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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  • king-dubs - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    It is already possible to enable Enduro 5.5 UI, as I posted here (step-by-step directions):
    http://www.rage3d.com/board/showthread.php?p=13370...
    Reply
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    yeah, i've tried that - it changed a few things but Crysis 2 seems to be worse than before and BF3 maybe a little better than before. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    I highly doubt this is a fix, and morel likely just a UI face cleanup, and AMD just stalling since they still can't fix it. But if you want to try it, here it is.

    http://www.rage3d.com/board/showpost.php?p=1337031...
    Reply
  • Montage - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    That is not the same as Enduro 5.5 and it doesn't work. Wait for the official or beta drivers. Hulawafu77, though pessimists don't get disappointed that easily they also can never be truly happy... Reply
  • DarkStryke - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    I really feel for the suckers (as AMD is basically calling them) that bought into the 7970M enduro. Having a product out a solid 6 months, with a fix still realistically nowhere, talk about a company that doesn't deserve to see another dime from customers. Then you add on top of it the removal of support threads on third party forums because they shed light on a product which is complete garbage, and well, you can't make up better motivation for people to move to nVidia (whom is far from a saint themselves).

    I heard the same bull for months on the desktop, 'we're working on crossfire fixes soon', and well, that's still never worked as well as SLI.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Has it really been out and in customer hands for six months? Seriously? Because the first unit we could get for review just got here about a six weeks ago. I think the first shipments would have been around ten weeks ago. Six months since announcement is very different from six months since a customer actually had product in hand. The very first PRE-RELEASE hardware with IVB processors that we tested was only done in April, with the official launch on the 23rd.

    So best case, people have had Enduro with IVB and 7970M for 4.5 months, and the first reviews I can find of anything with 7970M are the M17x R4 posted in late May. That was likely first shipment hardware as well (before customers started getting units), but even if it's not that would mean we're down to 3.5 months. Unless I'm missing something, like maybe someone was doing SNB systems with 7970M? I'm curious: who can find the oldest official review of a notebook with 7970M?
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    It's been out for months. I know I've had mine for over 3 months now. And I got it after the debacle that took AMD more than a month I think to fix where the fail rate on the 7970M was 20%. So it's been out for about 5 months I'd guess. Pretty sure people had em in April. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Yeah It's been about 3-4 months, not 6 months. But the GCN core has been out longer than that I thought. This issue is not just about Clevo/7970M, this is about Enduro and 7xxx GCN, which is affecting Lenovo, HP and other OEMs also.

    Either way, AMD should have had drivers that work on day 1 release. Didn't have to be most optimized for performance, but c'mon, when it's slower in games than a GPU that is supposedly 2x slower? That's disgraceful.
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Man I wish there was an edit button. But I believe AMD should have been honest, they must have known Enduro was broken for months before the 7970M launch. They should have told Clevo and their vendors, it's broken. Please do not use a muxless design in the meantime just in case, give us the option to disable it in the BIOS like Alienware did on the M18x or a switch on the M17x. Clevo only began to use muxless this round, I don't think it's coincidence with 7970M which is supposed to be supporting Enduro. They probably would have done it sooner as Optimus was already functioning with muxless. Last years models don't support switchable graphics at all and unaffected. They could have done that with current models if AMD was honest with Clevo.

    Maybe AMD did tell Clevo and Clevo decided to screw it, we'll implement a technology that doesn't work right now. For some reason I doubt that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Broken is all relative. It works, but it doesn't work as fast as people would like -- meaning, a high-end GPU like the 7970M ends up underperforming. As far as being broken in the sense of driver updates, AMD hasn't ever shipped a mobile GPU with switchable graphics that would qualify as "fixed" -- only NVIDIA's Optimus has managed that. Enduro 5.5 marks the start of the next stage of AMD's switchable graphics efforts in that sense.

    Mind you, Sony, Lenovo, HP, and others have therefore been shipping "broken" solutions for several years. Though I suppose if you don't want driver updates, they've have only been seriously underperforming with GCN.
    Reply

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