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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  • krumme - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Jarred you are pissed at AMD, and it shows everywhere :)

    AMD have CPU and manufactoring competence inhouse that should easily see all the nessesary steps involved in designing a solution. The competence base is broader than NV. For this kind of problem, thats is an advantage, as you have the competence base to adress the situation.

    But if its not brought into play its of no use. But thats a management problem. This is not an engineering problem.

    They were designing gfx for the desktop market, While they should enlarge portability and entertainment. And it shows for the rest of the portfolio. We now why rr is the new boss.
    Reply
  • edryr - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    This article is just pathetic.
    Why aren't there any mention of underutilization on all gcn based gpu using enduro ? Why no mention of any amd's movements like deleting all posts regarding thoses issues ? Why no comment on games runing smoother on 570m because of lack of skill from amd ?

    Pathetic...
    Reply
  • coder543 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    conspiracy theorist much? Reply
  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Sager (a Clevo reseller) made a thread in Notebook Review where they admitted the issue and wanted the community to participate in solving the issue by logging the underutilization issues. Many people spent a lot of time to collect potentially valuable information regarding the issue.

    Suddenly Sager informs that they have been requested, by AMD, to ask the NBR moderators to remove the thread. Sager hasn't mentioned the thread since and now their stance it that there IS NO PROBLEM.

    You got to admit that this episode is rather weird. Also, AMD hasn't made any official announcements, comments, remarks etc. regarding the enduro issues. Also, one thread concerning the issue was closed on AMD's own forums, supposedly due to offensive language or something, though the comments on the thread stayd both civilized and relatively polite.

    The enduro issues affect all current generation 7000M series AMD cards.
    Reply
  • kiol - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Civilization 5 @ 26 FPS, Battlefield 3 @ 36FPS are not "very respectable" frame rates as you put it, specially when you get better frame rates from previous generation cards. You know that Anandtech

    This whole article seems like an attempt from AMD to hide the whole issue or make it seem less severe.
    They have already closed threads and censor resellers from even talking about it.

    They say drivers aren’t fully optimized for performance AND particularly with the 7970M

    AMD's new generation mobile flagship graphics card is not optimized for performance??? so which one is it?

    very disappointing AMD, sorry you don't pay near $2000 for a laptop to get "respectable performance" and a hope for a better drivers.

    by the way the same problem exists with Alienware, fortunately they are able to completely disable Enduro "technology"

    but as it is Enduro effectively downgrades and cripples AMD's graphic cards. So
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Civ5 performance is low (still), but BF3 at 36FPS on 1080p Ultra settings is hardly something to complain about. Really, HD 7970M is more of a competitor to GTX 580M (should be slightly faster) whereas the 680M is the latest and greatest. For our full set of games (and there will be more in the full review), here's what I've got at our Enthusiast (max) settings and 1080p. (Note that NVIDIA 680M numbers are with older 304 series drivers; I'll be updating to 306 series before final review. The 580M are with even older drivers, but I don't have that system so I can't update to the latest drivers--and there's a real chance the latest drivers could drop performance in some titles on Fermi.)

    Batman: Arkham City
    7970M: 52
    680M: 83
    580M: 49

    Battlefield 3
    7970M: 36.1
    680M: 42.7
    580M: 33.1

    Civilization V
    7970M: 26.2
    680M: 53.4
    580M: 41.7

    DiRT 3
    7970M: 61.1
    680M: 68.3
    580M: 43.8

    Portal 2
    7970M: 115.3
    680M: 160.5
    580M: 104.8

    Skyrim
    7970M: 47.2
    680M: 64.0
    580M: 51.8

    Total War: Shogun 2 (900p High, as Very High wouldn't run on 7970M)
    7970M: 78.6
    680M: 120.9
    580M: 90.1

    Against GTX 680M, right now it's no contest, but that's not really surprising. Against 580M, though, things are close -- and by close, I mean AMD wins by a fairly large margin in some titles like DiRT 3, loses by a large margin in other titles like Civ5, and it's relatively close in the others.
    Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Problem with those numbers is that when you put 7970m in a system without Enduro support (like old clevo 1x0HM series) it performs pretty much on par with 680m, sometimes even beating it. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I experienced similar issues with Optimus early on, particularly in games where you would see higher frame rates. My assumption at the time was that copying large amounts of data over the PCIe bus may have been part of the problem. (60 FPS at 1080p means roughly 500MB of data every second, just to update the display contents.) That might not seem like much, but where PCIe 3.0 can in theory do 16GB/s, real-world I would expect max utilization to be lower, and .5GBps is still a lot of bandwidth with everything else going on.

    Enduro could be having similar issues, and there's certainly overhead relative to doing things natively. The question is: can the issues be addressed with driver updates? For most items, I would say definitely, and that's why this article was done. I could have titled it: "AMD Is Finally Committing to Regular Driver Updates for Enduro" and left the content blank and maybe people would have understood the point a bit better. It's not that Enduro IS fixed; it's that Enduro CAN be fixed -- provided AMD keeps updating the drivers.

    If you go back three years and read what I was saying about laptops with discrete GPUs, I repeatedly castigated NVIDIA and AMD for not doing regular mobile driver updates, essentially stating that we (AnandTech) could not recommend any "gaming laptop" unless there was a guarantee of regular driver updates. Starting in Sept/Oct, AMD is finally making that commitment -- something NVIDIA did with their Verde program and Optimus over two years ago.
    Reply
  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    In BF3 the fps drops below 20 at times (see the link for screenshot). This does not happen when Enduro is turned off. Also in Witcher 1, for example, the fps suddenly drops very low and causes stuttering, and again, not when Enduro is turned off. If Clevo's could only turn the thing off.

    http://imageshack.us/f/716/bf320120727225130242.jp...
    Reply
  • Woodchuck2000 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I have a Clevo P150EM with an Ivy Bridge CPU and a 7970M. Running the release preview of Windows 8, I can't find an installable driver from the AMD website which enables 'Enduro'. Predictably, there are drivers for desktop GPUs. I don't understand why it's so hard to provide laptop drivers in the same package, particularly for laptops with a generic MXM card like mine.

    Enduro works okay on Windows 7, but the user interface is extremely clunky and obtrusive. Is there any news on when AMD's new drivers will be available to the rest of us?
    Reply

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