Graphics and Driver Shenanigans

We do have a few other items to address here before we move on to the performance numbers. First, there's the graphics configuration. The combination HD 4250/5650 is an awesome idea in practice, but Toshiba's drivers are at least four months old now (the driver date in the control panel is 4/26/2010). What's more, Toshiba doesn't participate (at least not yet—we can only hope this review will spur a change) in AMD's mobile driver program. Thankfully, we had some success in downloading the latest mobility drivers and getting them to install (see below), but then you're not running a supported configuration. ATI may also choose to close our workaround with a future release, so you're potentially stuck running the Toshiba-provided drivers, but for those that want our "hack"….

If you try to use the ATI mobility driver download utility, you'll get the above message saying your laptop isn't supported. Lucky for us, we have other ATI equipped laptops, so we were able to use those to download the Catalyst 10.8 drivers. After obtaining the drivers, initial attempts to install them resulted in a black screen and an apparently crashed computer. However, switching to the IGP first (via unplugging the laptop) allowed the 10.8 drivers to install without a hitch.

We had some concerns with the driver situation originally, but with the updated drivers on our A665D we discovered we had a different problem. Our A665D appears to have a flaky HD 5650 GPU that resulted in several of our games failing to run/render properly. This precipitated some email messages back and forth with AMD, where we learned we had first-production-run hardware (in other words, not quite 100% final). More delays ensued and eventually we ended up with a retail A660D in place of our faulty A665D. Outside of benchmarks that stress the hard drive, though, the two systems appear to perform identically—test result variance is well within the margin of error.

Speaking of graphics and drivers, AMD still uses hardware muxes controlled by software, similar to NVIDIA's Gen 2 switchable technology. The good news is that it works, but there are a few quirks. Toshiba doesn't provide an easy way to control the active GPU with the official drivers; instead, whenever you plug in (or unplug) your AC adapter, a message pops up stating that the graphics chip is going to switch and giving you a chance to accept/decline the switch. If you search in the Program Files directory under ATI Technology, you can find the CCC.exe file and run this, which allows you to access the full Catalyst Control Center and GPU switching functions, but we'd prefer this to be enabled by default rather than hidden away.

While the graphics switching setup is okay, but you still have the problem of blocking applications, which may cause headaches in a few situations,e.g. running Minesweeper will block switching and require you to exit the application first. The upside is that with AMD providing both the IGP and the dGPU, drivers don't need to go through any extra steps (something that happens when you use switchable graphics with Intel IGPs and AMD or NVIDIA dGPUs), so getting new drivers should be relatively easy. As we already mentioned, Toshiba isn't part of AMD's mobile driver program at present, but if you can get the drivers through other means (e.g. a friend with a laptop that has ATI graphics that isn't made by Panasonic, Sony, or Toshiba) you can install the drivers.

Finally, continuing with the GPU story, the HD 5650 in the A660D is clocked at 450MHz rather than 550MHz. For whatever reason, AMD allows manufacturers quite a bit of leeway on the 5650 clocks. The Acer 5740Ghad the same GPU clocked at 550MHz, and the 22% clock speed advantage will certainly show up in gaming. Really, this 450MHz part should be the "HD 5630", or some other name to differentiate it from the 550MHz part. There's a 650MHz part that otherwise has the same specs, and that one gets a bump to "HD 5730", so AMD is certainly aware of the difference 100MHz can make. Why Toshiba decided to drop the maximum GPU clock isn't clear, but a 550MHz GPU would have been better.

Now that we've got the overview out of the way, let's move on to the benchmarks and look at how the A660D stacks up.

Toshiba A660D-ST2G01 Inside and Out Toshiba A660D-ST2G01 General Performance
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Jarred, you are clearly a huge nerd. I'm obviously working with the right people.

    I'm pretty much drawing the same conclusions you are about this notebook. While I can't stand Toshiba's finishes, the real problem isn't Toshiba necessarily but that no one seems interested in producing a proper AMD notebook. The best you can do, I think, is custom-order one from HP (where at least you'll get an attractive build) or be prepared to make a lot of compromises.

    It leads one to conclude that AMD's poor notebook market share can't solely be attributed to them...if the manufacturers don't make and market compelling machines using the available hardware, what can AMD really do?
  • Goty - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Sue Intel? Oh, wait, they did that already.

    Should be interesting to see the designs that come out with Bobcat.
  • fabarati - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Haha, Jared really is a big nerd.

    Too bad that Toshibia gimped the GPU in this one, and that the CPU still can't keep up. The AMD situtation is a bit of a catch 22: AMD has a (fairly rightly deserved) rumour of bad performance/batterylife, so people aren't willing to spend money on AMD laptops. The manufacturers see this, so they aren't willing to invest money in laptops people won't buy. That leaves us with cheap AMD laptops, or compromised expensive ones, that people won't buy.
  • fabarati - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    "Computer, belay that order." Seriously, we need an edit button.

    I really miss the glory days of 16:10 as well. At least the manufacturers haven't gone further... yet. They might though. If they can get away with it, they'll probably go as far as 22:9, or at the very least 25:12 like in the Vaio P.

    Personally, I'd pay extra for Intels performance, but that's me.
  • anactoraaron - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    I think this is the thought process...

    Toshiba Assistant: "We made $XXXXXXX in profit for Intel notebooks last year and $XXX for AMD."
    Toshiba Manager: "I guess we need to make better margins (lesser cheaper and charge more) on those AND or AMD or whatever you said that isn't making much money"

    The result is us not getting a great well-rounded AMD notebook from any OEM (minus the custom build option mentioned). Shame really, and the 1366x768 on a 16 inch notebook is proof positive of that thought process. It isn't like if they build great AMD notebooks they wouldn't sell, it's just the ones they (the OEM's) make now aren't all that good - which is why they don't sell... and round and round we go...

    Seriously, put in a better screen res and better 6 cell (or take a page from ASUS and put in an 8 cell) and sell it for $699 and watch it fly off the shelves.
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    The real question is why would you evenwant to consider a Phenom II X4 N920 in a laptop in which cost $950 dollars when you can get a Core i7 720QM laptop that cost roughly around the same price that would eat the Phenom II X4 N920 for lunch????? Nevermind the Core i5 series or even the Core i3 series for that matter that can rival the Phenom II X4 N920 in performance and has bettery battery life on avg for a lot less. The Phenom II X4 N920 would be much better suited in the $600 dollar price range where the Core i3's are than in the $900 dollar price range it's in now.
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    You are mixing your model numbers up.

    The P920 is a 1.6 ghz AMD Quad Core with a 25w TDP
    The N930 is a 2.0 ghz AMD Quad Core with a 35w TDP

    The N930 is 25% faster and is a much better cpu if you don't mind the extra tdp (which is not necessary the same as battery life). Pretty much the N930 is competitive with intel i line of chips but the P920 is not competitive.
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Um not i'm not. the Toshiba Satellite A660D-ST2G01 cost $950 with the N920 cpu.
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Here is the direct link of the model on toshiba website

    Note the processor is a P920. Also read the first page of the review note Jared said the processor is the P920 at 1.6 Ghz. There is no such thing as a N920 processor from AMD, there is only a P920 and a N930 (which is 25% faster but has a 35w tdp instead of 25w)

    The price is 949 which no one disagrees with. The speed sucks compared to the intel which no one disagrees with. The N930 processor speed is comparable to the Core I series of intel processors.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    Given the A665D has an MSRP of $899 and sells at Newegg for $799, the real issue is the MSRP; I suspect the retail outlets will carry this notebook for a price closer to $850. It's still too much I think, but some will like the inclusion of ExpressCard/34 perhaps.

    The problem is that I figure there's only about $350 in the cost of a quad-core i7-720QM Intel chip (and that's being generous as OEMs probably get it for a lot less--wouldn't be surprised if they pay closer to half that much). But AMD's mobile parts aren't even remotely competitive with 720QM, so let's look at i5-520M. Intel pricing there is $225, and again OEM pricing has to be less than that.

    Motherboards, chipsets, chassis, power, LCD, HDD, etc. are pretty much the same whether you get Intel or AMD. If you put together reasonable costs on all of those, a notebook like the A660 series (Intel or AMD models) costs something like $450-$550 just in materials without a processor. So the bottom line is you're looking at trying to build a laptop where the most money you can easily cut off by switching from Intel to AMD is maybe $100, and possibly not even that. AMD notebook bill of materials comes to perhaps $650 in this case, while the Intel notebook might come to $750 (depending on build order discounts).

    If this notebook were priced at $699 as someone suggested above, it would be very close to losing money on each one produced. Though I suppose my math and estimates could be off, but R&D costs money too....

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