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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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  • spaceman44 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    So i have been experiencing some utilization issues with my 7970m. i'm not out to complain, (though i am super annoyed), just add my voice and some info to what seems to be the best place to actually get something done.

    Graphics Card:
    7970m

    AMD Catalyst Driver Version:
    8.951.6.0 not sure if this is 12.4 or what. This is the driver that came with the system when I got it about 2 weeks ago. I haven’t tried the new drivers (12.6 etc.) as from what I’ve read most people haven’t experienced much of a performance increase with said drivers.

    Operating System:
    Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, SP1

    Issue Details:
    Basically the same under-utilization issues that most people have already noted. I can run BF3 (campaign) on ultra graphics and get an average frame rate of about 20ish fps, with GPU usage around 80-90%. Yet when I put all setting on low the av. fps only gets up to 30fps. Is mostly noticeable when walking from an indoor unlit area into a populated open battle (operation swordbreaker after cutting wire). I can achieve mid 50’s when inside but fps drops to low 20’s, at times less, outside. GPU utilization is around 40-60% using low settings.

    I’ve checked the GPU usage during a couple of benchmarks and found the results to be interesting.

    Luxmark openCL (sala, medium)
    GPU only – GPU usage, constant 98%, score - 1152
    GPU & CPU – GPU usage, constant 47%, score - 858

    Heaven DX11 (basic) –
    All settings max – GPU usage 99%, 16-40fps (low 20’s av)
    All setting off/low – GPU usage 50-98%, 49-92fps (55-65ish av)

    Using these low settings it seems like the lowest frame rate is achieved during the least taxing screens, because of GPU usage dropping (to 50%). While during the most taxing screens fps increases greatly, I would imagine for the opposite reason, GPU usage increasing to 98%. on max settings it runs as you would imagine, fps dropping during taxing screens and vice-versa.

    Games with under-utilization issue:
    Battlefield 3, Dayz (I know it’s in alpha so I can’t complain too much but it seems to be affected more than battlefield for me), Heaven DX11 benchmark, luxmark openCL benchmark. seeing as performance is so bad i'm hesitant to spend money on anymore games until a fix is found.

    CPU Details:
    core i7 3820QM

    Motherboard or System Make & Model:
    clevo P150EM

    Motherboard BIOS Version:
    stock
    Reply
  • Frallan - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link


    Well since this was an article that has caused you to be assaulted by frustrated 7970M owners who finally found someone who listened to them i think that you also deserve some encouragement.

    Well done bringing this up and well done writing the original articles about the issue. Now I wish I had found those articles when i did my research before i bough my 7970M 3 weeks ago... But that's my fault and its between me and AMD now.

    Also thank you for you stubbornness staying with the comments and answering.

    Take care
    F

    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    I think we all appreciate that AT and Jarred has taken notice that AMD is seriously lacking with their support for switchable graphics. The anger was that the article just seemed too forgiving on the issue.

    But more than anything, this issue has been going on for too long.

    I am very appreciative of what Jarred has done. I have created threads on numerous forums and only Rage3D has responded. HardForum is still mute on the issue, granted I haven't contacted Guru3D's owner directly.

    But anyone who is putting pressure on AMD to fix the issue, is a friend of mobile AMD users.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    Guru3D? They always seemed to lean more than a little towards NVIDIA, but if you don't ask... Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I'm surprised Kyle isn't more vocal about this issue. He usually doesn't take crap from hardware companies, but his is more of a desktop site. Reply
  • loop1982 - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    Thanks to AnAndTech for bringing this issue up.
    I have bought the clevo model with the 7970m 2 month ago.
    I have to say I made major researches before buying.
    For 3 weeks I googled for notebook tests.
    On no side there was any sign that there was a issue.
    Top ratings for gaming it got.

    So I'm not only disappointed about how AMD deals with problems and won't buy a product from them again (my time costs money, I cannot research hundred of hours before buying).
    I will also never trust any of the big and well known notebook tester websites again and won't waste time on reading their reviews. Still now there is no single word added to the reviews, the card is because of the price still recommended over the Nvidea.

    At least you got a new regular reader and I think I'm not the only one.
    Reply
  • SymphonyX7 - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    Apparently, I'm the only satisfied ATI mobile GPU owner here. It's not to say they've had good support since I've been stuck with my stock drivers up until now since there aren't new official drivers for mobile GPUs that support switchable graphics. Despite have stock drivers, I really do commend the performance of the ATI GPU on my laptop. I've got a Lenovo Y460 with a 1st gen Core i5 (Arrandale) + Radeon HD 5650. It's been over 2 1/2 years since I bought this and it's been able to stick with the newer laptops of my friends that have a 2nd gen Core i5 + GT 540M and the 3rd gen Core i5 + 630M. Taking into consideration that the 2nd and 3rd gen Core i5s are much faster, I'm very satisfied with its longevity! It's neck and neck with the 2nd gen Core i5 + GT 540M and it doesn't leave much ground to the 3rd gen Core i5 + GT 630M. Unfortunately for my friends who have a newer mid-range ATI mobile GPU, I cannot comprehend why most of them are actually slower than my HD 5650. The ones with the HD 6630 and HD 7660G in particular trail behind and sometimes get obliterated in performance against my laptop.

    Also, I have a personal preference for the switching capability since my very first laptop had a primitive switching solution as well (my first laptop was an Alienware M5500 aka Uniwill 259EN OEM unit). I'd prefer turning on the discrete GPU when I want it and not let some software do it for me. It was a relief when my Y460 can actually switch graphics without rebooting. My M5500 required me to select my graphics before I turn on the PC. I had to choose between the Intel GMA 950 or the Geforce Go 6600.

    Alas, I'll be waiting for the next iteration instead. Haven't seen a mid-range mobile GPU that can net a performance gain of 50% or high over my nearly 3 year old HD 5650 in any game. I noticed only newer games had the most performance gain on mid-range staples the GT 630 and 640M. Hopefully a bigger leap in performance for mid-range mobile GPUs next year.
    Reply
  • Vozier - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    The topic here is enduro, wich the 7000 series ATI cards have, of course you are not the only Ati user satisfied, but you dont own a defective model. Reply
  • cartmanasan - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Folks,

    I have been using an M17x R4 and the 7970m is simply unbelievable! YES I did have to disable the iGPU. But that does not mean the card itself performs bad. 7970m is slower than 680m only by 5-8% on average. nVidia had to scramble to get a card working at the performance level of 7970m. 680m becomes faster after using the GPU boost functionality (although this does happen automatically) which leaves little room for over-clocking. 7970m over-clocked easily provides a 10% boost in performance. (You will be impressed with the over-clocking ability of this card and how much headroom this card has if you are into this! ).

    nvidia had been reducing their support for 3D applications as well. I use Maya, After-effects and zbrush, nvidia have been forcing their customers to use the expensive quadro series and 7970m has been a saviour here as it has better and improved performance around these applications whereas 680m actually has reduced performance compared to nvidia's own older cards.

    With regards to previous comments: a 7990m is difficult as 7970m is aleady at a TDP of 100.

    Is ENDURO a big issue: Yes.
    Does this affect the card performance: Yes
    Is 7970m a bad card: No
    Does 7970m perform well: Heck yes. (only on AW at this point)

    I feel sorry for Clevo owners. Am sure this issue will get fixed so you can enjoy the awesomeness 7970m is.

    Request: Jarred should compare the performance of these cards when doing a comparison around 3D applications. I wouldn't be surprised if one is 100% faster than the other around CAD etc !!!
    Reply
  • cartmanasan - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Just to add to my previous comment : An over-clocked 7970m performs almost as good as a Desktop GTX 580 :-) Reply

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