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

Update: Taking AMD To Task On Enduro

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

  • Did the test show any sign of 7970M utilization issue? It is a well known problem reported by many members from Notebookreview forum.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    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?
    Reply
  • sherlockwing
    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.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    BF3 results look fine to me :)
    Reply
  • EzioAs
    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
    Reply
  • 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..
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • Reynod
    Crash I like the new metrics.

    Makes good sense to me.



    Reply
  • montage
    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.
    Reply
  • columbosoftserve
    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.
    Reply