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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  • spaceman44 - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    yeah its definatly in the control panel. you can also get to it by right clicking on the desktop, go to personalize, click screen saver, change power settings, change plan settings, change advanced power settings.

    i wrote the other directions coz it's less clicks :) and btw this is for windows 7, though i think the second path would work for xp if thats what your running.
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    That's just in the profiles by default. Most people play games with high performance which sets all the settings you have by default. On Clevo notebooks, in the control center, the performance setting does the same thing. Makes no difference for Enduro, not a fix. Reply
  • erick.mendes - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    External GPU for notebooks using thunderbolt from Lucid. Now that's serious power:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/lucid-gpu-graphic...
    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    7970M is nearly 2x faster than that. The current high end notebooks outperform any eGPU solution that has been proposed so far. Though it is interesting idea, but problem is, there are 11" notebooks with a 650M. I don't see a need for eGPU anymore, it was a good idea before Kepler and GCN, but now they are here, no need. You can thing and light notebooks with powerful discrete now. Reply
  • carage - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - link

    I have a ViDock 4 Plus (Express Card 2.0 interface) with a GTX 670 4GB connected to my ThinkPad W520. The performance already whips a single GTX 680M. The only notebook GPU solution it doesn't beat is the GTX 680M SLI, which is not available in anything below $3,000.

    I think the ViDock is worth it.
    Reply
  • Vozier - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    FINALLY the official news we all waited for

    Originally Posted by Marc@AMD
    I want to thank all those users that have been patient in this matter, and peristent in providing helpful information and feedback to the community.

    We have received some positive news from the Driver Development Team. A driver is planned to be released in the near future that will provide significant improvements to notebooks enabled withAMD Enduro™ Technology.

    Please stay tuned to our support.amd.com site for the driver posting.

    Source: AMD Game Forums - The Clevo 7970M Enduro/under-utilization debacle
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - link

    Just to update you (I'll have more to say in the P170EM review in the next two days I hope), AMD let me know that the initial public release of Enduro 5.5 should be in then next week or so. However, they are fully aware of the GPU underutilization issues and those may not be totally ironed out with the initial driver. They then plan to release a driver hotfix (probably later in October) that will address the GPU underutilization. The root issue appears to be related to transferring frames over the PCIe bus and some other areas, as when you're running at higher frame rates the problem becomes worse. So if you run DiRT 3 at Medium detail, you'll get 50% utilization while at Ultra you might get 95%, but frame rates at Medium will be lower than expected. If all goes as planned, the hotfix should take care of the problem. Reply
  • Vozier - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Great update Jarred, even if i came along it only yesterday!

    On the subject, we have a small debate on NBR about the "root issue". I defend that its driver/software related and other claim its a "hardware bottleneck" (wich IMHO would be a lot worst), would you bring any light to this?
    Since you mention:
    "The root issue appears to be related to transferring frames over the PCIe bus and some other areas,"

    thanks once again for all your help in keeping us all informed.

    cheers
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 1, 2012 - link

    I'm honestly not sure there's a way to say for certain, but the hotfix is definitely improving performance. That would suggest that the problem is mostly related to drivers, but there could still be hardware bottlenecks. I also have to wonder if the "GPU Utilization" figures are actually getting correct data; is it possible that whatever they're polling for GPU use could sometimes report incorrect data? Reply
  • Vozier - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - link

    Indeed, it might be the case that some reports are wrong, I myself have tested some games with MSI afterburner measures of GPU utilization.
    I dont know if it can help but i have found this:

    1) Recording a video capture with MSI AB or fraps gradually lowers GPU % to 30 or 40% lower than it was (after hitting alt-V or F11 in fraps), so videos made with these programs (and most likely any other video not made externally) will always show under 99% GPU and lower FPS.

    2) The use of PhysX also seems to lower the GPU utilization in many cases.

    3) In some games like crysis 2 or skyrim the GPU utilization varies in seconds depending on where you are looking at and wether there is a fight or not going on, this is the piece that seems to point to a hardware bottleneck. Also multiplayer games seems to be the most affected.

    4) The gpu utilization usually varies a lot during video interludes and such in games, so i dont usually meassure or consider it correct or relevant in those situations.

    It also seems to depend on the game, some games seem to have a "silent" Vsync of sorts that might produce lower GPU%s (NFS the run for ex doesn move from 30 FPS). Other games work perfectly (Diablo III for example never showed low GPU% with vsync off, in any game situation or fight til lvl11...)

    What truly supports the driver related theory is that lowering graphic demands lowers GPU %s, and thats really weird and no hardware bottleneck should cause that, IMHO.

    Bottom line is that most users want to improve FPS and performance to pair with machines that do not use enduro with the same card (i.e. 7970M), we dont really care if the GPU% is 1 as long as the numbers are equal to an AW or other notebook with the same card but no enduro. That IS the case for many games so i dont think the issue is hardware related, even if its clearly transfer related.

    thanks again for all your help and input..

    regards
    Voz
    Reply

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