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Closing Thoughts

It’s been a long road for AMD’s switchable graphics drivers, but if AMD can deliver everything they’re promising, we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

There have been two major frustrations over the past couple of years for us: first, we just haven’t seen much in the way of AMD mobile GPUs for review. That’s not because the systems aren’t out there, but most of the OEMs using AMD GPUs have been hesitant at best to sample them to reviewers. That’s a problem because when hardware isn’t getting reviewed, it usually means there’s not a huge amount of public interest, which means that the hardware isn’t selling. None of us want the graphics arena to turn into a one sided affair, but NVIDIA’s Optimus initiative has really caught hold since launching and AMD hasn’t had a proper answer—until now.

The second issue with AMD’s mobile graphics solutions has been the drivers. Discrete-only notebooks have been able to get driver updates, but only at the cost of usable battery life; meanwhile the more interesting switchable solutions have received essentially nothing in the way of driver updates from the laptop OEMs—the Sony VAIO C I tested a year ago continues to have most of the same driver problems, and the last driver update from Sony in October 2011 uses 8.850 series drivers from AMD (roughly matching up with the Catalyst 11.5 release). HP’s ENVY 15t-3000 is a more recent offering with an Ivy Bridge CPU and HD 7750M graphics, and the drivers there are 8.951 (Catalyst 12.3) and haven’t been updated in months. If you purchase a laptop with a discrete GPU, presumably you want to use that GPU for gaming or other graphics applications, and that means you’ll want to get driver updates on occasion. Prior to the Enduro 5.5 update that hasn’t generally been possible, and we’re eager to see that change.

Overall, we’re pleased to see AMD taking a serious look at their switchable graphics technology and working to bring it up to the level of the competition. We wish it would have happened sooner, but at least it's not too late to get things headed in the right direction—and we'd suggest that perhaps dropping the monthly driver updates is part of the reason we're finally getting needed Enduro enhancements. Right now, it feels as if Enduro 5.5 is basically where Optimus was back in early 2010, so AMD’s not out of the woods yet, but get us a couple driver updates this year and we’ll be ready to believe that Mobility Radeon users will receive the same level of driver support as desktop Radeon users.

We’ve never really had a problem with the performance of AMD’s mobile GPUs, and in recent years they have often managed to trump NVIDIA on a bang-for-the-buck analysis. Unfortunately, without driver updates we’ve been hesitant to recommend laptops with AMD’s mobile GPUs. The 7000M “London” GPUs (basically GCN/Southern Islands for mobile users) have a lot to offer, and with the updates to Enduro and regular driver releases from AMD, the mobile graphics competition is about to get a lot more interesting. Competition is always nice to see.

For anyone interested in seeing the full set of “Enduro 5.5” slides, the above gallery is available.

Update: Many readers have commented (and there are lengthy forum posts elsewhere) on issues with the 7970M GPU being underutilized while playing games. I ran a few quick tests of my own with the preview drivers to see if things are any better. All tests were run at 1080p, with the games set to either "Medium" or "Maximum" settings. Here are the results:

Clevo P170EM GPU Utilization
Game 1080p ~Medium 1080p ~Maximum
Batman: Arkham City 47% 100%
Diablo III 98% 99%
DiRT 3 62% 100%
Elder Scrolls: Skyrim 54% 60%

Obviously, the GPU isn't being maxed out in terms of what it can do in many of our test cases, and our complete benchmark results back this up. Especially at lower detail settings and lower resolutions, the HD 7970M isn't scaling to the sort of frame rates we'd expect. Is this a problem with Enduro in general, or just with the current drivers? AMD might also be intentionally scaling down GPU utilization (and thus performance) at lower quality settings, as the difference between 100 FPS and 150 FPS isn't particularly important on a 60 Hz LCD.

That said, in many cases we're seeing slightly lower performance with the preview drivers than the initial drivers, so clearly there's optimization work that needs to be done, and we may see improved results with the public release (most likely in October). While many people are frustrated with the current situation, I maintain that getting regular driver updates is the first hurdle that AMD needs to address; once that's in place, future driver releases can hopefully improve performance (along with GPU utilization).

Other Technical Details and Performance Expectations
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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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