AMD’s Mobility Catalyst 13.1 Update, Enduro Editionby Jarred Walton on January 18, 2013 8:08 PM EST
We posted earlier today about the public availability of AMD’s latest Catalyst 13.1 WHQL drivers, but being available and installing properly and without problems on Enduro laptops are sadly not the same thing. Armed with six different laptops, I took a moment to check on two things: first, would the AMD Mobility Radeon Driver Verification Tool allow the downloading of updated drivers; second, with the drivers available (either via the just-mentioned utility or via another source), would they install properly?
One thing I have not (yet) had time to do is any form of performance testing, so this is strictly a test to see if the drivers install properly and if all of the functions are present in the Catalyst Control Center. Here’s the list of the candidate laptops (some of which we have not yet reviewed) as well as the results of my two driver tests. I’ll follow the table with a lengthier discussion of the issues encountered where applicable.
|AMD Mobility Catalyst 13.1 Laptop Testing|
|Alienware M17x R4 (7970M)||No||Yes|
|AMD Llano Prototype (6620G + 6630M)||Yes*||No|
|AMD Trinity Prototype (7660G)||Yes*||Yes|
|MSI GX60 (7660G + 7970M)||Yes*||Yes|
|Samsung NP355V5C (7660G + 7670M)||No||Yes|
|Sony VAIO C (6630M)||No||Yes*|
Right off the bat, we can see there are problems with getting the drivers in the first place. Of the six laptops, the three with Intel processors fail to pass the utility’s “valid GPU/Vendor ID” test and simply refuse to download the full driver. The other three laptops (which have AMD APUs) pass the utility’s check, but then when the download is supposed to start and you select the save location you immediately get a message stating that the driver download has been canceled. I assume the download would work, if the utility functioned properly, but right now the only way to actually download the driver was through other means.
Option one for downloading the driver is to use the AMD Catalyst Control Center (or whatever it’s called these days) and check for driver updates. This also failed to find new drivers for most of the laptops, but the Trinity Prototype at least found and properly downloaded the drivers. The other alternative is to just find another web site that’s hosting the driver—Guru3D has them, and I assume others do as well. Needless to say, the process of getting AMD's mobile dirvers continues to be a pretty poor showing, but that’s nothing new. The only laptops where I expect zero difficulties in this area are those with either a discrete-only AMD GPU (no Enduro or switchable graphics) or an AMD APU and no dGPU (and be sure to avoid Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic laptops if you want driver OEM support); not that others won’t work, but those are the least likely to have issues.
The second test is to install the drivers and see if they at least work in a few tests. The good news here is that five of the six laptops worked with the drivers, and the only one to fail completely is the Llano Prototype (which has always been a bit iffy, since it was never released to the public and the BIOS is a bit raw). Discounting the prototype, the drivers installed pretty much without any complaints or concerns on four of the laptops; the only one that gave me problems is the Sony VAIO C.
I’ve discussed the issues with the VAIO C and driver updates in the past, but the short story is that many of the other Dynamic Switchable Graphics laptops from the last year or so are likely to behave similarly (HP’s Envy 15 for instance). I got Windows 8 up and running on the Sony via a modified driver, as the stock drivers (either with Windows 8 or from AMD) did not work. With the modified drivers, you end up with the full driver being present (e.g. 12.11 beta11 prior to the 13.1 update), but the Global Switchable Graphics Settings section of the Catalyst Control Suite is non-functional—the lists where you select one of four modes for AC and battery power are blanked out. With the 13.1 drivers, things actually take a step backwards as far as I can tell: the CCC won’t start for me. The dGPU is present and working (I ran a couple games to verify this), but I can’t open up any of the switchable graphics settings or other driver settings.
Lack of performance testing aside, the latest driver release is an improvement at least from the installation standpoint, but there are a lot of remaining issues to address. The ideal continues to be widespread availability of drivers that simply install and work on any laptops with switchable graphics based on PowerXpress 4.0 or later hardware (Dynamic Switchable Graphics or Enduro), not to mention they should also work with discrete-only solutions. The GCN-based 7000M hardware tends to be better supported right now, whereas Northern/Southern Islands chips continue to have more issues. Please let us know if you've also had any difficulties with downloading and installing AMD's 13.1 mobility drivers, and we'll pass along any information to our AMD contacts.
Update: We spoke with AMD today (January 21, 2013) and they clarified some of the information regarding the supported laptops. We now have a separate post detailing this information.