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 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Again great work Jarred, your help is like a boat in the middle of the ocean for many here.

    Maybe you can forward the GPU usage %s to AMD, who knows if they are aware of this.

    some other games you might test are:
    Crysis 2
    Witcher 1 and 2
    Skyrim
    BF3 (specially multiplayer)

    What everybody here wants is that GPU can be assigned, fixed, forced, you name it to work 99% at any setting or game we want it to, to forget about power saving. Maybe thats easier to get faster than a working "60fps minimum performance" solution.

    and again thanks! I will definetely buy from anadtech in the future, just for this.

    regards
    Voz
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    That's not going to happen. The frames are transferred over PCIe, and that's a limited shared resource. Uncapping it would just take away bandwidth and increase latency for the other unimportant stuff, you know, like textures and geometry. Reply
  • arcticjoe - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    Nvidia can do it, why cant AMD? Otherwise its a little unfair for consumers who pay ridiculous money for a top of the range card that also has a major with a design flaw severely limiting its performance. Reply
  • Woodchuck2000 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Any chance of Anandtech investigating this issue? Reading through the support forums, it doesn't look like user complaints have made a difference. I suspect that if a site like Anandtech publishes some hard numbers, we'll actually see a fix for these issues. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    There have been no driver updates since launch for Clevo 7970M users, so of course there haven't been any fixes. AMD is basically saying step one is to get support for Enduro laptops into their regular Catalyst driver updates, and once that's done end users should see fixes at the same time desktop drivers get fixes. This has not yet happened, but it's supposed to happen by the end of the year. Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    There may not be any official releases for Clevo, but you can install most mobility releases on a EM series laptop, including the latest 9.0 leak (Catalyst 12.8). They all work in games, but the issue with GPU under-utilization remains the same in all releases so far.
    Also, 7970m was released in March - not being able to use it properly for the majority of its lifecycle as the top mobile AMD card is really pathetic.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I don't know if others are having better luck, but at least when I tried installing the non-Enduro Catalyst drivers on the P170EM it did nothing good. I think I got the updated Catalyst control panel but still running old drivers. Hacking drivers to get them to install is not the same thing as having proper driver support. Enduro has a lot of lower level stuff going on in the drivers that regular discrete-only cards don't have to consider. If they work at all, I'm surprised, but I wouldn't expect 100% optimal performance from them. Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    You've nailed AMD's major problem on the head with this statement. No official drivers for the 7970M since launch, what 4 months ago? With a whole portion of the owners practically screaming that the GPU is garbage in the latest games? The only 7970M owners who are happy are those that can completely disable Enduro via the BIOS. That's absurd. Reply
  • krumme - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    For the past 3 years amd have had the best, most efficient, arcitechture for for mobile market, and even still for this generation something that can compete with kepler.

    How on earth they can bring themselves in a situation not having a product similar to optimus is one of the biggest management failures. Is simply unforgiving. What were they thinking on?

    Instead of focusing on fx crossfire with absolutely no economic importance, they have let this obvious technology take 2 years later than it needed to. With amd insight, they should be 1 year ahead of nv here. Pathetic management, and it was obvious 2 years ago.

    AMD strategic decisions is always some technical extreme long term roads. Like APU could save their mobile business. Man, its sad to watch. Engineering thinking when it fails.

    There have been a lot of people leaving AMD lately, and lots of tears for that. Well, they might be technically good, but business people they were not.

    RR have a lot to do at AMD to clean up this mess.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    "With amd insight, they should be 1 year ahead of nv here."

    Wait, exactly why would anyone expect AMD to have better insight than NVIDIA? Or Intel? Isn't this the same company that underdelivered on Bulldozer? And K9 basically never happened because it was so far off of what was needed? AMD has the potential to compete and even exceed NVIDIA and Intel, but while they have done so on occasion there's no reason to say they should consistently be ahead.
    Reply

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