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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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  • 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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