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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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  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Your comment will not be deleted. We do not delete comments except for spam. Reply
  • prophet001 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    This isn't Clevo's support thread :/ Reply
  • Seanzky - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Thank goodness, because we want AMD to hear about their Enduro issues. Not Clevo. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Amen to that. Clevo is not at fault for this. This is about AMD's complete lack of driver support for mobile GCN. I hope others reading get that through their head, this is not an OEM issue, this is completely AMD's 100% fault here. Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    this issue affects virtually all 7000 series laptop cards that use muxless design. Naturally this bottleneck is the most visible on 7970m because its the fastest card, so most vocal users will be 7970m users. Reply
  • sirizak - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    The only laptop that gets around this is the Alienware, as it has a hardware switch to force the dedicated graphics instead of the faulty implementation Clevo and AMD are serving up here.

    I'm just glad to see this sugject finally getting dragged to the surface here, Hopefully this might motivate AMD to come to the party with quick solution.

    It would be a shame to see a great product like the 7970m goto the junk pile because of their lack of support.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    There are no "quick fix" solutions for complex problems. As for the Alienware, the interesting thing is that it has hardware muxes so you can turn off the integrated graphics (so the display outputs get routed directly to the dGPU). Why would they do that when they have Enduro? Probably because they don't like the way Enduro works right now but they wanted to give users the option of getting better battery life. How's that for confidence? Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Yep, just go to NBR or Guru3D. There are HP owners who are suffering from this and Lenovo and Dell that aren't AW. Anyone using Enduro is affected if they can't disable it in the BIOS. Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Wow I didn't realize there were so many problems with AMD's Enduro solution. I knew that Nvidia's Optimus solution was far superior but I didn't know about all the problems with Enduro for 7970m users. Once again I think this shows very questionable management at AMD. I have been saying for the last 6 months that AMD has been making very poor management decisions and this is another one of those. Instead of trying to sweep it under the rug the AMD support staff should be working with users to pinpoint the problem. I'm sure it is something that can be fixed with some new drivers, unless AMD knows something we don't and that is why they are trying to bury it. Reply
  • Seanzky - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Before anyone brands me as "AMD-hating" please know that this is purely speculation on my part. AMD, being relatively smaller compared to nVidia, can only focus so much of their resources by looking into this issue. They can't be a step behind in the race for the next gen GPU. So the question is: will they split their resources to support their paying customers (me among many) or will they just sweep this under the rug and focus all their manpower to fix Enduro in the next series?

    AMD is lucky that I am willing to chuck this up as an expensive lesson learned. I am most likely not going to be buying AMD in the near future as I do have enough funds for upgrading my laptop. The same can't be said for other 7970M owners, though. There are many tight-budgeted college students who bought into AMD's flagship card.
    Reply

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