Recap: AMD’s PowerXpress, aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics, aka Enduro

Getting back to the switchable graphics, AMD has gone through a variety of names over the years. Here’s AMD’s summary slide, which I’ll discuss in detail:

Originally introduced as PowerXpress back in 2008, the first AMD switchable graphics solutions were like that found later in the ASUS UL80Vt and similar laptops: you had to flip a switch, and in the first iterations you would then need to reboot the laptop so that the BIOS could disable the discrete GPU and activate the integrated GPU. It was messy and a bit inconvenient, and NVIDIA’s early studies showed that many users ended up not using the feature—they would either run on dGPU all the time or on iGPU all the time. Both AMD and NVIDIA had a second series of switchable graphics designs where the need to reboot was removed; the first Alienware M11x could switch GPUs in about 10-15 seconds, and the same was true of HP’s first ENVY laptops. These were using PowerXpress 2.0 and 3.0, and for most people the switching side was adequate: you’d run on dGPU when plugged in and switch to iGPU when on battery power.

Last year, AMD took a step forward with their switchable graphics by introducing PowerXpress 4.0, which also renamed the technology to Dynamic Switchable Graphics (DSG for short). I got a chance to do a head-to-head of the technology using a Sony VAIO C laptop provided by NVIDIA. You know a company is confident that they’re going to win a technology comparison when they’ll actually give you a competitor’s product. In some cases, DSG was just as good as Optimus: you could launch a supported game and never realize all the extra stuff happening in the background; unfortunately, there were several titles where it wasn’t quite as convenient as we would have liked, and OpenGL support from DSG was completely missing.

Step forward to early 2012 and we got another update to PowerXpress 5.0 (note that PowerXpress is now only used internally by AMD and hasn’t been their marketing name since before PX4.0) along with a rechristening: Dynamic Switchable Graphics was out and Enduro was in. If nothing else, at least it makes my job easier as Enduro is much more concise. There's also the fact that the GPUs are no longer "switching", as the iGPU is always running; now the dGPU is simply supplementing the iGPU when needed. Along with the name change, AMD added OpenGL and OpenCL support to the mix, and with their Zero Core Technology (which is also part of their 7000 series desktop GPUs—a case of mobile design influencing desktops) the need to keep a small portion of the chip alive (aka BACO: Bus Active Chip Off) was removed. OEMs could also ship with custom profiles for applications, so for example Dell might want all of their extra utilities to default to running on the iGPU.

Hopefully this problem goes away next month!

Other than those changes, the UI and driver updates situation on early Enduro solutions remains largely the same as with DSG/PX4.0—and that’s what I initially received with the Clevo P170EM, with drivers from around March 2012. A quick check at AMD’s site also let me know that there weren’t any new drivers available, as the P170EM wasn’t currently supported by the latest Mobility Catalyst drivers.

Introduction New for Mid-2012: “Enduro 5.5” Enhancements
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  • krumme - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Jarred you are pissed at AMD, and it shows everywhere :)

    AMD have CPU and manufactoring competence inhouse that should easily see all the nessesary steps involved in designing a solution. The competence base is broader than NV. For this kind of problem, thats is an advantage, as you have the competence base to adress the situation.

    But if its not brought into play its of no use. But thats a management problem. This is not an engineering problem.

    They were designing gfx for the desktop market, While they should enlarge portability and entertainment. And it shows for the rest of the portfolio. We now why rr is the new boss.
  • edryr - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    This article is just pathetic.
    Why aren't there any mention of underutilization on all gcn based gpu using enduro ? Why no mention of any amd's movements like deleting all posts regarding thoses issues ? Why no comment on games runing smoother on 570m because of lack of skill from amd ?

  • coder543 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    conspiracy theorist much?
  • Montage - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Sager (a Clevo reseller) made a thread in Notebook Review where they admitted the issue and wanted the community to participate in solving the issue by logging the underutilization issues. Many people spent a lot of time to collect potentially valuable information regarding the issue.

    Suddenly Sager informs that they have been requested, by AMD, to ask the NBR moderators to remove the thread. Sager hasn't mentioned the thread since and now their stance it that there IS NO PROBLEM.

    You got to admit that this episode is rather weird. Also, AMD hasn't made any official announcements, comments, remarks etc. regarding the enduro issues. Also, one thread concerning the issue was closed on AMD's own forums, supposedly due to offensive language or something, though the comments on the thread stayd both civilized and relatively polite.

    The enduro issues affect all current generation 7000M series AMD cards.
  • kiol - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Civilization 5 @ 26 FPS, Battlefield 3 @ 36FPS are not "very respectable" frame rates as you put it, specially when you get better frame rates from previous generation cards. You know that Anandtech

    This whole article seems like an attempt from AMD to hide the whole issue or make it seem less severe.
    They have already closed threads and censor resellers from even talking about it.

    They say drivers aren’t fully optimized for performance AND particularly with the 7970M

    AMD's new generation mobile flagship graphics card is not optimized for performance??? so which one is it?

    very disappointing AMD, sorry you don't pay near $2000 for a laptop to get "respectable performance" and a hope for a better drivers.

    by the way the same problem exists with Alienware, fortunately they are able to completely disable Enduro "technology"

    but as it is Enduro effectively downgrades and cripples AMD's graphic cards. So
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Civ5 performance is low (still), but BF3 at 36FPS on 1080p Ultra settings is hardly something to complain about. Really, HD 7970M is more of a competitor to GTX 580M (should be slightly faster) whereas the 680M is the latest and greatest. For our full set of games (and there will be more in the full review), here's what I've got at our Enthusiast (max) settings and 1080p. (Note that NVIDIA 680M numbers are with older 304 series drivers; I'll be updating to 306 series before final review. The 580M are with even older drivers, but I don't have that system so I can't update to the latest drivers--and there's a real chance the latest drivers could drop performance in some titles on Fermi.)

    Batman: Arkham City
    7970M: 52
    680M: 83
    580M: 49

    Battlefield 3
    7970M: 36.1
    680M: 42.7
    580M: 33.1

    Civilization V
    7970M: 26.2
    680M: 53.4
    580M: 41.7

    DiRT 3
    7970M: 61.1
    680M: 68.3
    580M: 43.8

    Portal 2
    7970M: 115.3
    680M: 160.5
    580M: 104.8

    7970M: 47.2
    680M: 64.0
    580M: 51.8

    Total War: Shogun 2 (900p High, as Very High wouldn't run on 7970M)
    7970M: 78.6
    680M: 120.9
    580M: 90.1

    Against GTX 680M, right now it's no contest, but that's not really surprising. Against 580M, though, things are close -- and by close, I mean AMD wins by a fairly large margin in some titles like DiRT 3, loses by a large margin in other titles like Civ5, and it's relatively close in the others.
  • arcticjoe - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Problem with those numbers is that when you put 7970m in a system without Enduro support (like old clevo 1x0HM series) it performs pretty much on par with 680m, sometimes even beating it.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    I experienced similar issues with Optimus early on, particularly in games where you would see higher frame rates. My assumption at the time was that copying large amounts of data over the PCIe bus may have been part of the problem. (60 FPS at 1080p means roughly 500MB of data every second, just to update the display contents.) That might not seem like much, but where PCIe 3.0 can in theory do 16GB/s, real-world I would expect max utilization to be lower, and .5GBps is still a lot of bandwidth with everything else going on.

    Enduro could be having similar issues, and there's certainly overhead relative to doing things natively. The question is: can the issues be addressed with driver updates? For most items, I would say definitely, and that's why this article was done. I could have titled it: "AMD Is Finally Committing to Regular Driver Updates for Enduro" and left the content blank and maybe people would have understood the point a bit better. It's not that Enduro IS fixed; it's that Enduro CAN be fixed -- provided AMD keeps updating the drivers.

    If you go back three years and read what I was saying about laptops with discrete GPUs, I repeatedly castigated NVIDIA and AMD for not doing regular mobile driver updates, essentially stating that we (AnandTech) could not recommend any "gaming laptop" unless there was a guarantee of regular driver updates. Starting in Sept/Oct, AMD is finally making that commitment -- something NVIDIA did with their Verde program and Optimus over two years ago.
  • Montage - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    In BF3 the fps drops below 20 at times (see the link for screenshot). This does not happen when Enduro is turned off. Also in Witcher 1, for example, the fps suddenly drops very low and causes stuttering, and again, not when Enduro is turned off. If Clevo's could only turn the thing off.
  • Woodchuck2000 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    I have a Clevo P150EM with an Ivy Bridge CPU and a 7970M. Running the release preview of Windows 8, I can't find an installable driver from the AMD website which enables 'Enduro'. Predictably, there are drivers for desktop GPUs. I don't understand why it's so hard to provide laptop drivers in the same package, particularly for laptops with a generic MXM card like mine.

    Enduro works okay on Windows 7, but the user interface is extremely clunky and obtrusive. Is there any news on when AMD's new drivers will be available to the rest of us?

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