AVADirect Clevo P170EM: Has AMD’s HD 7970M Got Game?by Jarred Walton on October 2, 2012 1:35 PM EST
AMD Mobility Catalyst Driver Analysis
We have all of the information on driver performance in the gaming charts on the previous page, but we wanted to highlight the performance improvements with the Hotfix driver. The Catalyst 12.9 Beta actually tends to be the lowest performing driver out of the three we tested in most games, but most of the time it’s relatively close to the original driver. The hotfix on the other hand only shows one drop in performance, which we’ve already noted: Batman at Enthusiast settings is down from the Beta, which in turn is down quite a bit from the original driver. Everywhere else, the Hotfix is at least equal to the better of the previous two drivers, and in some cases it’s significantly faster. Here’s a table breaking things down:
Overall, unless you’re only playing Batman at the Extreme preset (or some other game and/or setting where performance has dropped), the Hotfix drivers deliver a relatively significant improvement. It’s especially potent at lower quality/resolution settings, where we see an average increase of around 30% at our Value and Mainstream settings. At maximum quality for our six titles (since Shogun 2 won’t allow the Very High preset), the average increase is only 7%, but if we eliminate Batman it’s a 13% increase. That still doesn’t really tell the whole story, however, as performance was actually good in many titles but needed help in a few others.
If we take a closer look, Battlefield 3, Civilization V, DiRT 3, and Shogun 2 all show >40% improvements at our Value preset, and the same set minus BF3 sees big gains at our Mainstream preset. At our Enthusiast settings, however, only Civilization V sees a major increase in performance. This goes back at least in part to the GPU underutilization issues seen with earlier drivers, where higher quality settings/resolutions are more likely to stress the GPU. We did check GPU utilization with the Hotfix on all of the tested titles, and there are still games where we see sub-80% GPU use (particularly at lower details/resolutions), but I’m not sure that’s particularly important when we’ve got competitive frame rates.
Note that as far as I’m aware, the GPU underutilization issue is confined mostly or perhaps even solely to the HD 7970M/7950M—the lesser GPUs like 7870M should not experience this as much, largely because they’re not as fast and it will be easier to reach GPU bottlenecks as opposed to CPU limits.
We’re not done with the AMD Enduro drivers story, however. With this release, AMD is starting on the road to delivering reference drivers that will in theory work with all Enduro (PowerXpress 4.0 or later) laptops. In practice, there are still some teething problems. I’ve read comments from some of our readers that tried the 12.9 Beta saying that the “Switchable Graphics Global Settings” page in Catalyst Control Center isn’t working properly, and I’ve experienced this issue on a Sony VAIO C:
The “Switchable Graphics Applications Settings” so far works properly, and that’s arguably more important as a first step, but long-term AMD needs to get all the kinks straightened out. They’re aware of the issues with other Enduro laptops and the 12.9 Beta drivers (they’re beta for a reason, right?), and hopefully the next major release after the Hotfix will take care of the laptop compatibility aspect. I’ve stated before that AMD’s Enduro feels like it’s where NVIDIA was with Optimus about two years (2.5 years) back, and that continues to be the case. The first public Enduro beta driver is a good place to start, and now AMD just needs to repeat and refine the process a few more times. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll see a couple more driver updates and compatibility will improve.