AMD Dual Graphics Analysis: Better Benchmarks; Same Experience?

AMD's Dual Graphics technology gives APU owners the ability to add a discrete GPU to their platforms for better performance. We take a close look at the results, both in terms of frames-per-second and experiential smoothness, thanks to captured video.

Update (8/16/2013): In light of your requests in the feedback section, we added Catalyst 13.8 beta video results to page nine of this review.

What AMD now calls Dual Graphics was originally referred to as Hybrid CrossFire. From a technical standpoint, the older designation was probably more on-point, since the feature leverages AMD's multi-GPU technology as a means to scale the performance of an APU using discrete graphics. 

Simply, that means you're able to take an APU-powered system and add a Radeon card, link them together, and harness the resources of both to push frame rates higher than you'd see from either the APU or add-in card on its own.

The Dual Graphics brand was introduced alongside AMD's Llano-based APUs in 2011, which I had the opportunity to review. While I acknowledged the appeal of Hybrid CrossFire, I experienced a few glitches with the original implementation. At the time, I hoped to revisit Dual Graphics once it matured. Over time, Llano gave way to Trinity, and Trinity was succeeded by Richland.

AMD had three generations to refine its hardware and software. So, we thought it high time to test Dual Graphics more thoroughly. After all, the company is making some pretty bold claims about the feature's potential gains. The slide below comes from the press deck that accompanied Richland's launch:

During the past two years, we've accumulated a handful of questions about Dual Graphics. For example, AMD recommends that you don't imbalance its APUs with anything more than a Radeon HD 6670. And yet, we've heard that the Radeon HD 7750 makes a good accompaniment in a Dual Graphics array. Is it even possible to mix a VLIW5-based APU and a GCN-based add-in card using this technology? If so, do cards faster than the Radeon HD 6670 yield worthwhile results for the extra money you're spending? Are there any Dual Graphics-related limitations you should know about? We're setting out to answer those unknowns.

I also wanted to incorporate our FCAT-based analysis, which measures the dropped and runt (too small to perceive) frames generated by a multi-GPU configuration using video capture. Unfortunately, we can’t get the tool to successfully process video generated by Dual Graphics, and AMD tells us that the issue we're encountering won't be fixed in the foreseeable future. If you remember back to AMD A10-6700 And A10-6800K Review: Richland Hits The Desktop, the problem was that bits of adjacent frames would show up where there weren't supposed to, like this:

See the tear in the image? We aren’t satisfied with this state of affairs, so we found another way to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of Dual Graphics: using the actual video capture we'd normally feed through FCAT to generate data. You're going to be astonished by the dramatic results (at least, we certainly were). We'll talk more about that video demonstration on the next page.

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    Top Comments
  • 17seconds
    "That's just not right."

    If I had just paid good money for a new graphics card for Dual Graphics, I'd be feeling pretty well cheated out of my money right now.
    22
  • cangelini
    So, a little bit of insight into our process...

    Certainly--had 13.8 been available when the testing for this was conducted, we would have used it. These stories take time to test for, write, edit, and fact-check. AMD still hadn't even posted 13.8 when all of the data was collected and videos created. At some point during Don's write-up, we were briefed and given a release date for the beta. Naturally, this jeopardized this story's integrity. We went back and forth with AMD a couple of times to be sure that the information was valid, and were assured that nothing changed for Dual Graphics.

    TL;DR: We worked with AMD prior to this piece's publication, and would have used 13.8, despite a lack of difference, if it had been available. If AMD told us 13.8 might change the outcome, we would have scrapped everything and started over.
    18
  • cleeve
    Anonymous said:
    The drivers tested in this analysis are a tiny bit too old, just before the Crossfire Frame Pacing fix was released.
    Could we see this performed again with Catalyst 13.8?


    See page 2:

    "You'll notice that we're using the Catalyst 13.6 Beta 2 driver instead of Catalyst 13.8 Beta, which adds a frame pacing feature for smoother, more consistent output. AMD tells us that the new driver does not affect Dual Graphics configurations. It only works with multiple discrete GPUs. Rest assured that the configuration we're presenting is as up to date as possible."
    16
  • Other Comments
  • beta212
    Hmm, IDK, I feel like there is definitely a performance boost in certain games that are just bordering on playability. That said, if you want really good graphics, why not buy the Athlon with disabled GPU cores? Same goes for the intel P series. Just add a discrete card.
    -8
  • 17seconds
    "That's just not right."

    If I had just paid good money for a new graphics card for Dual Graphics, I'd be feeling pretty well cheated out of my money right now.
    22
  • joytech22
    The drivers tested in this analysis are a tiny bit too old, just before the Crossfire Frame Pacing fix was released.

    Could we see this performed again with Catalyst 13.8?

    [ANSWER FROM EDITOR: We addressed this in the article on page 2, AMD said the new driver does not affect Dual Graphics, only CrossFire with two or more discrete GPUs. See the actual excerpt in the answer below]
    -6
  • cleeve
    Anonymous said:
    The drivers tested in this analysis are a tiny bit too old, just before the Crossfire Frame Pacing fix was released.
    Could we see this performed again with Catalyst 13.8?


    See page 2:

    "You'll notice that we're using the Catalyst 13.6 Beta 2 driver instead of Catalyst 13.8 Beta, which adds a frame pacing feature for smoother, more consistent output. AMD tells us that the new driver does not affect Dual Graphics configurations. It only works with multiple discrete GPUs. Rest assured that the configuration we're presenting is as up to date as possible."
    16
  • Calculatron
    Despite the bad news, I think this article was just what a lot of people needed. It helps clears up a lot of confusion and hearsay about AMD Dual Graphics options, like the being able to enable the Radeon HD 7750, or if GDDR5 makes any difference or not. More importantly, it shows how important software optimization is for product performance, and hopefully AMD strives to eliminate similar issues in the future.

    As this issue unfolds, I hope there are as informative follow-ups to accompany them. Good job!
    10
  • joytech22
    [ANSWER FROM EDITOR: We addressed this in the article on page 2, AMD said the new driver does not affect Dual Graphics, only CrossFire with two or more discrete GPUs. See the actual excerpt in the answer below]

    Ah - my apologies.. Thanks for the response.
    7
  • rpgplayer
    Well, now I see that my Llano box I built for a media center 2 years ago will be completely rebuilt rather than getting an add in card. If AMD's next gen APU will use the FM2+ boards as well I may go that route. If not, I'll probably wind up dumping AMD all together and go with an Intel rig.
    8
  • edwd2
    thanks for the clarification
    5
  • killerchickens
    Can frame pacing be forced?
    -4
  • Anonymous
    If only AMD spent more of their time and their resources on software optimization rather than on those competition-bashing ads. Seeing some silly ads or reading about some flip/flopping (I now get paid by a different overlord) salesman, bashing Intel or nVidia products, does not instill the confidence in buying AMD products, specifically their APUs and (professional) GPUs. I really do want to buy your stuff AMD; less marketing more software development...pleeease.
    12
  • alithegreat
    Well lets see what will the step 2 Frame Pacing driver will accomplish when its avaliable.
    4
  • piesquared
    lol @ NV propaganda. It's all they've got left. ;)

    It's clear that drivers are being rolled out to remove any glitches that might affect somebody's experience.

    The timing of this article isn't shocking. How much does it cost to have a website do a headline article on intel, nv, intel/nv graphics solutions with the same objectivity?
    -17
  • rmpumper
    i3 + 7750 should be included as it is ~at the same price point.
    2
  • envy14tpe
    I wish the article included the A10-6800k + 2133 RAM + no discrete GPU. Seems like the A10 performs better with faster RAM rather than a better GPU.
    8
  • envy14tpe
    sorry ..double post.
    -1
  • sarinaide
    Being a APU owner and fully aware of past issues with Dual Graphics mode, notably the micro stutter, I was waiting for Catalyst 13.8 to re run the data and see if the fixes affected Dual Graphics in the manner it affected Crossfire. 13.8 has been out for 2-3 weeks and Toms still didn't incorporate this fix.

    I do hope there will be a review on 13.8 in the near future and not some time down the line as this is subject matter that is particularly of interest to me and its hard to find reviews of this nature. That said I will probably have a 6670, 7730 and 7750 soon enough to run my own tests and to see whether the APU can crossfire with the GCN parts.
    -16
  • m32
    APUs are extremely effected by RAM. I'm not saying you guys are using bad RAM but I'm using RAM with better timings (average joe). I kinda expect you to be using the best., Tom. "We're using AMD's own RAM!" That isn't the best RAM.
    -7
  • cangelini
    To expound on Don's answer, AMD itself let us know that the latest Catalyst beta driver has *no effect* on Dual Graphics. What we're presenting is an issue that needs to be addressed separately.

    We weren't able to test the 13.8 driver at the time AMD released it; I was in the hospital with my wife, who was having our second child. To make up for this, we're going to be presenting what I hope to be the most complete analysis of the frame pacing option available very soon. Don will be collecting FCAT-based data and creating side-by-side video comparison similar to what you saw here today. Meanwhile, I'm going to be hosting an event in Bakersfield, CA this coming weekend to generate qualitative data based on the opinions of real gamers playing on 7990 and 690 back to back, blindly. If you're in the area and interested in attending, shoot me a PM!
    11
  • yannigr
    I was disappointed when I read 13.6. Yeah you give an explanation, straight from AMD, but still I would have gone for 13.8. If 13.8 is not breaking dual graphics or is not a specific driver for 7000 series, then why not using it? I say again "I did read your explanation".

    AMD better fix this issue. Intel is getting better in the area of graphics, and Nvidia will have to become more aggressive in the low/mid range market in the future. When both Nvidia and Intel will be in a position to question the performance that the best APU from AMD offers, AMD will use dual graphics as a simple cheap upgrade options that the others will lack.
    0
  • cangelini
    So, a little bit of insight into our process...

    Certainly--had 13.8 been available when the testing for this was conducted, we would have used it. These stories take time to test for, write, edit, and fact-check. AMD still hadn't even posted 13.8 when all of the data was collected and videos created. At some point during Don's write-up, we were briefed and given a release date for the beta. Naturally, this jeopardized this story's integrity. We went back and forth with AMD a couple of times to be sure that the information was valid, and were assured that nothing changed for Dual Graphics.

    TL;DR: We worked with AMD prior to this piece's publication, and would have used 13.8, despite a lack of difference, if it had been available. If AMD told us 13.8 might change the outcome, we would have scrapped everything and started over.
    18