Author Topic: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop  (Read 10046 times)

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ljbade

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My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« on: September 03, 2011, 01:58:56 AM »
I just replaced my old Lenovo with a new laptop from HP that was only recently released here.

It is  a HP Pavilion DV6-6102AX (might have a different model number in other countries) and the specs can be found here: http://www.harveynorman.com.au/product/1256978856446/hp-pavilion-dv-ax-laptop.

Interestingly the HP website has not yet been updated to include my model.

So far I like this laptop as it is fast with games without the weight, heat, and noise issues high end gaming laptops have.

It has one of AMD's new APU fusion processors: AMD A8-3530MX APU with Radeon(tm) HD Graphics
This APU contains four improved Phenom II/Stars architecture (codename Llano/BeaverCreek) cores running at 1.9GHz with can boost to 2.6GHz with Turbo Core. This is AMD's fastest mobile APU but is still a lot slower than the desktop A8 which can run up to 3GHz (but obviously uses more power and heat). More info http://www.notebookcheck.net/AMD-A-Series-A8-3530MX-Notebook-Processor.55760.0.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMD_Fusion#Current_platforms. Unfortunately the low clock speed and old K10 architecture mean the newer laptop Intel i5 processors are faster (but only come with Intel graphics).

Since DDR3 RAM prices are very cheap at the moment (and industry insiders are saying oversupply will cause RAM to prices to hit rock bottom by the end of the year) HP but 8GB!!! of DDR3-10700 (667MHz) of RAM in this laptop. That is twice the amount of RAM as my desktop gaming PC!

Now on the graphics side this latop packs two GPUs.

The first GPU is the one in the A8 APU which is a Radeon HD 6620G. This is a Radeon 6800/Barts/VLIW5 architecture GPU with the newer UVD3 MPEG decoder. It has 400 unified shader cores running at 444MHz core clock. It supports all OpenGL 4.2/Direct3D 11/OpenCL 1.1 features.

On the memory side it shares the DDR3 memory controller (and L3 cache?) with the CPU so it uses the same 667MHz DDR3 RAM. AMD allocate only 512MB of dedicated device RAM of my 8GB to the GPU (would love to change this to 1GB). One nice thing about this APU is that OpenCL (and I presume the 3D driver too) can use pinned memory with zero copy overhead to GPU as GPU can directly address the RAM allocated by a CPU program. Which should make OpenCL apps more efficient and allow games to load a lot faster.

According to various benchmarks this GPU has the best performance of an integrated laptop graphics chip available (Intel graphics is so far behind its funny) and can run most games on low graphics settings with reasonable performance.

But HP realised that 1 GPU was not enough for people with serious 3D workloads (like gamers and programmers) so they chucked in the AMD Radeon HD 6750M mobile GPU too. This is based on the same 6800 architecture as the APU so has the same features. This chip has  480 unified shader cores running at 600MHz core clock speed. The performance is similar to a desktop Radeon HD 6570 (you gotta love AMD/NVIDIA renaming there mobile parts with higher desktop part numbers) see http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-6570-radeon-hd-6670-turks,2925.html for rough performance. More info http://www.notebookcheck.net/AMD-Radeon-HD-6750M.43958.0.html.

This is GPU is the second fastest GPU HP could have picked that still supports Crossfire with the APU. The Radeon HD 6770M has s higher clock speed 725MHz. I wish HP had chosen this one! Perhaps I can overclock my chip to that. It also uses 1600MHz RAM.

On the memory side HP have coupled the chip with 1GB of GDDR5 dedicated graphics RAM running at 900MHz. This is quite a lot of RAM for a laptop (actually the same as my desktop 5850) so every game should be able to load fine even with high AA (though performance wise that might not be a good choice). Definitely good for OpenCL apps that need lots of RAM.

Now by having a APU and a GPU this latop falls under AMD's A8 VISION brand with Quad Core and Radeon Dual Graphics. This basically means the GPUs are Crossfired together to roughly double the performance (400 * 400MHz + 480 * 600MHz). When crossfire is enabled the GPU is officially called a Radeon HD 6755G2 Dual Graphics (AMD's markeitng department must be nearly out of model numbers in the 6xxx range! considering each unique APU and GPU combination has a different 6xxxG2 number).

The Crossfire seems to work OK for all recent games (I am running Catalyst 11.8 driver with 11.8 CAP2 catalyst profile). But Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a few bugs - the steam overlay flickers, and the shadows/SSAO effect flickers when you get close to walls/doors. But Google search shows this is a common issue with this game and Crossfire but I hope 11.9 will fix it. Crossfire is also the reason I wish the APU had 1GB of graphics memory as I'm pretty sure that Crossfire exposes the smallest GPU RAM as the maximum for textures (as you need a copy of the same texture data in both GPUs for alternate frame rendering). I am not sure how to verify the RAM limits.

The other nice thing about Dual Graphic is that it supports AMD's Switchable Graphics which is AMD's version of NVIDIA's Optimus. What this means is than when you are using desktop applications or low power 3D programs/2D accelerated games is that the drivers will completely disconnect and power off the dedicated GPU to reduce power consumption, heat, noise and battery life. When you run a game or 3D program for the first time the AMD Catalyst driver will pop up and ask if you want High Performance or Low Power config for this program. The driver remembers the setting will not ask again. The control panel can be used to change this very easily, or you can manually switch between High Performance or Low Power system wide (for benchmarking). High Performance enabled both GPUs in Crossfire while Low Power only uses the APU. Most older games and programs are preconfigured by AMD with correct default setting in the driver.

The transition is seamless between the two modes but I notice that it takes a few seconds for the driver to power up the second GPU after a High Performance program is started. Compared to NVIDIA Optimus AMD is far superior. AMD only needs one driver for both GPUs so you don't have the messy Intel/NVIDIA graphics driver update issues. Also both GPUs are compatible architecture wise so the driver doesn't need to play tricks to mask the fact that Intel and NVIDIA have different Direct3D and OpenGL feature sets. The performance will also be a lot higher as AMD can Crossfire the GPUs while NVIDIA can't. Also AMD has superior memory interface between the two GPUs to make sharing the front buffer across the two GPUs faster and use less power (NVIDIA have to copy the front buffer each frame from NVIDIA GPU RAM to system RAM so the Intel GPU controller can copy it to the display controller). The other bonus is that low power mode still uses a real GPU and has much better performance than low power on NVIDIA Optimus which relies on painfully slow Intel integrated graphics.

Performance wise I am able to run all the games I tested it on at native resolution (1366x768) with medium to high settings and get a playable 30-60FPS (depending on the game). Antialiasing does not seem to hurt the performance much, but anisotropic filtering can have a big impact.

My favorite game Deus Ex is not too demanding so I can run with all settings on maximum and still get 30FPS. dropping settings to medium gets me 50FPS.

The one problem I have noticed is that most games are CPU bound by the low 1.9GHz CPU clock speed as you can change graphics from low to high in a lot of games without affecting framerate very much. Deus Ex will not go above 50FPS in outdoor scenes even with everything low and low resolution. I think AMD could have put a better clock speed like 2.7-3GHz for gaming when the Switchable Graphics is in High Performance mode. I have yet to see Turbo Boost work yet either (and I found a forum post complaining about this too on another HP laptop) so I hope it is not a BIOS issue as this could make gaming a lot better if it works.

AMD provide a cool utility program called AMD System Monitor that shows realtime, graph, and log file of the CPU and GPU % usage, and clock speeds, as well as RAM usage and how much of APU GPU vs CPU resources are being used.

Other features of this laptop:
The case is very sturdy with a hard metal screen cover. It uses magnets so it doesn't have a annoying screen lock clip. It has a cool Apple like glowing white LED HP logo embedded in the top too. It is very bright and I wish I could turn it off at night time when I leave my laptop running. All the other LEDs on this laptop are also very bright. The weight is very good too reasonable light.

The battery charger is a very large 120W model so recharges the batteries very quick even when laptop is turned on. The battery life is very good for desktop use, about 5.5 hrs. Have not measured gaming battery life though.

The fan is very quiet on this laptop and can detect if you laptop is in you lap or on a table and change fan profiles automatically between balanced, quiet, or cool (you can assign the profile in HP's utility). Fan does get rather loud in a game which is to be expected with 2 GPUs and 4 cores running at full clock speeds but the speakers are loud enough to overcome this issue.

The keyboard is well laid out with full separate numpad. The arrows keys are a bit weird as the up/down arrows are squeezed into one key space (2 1/2 keys). The keys have a large gap around them to prevent dust and crumbs getting stuck beside keys and makes it a lot easier to clean. The function keys have a BIOS setting which swaps the F1-12 for the function key so you don't need to hold Fn button to change volume etc. Holding Fn button enables the F1-12 keys, but you can change the BIOS to make it work the traditional way.

The LCD is 1366x768 which normal for 15.6" screen. The LCD quality is good but some colours (like blue) produce a noticeable moire pattern at a normal viewing distance which is a bit annoying but OK after a while.

The speakers are very good for laptop speaker, Altec Lansing speakers with HP's & Dr Dre's Beats Audio branded drivers which make music sound a lot better. They are also very loud of maximum volume.

It also comes with a Bluray reader (and DVD burner) which allows you to watch HD movies (though not quite in full HD due to LCD resolution) without using much battery life thanks to AMD's UVD3 decoder. The AMD drivers have the best quality decoder I have ever seen thanks the the large amount of quality options you can tweak some of which enable OpenCL post processing filters. Youtube/Flash video also uses the UVD3 to reduce battery drain and heat too. Very low CPU load playing a Bluray.

The mouse trackpad is also very nice and large, can do multi touch for zooming and scrolling and has a swtich to diable trackpad when you are typing or using external mouse. It has a very bright white LED border which is turned on and off with Fn + Space. The LED turns faint orange when trackpad it off.

It also has a decent fingerprint reader, WiFi n, and Bluetooth 3.

Output wise you get VGA + HDMI (not sure if this can be used with Eyefinity but I suspect you can). 2x USB 3.0!!! (unfortunately I dont have any USB 3 devices to test it with) and 2x USB 2.0. 1 GB/s Ethernet. 1 microphone input, and 2!!! headphone outputs (so you and a mate can listen to same music), or maybe 4.0 surround sound (untested).

I picked this up for NZ$1800 which is a real steal from Norman Ross compared to the Intel based laptops which have lower performance for same price. An NVIDIA GPU + Intel i5 costs around NZ$2300 to 2600. In New Zealand Norman Ross and Harvey Norman are the only two shops allowed to sell AMD APU based computers (I assume other countries may have similar deals with AMD). As such this laptop does not show up at any online retailers in NZ. Harvey Norman's price for this laptop is NZ$2000 (which is a rip off).

The only other manufacturer of APU laptops so far is Toshiba (I think HP and Toshiba got an exclusive launch deal with AMD). But the Toshiba has a worse case design (all plastic), worse keyboard, and a slower GPU. And what's worse is that the Toshiba was NZ$100 more than the HP.

The other cool thing is than AMD are giving away free Steam copies of Dirt 3 with all of their products (CPUs, GPUs, and APUs) or computers that are prebuilt with their chips (such as this laptop). So that also adds to the value as Dirt 3 is NZ$90 in shops. Dirt 3 is an awesome game, even better than Dirt 2 which was already awesome. In fact I got Dirt 2 thanks to AMD with my 5850 in 2009, so now I can't wait till AMD give me a free copy of Dirt 4!

Anyway I hope you find my review useful and I recommend this laptop to anyone who wants an AMD APU based system with reasonable 3D performance.


Note to JeGX:
A lot of GPU utility programs seem to not work correctly with switchable graphics.
GPU-Z fails to get past the splash screen.
GPU Caps viewer does not list the codenames, shader core count and GPU RAM correctly.
But GPU Caps Viewer and MSI Kombuster correctly read the core frequency, RAM frequency, GPU temperature and fan speed.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 12:26:00 PM by ljbade »

Stefan

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2011, 02:38:20 PM »
Afaik missing infos in GPUCapsViewer (or GPU-Z) rely on a database in combination with your device id.
The other values are exposed by sensors.

Thanks to APU you can get the new Catalyst drivers 1 week earlier than desktop users in future from here (the product list there is incomplete btw).

ljbade

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2011, 10:50:23 AM »
Thanks to the driver link. I wondered why the mobility Catalyst refused to update the driver (it only updated the Catalyst control panel).

So I guess there are 3 Catalysts:
Desktop
Mobility
Embedded

JeGX

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2011, 08:05:03 AM »
ljbade, could post screenshots of GPU Caps Viewer (first tab, OpenGL and OpenCL tabs)?

ljbade

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2011, 12:38:07 AM »
Sure I have taken screen shots of all the tabs. Two GPU screenshots for the APU and GPU, and three OpenCL screenshots for the APU's GPU, the GPU, and the CPU.

I notice that the tools tab only shows the 'available' system RAM and not the physical system RAM. The APU uses 512MB of my system RAM for the GPU.

Here are all the screenshots: http://imgur.com/a/REZaD/all

EDIT:
Just noticed that by default FurMark seems to use the slower APU GPU rather than the mobile GPU by default if Crossfire profile is not configured. Is it possible to tell FurMark which GPU to use?

It only seems to affect OpenGL as the D3D modes of MSI Kombuster automatically use both GPUs.

EDIT 2:
The function needed to return the total physical memory is GetPhysicallyInstalledSystemMemory instead of GlobalMemoryStatusEx.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2011, 01:02:08 AM by ljbade »

JeGX

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2011, 09:00:07 AM »
Thanks for the screenshots. And for the GetPhysicallyInstalledSystemMemory function. Will use it!

Yep I received this feedback: on systems like yours, only Kombustor with D3D render-paths can correctly use the right GPU.

jaydentyler25

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Re: My new HP AMD Fusion laptop
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2012, 01:51:38 PM »
As a consequence of the driver hyperlink. I questioned the reason why the mobility Catalyst refused to update the driver (it exclusively up-to-date the Catalyst control panel).