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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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  • king-dubs - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    It is already possible to enable Enduro 5.5 UI, as I posted here (step-by-step directions):
    http://www.rage3d.com/board/showthread.php?p=13370...
    Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    yeah, i've tried that - it changed a few things but Crysis 2 seems to be worse than before and BF3 maybe a little better than before. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I highly doubt this is a fix, and morel likely just a UI face cleanup, and AMD just stalling since they still can't fix it. But if you want to try it, here it is.

    http://www.rage3d.com/board/showpost.php?p=1337031...
    Reply
  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    That is not the same as Enduro 5.5 and it doesn't work. Wait for the official or beta drivers. Hulawafu77, though pessimists don't get disappointed that easily they also can never be truly happy... Reply
  • DarkStryke - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I really feel for the suckers (as AMD is basically calling them) that bought into the 7970M enduro. Having a product out a solid 6 months, with a fix still realistically nowhere, talk about a company that doesn't deserve to see another dime from customers. Then you add on top of it the removal of support threads on third party forums because they shed light on a product which is complete garbage, and well, you can't make up better motivation for people to move to nVidia (whom is far from a saint themselves).

    I heard the same bull for months on the desktop, 'we're working on crossfire fixes soon', and well, that's still never worked as well as SLI.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Has it really been out and in customer hands for six months? Seriously? Because the first unit we could get for review just got here about a six weeks ago. I think the first shipments would have been around ten weeks ago. Six months since announcement is very different from six months since a customer actually had product in hand. The very first PRE-RELEASE hardware with IVB processors that we tested was only done in April, with the official launch on the 23rd.

    So best case, people have had Enduro with IVB and 7970M for 4.5 months, and the first reviews I can find of anything with 7970M are the M17x R4 posted in late May. That was likely first shipment hardware as well (before customers started getting units), but even if it's not that would mean we're down to 3.5 months. Unless I'm missing something, like maybe someone was doing SNB systems with 7970M? I'm curious: who can find the oldest official review of a notebook with 7970M?
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    It's been out for months. I know I've had mine for over 3 months now. And I got it after the debacle that took AMD more than a month I think to fix where the fail rate on the 7970M was 20%. So it's been out for about 5 months I'd guess. Pretty sure people had em in April. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Yeah It's been about 3-4 months, not 6 months. But the GCN core has been out longer than that I thought. This issue is not just about Clevo/7970M, this is about Enduro and 7xxx GCN, which is affecting Lenovo, HP and other OEMs also.

    Either way, AMD should have had drivers that work on day 1 release. Didn't have to be most optimized for performance, but c'mon, when it's slower in games than a GPU that is supposedly 2x slower? That's disgraceful.
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Man I wish there was an edit button. But I believe AMD should have been honest, they must have known Enduro was broken for months before the 7970M launch. They should have told Clevo and their vendors, it's broken. Please do not use a muxless design in the meantime just in case, give us the option to disable it in the BIOS like Alienware did on the M18x or a switch on the M17x. Clevo only began to use muxless this round, I don't think it's coincidence with 7970M which is supposed to be supporting Enduro. They probably would have done it sooner as Optimus was already functioning with muxless. Last years models don't support switchable graphics at all and unaffected. They could have done that with current models if AMD was honest with Clevo.

    Maybe AMD did tell Clevo and Clevo decided to screw it, we'll implement a technology that doesn't work right now. For some reason I doubt that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Broken is all relative. It works, but it doesn't work as fast as people would like -- meaning, a high-end GPU like the 7970M ends up underperforming. As far as being broken in the sense of driver updates, AMD hasn't ever shipped a mobile GPU with switchable graphics that would qualify as "fixed" -- only NVIDIA's Optimus has managed that. Enduro 5.5 marks the start of the next stage of AMD's switchable graphics efforts in that sense.

    Mind you, Sony, Lenovo, HP, and others have therefore been shipping "broken" solutions for several years. Though I suppose if you don't want driver updates, they've have only been seriously underperforming with GCN.
    Reply

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