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Update: Taking AMD To Task On Enduro

Xotic PC NP9150: Striking Back At Kepler With Radeon HD 7970M
By

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult to keep up with everything that goes on in technology. While our eyes are turned to the latest tablet, a new SSD, or an upcoming processor, a bit of news surfaces, causes a brief stir, and disappears again. For anyone affected, a misbehaving piece of hardware remains a thorn that everyone is expected to be aware of. So, we understand the frustration when a vendor is allowed to get away with slow support for a high-end (expensive) component.

In the case of AMD’s Radeon HD 7970M, GPU underutilization issues were simply something we hadn’t seen before. They certainly didn’t hamper Thomas in today’s story.

But what you should expect out of us is that, when an issue does come up, we’ll be on top of it. And when readers started linking to forum posts about a problem with AMD’s newest flagship and its Enduro switching technology, we jumped.

On a phone call with company representatives earlier today, AMD admitted that its current implementation is indeed affected by a driver bug that prevents the hardware from being fed data fast enough, causing it to go underutilized, particularly at high frame rates. This is specific to Enduro-equipped configurations because the Radeon GPU is operating through integrated graphics, utilizing the PCI Express bus as a display engine. As a result, there’s a balance issue between data coming in and data going out you wouldn’t see from a notebook equipped only with discrete graphics.

Alienware’s M17x can be made to work around this problem. How? The notebook has a hardware-based multiplexer that, after a reboot, can turn off Enduro and make the Radeon HD 7970M a standalone GPU.

Why didn’t the issue come up in our story to begin with? Two reasons. First, if you look at our gaming benchmark results, there are only a couple of instances where the Radeon HD 7970M doesn’t scale quite as we’d expect, and those are in games already known to be fairly platform-bound. This could have easily been attributed to the Core i7-3820QM. Second, by AMD’s own admission, the degree of underutilization is most pronounced at low resolutions and high frame rates, but can affect frame rates from anywhere between 10 to 35%. Our emphasis is on higher resolutions and more demanding settings.

Now, what’s being done on AMD’s part to fix all of this?

According to the company, it has a hotfix that will go live first—purportedly in October. I’m working to get readers access to an early build earlier than that, but AMD is naturally apprehensive about the potential support ramifications of this. Representatives claim that the fixed driver will alleviate the bottleneck entirely, and the only performance hit you’ll be able to measure will be the expected 1 to 5% attributable to going through integrated graphics.

So, there we have it. An issue does exist, AMD is aware of it, a fix should be showing up in less than a month that rectifies the bug, and we’re working to get you early access. Of course, as we see in the benchmarks, even with the bug affecting performance, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970M has little trouble distinguishing itself.

And by the way, if you’re encountering weak performance on a 64-player map in Battlefield 3, consider that the workload is more CPU-bound than anything, and that a stock-clocked mobile processor is probably your weak point, not the GPU. We do read the comments, after all. ;)

Cheers,
Chris Angelini

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    montage , September 18, 2012 1:46 PM
    uglynerdmanyou guys at toms hardware really arent aware of whats going on in the tech world... i mean srsly after all these crappy laptop reviews with bad choice for components/performance and now you not knowin about the enduro issues, It plagues both alienware, the whole 7000 series with a muxless design many problems globally, ppl who dont have the problem dont use gpu intensive applications or dont care about frame rate/stuttering/ dont know how to see theres an issue.oh well awaitin the toms hardware fanboy trolls to downrate and uprate you on not knowing "hardware" probs


    There really is no need to be rude, even if some of your points are valid.

    Now, you at Tom's could try to reproduce these issues, for example on BF3 multiplayer with 64 players (say Caspian border). Please show people the MIN fps too, since that reveals the issues pretty well. Also try to lower your graphics to see if you can get a better fps readings (I promise you will not).

    It would be great if you could add this information to the article, and join Anandtech in putting pressure on AMD to fix this issue for us users. We would be forver in your debt :) 
  • 10 Hide
    columbosoftserve , September 18, 2012 12:35 PM
    Link to the Anandtech article:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6243/amds-enduro-switchable-graphics-levels-up/5

    Check the comments and the last 'update' part of the article. This card has been out for almost half a year now with broken switching software.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , September 18, 2012 5:28 AM
    Did the test show any sign of 7970M utilization issue? It is a well known problem reported by many members from Notebookreview forum.
  • 8 Hide
    Crashman , September 18, 2012 6:02 AM
    QKVenGenDid the test show any sign of 7970M utilization issue? It is a well known problem reported by many members from Notebookreview forum.
    Care to elaborate?
  • 6 Hide
    sherlockwing , September 18, 2012 6:43 AM
    CrashmanCare to elaborate?


    If I recall it is a Enduro related bug causing 7970M to be under utilized in games like BF3, it was quite a big deal in June/July on NotebookReview's Forum, not sure if it is fixed by new drivers.
  • 8 Hide
    Crashman , September 18, 2012 6:59 AM
    BF3 results look fine to me :) 
  • -7 Hide
    EzioAs , September 18, 2012 7:10 AM
    I find it hard to believe that the 7970M performs a bit too well in Battlefield 3. Even the 7870 and 660ti gets lower fps with the same settings at 1080p.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/geforce-gtx-660-geforce-gtx-650-benchmark,3297-7.html
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 18, 2012 8:18 AM
    No games on 7970m doesant play fine. Most of them are affected by enduro underutilizaiotn which basicly causes the card to notutilize fully when lowering settings in games. For example , in bf 3 multiplayer( as there is no problem in singleplayer) when you enter a lrger map with 64p on it, youl get around 35 fps maxed but with dips down to 25 fps which is not enought for a fast paced shotter. So when setting are lowered you expect to get better fps right?? thats not the case with 7970m- the fps remains the same but utilization of the card drops down. This also happens in many other games that are sometimes even unplayable. You just cant achieve stable 60 fps no matter what settings- the lower the settings go, the lower the card utilization is. There is a logging thread, and many other threads regarding this issue on notebookreview. Amd adressed that there is a driver coming soon, but for users that have this card form half a year now its taking pretty long..
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , September 18, 2012 8:47 AM
    I concur what Mahalsk said. A 7970M in a EM-series Clevo laptop IS NOT A GOOD DEAL for the price they are asking, since the card doesn't work properly. This is the case with all EM-series laptops and all 7970Ms out there. Even the 6900M series of AMD cards are beating 7970M at the moment with the Enduro issue unsolved.

    Check this thread (and the "Sager and Clevo forums") for more details:

    http://forum.notebookreview.com/sager-clevo/682097-7970m-logging-thread-games-utilization-issues-only-post-logs-no-questions-please.html

    , and AVOID 7970M for now. Its been months and no fix from either AMD or Clevo. You do not get what you pay for when bying this configuration.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , September 18, 2012 11:24 AM
    Crash I like the new metrics.

    Makes good sense to me.



  • 8 Hide
    montage , September 18, 2012 12:12 PM
    CrashmanBF3 results look fine to me


    You didn't test BF3 multiplayer wwith 64 players? The single player works fine, but the multiplayer suffers from enduro issues. Here are some screenshots taken by me:

    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/716/bf320120727225130242.jpg/

    18 fps is not fine in my opinion. Also got 8 fps at times in Civ 5. I have a P170EM Clevo with 3610Qm and 7970M. Anandtech also posted an article concerning Enduro, and they weren't aware of Enduro issues either, but when the people from Notebook review informed them about it, they were able to reproduce the issues. They also edited their article to include a mention about the issue.

    The issue is real, and affect all AMD 7000M seriers card that are in laptops which have no MUX-cable. This cable allows a user to use only the dedicated GPU instead of the iGPU. When there is no MUX, the image is always forced through the iGPU, and the Enduro technology that is supposed to make this happen is broken. With Alienware's laptops that have MUX, you can force Enduro off and the issue goes away. If you enable Enduro in AW, the issue comes back.

    What you get is sudden FPS drops, stuttering, low GPU utilization. It does not affect every game, but I'd still say its present in most games, e.g. witcher 1 & 2, crysis 2, BF3 multiplayer (more evident on certain maps), GTA 4, etc. etc. (the list goes on).

    When you try to reduce the graphics level to get better fps, you only get lower GPU utilization and the same fps. Now this is a serious issue to people playing online shooting games and other competitive games.

    Notebook review forums have numerous threads about the issue, and we have been following how the situation develops for months now. So far, AMD has been very silent regarding fixes to these Enduro related issues.
  • 10 Hide
    columbosoftserve , September 18, 2012 12:35 PM
    Link to the Anandtech article:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6243/amds-enduro-switchable-graphics-levels-up/5

    Check the comments and the last 'update' part of the article. This card has been out for almost half a year now with broken switching software.
  • 2 Hide
    blazorthon , September 18, 2012 12:40 PM
    Excluding the apparent Enduro issue, Radeon 7970M>GTX 680M. The 680M is just a GTX 670 with the memory bandwidth cut almost in half (as well as a minor GPU clock frequency drop IIRC, but that's not as important in this case). Even the GTX 660 and 660 Ti have a substantial memory bandwidth advantage. The 680M has a greater memory bandwidth bottle-neck than Llano and is undoubtedly absolute crap in comparison to the 7970M and possibly even older cards too when AA is used. Hopefully, AMD will fix this issue soon, but honestly, I'm not getting my hopes up on that one. They are really taking their time with it and that's just abusing their customers.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 18, 2012 12:44 PM
    7970M is definitely not the best for the price. It's a crippled card. It COULD be the best for the price *of all time* if it weren't crippled though. Can the Tom's Hardware guys test the utilization issues caused by Enduro?
  • 3 Hide
    blazorthon , September 18, 2012 12:49 PM
    Quote:
    7970M is definitely not the best for the price. It's a crippled card. It COULD be the best for the price *of all time* if it weren't crippled though. Can the Tom's Hardware guys test the utilization issues caused by Enduro?


    It is the best mobile graphics card regardless of price right now. That it has an issue such as this is very bad and should be fixed, but if someone wants the best, then they can get a laptop that can disable Enduro or doesn't support it at all. They shouldn't have to do this and that they do after al of this time is despicable, but that doesn't detract from the 7970M's capability when you work around the Enduro problem.
  • -1 Hide
    montage , September 18, 2012 12:50 PM
    blazorthonExcluding the apparent Enduro issue, Radeon 7970M>GTX 680M. The 680M is just a GTX 670 with the memory bandwidth cut almost in half (as well as a minor GPU clock frequency drop IIRC, but that's not very important). Even the GTX 660 and 660 Ti have a substantial memory bandwidth advantage. The 680M has a greater memory bandwidth bottle-neck than Llano and is undoubtedly absolute crap in comparison to the 7970M and possibly even older cards too when AA is used.


    You do realize that the Enduro issue cripples the 7970M in laptops wihtout option to turn Enduro off? Just a 670? JUST?! 670 gtx is a pretty powerful card if you have not noticed. The 7970M is based on a downclocked 7870M, which quite clearly loses to a 670 gtx.

    Gaming wise, the 680M is superior to the 7970M. It is more powerful, runs cooler, Overclocks better. Only downside is its ridiculous price (its 300€ more expensive). With the Enduro issues, even the 580M beats the 7970M at times. That is just not right.

    And this is coming from a owner of a Clevo P170EM with a 7970M.
  • 3 Hide
    montage , September 18, 2012 12:53 PM
    montageYou do realize that the Enduro issue cripples the 7970M in laptops wihtout option to turn Enduro off? Just a 670? JUST?! 670 gtx is a pretty powerful card if you have not noticed. The 7970M is based on a downclocked 7870M, which quite clearly loses to a 670 gtx. Gaming wise, the 680M is superior to the 7970M. It is more powerful, runs cooler, Overclocks better. Only downside is its ridiculous price (its 300€ more expensive). With the Enduro issues, even the 580M beats the 7970M at times. That is just not right.And this is coming from a owner of a Clevo P170EM with a 7970M.


    Meant that the 7970M is based on a downclocked 7870.
  • -1 Hide
    blazorthon , September 18, 2012 12:58 PM
    montageYou do realize that the Enduro issue cripples the 7970M in laptops wihtout option to turn Enduro off? Just a 670? JUST?! 670 gtx is a pretty powerful card if you have not noticed. The 7970M is based on a downclocked 7870M, which quite clearly loses to a 670 gtx. Gaming wise, the 680M is superior to the 7970M. It is more powerful, runs cooler, Overclocks better. Only downside is its ridiculous price (its 300€ more expensive). With the Enduro issues, even the 580M beats the 7970M at times. That is just not right.And this is coming from a owner of a Clevo P170EM with a 7970M.


    montageMeant that the 7970M is based on a downclocked 7870.


    Some laptops can disable Enduro and without it, the 7970M is far better than the 680M. A 670 is a good card, but the 680M performs nothing like it because of its huge memory bandwidth bottle-neck. Throw in some AA and the 680M comes to a halt in comparison. I'm not saying that Enduro isn't a problem, just that without it, the 680M wouldn't be able to beat the 7970M if you use some good AA.
  • 8 Hide
    ablearcher , September 18, 2012 12:58 PM
    I can't believe the fanboys voting down the comments of people who have actually used the card in question. As an owner of an NP9150 with a 7970m, I would not recommend this card to anyone. The 7970m simply does not get better frame rates on lower graphical settings. I see the card stuck at 50-60% GPU usage when a game is running at only 20-40fps. AMD has been utterly silent on the poor performance of this card for months. They've finally acknowledged that under-utilization of Enduro-enabled 7000m cards is an issue, but haven't promised that it can be fixed on a muxless laptop. Until we see driver support that gives us decent performance, I cannot recommend the 7970m, and neither should Tom's Hardware.
  • 2 Hide
    pinkfloydminnesota , September 18, 2012 12:59 PM
    I'd be curious to see how these compare to a 3570k / 7950 or so discrete graphics solution. Anytime I upgrade my home computer I consider getting a high end laptop for the space / hassle savings. As their performance improves, it makes ever more sense.
  • 0 Hide
    blazorthon , September 18, 2012 1:03 PM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/geforce-gtx-660-ti-memory-bandwidth-anti-aliasing,3283-13.html

    Imagine this except with the 680M that has like 20% lower memory bandwidth than even the 660 Ti and the 660.
  • 3 Hide
    montage , September 18, 2012 1:05 PM
    blazorthonSome laptops can disable Enduro and without it, the 7970M is far better than the 680M. A 670 is a good card, but the 680M performs nothing like it because of its huge memory bandwidth bottle-neck. Throw in some AA and the 680M comes to a halt in comparison.


    This review is based on a Clevo EM-series. All these laptops are affected by Enduro, and I couldn't really recommend anyone to buy one with a 7970M. The 680M memory runs at a much higher speed than the memory in 7970M. When overclocked, the 680M eats 7970M alive. Its based on a better card, it is better. Nvidia knows this and that is why they are charging this ridiculous amount of money for it.
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