AMD takes the budget gaming market part 4: Support and improve your product after launch.

Posted: September 30, 2012 by ryanlecocq in Features, Technology

Despite the criticism of the press, AMD realized they were onto something when the sales of A8+HD6670 desktop builds and Dual Graphics laptops took off last year.  Internet message boards filled with new enthusiast groups finding new ways to eke further performance from their budget gaming beasts.  In the early days, only the few games optimized for this new setup got any kind of decent frames while everything else had terrible micro-stutter and frame drops.  So you could show off Battlefield 3, Deus Ex Human Revolution or Shogun II running fantastic on it, while not being able to run Rage at all.  Users created and modified all sorts of tools to overclock these parts, but the results were spotty at best.

Over a year later (2 since the first Brazos APUs released), AMD has closely monitored the results of these early adopters and improved their own drivers and software to deliver on the promise offered by the new technology.  Over the last few driver updates, AMD has fixed many of the initial problems inherent in Dual Graphics setups.

First of all, you now have a much greater degree of control over which GPU is used for what and when.  It is actually possible to set your games to use the more powerful GPU only unless there is an optimized crossfire profile detected.  So no more opening and closing the CCC every time you launch a game.  There are also different modes for optimizing the crossfire setup depending on your configuration.  If you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can pretty easily set your Dual Graphics setup to perform exactly how you want it to all the time and never touch it again.  Whew, finally.

CPU overclocking has also become feasible for even the most basic user.  The A-series APUs were originally marketed as being able to Turbo only one core at a time.  Users almost immediately found ways to set all of the cores with programs like K10Stat.  Now that people have been testing these setups for months, AMD has seen that this can be done safely and changed the newer drivers.  I have confirmed that with the newest AMD chipset drivers, all of your cores will frequently turbo at once when using demanding applications.  I still use my own settings to get the same speeds undervolted, to save power and heat, but I’m glad to see that anyone buying an AMD laptop can get similar performance out of the box.

In addition to just running more cores faster, AMD has also added Overdrive support for nearly all of the APUs through the CCC.  Now anyone who can manage to install their drivers can overclock their CPU.  Many of the onboard GPUs still require either BIOS access or third party apps to overclock, but the performance boost in that is still marginal anyway.  Overall the full power of the Llano, Brazos and Trinity platforms has been made available to the layman.  The $300-500 gaming computer is now a reality for any college student, teenager or person of low income (so, most of us).

In short, AMD’s dark horse is earning a little cred.   Most of the criticisms leveled at the early implementation are no longer valid.  Recently I re-acquired my K53TA laptop and updated myself on all of it’s new tricks.  I was shocked when I booted up Batman Arkham City and ran it perfectly smooth at high settings with the default AMD Dual Graphics profile.  There was almost nonexistent micro-stutter and really, really solid frames (50-60) while looking fantastic.  This laptop isn’t even one of the more powerful Dual Graphics setups, totally a midrange budget rig that is now over a year old.   I then had similar luck with everything but Dark Souls.  Dark Souls hates PCs and doesn’t even run as well as it should on my desktop.

Guild Wars 2 however, ran much better than expected.  I had heard that people were getting terrible framerates with ATi cards and especially Dual Graphics.  With the newly released driver profile, I was able to get solid frames at surprisingly high settings with no visible stuttering.  It didn’t seem to matter whether the games were DirectX 9,10 or 11 based, they all ran as well as they could at all times.  If the game didn’t support Dual Graphics, the drivers would automatically switch to the stronger card.

Anyone who bought an inexpensive AMD gaming solution in the last year is probably pretty happy right now that Christmas came late.  Better late than never and for many this is the realization of hopes that were on the verge of death at this point.  AMD has been steadily winning me over for the last year or so by keeping their promises and empowering the consumer with more for their money.  Especially with the somewhat disappointing release of Ivy Bridge vs. the surprisingly not-crappy launch of Trinity, AMD has an opportunity to establish a firm stranglehold on the low-cost, low-power and highly portable gaming and entertainment market.

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