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We already posted our overview of the 12.11 Catalyst drivers when used with desktop GPUs, but notebook users are naturally wondering where the promised mobile Hotfix driver is. The short story is that AMD decided to roll the Hotfix into the 12.11 release, so this driver takes care of both mobile and desktop users. The usual caveats for notebooks apply, obviously: your laptop needs to use either a discrete-only GPU or support dynamic switchable graphics aka Enduro, and the laptop manufacturer needs to be a participant in AMD’s mobile drivers program. I’m not sure what companies are specifically opting out, but at least the beta driver I tested installed on a Sony VAIO C (more on this below).

With the official release in hand, we went back to verify performance was the same as the 12.9 Hotfix we had tested previously. In the process of testing, we found things were not quite where we expected, but then AMD contacted us to let us know there was a slight snafu with the 12.11 driver: it doesn’t include the DX9 portion of the Hotfix (which, if you missed it, we had to manually install the DLLs in safe mode with the not-for-public driver). That’s unfortunate, as it potentially means any DX9-only games will underperform relative to the earlier Hotfix, but that’s not the end of the story.

Besides the apparent DX9 snafu, we also ran into issues with several games no longer working properly. DiRT 3 and DiRT Showdown both refuse to run in fullscreen mode with the 12.11 beta, which makes comparing performance with the previous scores largely useless (windowed mode is always going to be slower, in my experience). Battlefield 3, which received a large performance boost on desktops with the 12.11 drivers, also refuses to run—it crashes/hangs almost immediately after launching. (It might be the same fullscreen bug as in the DiRT games, but there’s no XML config file to tweak to change settings so basically I’m unable to test BF3 at present.) Update: I had to uninstall the AMD drivers, reboot, reinstall AMD's drivers, reboot, and then reinstall Intel's iGPU drivers. Then things worked more or less properly.

Of the remaining games, we found minor differences in performance but nothing really worrisome; if you’re still running the original Clevo 7970M drivers, the Hotfix should be a dramatic step up in performance. What about other non-7900M laptops, though? As mentioned above, I installed the 12.11 beta from AMD on the Sony VAIO C (PowerXpress 4.0/Dynamic Switchable Graphics) and that worked “okay”; the issue is the same as with the 12.9 Beta driver: the “Global Switchable Graphics” settings are missing, and if you try a clean install (i.e. uninstall the Sony provided AMD and Intel drivers and then install the latest version of both), well, I couldn't get the 6630M to work properly. I’m not sure how much the new drivers help performance with other GPUs, but a quick look at performance on the VAIO C suggests that only GCN GPUs are likely to show noteworthy improvements.

Here’s the quick rundown of our testing results at our “Mainstream” (900p ~High) and “Enthusiast” (1080p ~Ultra 4xAA) notebook test settings, showing four sets of drivers: the initial Clevo driver (8.951.6, which is close to the 12.3 Catalyst drivers), the 12.9 beta, the 12.9 Hotfix, and the 12.11 beta.

Mobile 7970M Mainstream Gaming

Mobile 7970M Enthusiast Gaming

Performance is down slightly from the Hotfix internal release, but that’s not too surprising given the missing DX9 support. Overall, our Mainstream settings show a pretty clear benefit from the Hotfix/12.11 drivers, while the increases at our Enthusiast settings are less dramatic but still tangible in most titles. Unlike on desktop cards where Tahiti/7900 showed the largest improvements at 1920x1200, here the Pitcairn-based 7970M benefits more at 1600x900. If we're seeing the same shading/texturing improvements, that would make sense: one step down from Tahiti means one step down in resolution for optimal quality. We also see performance higher than the earlier Hotfix in Civ5, Battlefield 3 at Mainstream, and DiRT 3 at Enthusiast settings.

The drivers have now posted on AMD's site. Note that these are beta drivers and thus you don't go through the usual "mobility driver download utility"; all of the necessary hardware IDs are already present in the INFs. AMD also informs us that they’re working to push out a fixed mobile driver “shortly” that will include the DX9 improvements as well. I would hope that will bring the 12.11 release to the performance level of the 12.9 Hotfix, and hopefully AMD can address the issues with laptop support on older Enduro/Dynamic Switchable Graphics laptops.

Looking at the bigger picture, this release shows that AMD can push out public drivers for mobile platforms, including Enduro systems, but we’re still seeing some disconcerting trends with overall mobile platform support. We want the next official release to clean up the drivers on all Enduro/Dynamic notebooks (e.g. Sony VAIO C and HP Envy 15, to name two specific models where we’ve heard the same “missing Global Switchable profiles” complaint), and it would be great if we didn’t have to uninstall then reinstall drivers to get things functioning properly (i.e. the initial issues with Battlefield 3 and DiRT 3). NVIDIA hasn’t been free of such issues, but given the number of Optimus laptops we’ve tested compared to Enduro we’ve encountered problems far less frequently. Here’s hoping 2013 can be the year where we no longer have to delve into the question of which AMD notebooks work properly with AMD-provided drivers.

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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    No, the Hotfix to my knowledge was never posted. AMD gave me a 600MB download for the Hotfix, with a separate 58MB download for the DX9 fix. Basically, they never did package the Hotfix for public use as far as I know. Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    And for Jarred, I am confused about your BF3 value at 1080p. Single player performance improved by 10-20 FPS on Ultra coming from the stock driver. I wonder if the performance gains are larger on Clevos. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    It could be the section of the game where we test (the tank run on Rolling Thunder -- just start FRAPS when the tank begins moving and stop when the tank stops; don't shoot anything). I can retest if you'd like, though I'm not sure what else could have been "wrong" to cause the lower than expected score. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Okay, I retested and this time (after two runs), the best score was 40.8, so that's 1FPS faster than before. Still, it's a step down from the Hotfix and is consistently at the 39-41FPS mark in our test sequence. Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    You know what, your figure is right. You are testings with max MSAA, AA and AF. However, my performance gain is still real. I was playing with MSAA off, AA post on medium and AF at 4x. Performance on the stock driver was not too good at Ultra with those adjustments, but with 12.11 performance is much better. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yes, MSAA is painful in BF3 at otherwise max settings. If you don't mind the aliasing, going FXAA but disabling MSAA really helps. Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    The aliasing is barely noticeable on a 15" 1080p monitor, so I live with medium FXAA :) I can get a stable 50-70FPS range in single player with MSAA off, but I rarely go past 45FPS with MSAA at 4x. Not really worth it for me, but it is good that you and other websites test at complete max settings to make comparing GPUs easier and more honest.

    Speaking of MSAA, many are reporting that when MSAA is maxed out in Max Payne 3, performance is the same as stock drivers (around 35FPS), but with MSAA off and all else on Ultra, Max Payne 3 can be ran at a solid 60FPS (huge improvement over stock drivers), just like BF3. Apparently maxed MSAA in games restricts the GPU to the point where any driver improvements wouldn't do much for performance.
    Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    The aliasing is barely noticeable on a 15" 1080p monitor, so I live with medium FXAA :) I can get a stable 50-70FPS range in single player with MSAA off, but I rarely go past 45FPS with MSAA at 4x. Not really worth it for me, but it is good that you and other websites test at complete max settings to make comparing GPUs easier and more honest.

    Speaking of MSAA, many are reporting that when MSAA is maxed out in Max Payne 3, performance is the same as stock drivers (around 35FPS), but with MSAA off and all else on Ultra, Max Payne 3 can be ran at a solid 60FPS (huge improvement over stock drivers), just like BF3. Apparently maxed MSAA in games restricts the GPU to the point where any driver improvements wouldn't do much for performance.
    Reply
  • HOODY - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Well I think it may be a mute point, here is what I got from AMD rep just now after sending him the info on this.

    "This brought me to the Catalyst 12.10 download, and specifically that verification tool. I read the release notes, and it states that your particular graphics product is not compatible. I am very sorry, as I feel I have therefore mislead you in the past."

    And this

    "I read the release notes for Catalyst 12.11Beta, and it does not appear that your particular HD7670m XT graphics is supported either. I am trying to get confirmation on this for you."

    So there it is...........

    -----------------------------------------------------------------
    The info on my card is this:

    PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_6740&SUBSYS_185E103C&REV_00
    PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_6740&SUBSYS_185E103C
    PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_6740&CC_030000
    PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_6740&CC_0300
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Never trust tech support... they know only enough to point you to someone else at best. And obviously, they're not going to recommend people try unofficial drivers like LeshCatLabs stuff. I'm not sure why he thinks the 12.11 Beta doesn't support your card, though, as it says right in the release notes that 7000M (and 6000M and "5000M" -- Mobility Radeon 5000 if you prefer the official name) are supported. Reply

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