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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  • arcticjoe - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    A lot of people, like myself, sold their previous gen laptops at discount prices so we could get the latest and greatest GPU. I sold mine for £800 (bought for nearly twice as much last year) and I've spent £1700 on this new 7970m based laptop, but sadly my old one outperforms it in several games. If I had known that there were these issues I would never had switched and if AMD were more honest about the nature of the issue I could had returned my card within the 30 day period.
    In my honest (and maybe somewhat biased now) opinion, i bought a faulty product because it does not perform as intended and definitely does not live up to AMDs marketing of being nearly twice as fast as 6970m.
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Hey Jarred. Nice update on the article in the conclusion. I personally don't mind utilization say in ME3 is only 35% if I have 60 FPS locked VS, that is fine by me. But what is concerning when I see I'm getting 80 FPS in Max Payne 3 with 95% utilization, but 5 minutes in, it drops to 45% and now only have 30 FPS in MP3. That happens in a lot of my games, it's very annoying. Reply
  • iwod - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    I have always supported ATI and prefer their graphics. And it was the 6630M that finally drove me off.

    Would any of these improvement works on my 6630M? I think my Thinkpad E420 desperately need some drivers update.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    It looks like the ThinkPad E420 uses PowerXpress 4.0 (aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics), which means it should be supported with the driver release. I know I'll be trying the drivers on that old Sony VAIO C from last year as well. Reply
  • tobi1449 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Jarred do you know if this new driver is just for the lastest generation of AMD cards (and IB/SB graphics from intel)?
    Or can those who were unfortunate enough to buy a laptop with older AMD graphics (HD5850m) hope for a new driver (would be the first one since about 2 years -.-)?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    If you have a laptop with a 5850, you're probably not even running switchable graphics, right? Or if you are, it would have to be an Alienware solution I think. Anyway, for discrete-only GPUs, you should be able to download the Mobility Catalyst drivers already and update to 12.8 without issues. On the other hand, if there's some laptop I'm not aware of that had PowerXpress 3.0 and a 5850 GPU, you're probably out of luck outside of one launch driver update for Windows 8 (which would of course require you to upgrade to Windows 8...). Reply
  • Vozier - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    PEOPLE post your game findings and GPU utilization, all problems and issues must be adressed if we want a more complete solution with the new drivers.

    Nice to see your article update Jarred, we are happy to see our commented concerns are being heard at last. I am rallying people to post their underutilization issues here so you might test more games and contact AMD more directly to show them were the BIG FAIL is.
    GPU underutilization is the key issue, most gamers wouldnt mind losing battery life if AMD can give them the option to use their cards to the fullest.
    In your own table one can see that some games run on very low %s GPU usage even at ultra settings (skyrim), wich would mean the NEW drivers in enduro 5.5 still need a lot of work on that department. Is also concerning seeing low utilization when lowering the graphics details and quality.

    THANKS again for all your work JARRED.
    So far you are the only light in a very black sky many 7970M owners are drowning under for months.

    regards
    Voz

    Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Well, for the most part my CF 7970M setup works, but less than 10% of the time I see -some- issue, odd characters flying across the screen etc.

    And now I ran that Kombuster and saw that I was running on only 1 GPU. I don't recall ever having disabled CF, except for some testing a long time ago over at NBR.

    Catalyst control center doesn't even launch.

    Jarred, please pick this hot potato up, and bone AMD/ATI until we get resoultion with drivers. 13 pages of comments must show how upset people are...

    Thanks for a wonderful site.

    Over and out.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Oh, man... don't even get me started on SLI and CrossFire notebooks. I would never actually recommend one of those -- the minor and major issues that crop up with compatibility and such are just not worth it. Thankfully, GPUs like the HD 7970M (assuming performance gets fixed) and the GTX 680M are now at the point where only seriously high-end gaming really needs more GPU muscle. If you want a 3D laptop, I suppose that's another use for dual GPUs, but I am not at all sold on 3D.

    Most likely, you'll have to go through Alienware to get new drivers, as they do some pretty custom stuff for switching graphics modes and what not -- but then I haven't played with that particular notebook so maybe not? First things first, though, you need to get drivers installed properly so that Catalyst Control Center will launch. Using hacked drivers probably isn't the way to go here; I'd grab the official Alienware drivers and see if you can bring up the control panel. If that works, then you can see about trying other unofficial drivers.
    Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Apologies, for not being clear; it was not my intention to imply that I wasn't using AMD/ATI drivers, or that I was using hacked drivers.

    I was trying to shed light on the fact that Dell (Alienware) had not provided drivers for me, that work to any acceptable level.

    If I use the drivers from the Dell website, I may as well throw my notebook (using the term notebook loosely when referring to an M18X) in the river.

    Have a nice day.
    Reply

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