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Recap: AMD’s PowerXpress, aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics, aka Enduro

Getting back to the switchable graphics, AMD has gone through a variety of names over the years. Here’s AMD’s summary slide, which I’ll discuss in detail:

Originally introduced as PowerXpress back in 2008, the first AMD switchable graphics solutions were like that found later in the ASUS UL80Vt and similar laptops: you had to flip a switch, and in the first iterations you would then need to reboot the laptop so that the BIOS could disable the discrete GPU and activate the integrated GPU. It was messy and a bit inconvenient, and NVIDIA’s early studies showed that many users ended up not using the feature—they would either run on dGPU all the time or on iGPU all the time. Both AMD and NVIDIA had a second series of switchable graphics designs where the need to reboot was removed; the first Alienware M11x could switch GPUs in about 10-15 seconds, and the same was true of HP’s first ENVY laptops. These were using PowerXpress 2.0 and 3.0, and for most people the switching side was adequate: you’d run on dGPU when plugged in and switch to iGPU when on battery power.

Last year, AMD took a step forward with their switchable graphics by introducing PowerXpress 4.0, which also renamed the technology to Dynamic Switchable Graphics (DSG for short). I got a chance to do a head-to-head of the technology using a Sony VAIO C laptop provided by NVIDIA. You know a company is confident that they’re going to win a technology comparison when they’ll actually give you a competitor’s product. In some cases, DSG was just as good as Optimus: you could launch a supported game and never realize all the extra stuff happening in the background; unfortunately, there were several titles where it wasn’t quite as convenient as we would have liked, and OpenGL support from DSG was completely missing.

Step forward to early 2012 and we got another update to PowerXpress 5.0 (note that PowerXpress is now only used internally by AMD and hasn’t been their marketing name since before PX4.0) along with a rechristening: Dynamic Switchable Graphics was out and Enduro was in. If nothing else, at least it makes my job easier as Enduro is much more concise. There's also the fact that the GPUs are no longer "switching", as the iGPU is always running; now the dGPU is simply supplementing the iGPU when needed. Along with the name change, AMD added OpenGL and OpenCL support to the mix, and with their Zero Core Technology (which is also part of their 7000 series desktop GPUs—a case of mobile design influencing desktops) the need to keep a small portion of the chip alive (aka BACO: Bus Active Chip Off) was removed. OEMs could also ship with custom profiles for applications, so for example Dell might want all of their extra utilities to default to running on the iGPU.


Hopefully this problem goes away next month!

Other than those changes, the UI and driver updates situation on early Enduro solutions remains largely the same as with DSG/PX4.0—and that’s what I initially received with the Clevo P170EM, with drivers from around March 2012. A quick check at AMD’s site also let me know that there weren’t any new drivers available, as the P170EM wasn’t currently supported by the latest Mobility Catalyst drivers.

Introduction New for Mid-2012: “Enduro 5.5” Enhancements
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  • Vozier - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    what you say is all true, but many here are really missing that there is no real alternative to the 7970M, the 680M i so much more expensive that its on another league, and the 675 and 670 are old techonolgy and not really a lot cheaper or better.
    SO right now almost all 7970M buyers are faced more with an upgrade than an alternative. At least for me the option to spend 300 extra its not a valid one.
    If 7970 wouldnt exist i would have probably gone for a 650M notebook and saved 500 or 600 bucks.

    That the 7970M can be as good as the 680M si really amazing, as for myself i prefer to BET 300 that the drivers will be fixed (i actually did because i bought once the issue was known), and for the time being play games not affected or not so badly affected by enduro.

    Of course there is no justification for AMD and its whole public management of this whole issue. They have already lost many customers and will loose many more if they dont rise to the ocasion.
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Great so a fix is coming soon it appears - about time thank goodness.

    But do you really expect that we should turn the other cheek as regards AMD's overt attack against its customers? The driver will fix the problem, however, my immediate focus has now switched to what needs to be done in response to AMD's attack against ME. That arrogance needs to be dressed down a notch or two.

    This has gone far beyond a driver fix issue Jarred, and it appears you think we should just swallow that corporate arrogance and move on.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    As I posted elsewhere, it takes more than AMD to delete a forum thread and/or posts. For instance, if I started deleting all the negative comments on this article, I would expect most of the people who posted to be pissed and move to another forum. Put a different way, if Sager opened a thread and then AMD asked Sager to close it, while it's bad of AMD it's also bad of Sager -- and hopefully NBR wasn't complicit in the deleting of threads. Reply
  • Seanzky - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Well, they were. And guess what, the thread started at AMD forums obviously got locked pretty quickly because we couldn't keep it civil. Mind you, we (the 7970M victims) did everything we could to keep everything civil despite them (the fanboys who had no interest or business other than to troll us) baiting us into a flame war.

    This is besides the point. I'm just glad things are in motion and that things are moving toward the direction that's in our favor, finally.
    Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Enduro being broken is one thing. Current gen card that is surpassed by previous gen hardware by a large margin in some cases is something completely different. Reviews of the card that showed a false huge improvement that hasn't materialized for 5 months is something else. I last tried AMD when I bought a Gen 1 Athlon that gave me nothing but headaches for 6 months until I literally threw it away and bought an Intel proc. That time I messed with drivers and bios updates until well after the return period, and I did the same thing this time. Except there weren't any new bios or driver updates to play with this time, I just kept waiting. 5 months without a driver update on a brand new flagship card? Really?

    Fool me twice, shame on me.
    Reply
  • KyleH334 - Monday, September 17, 2012 - link

    I appreciate very much your honesty! I'm very new to laptop gaming and bought a Clevo 17.3 inch Laptop from PC Specialist. I watched quite a few YouTube videos before plumping for the 7970m due to people singing it's praises! Obviously since then I have realised that this probably wasn't the smartest move. However I am hopefull that we will see some improvements in the near future :)

    Thank you for the time you have put in to get a response from AMD!!
    Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    "This isn't Clevo's support thread :/"

    -Well this article is about AMD's Enduro switchable graphics, which in it's current form there are some glaring problems. Reading this article one gets the sense that AMD's Enduro is pretty much on par with Nvidia's Optimus solution, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I think that Anandtech should give mention of the issue since it seems to be widespread, and maybe they should ask AMD for a response about it (do they plan to fix it?) and update the article. I mean if it worked fine why would Alienware completely disable it with their AMD graphics laptops?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Did you actually read the article? The whole point is that "Enduro 5.0" -- which is what every single Enduro laptop is currently using -- is basically a huge concern and I wouldn't recommend it. I told AMD that and they said, "Let us show you Enduro 5.5 and prove that we're about to fix it." The whole article is about what is coming with the next driver update, and I note several times that without driver updates Enduro is a dead end. So AMD is fixing that in the near future, but until then it's not fixed and even then performance may not be there for some users. Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Sorry Jarred was a little confused about different versions of Enduro and with all the different names. Anyway I think it is helping people that bought 7970m's that you are looking into this issue and reporting on it. I agree with you regarding the "it takes two to tango" bit with Notebook Reviews, just because AMD asked them to remove the threads about problems people were having doesn't mean they had to. That is why Anandtech is my one stop shop for completely unbiased technology information, it's because I know you guys don't engage in these types of behaviors. Reply
  • Beenthere - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    The switchable graphics market is likely a niche market that will be gone very soon with the advancement of AMD's APUs. Those who actually desire a good laptop graphics solution would be wise to just buy a Trinity A10-4600M powered laptop and skip the switchable graphics, which is obsolete now. Reply

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