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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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  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    So you mean the APUs can currently max Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2? How about Civ5 or Total War Shogun 2? Them APUs still got a long way to catch up with dGPUs. Reply
  • sirizak - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Yeah this is rubbish, APU's are not going to be upto the task in a true gaming laptop for a long time yet. This is not an APU kit, at $2000+ it should give desktops a run for their money. Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    as Montage have said, there AMD's apus are very far behind in performance compared to current laptops with switchable graphics. Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure what Beenthere is smoking, but APUs are only meant to replace low to mainstream dGPUs. They're hardly a performance option. An APU-based system should reduce cost and power consumption but it's not the messiah for the more serious gamer.

    There will always be somebody who wants the latest and greatest, and if NVIDIA can provide the support for this, why can't AMD?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    It's Beenthere guys. Go read his other pro-AMD, anti-Intel comment on Ivy Bridge and Trinity mobile articles if you don't know why he's not worth feeding. ;-) Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    AMD's APU is a pitiful solution compared to Intel Ivey Bridge + Nvidia 680M. Your suggestion is not even remotely comparable. Not even in the same stadium for performance. Reply
  • hmoobphajej - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Their APU isn't suppose to be a solution to discrete CPU + GPU. They're a all around solution to mobility that offers a adequate performance for computation and graphics. They're for the main stream users that don't want to play BF3 on ultra or any other demanding games in particular. The APUs are more or less aimed at what mainstream buyers would want; which is a computer for daily use, good battery life, smaller form factor, and a cheaper price. Not somehting a enthusiast gamer would want... which is a desktop. Reply
  • sirizak - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I've been following this for awhile now, I almost bought a 7970m gpu'd P150EM a month ago due to the pricing vs the 680m. I am still waiting to purchase this laptop. In Australia I can get one specced with 7970m for under $2000, GTX 680m is $2300, I have told lovely that I will come in under $2000.

    Until this the Enduro under utilization issue is resolved I will not buy this laptop, it is that simple. Otherwise it ticks all my boxes, quality matte screen, backlit keyboard, plenty of CPU and SSD choices, and an unobtrusive exterior. I believe there may also be issues with the headphone outputs of the P150EM. Thats not AMDs issue but another cross against this setup.

    This is not cheap kit, if you cannot get this sorted please pull the product, it's a disgrace and ruining not only AMDs reputation but also the reputation of all the Clevo resellers. ie. Metabox in Oz, Sager in the US.

    These machines are hitting a sweet spot on the price vs performance scale, it's a shame I can't justify spending my hard earned dollars on something that is inherently faulty.

    Disclosure: I currently run a Xfire 5870 setup on my desktop, but AMD's performance here is forcing me to reconsider my GPU vendor going forward.
    Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Don't buy the 7970m. Especially not on a Clevo. I do place some of the blame on them as most of the other gaming laptop manufacturers recognized this problem and installed the ability to disable Enduro in the bios, boosting performance by as much as 50%. Clevo did not. Reply
  • Vozier - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Hi all,
    first of all there some lads wich understandably are pretty mad with AMD and its 7970 product. I wont tell them to cool down, because they have been struggling with the issue for too long and even if a solution comes up now it will be already a bit late, since 1 year in computer hardware is upgrade time anyway...
    That said i have recently bought a clevo P150 EM with 7970M. Not being a hardcore gamer and never having bought a gaming laptop before i am prepared to be dazzled, even with all the issues stated, but mainly because of my comparison point...
    I do support and hope enduro fixes the main issues it has, mostly GPU underutilization %s when unwanted.
    Would it be so hard to fix 100% GPU utilization under catalyst?
    I say this because the whole issue seems to be caused by enduro's "best intentions" to optimize power usage, but failing big in doing so without affecting gameplay (ultimately FPS).
    Its very clear the 7970M is mismanaged by enduro when testing games in alienware (that can shut enduro off), so it aint so har to think this could be fixed somehow.
    The 7970M CAN perform, and DOES perform better that GTX 680M, when enduro is shut down, at least that gives everyone hope.

    I do think this article isnt AMD biased, it does fail in meassuring GPU utilization (%GPU usage in game tests) as done by many affected users to prove and show the MAIN problem, i hope this will be included in the promised game tests.

    It gives me at least hope because it clearly states AMD IS AWARE of the issues, and working to fix them...
    It also gives me hope to see the issue in mainly a driver issue.

    i quote:
    "The biggest news with the latest iteration of Enduro is that AMD is planning to make universal reference drivers available for all the Enduro laptops. It’s not clear precisely what that means, but potentially any laptop with Dynamic Switchable Graphics or later (e.g. PX4.0 and later) would be supported by AMD’s “reference” drivers. That’s huge, and if AMD can deliver it will assuage most of our concerns with their hardware/software. Hopefully none of the OEMs get bent out of shape or refuse to allow support, which is a problem we've seen in the past. We should see the first public release in the next month or two, and then another release somewhere in the November/December timeframe."

    good article!

    Voz
    Reply

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