we (the 7970M victims) did everything we could to keep everything civil despite them (the fanboys who had no interest or business other than to troll us) baiting us into a flame war.

    This is besides the point. I'm just glad things are in motion and that things are moving toward the direction that's in our favor, finally.
    Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Enduro being broken is one thing. Current gen card that is surpassed by previous gen hardware by a large margin in some cases is something completely different. Reviews of the card that showed a false huge improvement that hasn't materialized for 5 months is something else. I last tried AMD when I bought a Gen 1 Athlon that gave me nothing but headaches for 6 months until I literally threw it away and bought an Intel proc. That time I messed with drivers and bios updates until well after the return period, and I did the same thing this time. Except there weren't any new bios or driver updates to play with this time, I just kept waiting. 5 months without a driver update on a brand new flagship card? Really?

    Fool me twice, shame on me.
    Reply
  • KyleH334 - Monday, September 17, 2012 - link

    I appreciate very much your honesty! I'm very new to laptop gaming and bought a Clevo 17.3 inch Laptop from PC Specialist. I watched quite a few YouTube videos before plumping for the 7970m due to people singing it's praises! Obviously since then I have realised that this probably wasn't the smartest move. However I am hopefull that we will see some improvements in the near future :)

    Thank you for the time you have put in to get a response from AMD!!
    Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    "This isn't Clevo's support thread :/"

    -Well this article is about AMD's Enduro switchable graphics, which in it's current form there are some glaring problems. Reading this article one gets the sense that AMD's Enduro is pretty much on par with Nvidia's Optimus solution, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I think that Anandtech should give mention of the issue since it seems to be widespread, and maybe they should ask AMD for a response about it (do they plan to fix it?) and update the article. I mean if it worked fine why would Alienware completely disable it with their AMD graphics laptops?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Did you actually read the article? The whole point is that "Enduro 5.0" -- which is what every single Enduro laptop is currently using -- is basically a huge concern and I wouldn't recommend it. I told AMD that and they said, "Let us show you Enduro 5.5 and prove that we're about to fix it." The whole article is about what is coming with the next driver update, and I note several times that without driver updates Enduro is a dead end. So AMD is fixing that in the near future, but until then it's not fixed and even then performance may not be there for some users. Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Sorry Jarred was a little confused about different versions of Enduro and with all the different names. Anyway I think it is helping people that bought 7970m's that you are looking into this issue and reporting on it. I agree with you regarding the "it takes two to tango" bit with Notebook Reviews, just because AMD asked them to remove the threads about problems people were having doesn't mean they had to. That is why Anandtech is my one stop shop for completely unbiased technology information, it's because I know you guys don't engage in these types of behaviors. Reply
  • Beenthere - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    The switchable graphics market is likely a niche market that will be gone very soon with the advancement of AMD's APUs. Those who actually desire a good laptop graphics solution would be wise to just buy a Trinity A10-4600M powered laptop and skip the switchable graphics, which is obsolete now. Reply

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