Introduction

A couple weeks back, I contacted AMD to let them know I was working on a notebook review—a Clevo P170EM from AVADirect with HD 7970M graphics. Much to my surprise, when I received the notebook I discovered it used AMD’s Dynamic Switchable Graphics, now rebranded as Enduro. It has been just over a year since my last look at the technology, where things were so bad that I felt most users would be better off if they had only discrete AMD GPUs and no switchable graphics—or they could simply buy NVIDIA Optimus enabled laptops. The short story is that my initial experience with the P170EM was largely the same, only the lack of driver updates was even more damning when looking at a notebook sporting such a high-end GPU. What could be done? AMD scheduled a meeting with me to go over the latest updates, and thankfully things aren’t quite so grim as I first thought.

First, let’s get everyone up to speed. Historically speaking, AMD/ATI has been on the forefront of switchable graphics technology. While the first laptop with switchable graphics tested at AnandTech used NVIDIA’s implementation (the ASUS UL80Vt), Radeon-based alternatives also existed in a similar time frame. The main problems with early switchable graphics solutions is that they required extra hardware on the manufacturer side (muxes), increasing cost, and more importantly you were generally locked in to getting graphics driver updates from the laptop OEM. NVIDIA addressed both problems when they launched Optimus in early 2010, and while there were certainly some teething pains the vast majority of users have been pleased with the result. Where did that leave AMD? Simply put: out of most laptops.

Was it because NVIDIA had superior technology, better drivers, or better marketing? I’d say yes to all three, and it has been painful to watch as the number of laptops with discrete GPUs (at least in the US) has largely shifted to being NVIDIA products. Up until now, if you wanted a laptop with a discrete GPU, the ability to switch off that GPU, and you wanted regular driver updates, your only viable option has been NVIDIA equipped laptops. Perhaps that’s why every major OEM (along with most smaller OEMs/ODMs) ships at least some of their laptops with NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology. With laptop sales now outpacing desktop sales, giving up so much ground to their competitor is a serious problem AMD needs to overcome.

I should note that AMD has other products that actually help get around our concerns with Enduro. The Llano and Trinity APUs for example offer integrated GPU that are as fast (faster in some cases) as discrete GPUs. If you’re looking for a good budget laptop that gets excellent battery life and you don’t want to deal with switchable graphics at all, Llano started the trend of providing a decent GPU with acceptable CPU performance and Trinity continues that trend. Even better: driver updates aren’t a problem as there’s only one AMD GPU to contend with. Trinity/Llano didn’t win any awards for pure performance, but in terms of bang for the buck and creating a well-rounded device, the APUs have proven successful. But we’re not going to worry about Trinity/Llano or other APUs; today’s focus is on discrete GPUs and switching between these high-power, high-performance GPUs and low-power, low-performance integrated graphics.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the history of AMD’s switchable graphics as well as where they intend to go in the near future.

Recap: AMD’s PowerXpress, aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics, aka Enduro
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  • HOODY - Saturday, September 15, 2012 - link

    I think this would be great for AMD, and would let users download “regular” AMD updates again as before this idiotic manufactures only OEM updates insanity. As far as I’m concerned they can even make a driver that just disables the NVIDIA chip altogether. thanks for that info,

    it needs to also be placed in the 7690M XT forum http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Notebook-Display-and-...
    Reply
  • HOODY - Saturday, September 15, 2012 - link

    Someone mentioned to me that this was not for "powerplay switchable", shrug, All I know is the article only mentions "Switchable" nothing about powerplay, I haven't even heard or seen that term on any other forum about this switchable stuff. All it says is that the name ENDURO is now what they call Switchable.

    I'm also not clear just where this 7690M XT card would fall, as its just a re done 6770M, so I don't know if it would be picked up by AMD as a 7xxxx series or not either, I do know that AMD doesn't even recognize the card at all now. BTW this thing (7690M XT) is supposed to be @900MHz too, but its only showing @800MHz, so even that's misleading.

    I will be upgrading my W7 home prem to W8 Pro anyway come next month, and I assume HP will have some sort of driver cobbled together by than for us OEM'ers, it will be interesting how all this shakes out with so many complaints over this switchable stuff, I wish they would just go back to true dedicated video cards and let the card makers do the drivers. I mean man, with all this technology today, one video type either ATI or NVIDIA should be able to make a single card that is able to power down automatically when it senses battery power.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - link

    PowerPlay is the technology that conserves power on the GPU when on battery power, even with the GPU still active. Basically, it lowers clocks and performance when enabled. Enduro is a separate technology to disable the dGPU completely (power it down) when it's not needed. Reply
  • HOODY - Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - link

    OK so than just what type is on my machine? and is this new driver stuff going to be useable on my setup? Or am I still stuck with OEM crap.

    Radeon 7690M XT and Intel 3000, the Intel is the chip the unit switches to if on battery, the Radeon is what it uses when plugged in or switched for games. I have it set to "fixed" for now so it uses just the Radeon. But it does still ask to switch to the Intel if I unplug it the wall and go on battery.

    This is a HP dv7t its still using the driver dated Nov 2011, I know about the russian site guy with the mod'ed drivers he comes up with, but they aren't exactly instalable either without having to mix and match, as one doesn't take the CCC, one doesn't take the newer Intel driver. I was hoping that this Enduro stuff was going to be the fix for people withnthis setup, to be able to again download drivers directly from AMD as they update, since waiting for these damned manufactures sucks.

    2670QM
    8g ram
    1920x1080
    W7 hp
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Technically, the HD 3000 (or HD 4000 on Ivy Bridge) is always enabled and running the video outputs. The 7690M only powers on when needed and it copies data over the PCIe bus into system memory or takes over some of the display ports or something funky. If you're able to configure dynamic switchable graphics, you have a PowerXpress 4.0 or later laptop and you should (eventually) get support from the Mobility Catalyst Enduro stuff.

    If you can only manually switch (e.g. based on power source), you're running PowerXpress 3.0 and are basically out of luck for drivers. AMD/Microsoft/Intel will probably put together one initial driver for Windows 8 to get you up and running, but I wouldn't count on anything beyond that.

    Note that I am pretty sure the dv7 is a PowerXpress 4.0 laptop, so you should be okay (at some point).
    Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    Jarred, I have a question that I hope AMD will feel comfortable answering if you can get in contact with them.

    The new-ish data transfer process (you yourself wrote about it here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2934/nvidia-optimus-... that Nvidia used involved a hardware feature called the Optimus Copy Engine that allowed asynchronous data transferring over the PCIe bus. Before that was implemented, it was noted that as the frame rate increased in a game, the noticeable the decrease in performance became, just as it is happening NOW with AMD.

    My question is simple: did AMD implement such a hardware feature, and that the feature simply needs better driver support? I trust AMD is going to fix the problem, but it seems like this issue is exactly what was happening with Nvidia...as if the hardware feature that AMD *should* have implemented isn't even being used. It troubles me that if it was implemented that AMD didn't make sure such an important feature was being driven properly.
    Reply
  • Vozier - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Here's a small post with info about the underutilization issue fix:
    [QUOTE=caveman-jim;8864455]Word from AMD tonight is that internal testing is going well and there is hope for a public beta driver in the next two weeks or so, maybe sooner. Sorry nothing more, that's all my connections give me.[/QUOTE]
    26 SEPT.
    Reply
  • Dido767 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Helpppp....

    I can't find a way to get CS6 after effects to recognize my 7970m. I wasted hours looking for a solution but nothing!!! my dxdiag only see my onboard Intel 4000 adapter. The GPU sniffer utility that comes within the AE folder doesn't recognize the AMD as well.
    Is there some workaround that I can try??

    It's really frustrating because one of the reasons that I bought this laptop is for some graphic design projects and of course I want to the get most out of my card.

    Anyone? plz!!
    Reply
  • Pablito Que - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I bought an AVA bare bones P150EM With the Radeon 7970m.
    I wondered about updating the graphics driver the moment I got it, but I called AVA Direct first because I had heard there were problems with the drivers in doing so.
    This is what he told me:

    "The drivers pre-installed on your computer are drivers made to interact at best performance with the intergraded graphics card on the mother board(HD graphics 4000). DO NO ATTEMPT TO DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL THE UPDATE ON AMD'S WEBSITE. THEY WILL NOT WORK PROPERLY. We try to make this clear to all who purchase the P150EM and 170, but they do not listen and think they've got it figured out. They go ahead and download the updates and the card fails! Everyone who calls us complaining about performance has tried to update the drivers when we warned them not to."

    Since I have had my computer, I have had the drivers that it came with and with a 3710QM running ar 3.2 and 8 gig of RAM at 1600Mhz, I'm getting Metro 2033 at 29.9 fps with 1920x1080 and all setting maxed out minus Anti-alaising. My card has just the stock drivers and it out performs the 680M on a number of major games and was over 50% cheaper than the 680M. There's NO logical argument anyone could make for choosing the 680M over the 7970m, especially driver support issues! If the lame stock drivers already out perform Nvidia's best, then what will happen when the refined drivers are realeased? And when I say that the stock drivers out perform Nividia's, I mean in terms of frame rate from game to game- which is the ONLY thing that matters in the end.
    Reply
  • ZippityD - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Well, on my NP170EM I'm still having AMD issues with their 7970M card.

    I regret purchasing this card last summer. Unlike others who had problems upon updating, I began to have BSOD problems (turned out to be caused by the AMD driver) this January. The horrid trip through AMD's enduro systems has resulted in much stress and little help.

    Vote with my wallet from now on, I suppose.
    Reply

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