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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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  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Would be nice if the article reflected a more detailed picture of the problem with AMD's enduro problem - with Enduro enabled 7970m performance is crippled, where is many games you get the same low fps on lowest settings as you do with ultra, so even my 6970m can outperform it and give me much smoother framerates.
    yes I can get 36fps in BF3, but if I lower my detail settings to low or increase my GPU clocks fps will stay the same, so its difficult to competitively play multiplayer games.
    It has now been nearly half a year since I paid £1700 for my top of the range laptop, but after spending literally hundreds of hours on re-installing drivers, windows, messing around with various settings I am now at wits end. Meanwhile AMD have been doing their best to pin the issue on someone else and when cornered with a mountain of evidence they've had a thread with many hours of logged data removed from NBR forum.
    As much as I hate other people saying this about any manufacturer, i can confidently say this is the last time I pay for any AMD product. Faulty product, with no support
    Reply
  • coder543 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I've said this for a long time, and I'm going to say it again.

    If you aren't happy with a product when you buy it, you should return it. You aren't guaranteed to have updates which will fix the issues you're having. The product was sold as-is.

    I like AMD, they have good products. Apparently their support for the Clevo with 7970M is a bit lacking, so I wouldn't buy that. It doesn't mean I'm going to boycott all of their products. If I buy something of theirs and it isn't working, I'm not going to sit around and hope it'll get fixed. I may return it and hold off buying a competitor's product for awhile to see if it gets fixed, but you're trying to pin this on AMD.

    AMD messed up, but you didn't hold them to it, and so now you're stuck with a bad product. Clevo has a 30 day full refund return policy. If all of the people with these problems would have returned these laptops with the 7970m GPUs, then Clevo would have thrown the boxes of them in AMD's face, saying they want a working product. That's putting your money where your mouth is, but you let Clevo and AMD have your money, which let's them believe you're satisfied.
    Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Problem is that being one of the first adopters I was told that this was just a drivers issue and any week now AMD will release some new drivers and fix this problem. Issue was reported to AMD very early and initially they replied with "we are looking into this issue and it will be resolved soon". Since I had no reason to doubt AMDs word or abilities so I stuck with the product. This was 5 months ago, so now I am pretty sure there is a design fault somewhere and the card probably cannot be fixed without a hardware modification. Reply
  • Montage - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Moreover, most people didn't even know there was a problem. They didn¨'t know that they weren't getting what they paid for. Not all games have this issue and the 7970M does perform better than some of the ancient cards people used before getting the 7970M.

    There is a thing called WARRANTY, that should guarantee you a fully working product at least as long as that warranty lasts (which is 1-2 years, not 30-days...)
    Reply
  • transphasic - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    Yes, I agree with you, and I DID buy a two year warranty as a precaution against this type of thing, but Sager and the reseller said NO WAY to my request to have my 7970m swapped out for the far better, far more powerful Nvidia 680m.
    In short, my TWO YEAR warranty will not cover this, and is virtually worthless to me now. What good is a warranty that won't protect my investment?
    Reply
  • Vozier - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    do you have accident coverage? maybe your laptop can fall down your balcony.... just saying.... and maybe then you can ask for the swap paying the difference? LOL....
    I still think the 7970 is a good price value option, keep it and next year you might buy the 7990 or an 8000 and spende as much as you will buying a new 680M NOW... so take your calculator and run some numers before deciding.
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Exactly. It takes 2 to 3 weeks to install and test everything which is a painful exercise in its own right. Spending a little time to resolve issues is normal, and now the 30 day return time period has passed. AMD said - don't worry a fix is coming soon. By the time you realize AMD was full of shit the 30d refund period has lapsed. Coder543 is living in a dream world.

    AMD has proved themselves to be rather a cocky bunch of people, who are in dire need of a reality check.
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    That's not fair. With all GPUs, it's expected that drivers are not rock solid at release. It takes more than 30 days usually for it to be working at full throttle, this goes for Nvidia as well. It took Nvidia months before they had drivers that didn't have FERMI running like a volcano. We were told drivers were coming. The 30 days were up, 5 months ago and still no drivers. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Who told you drivers were coming, AMD or Clevo? If it was Clevo, you should be taking it up with them. I think AMD's driver crew has been working feverishly for months to try and get Enduro 5.5 all gussied up and ready for release. Why did it take so long? Because this isn't just a quick fix; they're doing some fundamental changes that require a lot of work, testing, and validation. If everything works out (and that's still an "IF"), this is the first Enduro/AMD Dynamic Switchable solution that I can see being worthwhile. NVIDIA worked for at least six months to get Optimus ready before showing it to the world, and I'd wager pretty heavily that NVIDIA has a larger mobile driver team than AMD. Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Yes, Jared I agree. They have been working hard to fix the problem, and we all want to see the results of that effort thank you very much.

    But why was it necessary for them to put pressure on forums to delete valuable data on this issue, and thereby effectively launch a direct attack against their highest paying customers? Tell me how this stance by AMD in any way helped towards development of this fix. As far as I know NVIDIA resolved their problems without any clandestine maneuvers against their customers.

    They changed the name to Enduro in order to further hide the issue from an unsuspecting public. That is a further salvo across the bow of their highest paying customers, and hoping to maintain sales by changing the name to "ENDURO", which says nothing about what the product actually stands for. It stands for what we refer to in commerce and law as: Bad Faith. Sager aided and abetted this fiasco, and continues to do so.

    I am a software engineer, and I fail to see how taking action against their customers helps the development of the software, and how the continuing adherence to BAD FAITH helps at all.

    Yes. Problems need time to fix that is true, and that is a fact of life we all have to live with. But we do not have to live with overt attacks against us from an arrogant marketing team.
    Reply

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