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High Detail Gaming and Asymmetrical CrossFire Misfire

Update, 8/10/2011: Just to let you know, AMD managed to get me a new BIOS to address some of the rendering issues I experienced with CrossFire. As you'll read below, I had problems in several titles, and I still take exception with the "DX10/11 only" approach. I can name dozens of good games out there that are DX9-only that released in the past year. Anyway, the updated BIOS has at least addressed the rendering errors I noticed, so retail Asymmetrical CrossFire laptops should do better. With that disclaimer out of the way, here's my initial experience from two months back.

So far, the story for Llano and gaming has been quite good. The notebook we received comes with the 6620G fGPU along with a 6630M dGPU, though, and AMD has enabled Asymmetrical CrossFire...sort of. The results for ACF in 3DMarks were interesting if only academic, so now we're going to look at how Llano performs with ACF enabled and running at our High detail settings (using an external LCD).

Just a warning before we get to the charts: this is preproduction hardware, and AMD informed us (post-review) that they stopped worrying about fixing BIOS issues on this particular laptop because it isn't going to see production. AMD sent us an updated driver late last week that was supposed to address some of the CrossFire issues, but in our experience it didn’t help and actually hurt in a few titles. Given that the heart of the problem is in the current BIOS, that might also explain why Turbo Core doesn't seem to be working as well as we would expect.

AMD also notes that the current ACF implementation only works on DX10/11 games, and at present that's their plan going forwards as the majority of software vendors state they will be moving to DX10/11. While the future might be a DX10/11 world, the fact is that many recent titles are still DX9 only. Even at our "High" settings, five of our ten titles are tested in DX9 mode (DiRT 2, L4D2, Mafia II, Mass Effect 2, and StarCraft II—lots of twos in there, I know!), so they shouldn't show any improvement...and they don't. Of those five titles, four don't have any support for DX10/11 (DiRT 2 being the exception), and even very recent, high-profile games are still shipping in DX9 form (e.g. Crysis 2, though a DX11 patch is still in the works).  Not showing an improvement is one thing, but as we'll see in a moment, enabling CrossFire mode actually reduces performance by 10-15% relative to the dGPU. That's the bad news. The good news is that the other half of the games show moderate performance increases over the dGPU.

If that doesn't make the situation patently clear, CrossFire on our test unit is largely not in what we consider a working state. With that out of the way, here are the results we did managed to cobble together:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Civilization V

DiRT 2

Left 4 Dead 2

Mafia II

Mass Effect 2

Metro 2033

STALKER: Call of Pripyat

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Total War: Shogun 2

Given this is preproduction hardware that won't see a store shelf, the above results are almost meaningless. If ACF can provide at least a 30% increase on average, like what we see in TWS2, it could be useful. If it can't do at least 30%, it seems like switchable graphics with an HD 6730M would be less problematic and provide better performance. The only takeaway we have right now is that ACF is largely not working on this particular unit. Shipping hardware and drivers should be better (they could hardly be worse), but let's just do a quick discussion of the results.

If we just look at games with DX10/11 enabled, the story isn't too bad. Not accounting for the rendering issues noted below, ACF is able to boost performance by an average of 24% over the dGPU at our High settings. We didn’t include the Low and Medium results for ACF on the previous page for what should be obvious reasons, but if the results at our High settings are less than stellar, Low and Medium settings are even less impressive. Trimming our list of titles to three games (we tested TWS2 and STALKER in DX9 mode at our Low and Medium settings), ACF manages to average a 1% performance increase over the dGPU at Low and a 14% increase at Medium, but Civ5 still had to contend with rendering errors and Metro 2033 showed reduced performance.

In terms of rendering quality, ACF is very buggy on the test system; the default BIOS settings initially resulted in corrupted output for most games and 3D apps, but even with the correct settings we still encountered plenty of rendering errors. Civilization V only had one GPU rendering everything properly while units were missing on the other GPU, so you’d get a flicker every other frame with units appearing/disappearing. At higher detail settings, the corruption was even more severe. STALKER: Call of Pripyat and Total War: Shogun 2 also had rendering errors/flickering at higher quality settings. Since we didn't enable DX10/11 until our High defaults, right when ACF is supposed to start helping is where we encountered rendering issues.

Just to be clear: none of this means that Asymmetrical CrossFire is a bad idea; it just needs a lot more work on the drivers and BIOS. If/when we get a retail notebook that includes Asymmetrical CrossFire support, we’ll be sure to revisit the topic. Why ACF isn’t supported in DX9 is still a looming question, and AMD’s drivers need a much better interface for managing switchable graphics profiles. A list of all supported games with a central location to change all the settings would be a huge step up from the current UI, and users need the ability to enable/disable CrossFire support on a per-game basis if AMD wants anyone to actually use ACF. We also hope AMD rethinks their “only for DX10/DX11 modes” stance; CrossFire has worked with numerous DX9 games in the past, and what we’d like to see is ACF with the same list of supported games as regular CrossFire. If nothing else, having ACF enabled shouldn't reduce performance in DX9 titles.

In summary: we don't know if ACF will really help that much. We tested Asymmetrical CrossFire on what is, at best, beta hardware and drivers, and it didn't work very well. We want it to work, and the potential is certainly there, but we'll need to wait for a better test platform. To be continued....

Fusion GPU Takes on Gaming AMD’s Llano Platform: Contending for your Mobile Dollar
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  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Legit Reviews found a big difference in game performance between AC and battery (see here: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1636/5/). This made Llano and the i5 perform about the same on battery in Resident Evil 5. I assume that benchmarks here are on AC, so it would be interesting to test on battery. Reply
  • DXM1 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Great Review Anand! Once again we know intel is the best at all things computing. I liked how you included the i7 with 460m up to THREE times in some benchmarks. It was like you kept reminding us and casual consumers that massively more expensive parts perform better... Even if you test the same set-up 3 times in a row!

    I have to tell you that seeing the 3 intel blue bars on the top made me sigh with relief, I was worried that you may actually compare llano to the parts like i3 and i5 where it is actually meant to compete (like some other silly reviewers). My only gripe is you didnt add i7-2600kand gtx 580 OC'ed as those would have made the gap even wider from the AMD system.

    One question I did have for you is, how much does Intel pay nowadays for dishonest reviewing practices? Im short on cash because my job doesnt pay well and I was hoping to open up a website and promote intel just like you. Maybe we could even become partners and link to each other websites I think that would be cool.

    PS, could you post how much your integrity was worth before you auctioned it off to Intel? Im sure some of your fans would be eager to know.

    Your ex Reader, DXM1
    Reply
  • Sharken03 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Dont feed this troll, Anandtech is a great hardware site. Reply
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Troll? it's the truth. What was the fucking point in showing 3x identical intel systems except to put 3x intel systems at the top of most benchmarks? It's goddam pathetic. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Or, I included these laptops because they're the only ones I still had where I could rerun all the benchmarks (specifically, PCMark 7 and 3DMark 11). Oh, snap! Heaven forbid we think about that. And if you read the 8000+ words of commentary, you'll notice how often we praise Intel's placement at the top of the charts -- and of course we completely ignore when they fall to the bottom of the battery life charts.

    I wish I had a secret stash of all the laptops I've tested in the last six months, because then I wouldn't have even bothered with including more than one GTX 460M + SNB. But your suggestion that we *not* include laptops because it pushes Llano down is even worse than what we've done. Should we only show laptops where AMD is better? Or maybe just laptops that cost under $700? Maybe we need to dig out an old CULV setup and then benchmark GMA 4500MHD again so we can laugh at Intel's IGP from two years ago?

    If you want a look at every laptop we've tested and where Llano falls in the grand scheme of things, I suggest checking into our Mobile Bench results. Hint: it's in the upper part of battery life, and in the middle to lower part of CPU and GPU tests; if you only look at IGPs, though, it's the fastest IGP. Hmm... that sounds a lot like what we said in our conclusion.
    Reply
  • pfastovsky - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Jarred

    I think its a fair comment that asks Anandtech to keep their graphs in an article consistent with the same laptop set across a testing segment. As you said, you had to rerun all the benchmarks so why are the Civ laptops listed so different from Mass Effect, Starcraft etc?

    Thanks
    Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    The comment may be fair, and it's been mentioned before, but accusing Anandtech of being paid by Intel isn't. Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    None of this explains the 3 identical setup.
    How on earth to you think it looks like?

    Its simply utterly pathetic, and an insult at our IQ

    I am no fan at this Llano apu, and from the start. think AMD should just have posponed it, and used the capacity for BD and serverspace, but this review is just far out.

    The important issue about llano have always been the power profile, and AMD just deliver in spades here. Far beyound expectations. The OEM will sell this like zakate, and the new trinity will not make it significantly better on the market than this with upgraded star cores.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    You know what's utterly pathetic and an insult to people's IQ? The suggestion that they can't actually comprehend the graphs. But just to show you that I have no "agenda" and I'm not trying to make AMD's Llano look worse than it is, I have taken a couple hours to go through, remove all the extra data, and regenerate all the graphs. (Yes, folks, creating all of these things does take time and our UI for doing this is not as easy as you might expect.) Of course, not all of the i7-2630QM + GTX 460M notebooks performed equally, so now I've "punished" Intel by showing worse results in some tests. Oh noes!

    Anyway, thanks for the input and sorry if the inclusion of more laptops was deemed offensive by some. They're just charts, people, and I even colored the "high-end" laptops bright blue so that you could easily filter them out in your mind. You know, something like: "Oh, those lines at the top are bright blue, so they're for quad-core Sandy Bridge laptops that cost about twice what the Llano laptop is expected to cost."
    Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Although I don't like the approach of the poster taking issue with the graphs, I completely agree on principle. This site has shown a clear pattern of making sure certain hardware always occupies the top of the graphs. Always. And don't insult our intelligence and pretend otherwise, please.

    Need I also remind people that this site included hand picked, overclocked Nvidia supplied cards (to the insistence of Nvidia) despite a policy that forbids this. I would caution people to take all results on this site with a grain of salt.
    Reply

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