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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    My Google-Fu was obviously weak. This is the only P520 + 5650 laptop around right now it seems, and we are working with AMD to get one. Acer likely will clock the 5650 at the full 550MHz as well, which would make it a lot more interesting.
  • silentim - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Hi, nice review. Glad to see AMD back to the game. Intel need competition these days.

    I m sorry for being off-topic here, but I can't find any anandtech official email. I'd like to ask for review for system76, one of few OEM other than Apple to ship consumer laptop other than windows, ubuntu in this case. I want to have references where I can buy laptop without m$ tax other than overpriced Apple.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    One of those should work. ;-)
  • Cal123 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Nice review btw, I thought it was objectively done. The only important thing I could think of to possibly add would be temp readings under load for cpu and gpu, to make sure the cooling system was up to snuff.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    I seriously considered getting one of these laptops about 2 weeks ago, until I realized it didn't have amd's version of turbo boost/core. One quick look at some starcraft cpu benchmarks made me realize I would get half the frame rate of the i7-720qm. I also wasn't sure if toshiba let you use amd's laptop drivers, which you say they don't. I got a gateway one instead for $200 more, but it has the intel quad core and you can use amd's drivers. No regrets. 50% slower frame rates just wasn't worth it.
  • Roland00 - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    AMD would be competive to Intel if it had turbo and powergating.

    For example the best 35w AMD processors that AMD currently has are these three models
    AMD Phenom II x4 n930 at 4x2.0 ghz
    AMD Phenom II x3 n830 at 3x2.1 ghz
    AMD Phenom II x2 n620 at 2x2.8 ghz

    Now compare that to intel i7 720qm which works as follows with turbo (note this is a 45w processor)
    1.6 ghz Quad Core no turbo
    1.73 ghz Quad Core with turbo
    2.40 ghz Dual Core with turbo
    2.80 ghz Single Core with turbo

    If AMD had turbo and power gating it would not be unreasonable that the n930 could act as a 2.0 ghz quad core and a 2.8 ghz dual core. Thus if we are comparing straight ghz amd would possess 25% more ghz as a quad core with no turbo, 16% more ghz as a quad core, and 16% more ghz as a dual core. Now comparing ghz from different architectures is foolish for they are not the same thing, that said intel i7 mobile has a higher ipc than the phenom II mobile (which is a variant of the Athlon IIx4 of Desktops). That said the higher ipc of intel vs the higher ghz of AMD would put them real close in final speed (intel may win the benchmarks, but ask a person to "feel the difference in speed" and they would be hard pressed to differentiate.)

    Sadly AMD has no turbo or powergating thus it won't be comparable. Rumors say llano will have these features, thus that is good news for AMD, but then AMD will be competing against mobile Sandybridge which will be 10-30% faster compared to Nehalem.
  • LaptopDoctor - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    I own and operate a laptop repair business and after reading months of comments in various articles where folks are trying to justify AMD's recent poor performance, I thought I would throw in my two cents. Over the past 2-3 years I observed (and fixed) a 12 to 1 ratio of AMD based failures to Intel...mostly because of over-heating and chipset failures (HP's DV series is a great example). Seems like the vendors are trying to make AMD products compete at the mid to higher levels in thermal packaging which can't hold up much past the limited 12 month warranty. Guess this is why you can't find a ThinkPad (T-Series) with an AMD solution inside it. Unfortunately the consumers purchasing the Toshibas and HPs in this price range are really the ultimate loosers. It would be interesting for this forum to take a look at longivity in addition to speed. A fast laptop that lasts 12.5 months is a bad investment regardless of how many frames per second it can do!!!
  • The Crying Man - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    Can you specify the most common AMD CPUs? I have an HP L2005CM with a Turion 64 that's still running after 4 years with the first 2 years seeing heavy use. Curious if my CPU is part of that or if it's more with the Turion Ultras that came out after.
  • LaptopDoctor - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    In most cases it is a HP, Compaq, or Toshiba with Turion 64 based system with Nvidia examples are HP DV2000,DV6000,DV9000,Compaq F500/700 series etc. But in general it is in the retail packaging versions commonly seen and sold at local retailers in the $450-800 price range. When you get inside them the quality, fit, finish - especially with the heatsink/fan and venting, point out obvious issues. Little foam pads to make up for poorly fitting heatsinks, etc. The really sad part is that if you had an unmarked Acxx or Asxx open next to a Tosxxx or Hxx (any model except their commercial machines), you would wonder what happened to American and Japanese quality. Sort of reminds you of when Honda and Toyota taught GM and Ford what quality meant. You can observe the same issues when you lay a ThinkPad or Sony heatsink/fan assembly down next to a Dell Inspiron/XPS counterpart. After the 12 month warranty is gone, you really find out that "you get what you paid for"!! I just finished taking a CQ62 apart to remove a piece of tape that was supposed to hold the wires away from the fan, instead it was acting like a mini noise maker when the fan ran....they used to route those wires in a channel so this would not it's scotch tape. Guess this site caters to "gamers" who are only concerned about how fast it will run Crysis for the next 6 months....but then again, high failure rates in the 12-20 month range is great for my business.
  • DanaG - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    "Nvidia chipset" -- remember nvidia's bumpgate fiasco?

    But yeah, it's always sucked that manufacturers include weak GPUS with AMD processors. It really reflects badly upon AMD.

    Also Toshiba fail for not offering DisplayPort. No DisplayPort means you can only use two displays at once.
    Anything with Evergreen and DisplayPort should allow three displays at once.

    DP->VGA adapters are a mere 25 bucks, and the single-link DP->DVI adapters should be 30, soon.

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