Switchable Graphics Fiasco – The HP/AMD Experience

So, as I mentioned before, I bought a laptop.

Now I’ll tell you why I returned it for a full refund.

Executive summary: HP (I bought a dv6tqe-6100 edition) and AMD (it had an ATI Radeon HD 6770M graphics card) implemented switchable graphics system so that the laptop would use the Intel Core i7 CPU internal graphics processing unit(the Intel HD 3000, which is pretty good for daily usage) on some applications, while for others will invoke the high performance Radeon card.

The result is that the graphics performance demanding applications like the Microsoft Flight Simulator X, the free flight simulator FlightGear, and any OpenGL based program (like the Adobe Photoshop) wouldn’t run on the powerful Radeon GPU, but rather the “standard” built-in Intel GPU. Since I specifically bought this configuration (the very powerful Radeon GPU, with full HD screen, etc) to be able to run the games I like (the flight simulators I mentioned in particular), the problem rendered the additional investment useless – the shiny pretty powerful GPU doesn’t do anything for me.

And if you think I’m too sensitive on the issue – think again. OpenGL graphics engine is very common amongst applications that do a lot of graphics, and many well-known applications are using this system. Not supporting it for the automatic switchable graphics mechanism is a major flaw, in my humble opinion.

Now the details.

Those who are familiar with the new family of Intel processors, the “Sandy Bridge” series, know that they include Intel graphics processing unit (GPU) in them. This means that manufacturers no longer need to put a GPU on the motherboard or as a separate card, unless really needed. Most Sandy Bridge laptops that are not intended for games, don’t have any other graphics card except for the built in into the CPU.

However, those who want to run games on their systems may not be satisfied with the built in GPU, and may want to put a dedicated graphics card (which usually comes with dedicated fast memory as well, as opposed to the built in that uses shared memory).

But, the additional card requires additional power, and a lot of it, which means that the battery life of the laptop will be shortened greatly.

Intel and the manufacturers came up with a solution: Switchable Graphics (as it is called when used with ATI cards, or Optimus when used with Nvidia cards).

The idea is to make the laptop use the powerful yet demanding GPU only when it’s needed, while all the rest of the time use the built in GPU that comes with the Sandy Bridge processor.

The idea is fantastic. And in fact it worked great with the early models where the user could manually chose to use the ATI/NVIDIA GPU or the Intel GPU, depending on what the user wanted to do.

Then it broke. Why? Because the manufacturers decided to implement automatic switchable graphics. That is, let the video driver decide automatically if the program should be using the powerful additional GPU, or the standard built in one.

That works for some programs great, and if you only use these programs – you’re fine, good to go with even better battery life.

But for specific programs, in particular programs that use OpenGL (such as the FlightGear I mentioned before, or Adobe Photoshop, for example), the switch doesn’t occur, and the program runs on the less efficient Intel GPU.

I didn’t know about this when I bough the laptop, partly because of poor research on my behalf, and greatly because of HP’s unwillingness to admit the problem. When I ordered the laptop it was just after HP switched from dv6tqe-6000 series (with the terrific manual switchable graphics) to the dv6tqe-6100 series (with the problematic automatic one). There were no users yet to report the problem on line, and the HP decided not to disclose it themselves (or maybe their testing process is so horrible that they didn’t discover it at all, I wouldn’t  be surprised).

However, now the problem is evident and well-discussed even on the HP own site. But, the companies involved (neither HP nor AMD) would not admit the problem and commit on a time frame for the solution.

This is a perfect example of a marketing fiasco. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how you handle the mistakes once discovered, that matters to the customers. Had HP admitted the problem and promised the fix within half a year (or whatever else reasonable time frame) – I’d be happy. But ignoring the problem even when there are so many reports about it, and refusing to show any willingness to even start looking for a solution shows to me that the company is not to be trusted.

The only good thing I can tell about HP at this point is their awesome return policy. At least that one works. Well, hopefully, still haven’t gotten the refund.

Be careful when you shop,

Your Little Advisor.

P.S.:

In this post I didn’t talk about why it took me almost a month to get a working laptop (I placed my order at the end of May, and I received my laptop just a couple of days ago).

I didn’t talk about the long production delay, horrible customer update system, you can read about that here.

I also didn’t talk about the poor packaging which contributed to damaging my laptop when something fell on it while being handled by FedEx and damage it. Had they put air bubbles, as everyone else does, the first laptop would arrive without any damage.

I also didn’t mention the annoying dent between the power button and the speakers on the laptop, which requires shipping the laptop back for (hopefully free, under warranty) repair. Brand new product just out of the box shouldn’t have such problems.

These are things that contributed to my dissatisfaction and unwillingness to keep the HP machine. If it was just the graphics – maybe, just maybe, I would keep it hoping that they’ll solve the issue. But as a whole, my shopping experience with HP was a total disaster. And not for the first time.

PPS: There’s an update to this story here.


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7 Responses to Switchable Graphics Fiasco – The HP/AMD Experience

  1. Biolib says:

    When I picked up my dv7t the fedex guy dropped the box too. I opened it there and couldn’t find exterior damage – it’s been running fine (except for the OpenGL issue) otherwise.

    I’m keeping mine since I will only occasionally use OpenGL and can’t find any comparable laptops for a similar price. Here’s hoping HP starts listening to their customers and fixes it.

  2. Pingback: Should we expect customer support for a free service? - The Little Advisor

  3. n00bdud3 says:

    I bought a dv7 from Best Buy recently, and they also didn’t really know about the problem. For what I use it for most of the time, the laptop is amazing, but on the few times I want to play Minecraft on the go, it barely runs. Hopefully HP will release the fix that they are “working on” soon, so I can enjoy everything about my laptop.
    Here’s HPs views: http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Notebook-Display-and-Video/Official-HP-statement-on-Switchable-Graphics-and-Open-GL/td-p/766285

  4. Ed says:

    Check the website HP just fixed the problem on August 1, 2011.
    There is a BIOS update that now allows you to go into fixed mode so it will let you run OpenGL in High performance
    http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Notebook-Display-and-Video/Official-HP-statement-on-Switchable-Graphics-and-Open-GL/td-p/766285

  5. Pingback: The switchable graphics fiasco – update about the HP/AMD failure. - The Little Advisor

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  7. Shamial says:

    I bought the dv6tqe for college. They took a long time to ship it. I liked its looks and build quality. It had 6GB RAM. The processor’s (i7 2720QM) speed was great. I was thrilled about having the 2GB ATI 6770 DDR5 graphics card. I do not really care for battery life or anything so I wanted all programs to run on the ATI instead of switching. Then I realized that the system configurations were not showing the graphics card. So I tried CPU-Z, GPU-Z none of which were showing the ATI card or the 2GB memory of the card. I ran a game on DirectX and OpenGL. On OpenGL there was no graphics, just shadows. On DirectX it ran slower than my desktop that has no graphics card. So I chatted with customer service to resolve the program. They were not helpful at all. One of them told me to do something with the BIOS, he did not know that HP locks the BIOS. When I told another guy that it was only showing the intel card with 786MB, he tried to convince me that the RAM came in 2 sticks– 4 and 2GB. I was annoyed by this lack of knowledge and found many other customers who had the same problem. One of the guy who monitors the forums said that OpenGL programs won’t run on this card. So the next day I started the return process.

    Then I got a MSI which had some issues (similar). Now I have a Lenovo with Nvidia and it works perfectly.

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