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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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  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Enduro is not working ok on any Windows. You get much poorer performance on EM-series Clevos with 7970m than with laptops that have the option to turn off Enduro (Alienware for example). At its current state, Enduro is not working properly and it is making gaming experience worse to those who are stuck with it.

    Follow the issue on Notebook Review's Sager/Clevo forums, that has many threads concerning the Enduro issue:

    http://forum.notebookreview.com/sager-clevo/

    There is also a Facebook page that has been created to spread the news about the malfunctioning Enduro technology:

    http://www.facebook.com/Amd7000mEnduroUtilizationA...

    I own a Clevo P170EM and have long hoped for a solution to Enduro issues that would finally fix my currently crippled AMD 7970M.
    Reply
  • Woodchuck2000 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I almost wish I hadn't read those links!

    I was happy with gaming performance under Windows 7, in that it ran everything I threw at it quite happily. Knowing now that it should be even faster will annoy me now. Ah well...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    This is the whole point of the article, guys: Enduro is basically not working all that well in the current form and the UI is terrible, but the preview drivers that should be out either this month or next should finally rectify the situation. Last month I would have said anyone buying an Enduro laptop was going to be sorry; now, at least, there's hope. If AMD delivers on their driver updates -- and really, they have to or their mobile GPUs are something no proper technology reviewer could recommend. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Why recommend something or even give hope without any guarantee? This is just hearsay from you. As a consumer and someone who already spent $500 on a 7970M, the only thing I've heard from AMD is, a tweet, investigating the issue. Investigating? We know what the issue is, the driver for Enduro is broken! And they have known about it since it's inception, but never said anything, it wasn't until we started creating threads on every forum with a section for AMD drivers they tweeted that one small statement.

    Great they said something to you, but they still haven't said anything to us. And you still don't have drivers, preview of it to prove that this new update will even work!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    They're saying something via us, if that helps. They're saying, "We're finally going to start updating the drivers." There were no promises of Enduro drive updates prior to this point, so this is a big step. As for the drivers being poor on release, well, that's hardly a shock for a brand new hardware architecture -- all the more reason to not buy anything without the guarantee of driver updates.

    I'm sorry people purchased Enduro laptops and got burned. I have specifically recommended against doing so in the past. Now I'm saying that AMD is working to correct the problem. Is it corrected now? No. Will it be corrected soon? Maybe. Would I purchase or recommend an HD 7970M laptop right now? Definitely not (unless it doesn't have Enduro).

    I would wait until at least the official public driver release, and probably one more release after that. By then 7970M is ready to be replaced by 7990M or something faster, but I suspect 7970M will be near the top of AMD's mobile GPU stack for at least another nine months. If they want us to recommend it, they need to fix the drivers.
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    This is a class action suite in the making. AMD has obtained a huge amount money for product that does not work, and has allowed 75% or more of the product's life cycle to elapse without addressing anything.

    AMD's next driver update is their last chance. If they do not fix it then I will be dumping AMD for NVIDIA period. I also have no problem joining a class action attack on that company. After years of buying AMD I will not just switch to NVIDIA, but I will become an avid enemy combatant.

    I want a fraction of the money paid for the product to be refunded in compensation for this fiasco. If the company thinks its OK to attack us by forcing forums to delete posts, then I say we go on the offensive and attack them back in return, and see how they like it.

    When they have lost a few hundred million dollars in damages, then maybe they will think twice about ever attacking their high paying customers ever gain. Respect us or expect to be attacked.

    This is a bloody warning to AMD. Yes it is a threat. Fix it or die. Corporate arrogance can be punished in ways they have not even begun to think about yet.
    Reply
  • Vozier - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I hope you only mean "corporate death", this really doesnt justify personal harm...
    dont doubt that with or without FIX this issue is costing AMD a big market share, and an even bigger public opinion drop.
    I can even foresee some public TV report on this wich will further sink AMD.
    All this could happen if AMD doesnt sweat the hell fixing this and making people happy again..

    regards
    Voz
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Did I not use the term corporate arrogance? Did I not mention class action suite? What part of that implies personal harm. Mere loss of market share might not be enough for me to address this corporate attack against their highest paying customers. Let them explain to a judge why such an attack was a requisite element towards the fix. Reply
  • Frallan - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Once some1 starts the class action - Im on it...

    /F
    Reply
  • transphasic - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. AMD released an incomplete product line that FAILED to do what it was SUPPOSED to do in it's advertising and marketing of the 7000 series GCN GPUs.
    Unlike Nvidia, AMD has chosen to be very slow in responding to it's customers' requests for driver updates and fixes to it's Enduro mess that it created. Not only slow, but downright rude, to say the least, because it is by it's silence been unresponsive to creating a workable solution for it's customers.
    Both AMD and Sager told me last month that "there is not problem" with the 7970m GPU.
    Nothing wrong with it? Are they kidding?
    I believe this is mainly due to it's lack of care and concern for it's customer base.
    We all bought 7970's and we are all greatly disappointed by what we got and are seeing in our games, and most of us feel that we should take action against AMD in some form or another.
    My action is, I will pay the $800 dollars for the switchover to the Nvidia 680M at my earliest chance- even though I cannot afford it this year, and then I will wash my hands of AMD once and for all. This is how it will hurt AMD- in the wallet, with it's current customer base going elsewhere from now on to it's primary competitor.

    Not to be a "Doubting Thomas" Jarred, but I am pretty much guaranteeing you that AMD won't have this Enduro mess fixed before the end of the year, if not at all.
    I have made this prediction for this year, and I also feel that AMD will just ignore us with more placation and vague promises long enough, so that once their new 8000 series comes out in the Spring of 2013, they will hope that we owners of the 7970M will simply forget about it, and not care anymore.
    I cannot wait for vague ambiguity and rhetoric from them, so I will save my pennies, dimes, and nickles, and spend it on a new 680M from Nvidia. At least I know that THEY care about their customers, unlike AMD which doesn't.
    Reply

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