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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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Here's the thing: it takes time to correct course at a large company, and if management gets in the way it can take even longer. I don't get why people are outraged that Enduro 5.0 has issues when I said last year that Dynamic Switchable Graphics was broken and would remain so until AMD committed to regular driver updates.

    Did we ever come out with an article saying AMD was doing driver updates for Enduro? NO! So everyone that bought Enduro between last year and this was apparently willing to take a chance on AMD.

    But now we have a demonstration of a fixed Enduro UI, and we have a firm commitment to two driver releases for Mobility Catalyst with Enduro support by the end of the year. And everyone is pissed about it and saying we didn't do our homework? Look at the introduction: "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." I haven't changed my tune to recommending AMD Enduro over Optimus, but at least now there's a chance it will get there.
  • pablo906 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    I'm with Jarred here. You guys are bringing the pitch forks to anandtech over a product they said not to buy. Does this make any sense to any of you outraged owners? If you have anger and frustration don't point it at anandtech for not talking about your issue with Optimus, take it out on the people who are continuing to let your issue go unresolved. AT hasn't looked at DSG in over a year, and when they did they reported it didn't work. They haven't been reviewing laptops with the technology at all since then and have not changed their stance from, this doesn't work - don't buy it. With that being the case when they get a product in that is having the performance and utilization issue, they start off saying this still doesn't work, but there is hope that it may soon. I don't know what more you can ask for other than perhaps an AT writer lighting themselves on fire outside of ATI in protest over the issue. Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Can you point to the article where Jarred said faulty Enduro would cripple the 7970M's performance? I didn't care that Enduro wouldn't work right if I could shut it off. I didn't even consider the performance would be so horribly crippled by it, and AMD wouldn't even bother to even try to fix it. That's the worst part, 5 months of nothing. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Well apparently I and many others were too stupid to not have read your previous articles to know AMD sold GCN 7970M units they were touting to be the fastest, most powerful graphics card even though last gen's Nvidia 580M were destroying it. We bought laptops since that is what AMD told us. buy this product, you get this performance.

    I don't see why it's out fault and why it was taking a chance.

    I am grateful for Anandtech's diligence, but the anger I think here is more aimed at AMD than Anandtech. Some like myself just wish there was more push aimed at AMD to get this fixed now, rather than saying there is hope of rumored possible future update.
  • Seanzky - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    "I am grateful for Anandtech's diligence, but the anger I think here is more aimed at AMD than Anandtech. Some like myself just wish there was more push aimed at AMD to get this fixed now, rather than saying there is hope of rumored possible future update."

    This. At this point any false hopes of AMD fixing anything is better off whispered. We have reached out to every outlet we can think of. We have been ignored. All of a sudden AMD takes the platform provided by Anandtech and says that a fix will come soon? This is why I said this has AMD's hand all over it in my comment. It sounds to me like AMD is using Anandtech to further silence us. To silence us long enough until their next line of GPUs are out.

    AMD to Anantech: "Just hang in there, tell them help is on the way."
    Anandtech to us: "You hear that guys?! Hurray!"

    You know what that sounds like to us abandoned customers? Like damage control, another false hope. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am merely relaying my real experience that others can definitely relate to. Put yourself in our shoes. No public statements. No acknowledgements. No signs. Nothing. With this article you want us to put down our "pitchforks" and torches? You want us to just go away and wait in our little corner? Damage. Control.

    And if this was a known issue since day one, why is @catalystcreator say they're just "investigating" it. Why did Sager just investigate it also? Why did Sager go silent? Why did @catalystcreator go silent?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Or how about this scenario, since we're just making stuff up.

    HD 7970 released, along with other GCN products. Management says, "Okay, desktop parts are out; get the mobile stuff shipping ASAP." Engineering gets the hardware ready and the driver guys say, "We're still working to address some concerns with drivers." They're told it's good enough for now and they start shipping. Then the forums light up with people saying, "OMG 7970M is terrible!" Management goes into a frenzy and tells the drivers people to fix the problem after marketing promises things will be fixed "soon". Unfortunately, marketing is writing checks that the drivers team can't cash.

    Eventually, there's a meeting where the drivers team says they need to invest three or four solid months of work into fixing the underlying issues. Marketing knows that you can't come out with a statement like that, so they tell everyone to go silent and just wait for things to get better. Finally, the drivers are nearly ready and it just so happens that AnandTech has a 7970M review they're working on. It's a good opportunity to show that things are about to change, so they take it.

    Heck, let me go one further. Here's an excerpt of what I sent to AMD (the whole email is about 4X as long):
    My conclusion for now, unless something can be done to address the situation in the next week or two, is that mobile gaming enthusiasts are far better off with NVIDIA GPUs, even if it means spending more (AVADirect charges $274 extra to upgrade from 7970M to GTX 680M). And actually, given the choice between a GTX 580M/675M Optimus and HD 7970M Switchable, it's $120 less at AVADirect to get the GTX 675M and you'd end up with a more consistent experience and regular driver updates.

    To address the problems, AMD needs to get their switchable graphics solutions integrated into the regular driver updates, and users need to be able to update the AMD and Intel graphics drivers independently. Until that happens, I am extremely hesitant to recommend any AMD switchable graphics notebooks -- I'd rather have a discrete only HD 7970M or even 7730M/7750M/7770M with driver updates than to get switchable graphics without driver updates. This is pretty much the same thing I said a full year ago, and as far as I can tell virtually nothing has changed as far as the UI and driver updates.

    AMD's response was that they were working to fix the issue and they had pre-release drivers to show me, with the understanding that these drivers will be available sooner rather than later. And they showed me exactly that: updated drivers that they're saying will work for all Enduro (and PowerXpress 4.0 and later) laptops. They're not out now, but we have a deadline of October 31 with the potential to see them as early as this month. If AMD doesn't deliver, you can bet I'll have more to say on the subject.
  • - Thursday, September 6, 2012 - link

    Oh yes they were working on fixing the problem, and in the meantime behind the driver team's back, a covert sting operation was instigated to purge information in the public domain, that was focusing on the severity of the problem.

    Apparently while a fix is being engineered, it is not permissible for anybody to discuss the ramifications of the problem, and it is absolutely forbidden to discuss it in public.

    Well I will discuss it where ever I please despite AMD position on this issue.

  • Seanzky - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    Understood. You keeping on top of this is appreciated. Though, I no longer care about this per se, there are way too many over at NBR who deserve what they paid for. So, thank you.

    I hope you understand why my initial reaction was of AMD using you as a vehicle to further quiet us down. Many here have echoed the same things I've said and that was to either completely ignore us or to shut down threads where we bring up issues to resellers.
  • Vozier - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    Since we are imagining possible scenarios i might as well do..
    Only one thing is clear for now, and that is that ENDURO technology is responsible for underutilizing the dGPU and consequently rendering low FPS for some games and/or game maps and/or game configurations.

    Now as a scientist i first analyze the empiric data and then try to formulate an hypothesis, and then test it to prove or discard it. Having avidly read many users info and comments, my current understanding of the problem is this:

    I DO NOT think this is hardware issue. Why? well, the proof is everywhere, not only the 7970M performs flawlessly and very well in Alienware with enduro shut off, but also in clevo machines it performs perfect in some games and even in most games affected it performs normal in certain maps, multi or non multiplayer settings, etc, etc. The most common complaint is that FPS go up and down along with GPU utilization.
    My understanding is that a hardware piece is inherently DUMB as a rock, and that its performance is only dummer as its operator (in this case Enduro) and the instructions it receives to operate.
    Another evidence on this subject is that different catalyst driver versions do affect the performance, maybe not in the way we want, but it doesn just "stay the same", either worst, better or weird would be proper terms.

    That said and taking the comments of the most knowledgeable people around, the issue IS driver related. The fact that Nvidia had very similar issues some years ago when they launched Optimus, just adds to this notion.

    Another fact that can be interpreted in many ways is AMDs and most resellers silence about all this:
    We can go all paranoid and think there is a huge conspiracy to shut us down and make this problem go away.
    I can even picture some black clothed NVIDIA agent pouring a misterious liquid on the hardware or hacking AMDs drivers with a hidden flaw to cause all this.... the options are infinite...

    Now, taking into account Anandtech's article, Sager's few deleted comments, mythlogic's comments, even short and very scarce AMD posts (Mark AMD), wich can be regarded as the most "official" position on the matter, the conclusion for me is this:

    1) AMD has been slow to detect, understand, adress and moreso recognize this issue or its mere existence. This is not necessarily bad, only unfortunate (for them and us customers).
    2) AMD took the usual attitude towards these kind of issues and remain silent, doing nothing at first hoping it was a mere configuration or driver installation issue and that other users would help the affected ones.
    3) After seeing the issue was real, not fixable by users and configuration combos, not even reseller drivers, and that even some resellers were complaining to them and in open forums, AMD decided to put some people at work and asked their associates (i.e. sager and others) to back up their silence policy for the time being, releasing a few short phrases to gain time. "We are working on it"
    you can argue this decision but i aint something so weird as it seems. I would say this happened only 1 month ago or so.
    4) Viewing some light at the end of the tunnel AMD starts to release some info to their resellers and reviewers like Anandtech, in order to have them quiet and informed that they are "on to it". They still remain silent either because by now they might as well and because the fix is NOT ready or complete and they do not want to enter any debate without answers. This is happening now.

    So as you see there is no need to be paranoid, there is much more simpler explanation to events.

    Some would say AMD should have detected the issue before launching the 7000 cards, but seriously speaking this aint so true.
    Well you need just read some of the first reviews that came out for 7970M, i dont think any of them were biased, they even mentioned enduro and its need to be improved. But if you test 20 or more games, you run only 1 or 2 minute benchmarks for them, you dont have someone playing hours and switching to multiplayer modes and what not. Also many games perform correctly so there really wasnt and still isnt an instant crash of sorts to detect a major issue. Also, the card works, even if it underperforms some times, so detecting this anomaly wasnt so easy to begin with. Not saying AMD is to be absolved of all charges, but i really dont see them as the villains many are picturing, they have been just too slow, too dumb and too arrogant, but then again who isnt sometimes?

    Whats your fckng point you ask?????

    Simple, the issue will be fixed to a good degree, not 100% probably, not for all games, but no card works flawlessly in all games, thats a whole different topic.

    so have hope and dont crush the only option we have to avoid total monoploy in the graphics world.

    What can we do then? sit back and wait?
    NO, absolutely not, the ball is rolling and growing and we need to stop it soon or it will become an avalanche.
    You can cry.
    You can shout and spit.
    You can test and inform your results.
    You can post or just read.

    Whatever you do will be more or less usefull and might help getting this boat to port.

    best regards
  • transphasic - Sunday, September 9, 2012 - link

    Yes. Agreed. I do not take issue with Anandtech at all, nor am I upset with them one bit here. I am also grateful at the work and info that Anandtech has been doing to inform us about this.
    In fact, in a way, this whole AMD Enduro fiasco has been a great help to Anandtech, because as of a month ago, I didn't even know that this website even existed until now. You can thank AMD in a backwards sort of way for helping me and probably a few others as well for making Anandtech's existence known to a great many more people.
    Anandtech has helped me out with people like Jarred, who provided much-needed info, so thanks for that.

    I AM upset and angry (obviously) at AMD for creating a product that we only now are regretting buying in the first place. If I/we had only known that this is what we would be going through, then NONE of us would be owning the 7970m, and we would all be siding with Nvidia, and talking about how great their 680m GPU is.

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