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Other Technical Details and Performance Expectations

So far we’ve discussed the past and near future of AMD’s Enduro/Switchable Graphics, but we haven’t gone into the technical aspects much. We’ve covered most of this previously (and neither AMD nor NVIDIA provide a ton of detail as to how precisely they’re doing the work), but there are a couple other tidbits we wanted to briefly discuss before wrapping up.

At a high level, all of the display outputs on a laptop now connect to the Intel iGPU, and AMD is able to route their content through the PCIe bus to the embedded graphics and out to the display. Nothing has really changed there; content is copied from the dGPU to the iGPU output in some fashion and you get the ability to switch seamlessly between the two GPUs. We also mentioned earlier that AMD has now removed the need for the active PCIe bus when the GPU is powered down, which drops power use of the dGPU from less than 100mW or so down to 0W.

One thing that hasn’t changed is AMD’s use of Link Adapter Mode (LDA) where NVIDIA uses Multi Adapter Mode, but we now have an explanation of why this difference exists. As far as we could tell, there’s not really an inherent superiority of either mode for general use. The primary reason AMD uses LDA is that they also have a chipset business, where NVIDIA has bowed out of making chipsets. Why this matters is that LDA is what facilitates AMD’s Dual Graphics (formerly Hybrid CrossFire)—the dGPU and the iGPU working together to render a scene. This is less important on Intel platforms, as AMD isn’t trying to do any cooperative rendering with Intel iGPUs; they potentially could in the future if desired, but that seems unlikely given the difficulty of getting even similar GPUs to work together. AMD also indicates that the use of LDA provides full support for Windows 8 Metro applications; I would assume NVIDIA also supports Metro apps, so unless that proves to not be the case (and we should know soon enough), other than Dual Graphics it appears that Enduro and Optimus are essentially at parity in terms of how they function, with software/drivers being the key differentiator.

Something else we’re still waiting to see is the packaging of the new Mobility Catalyst drivers. AMD didn’t provide us with the actual installation files—they installed them for us as they were still in a rather early state. That being the case, we aren’t sure if the Mobility Catalyst drivers for Enduro systems will feature totally independent drivers as far as Intel iGPUs are concerned, but that appears to be the case. If all goes as planned, you will be able to update your AMD dGPU drivers separately from your Intel iGPU drivers without any trouble once the Enduro Catalyst drivers start coming out.

Performance Expectations

AMD let us borrow a Sager notebook for a short time after the preview to test out the new “Enduro 5.5” drivers, and they also helped us install the drivers on a Clevo P170EM system from AVADirect. We’ll be providing a full review with performance data for the P170EM in the near future, but in the meantime we wanted to show off the Sager notebook as well as discuss performance expectations. Here's a rundown of the system specs for the Sager NP9150 along with some photos.

Sager NP9150 / Clevo P150EM Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3720QM
(Quad-core 2.60-3.60GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 45W)
Chipset HM77
Memory 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1250MHz)

AMD Radeon HD 7970M 2GB GDDR5
(1280 cores @ 850MHz, 256-bit 4800MHz RAM)
Display 15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
Storage 180GB Intel 520 SSD
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Price $1919 as configured (9/05/2012)

The Sager unit is their rebranded Clevo P150EM, and it has many of the same design issues that we’ve seen with Clevo in the past. The backlit keyboard with zoned lighting is a new addition, and they’ve tweaked the keyboard layout as well. Interestingly (and frustratingly), while they’ve mostly fixed my complaints with the 10-key layout, they went ahead and screwed up the main keyboard layout. The Windows key is now to the right of the spacebar, and there’s a second backslash key just right of the spacebar. I’m also not a fan of the tactile feedback from the keys, though it’s not terrible. Outside of the keyboard quirks and overly abundant use of plastic for the chassis, though, the performance is certainly there.

We ran through our current suite of games at the native 1080p on the P150EM with settings maxed out in most titles. Total War: Shogun 2 wouldn’t allow us to select Very High settings (a problem we’ve encountered on other systems in the past where the game incorrectly detects the amount of video memory and/or iGPU feature set rather than looking at the dGPU), but otherwise we get very respectable frame rates. Civilization V continues to be a bit sluggish at max settings (around 26FPS), but the brutal Battlefield 3 manages 36FPS and could very easily reach 40+ FPS if you disable 4xMSAA and just use FXAA. Those are the three lowest performing games we tested, with everything else running smoothly in the 45+ FPS range. A quick look at the last GTX 580M system we tested shows performance is better in over half of the games, and slightly lower in the other three titles. We’ll have a second look at the P170EM with a GTX 680M from AVADirect shortly after our full HD 7970M review, though, so stay tuned.

Finally, AMD did inform us that the current drivers aren’t fully optimized for performance (particularly with the 7970M), so we should hopefully see some gains with the final driver release—or if not then, the next release. Performance with GCN architecture desktop cards has been a little erratic since the launch, up until the latest Catalyst 12.7 drivers. I believe that the current beta drivers I’m using also predate 12.7 in some aspects (though they're version 9.0.0.0), so if that’s the case then the official release should clean things up quite a bit.

New for Mid-2012: “Enduro 5.5” Enhancements Closing Thoughts
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  • blackmagnum - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Finally for the people working/ gaming on an AMD graphics notebook. Hope this will be enough of a challenge for Optimus. Good news. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately this is not the case. The Enduro issue has actually driven more sales for Nvidia. AnandTech, please take a look at NBR forums. The number of decisions posted by NBR members saying, they have decided to pay an extra $300 for working Optimus far exceeds decision to buy 7970M equipped Clevo notebooks. This is after the member inquires on what is the best use of their money.

    On NBR it has been concluded for the most part. Even though on paper the 680M and the 7970M are equal, it makes far more sense to pay an extra $300 because 680M works. 7970M getting less performance on half the games compared to last gen's 580M?

    I am really quite surprised and upset that gaming hardware community forget how expensive mobile parts are. 7970M users aren't upset because a $100 card isn't performing right, it's $200!!!! Our notebooks cost $1600 and more with a 7970M...
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I would like to add, as a 7970M owner and been trying to get this problem resolved rather than going green...

    ANYONE WHO IS CONSIDERING A CLEVO P150EM and P170EM BETWEEN 680M AND 7970M, BUY THE 680M.

    Seriously, don't buy 7970M. AMD has had 6 months to provide drivers since 7970M been released and we've received only one tweet. The 660M-680M are far better buy, and better value for your money than the 7970M right now. I would not expect AMD to fix this. It's a good chance, AMD may just chalk this up to, we'll fix it with 8xxx, F*** the 7970M users.
    Reply
  • jeremyshaw - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I have a Vaio SA with a switchable HD6630m, I've already sworn off AMD mobile products. I don't care about whatever excuses they have, and apparently, neither does Sony. The Ivy Bridge successor to my laptop uses a Kepler GT 640m with nVidia Optimus. I got the SA to get away from general laptop build quality issues with my m11x R2, but if I had known I would be giving up Optimus for a far inferior setup, I would of just dealt with the other issues. Reply
  • extide - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    You don't have the described issue. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    I don't understand what that has to do with this article though. Does your notebook or the other ones who complain already have Enduro as described in this article? Because the article makes it seem to me as if this is still in the future for a few months at least. So how can they have issues with something that doesn't exist, yet? :-) Reply
  • arcticjoe - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    I think you mis-understood something. Enduro is currently used in multiple AMD cards, and it has severe flaws. This article is about newer version of Enduro that is supposed to come out in the near future. Reply
  • Pablito Que - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I bought an AVA bare bones P150EM With the Radeon 7970m.
    I wondered about updating the graphics driver the moment I got it, but I called AVA Direct first because I had heard there were problems with the drivers in doing so.
    -- This goes for any Computer with the IVY bridge mother Bd--
    whether P150EM or 170EM

    This is what he told me:

    "The drivers pre-installed on your computer are drivers made to interact at best performance with the intergraded graphics card on the mother board(HD graphics 4000). DO NO ATTEMPT TO DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL THE UPDATE ON AMD'S WEBSITE. THEY WILL NOT WORK PROPERLY. We try to make this clear to all who purchase the P150EM and 170, but they do not listen and think they've got it figured out. They go ahead and download the updates and the card fails! Everyone who calls us complaining about performance has tried to update the drivers when we warned them not to."

    Since I have had my computer, I have had the drivers that it came with and with a 3720QM running ar 3.6Ghz. and 8 gigs of RAM at 1600Mhz, I'm getting Metro 2033 at 29.9 fps with 1920x1080 and all setting maxed out minus Anti-alaising. My card has just the stock drivers and it out performs the 680M on a number of major games and was over 50% cheaper than the 680M. There's NO logical argument anyone could make for choosing the 680M over the 7970m, especially driver support issues! If AMD's lame stock drivers already out perform Nvidia's best, then what will happen when the refined drivers are released? And when I say that the stock drivers out perform Nividia's, I mean in terms of frame rate from game to game- which is the ONLY thing that matters in the end.

    Referrence: Notebookcheck.org
    Reply
  • neoczar - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    I am one of hundreds that inhabit the NBR forums who have been unfortunate enough to get the P170EM platform with the 7970M. What began as a promising article (mentioning all the difficulties with the initial P170EM the writer reviewed) degenerated into reporting what the AMD guy promised would be implemented "soon". The question remains: What has AMD done for its customers who purchased the current flagship card?

    In case the writer hasn't noticed there has been a back-and-forth cyber-war of a sort going on with AMD over this for a few months now, with Enduro SEVERELY crippling performance in muxless designs like the P170EM. To say that the 7970M performs worse in WoW, SC2, Dota2 ..etc than a card 2 generations old is an understatement. Clevo/Sager began documenting the issue then were instructed by AMD to delete the threads on all relevant forums and we've been getting stonewalled since then. Clevo/Sager have reverted to "There is no issue" stance and AMD is simply quiet while doing damage control by all the smoke this article aims to spread.

    I ask the writer: So after all walls of text, has the P170EM gotten any better with the 7970M since the last time you reviewed it? Play any game, ANY game, and let us know about the frame rates. I'm not sure I can post links here but there are quite a few that show you the magnitude of the problem, and AMD's utterly woeful driver team.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Hmm... :\ Jarred, how optimistic are you that AMD is actually going to be able to deliver this time?

    As a total package I'm more comfortable with AMD's 7000 series GPUs than NVIDIA's 600 series, so I've got a LITTLE hope in this case, yet the way things have been going the past few years choosing a solution that relies solely upon them (AMD) is beginning to feel like not only a compromise (Phenom II vs Core 2), but a complete crap shoot (I had to buy a discrete GPU to solve a persistent issue I was having with a PC running an A8 and now I'm stuck with a dead socket that's outperformed by Intel's last 4 generations!).
    Reply

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