GCN HD 7000M: Key Features and Technologies

With the chips themselves out of the way, let’s discuss some of the other features. The three key items AMD mentions in the above slide are GCN, AMD Enduro Technology, and AMD App Acceleration. The first we’ve already covered, and there’s not much new to say with regards to AMD’s App Acceleration—there are apparently 200+ GPU-accelerated applications. The second item sounds far more interesting for the mobile world, though, so let’s dig a little deeper into Enduro and AMD’s power technologies in general. The following gallery contains all the pertinent slides for this discussion.

Like the desktop Southern Islands parts, all of the higher-end mobile variants will have power gating and ZeroCore technology. That means that idle power draw should be a step down from where we’ve seen it on previous mobile GPUs, and for CrossFire configurations it means that the secondary GPU can be completely shut down when it’s not in use. As for Enduro, AMD informed us that this is the latest iteration of their dynamic switchable graphics technology. We asked for additional details, but AMD didn’t really have anything more to add to the discussion so it could be that Enduro functions exactly like dynamic switchable graphics on the previous generation 6000M parts. And despite the above slide showing an AMD APU and GPU, Enduro will also work with Intel CPUs like Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge.

There are two problems that AMD didn’t really have an answer for in our conversation: first, the user interface for dynamic switchable graphics was pretty weak the last time we looked at it. We’re not sure if it’s any better six months later, but let’s hope so. The second is the real concern: until we can get AMD driver updates separate from Intel driver updates, it’s our opinion that Enduro won’t be particularly useful on Intel gaming platforms. With HD 7970M being such a potent chip, it would certainly be CPU-limited on AMD’s Llano APU, and unless Trinity really manages to improve on Bulldozer performance, it will likely also pose a CPU bottleneck for HD 7970M (never mind CrossFire configurations). So, once again we informed AMD that we really need an answer to the driver updates dilemma for switchable graphics laptops, and they need to get laptop OEMs (e.g. Sony and HP) to allow users to download AMD reference drivers.

Of course, if ZeroCore technology and power gating works well enough, all this discussion of switchable graphics may be moot: imagine a laptop with a discrete GPU that idles at the same power requirements as an IGP; why would you even want switchable graphics if you don’t need it to save power? We’ll have to wait for hardware to see how 7700M and above fare in terms of idle and low load power draw, but we could end up pleasantly surprised. I’ve stated in the past that the holy grail for laptop GPUs at this point is to use as little power as IGPs when there’s nothing complex happening, and ZeroCore and power gating could actually deliver on that goal.

One final feature that was mostly glossed over in the slides is VCE support—AMD’s Video Codec Engine that we have yet to see demonstrated. It’s still present on these mobile parts, and on paper VCE is a competitor to Intel’s Quick Sync technology. Originally discussed back in December when AMD launched HD 7970, we thought we’d see some software make use of the feature by this point. I even went so far as to flat out ask AMD if the VCE hardware is broken in Southern Islands, as it’s been over four months now. Their response: “VCE is anything BUT broken – we’ll have lots more on it shortly - Stay tuned.” And that we will, as I’d love to see AMD offer a more flexible alternative to Quick Sync.

One final power-related technology making its first appearance on the mobile AMD chips is PowerTune. In the past, GPUs were designed with very specific TDP targets, and clock speeds had to be selected so that power (and heat) stayed within the allotted range. With so-called “power viruses” like OCCT and Furmark, users started encountering issues with GPUs exceeding those limits, and the results ranged from crashing to even failed hardware. NVIDIA and AMD both responded initially with attempts to detect such applications and adjust clocks accordingly, but that’s a crude approach and it won’t always work with newer programs. PowerTune is a hardware solution to the problem, with intelligent hardware in the chips that determines the current load and how stressful an application is—so it’s not just a thermal diode. PowerTune looks at environmental factors such as temperature along with internal logic to determine what the workload is and set clocks appropriately. The end result is that performance can be maximized for applications that aren’t as strenuous, allowing performance improvements of up to 10% in some cases, all without exceeding the TDP. This is actually a good thing, especially for laptops and notebooks, and ever since AMD first introduced PowerTune in the HD 6970 I’ve been waiting for it to arrive in mobile chips.

There’s not much else to say at this point, other than mobile GCN laptops look promising. The first announced notebook with a GCN GPU is Alienware’s M17x, which can now be configured with the new HD 7970M starting at $1900. We’re working to get the revised M17x in for review so we can see for ourselves just how potent HD 7970M is.

AMD Launches Radeon Mobility 7700M, 7800M, and 7900M GPUs
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  • Tujan - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Notebook equipment built into a desktop,or used by the desktop. So this really tossed me here:

    "Enduro will also work with Intel CPUs like Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge."

    ..so they must be PCIe components . Only marketed for the portable notebooks . Right , or no .
  • Meaker10 - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    The highend cards will be MXM modules.
  • André - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    I still think it is rather annoying how the mobile graphic line is upping the same GPUs to a higher naming convention.

    Why not just call a shovel what it is, a shovel. Make the differentiation about the letter M instead.

    Desktop Pitcairn Radeon HD 7800 series, mobile Pitcairn Radeon HD 7800M series.
    Desktop Cape Verde Radeon HD 7700 series, mobile Cape Verde Radeon HD 7700M series.
    And so on.

    Much easier on consumers and it feels a bit more honest.
  • bennyg - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Honesty died when invented numbers being used as names became acceptable.

    And sales increased.

    I don't know how the consumer has a clue what they're buying. Most reviewers (other than AT of course) don't seem to either.

    If I ran the world crap like this would fall under the scope of "Misleading and deceptive conduct" for the purposes of trade practices law.
  • mczak - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Hopefully ZeroCore will help amd to allow their drivers to be installed without the "help" of the notebook vendors. If the power used in this state is really low enough (it is allegedly sub-1W but it should probably be closer to 0W rather than 1W if it's used in this way) they might not need any of the acpi power switching methods to switch the discrete chip on and off, which means the driver should no longer have such platform dependencies.
  • Aloonatic - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    What really makes laptop gamers feel like second class citizens is waiting for manufacturers to release drivers.

    I'll admit, It's put me off buying a laptop for any sort of game playing, as it's just a ridiculously irritating state of affairs. Have AMD pulled their fingers out on this issue, or do manufacturers still have their foot on our throat?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Right now, if you want regular driver updates on a notebook you have two viable options:

    1) Get a laptop with a discrete GPU and no switchable graphics. It doesn't matter if it's an AMD or an NVIDIA GPU; you should get driver updates. Note however that some OEMs aren't on board with AMD's mobile reference driver program (Sony for sure, maybe HP?), so shop accordingly.

    2) Get a laptop with NVIDIA's Optimus Technology. You'll get their regular driver updates and you can install Intel's latest drivers as well -- the two are independent of each other.
  • zcat - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Does NVidia have anything yet (for the desktop; not mobile) that can compete with AMD's 7000 series in terms of max performance VS idle wattage under 10Watts, since that what the system will be doing most of the time anyway?

    I'd love to go with NVidia in my next mini-ITX system to get VDPAU h/w acceleration that just works in Linux, but AMD's 77XX idling at only 5W is a huge draw.

    (And on a related note: Why do AMD's Radeon wikipedia articles all list idle TDP, but none of NVidia's?)
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    "Idle TDP" doesn't really mean anything, since TDP is "Thermal Design Power", or in other words, how much the cooling system has to be able to safely dissipate. "Idle Power Draw" would be the more appropriate terms, and it's simply a choice not to publish idle power figures. You'll note that AMD and Intel don't publish idle power draw for their CPUs/APUs either, so we generally have to infer how much power they use through measurements -- measurements that include the rest of the system hardware to varying degrees.

    As for NVIDIA competing with AMD for high performance/low power, Kepler GK104 (GTX 680) is clearly a major step forward compared to Fermi and GTX 580. We know GK107 is already out for laptops, and GK106 I believe is coming at some point (along with GK110 for the ultra high-end probably in six months or so). I'm guessing the GK106/GK107 parts will be quite competitive with AMD's similar parts.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    There's a difference between "Jarred doesn't like" and "Jarred isn't kowtowing to". Just because I'm not in love with all things AMD doesn't mean I dislike them. I just wish their CPUs were more compelling, because right now, particularly on laptops, all they're doing is improving IGP performance while CPU performance is stagnating. I get the whole "CPU isn't everything" argument, but if someone really cares about graphics performance, they'll use a discrete GPU that's many times faster than the fastest IGP. Which leaves us with a CPU that's less than half what Intel offers.

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