Updating an Alienware laptop with switchable AMD graphics

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The Problem

Dell won’t provide updated graphics drivers, and you can’t upgrade to Windows 8


I tried upgrading my Alienware laptop to Windows 8.1 recently, and I had a very bad time. My machine is a m17x R3 with AMD switchable graphics. The problem begins with the fact that laptops with AMD switchable graphics require a special display driver package from the manufacturer (in this case, Alienware/Dell). You cannot use drivers direct from AMD because switchable graphics laptops are “special.” AMD’s own drivers will not know how to handle the Intel+AMD system in your laptop, hence why you need your OEM to create the driver package tailored to your setup. The OEM in this case is Dell. Dell completely stops supporting your laptop with graphics drivers the day you purchase it from them. This is terrible, because as most gamers know, new display drivers provide optimizations that make your games and applications run better. Most people with a dedicated AMD or Nvidia card regularly update their graphics drivers for these benefits. But if you purchase a $3,500 Alienware, which is supposed to be the ultimate gaming machine, you will be stuck with drivers from before the manufacturing date of your laptop. In my case, that’s 2011. Those are some very old drivers. Needless to say, Dell is not going to provide any drivers for Windows 8 either. 

When you purchase a $3,500 Alienware, you’re stuck with drivers from before the manufacturing date of your laptop

When I tried installing the existing drivers into my Windows 8 upgrade, I ended up with a very unstable system. Switching between AMD and Intel graphics would result in a blank screen, and I’d be forced to hard-reboot each time. Sleep and hibernate didn’t work–again getting a blank screen every time I woke the machine. Brightness controls didn’t work. And multi monitor was finicky, cutting off the external monitor frequently. One option I tried extensively was these third-party Leschcat drivers. Leshcat is a developer who has made it his mission to help everyone with AMD switchable graphics to have the latest AMD drivers by creating his own driver packages. Apparently he’s been doing this for years, releasing new packages with every new AMD driver release. These drivers apparently work well for many people. They just couldn’t work for me without still having many of the aforementioned problems. After struggling through many, many different setups, and then giving up and reverting back to Windows 7, I eventually stumbled onto the solution. I reinstalled Windows 8.1 and now I have a perfectly working machine :)

The Solution

The solution requires a sacrifice: you have to give up the ability to switch to Intel graphics. I’ve personally come to terms with that. Running on battery while on AMD graphics doesn’t actually have the severe impact one would imagine. My machine actually lasts for more than a couple hours on battery while on AMD. So, accepting this, you can go ahead and start. Caveat: This solution assumes you will be performing a clean install of Windows 8 or at least reformatting Windows. Changing the following BIOS setting while continuing to use the same Windows installation could result in a blank screen, as it did for me. Disclaimer: I’m only sharing my personal solution here for you to try at your own risk. I do not guarantee anything and I cannot be held responsible for any problems you might incur.

How to do it

  1. This is essential: update your BIOS. Go to Dell’s support page for your machine (you should have come here anyway to download all the drivers you’re going to need once you reinstall Windows). Download the BIOS upgrade and run it. This will add a new, previously-unavailable feature to your BIOS that you will need next.
  2. Be ready to reformat your machine (all your backups should be done, drivers ready, etc). You can’t boot back into your current Windows installation after this, because you might just get a blank screen.
  3. Reboot into BIOS by spamming F2 when your machine starts booting up.
  4. Go to the Advanced menu, and check out the brand new, previously-unavailable control at the bottom of this list: Primary Display.

    This control has two options: SG and PEG, which are neglectfully unexplained in the help pane. Let me tell you what they are: SG means switchable graphics, and PEG means AMD-only. In SG mode, which is the mode your machine has always been in, your computer recognizes both the Intel and AMD graphics drivers at the same time. Device Manager will show both display adapters, and you will be expected to use the proper, OEM-packaged driver in order for these adapters to not only be switchable but also be recognized properly. PEG mode, on the other hand, makes your machine forget about the Intel graphics and act like a computer that simply has an AMD card in it.
  5. Switch this option to PEG, then save and exit your BIOS.
  6. Install Windows 8.1/7. Run Windows Update multiple times until it says once and for all that there are no more updates available.
  7. Go to AMD’s driver website and select your graphics card type. No matter what you choose, as long as you indicate that it’s a notebook, it will direct you to a download called AMD Mobility Radeon Driver Verification Tool. Download this and run it.
  8. You should now get the following screen.

    If you’d struggled with AMD switchable graphics drivers as much as I had, you would understand how exciting it is to get this screen. This screen indicates that your machine is behaving like a regular computer with an AMD Mobility GPU inside it. Previously, if you’d run this same verification tool, you would simply get a message saying that your machine is not supported and that you should contact your manufacturer for drivers (good luck with that).

  9. Go ahead and click Start Download, and install AMD’s newest Catalyst drivers to your machine.

You will now have a perfectly working machine, minus the ability to switch to Intel graphics. It’s essentially like having a desktop with an AMD video card. I hope this works for you. Please let me know how it goes if you try it.

Written by Bagha

October 15, 2014 at 7:28 am

Posted in HowTo

Starting out on LinkedIn

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When I signed up for LinkedIn a few weeks ago, the setup process confused me when it asked to do things which I didn’t consider part of LinkedIn’s scope. I emailed an engineer friend of mine for clarification, and I found his thorough answer to be quite useful for anyone who wants to get to know this networking service from a professional’s perspective.

Me: Hey man, quick question. You’re the expert on LinkedIn. I made an account a week ago, then it asked me to add pretty much everyone I know from Facebook and my email contacts. But that seemed strange to me because I thought LinkedIn was just for professional contacts. Should I add all the people I know? Is there are benefit to it?

His response:

Hey man,

I think LinkedIn has turned into a typical social networking thing, and some people use it for that purpose. I keep my contacts to people who I’ve worked with, who I know are proven professionals and not jokers. I also keep some recruiters as contacts in case I need to look for jobs or they are looking for people to fill jobs, etc.

Not in all fields, but in my field, people take it seriously, like I will check someone’s LinkedIn if I’m thinking of hiring them, to get an idea of their experience and their credibility. The best indicator I find is the skills that people endorse you for. When you see skills endorsed by some Joe Blo, then it doesn’t mean much, but it means a lot when highly known and respected people give endorsements. Large numbers of these shows that it’s unanimous, not just one person’s biased opinion. Also, people give recommendations to speak about your management skills, technical skills, personality, etc.

I get lots of people who want to add me to their network, who I know only socially but not from something professional. I avoid those for 2 reasons:

  1. It makes you look bad if you’re an engineer when your contacts, endorsements, etc are from non-engineers who don’t know the field.
  2. Some of them want to use you to make themselves look good, and once they are in your network they can say and do stupid things to embarrass you in the professional community. So it’s best to keep it to your professional network, not social network.

Of course engineers use it differently than some other fields, for example a musician wants to be connected to producers, suppliers, etc, but again not to some jerk who knows nothing about music and who’s just trying to be a groupie.

Best Regards,

Shortly after posting this conversation I was contacted by another friend of mine, one who works in communications this time. She wanted to share her thoughts with me from the perspective of her own field of work:

I think your friend had good points relating to technical fields. And you don’t want to add everyone in your Gmail, because that will include random people such as spammers or people you don’t really know.

However, I will add anyone I am friends with, worked with or went to school with for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you work in a social field, non-industry endorsements can actually be a good thing. For example, in my line of work, it’s to my benefit to have people endorsing me for blogging, because even if they’re not experts in the industry, they’re the audience.
  2. The more people you have in your network, the wider your reach if you’re looking for work, and even if people in your direct network aren’t in your field, they may work for a company that has a position suitable for you. They can forward your profile to the appropriate people or even just let you know about an upcoming position.

So it can be really professionally useful to have a wider network.

Companies are using LinkedIn more and more, and it’s also a good way of keeping track of companies you might want to work for. You can also join groups, either based on industry, alumnus, or interest, and you can join in discussions with other people in your field and get to know them a bit. You might make connections that might be helpful in the future, or just ask questions of people who have more experience than you or learn about topics you’re interested in. So that’s a whole new side of LinkedIn that I think people are now finding useful.

LinkedIn has become the most important asset for employment in many fields—in many cases it has completely replaced the résumé/CV as a much more legitimate and current document of work history and skills. My takeaway from these conversations is that your usage of LinkedIn will vary depending of your field. For an engineer, limiting your contact list is important, so it’s best to skip the automatic friend-adding steps in the signup process. But if you’re in a more social field, your social contacts can be your most important asset. It should be good to know this important distinction before jumping into the service.

If you have any thoughts or insight on this topic please feel free to discuss in the comments below.

Written by Bagha

October 3, 2013 at 9:12 am

Posted in Society, Web

Smartphone Displays and Resolutions (2013)

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There have been some major changes in the smartphone landscape since my previous post about smartphone displays, so here is an updated graphic on the current state of consumer handheld screens.

Smartphone Display Resolutions and Pixel Densities (2013)

Click on the image to see the full-size, pixel equivalent on your screen

All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one.

Written by Bagha

August 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Technology

Tagged with , , ,

What’s Missing From the Anti-Bullying Campaigns

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The issue of bullying is all over the media these days, and for good reason—it has been ignored for much too long, and it needs this momentum in order to really cement itself as a serious problem that plagues our society. Goodness knows how much I was bullied growing up and the effects it had on the rest of my development.

There are many celebrities and campaigns that are currently addressing this issue. One such campaign that is gaining traction is The main motivator of this movement is that the website assigns each participant a serial number, which he or she then prints out onto a sheet of paper. The participant then submits a photo of themselves holding their serial number. There are currently 135,000 people “standing together” against bullying, and that number is growing steadily.

When you visit the website, you will find plenty of resources around the print-your-number activity. What you won’t find are solutions to the problem of bullying.  I had to scroll to the bottom of the site, and the very last tiny link was to the “learn more” page.

At the very bottom of the Learn More page, you’ll find this info about their goals:

  • Raise awareness on the overwhelming number of bullying incidences in the U.S.
  • Create a united community against bullying
  • Educate teachers, staff, parents and students on ill effects of bullying and effective responses before bullying becomes a serious problem
  • Help to implement proactive anti-bullying policy in your community. These changes could have a dramatic, positive impact on the lives of students in your community
  • Provide resources to parents of children being bullied, to educators and/or communities who are dealing with bullying situations

I find all these goals to be distressingly superficial. Just as you can’t cure a disease by fighting the symptoms of the disease, I don’t believe attacking the problem of bullying head-on will have any desirable result. Bullying is a symptom of greater problems surrounding the life of the oppressor. Criminalizing the act of bullying isn’t going to change that person’s life or their susceptibility to act in those negative ways. What it will do is increase the numbers of criminal records. I just don’t believe that talking about “the act of bullying” is going to change any child’s susceptibility to those acts, especially when that child still holds the prejudices/negative emotions/apathy that’s contributing to his inclination to act that way.

The only true solution to the problem of bullying is the one our society doesn’t want to face: moral education. I know this is anything but simple, but it is the only ideal that isn’t a cop-out. Children need to grow in an environment where positive virtues are nurtured, and good deeds are valued. The playground culture itself needs to be shifted towards the good. Children should grow to understand how rewarding it can be to have positive interactions with their peers.

It’s only then that we’ll see real, authentic changes to the issues that impede the younger generation.

Written by Bagha

December 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Society

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The RAZR Reborn as a Smartphone

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As far as dumbphones went, the Motorola RAZR was the ultimate device. Its industrial design was unprecedented: it had dual colour screens, a camera, bluetooth, and EDGE data for web browsing—all in an unbelievably thin package. It was so thin, in fact, that Moto had to design the keypad out of a single sheet of thin metal, instead of using normal buttons. I used my Gunmetal Grey V3i model for over 4 years—a long time in cellphone years—and I never grew tired of it. In fact, if smartphones never caught on, it would have remained a great phone even at the end.

The RAZR brand, to me, represents a phone whose industrial design, build quality, and features are so fantastic, the device will last you a long, long time. It’s for these reasons that I was apprehensive at the news of the revival of the RAZR brand. Verizon and Moto have announced the imminent unveiling of the Droid RAZR, and they’ve set up a teaser site with a countdown and video. The countdown points to a few hours before the Google-Samsung event.

Despite its secretive nature, someone has managed to grab an unpublished image off of the teaser site:

The teaser image looks nice, but in this brave new world of smartphones, specs are everything. I can only hope—for the sake of the RAZR name—that Verizon and Motorola thought out this phone through-and-through. We’ll find out within the next 24 hours.

On a related note, I’ve recently learned that the Google-Samsung event (scheduled for 10pm EDT) is being livecast on; no need to read liveblogs (although I still will!). Samsung Canada has apparently told Canadian fans to pay attention to tomorrows news, as they’ll  be bringing the “coolest Samsung phone” to Canada within weeks. Translation: Nexus Prime will be released in Canada at launch!

Written by Bagha

October 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Technology

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On Smartphone Displays and Resolutions

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(Update: I have made an updated graphic for 2013 on a new post here)

You might say I’m a bit overenthusiastic about technology and gadgets sometimes. When the joint Google-Samsung event which was scheduled for today was cancelled, it probably hit me harder than most people you know. I’ve had the day marked on my calendar, with reminders to follow multiple liveblogs, etc. All the same, the cancellation was understandable and it was a very classy display of respect for Steve jobs, who passed away last Wednesday, October 5th.

The long-awaited Nexus Prime is rumoured to be unveiled at this Google-Samsung event. As a Nexus One owner—the original Google phone—I’ve been really looking forward to Google’s newest development. The Nexus line have generally set the standard that Google expects all its Android partners to rise up to. For example, prior to the Nexus One, few phones had a combination of a high-resolution display, fast 1Ghz processor, good camera, etc. (for the time). Now, it’s rumoured that the Nexus Prime (or Galaxy Nexus, or Droid Prime) will raise that bar again, and this time bring the screen resolution to an insane 720p HD (1280×720).

I had to visualize this for myself, so I made this graphic:

(All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one)

The next generation of Android flagship phones are undoubtedly going to feature massive, pixel-dense displays like the Nexus Prime’s. These phones are going to be a joy to use—imagine having the screen resolution of most standard laptops in the palm of your hand. You could navigate websites in full, desktop mode, and you could even read the sharp text if you hold the phone close enough. To further illustrate the point, a 720p screen has 17% more pixels than the iPad. It’s crazy to think that my next phone is going to have 2.4× the resolution my current phone has. Such a large number of pixels requires a graphics chip that can drive them—which in turn requires considerable added (electrical) power, taking a toll on battery life.

The Samsung Galaxy Note (which is gradually being released in various markets) has a gargantuan 5.3″ display which packs so many pixels, it’s like holding a current high-end Android phone in landscape, and stacking 2.6 screens above each other to make another portrait screen. This phone actually comes with a stylus (like PDA’s of yore), and is meant for pressure-sensitive sketching and note-taking, plus regular touch. It’s a great evolution of touchscreen technology.

Platform makes an important difference as well. The HTC Titan is a new Windows Phone Mango device with a very large 4.7″ Super-LCD screen. Those of you who’ve been paying attention will remember that Windows Phone has a restriction on resolution: all devices must be 800×480—no more, no less. At this massive size, this respectable resolution would yeld a pixel density of 198.5ppi, which is about as detailed as current mid/entry-level phones on their smaller screens.

This next stage in display size and resolution is a great opportunity for Android to get ahead and stand out. iPhone, with it’s “retina” display, will continue to be stuck with a relatively small 3.5 inch screen. You get a lot of fantastic things with Apple’s star product—such as a great camera, best-of-class apps, and unrivalled battery life—but you’ll never get a large screen on which to really enjoy the content you’re watching. Once consumers see the plethora of stunning large displays lining cellphone kiosks, they will undoubtedly look at Android devices with a new level of envy.

Update: the Google-Samsung event has now been scheduled for October 19th in Hong Kong, at 10AM (In North America, October 18th, 10PM EST).

Written by Bagha

October 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Technology

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MSI Radeon HD 4830 1GB CrossFire Benchmarks

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Image from MSI’s product page

In August of 2009 I tried my hand at benchmarking and running a dual-card setup on my own machine. I had recently purchased an ATI Radeon HD 4830, which was a lower-midrange video card at the time but had really good value in terms of performance for its price. So I bought a second, identical card (which I later returned), and ran them in crossfire to map out their benefits in real-world game tests. It was a fun experiment and I enjoyed the process of testing hardware.

Test Rig
Processor i7 920 @ 2.6 (Turbo Boost off)
Motherboard Intel DX58SO
Memory Mushkin 998659 3x2GB @1066, 8-8-8-19
Hard Drive Western Digital Black 640GB
Cooling Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Case Cooler Master Storm Scout
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts 500
Monitors Samsung SyncMaster 216BW and Sharp Aquos 42D64
Operating System Windows 7 RTM


Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X Demo

There is a built-in test run in HAWX called “Test Performance” under Video Settings. Although this utility outputs an Average and Max FPS, the Max results were always way too high to be accurate. I therefore I used FRAPS to capture FPS stats.


Refresh Rate: 60Hz; AA: 8x; VSync: Off; View Distance: High; Forest: High; Environment: High; Texture Quality: High; HDR: On; Engine Heat: On; DOF: On

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Demo

Fear 2 Demo had no benching system that I could find, neither built-in or 3rd party. Worse, the game doesn’t keep my saved checkpoint after I quit the game. So for each benchmarking set, I had to sit through the intro and play up to the point where I fight a bunch of guys in a cafeteria. I did multiple runs for each test, using FRAPS to capture stats, and averaged out each set of runs.

Fear 2

Effects Detail: Maximum; Particle Bouncing: Maximum; Shell Casings: On; World Detail: Maximum; Corpse Detail: Maximum; Sound Quality Limit: Medium; Water Resolution: Maximum; FSAA: 4x; Texture Level of Detail: Maximum; Enable Shadows: On; Texture Filtering: Anisotropic 16x; Light Detail: Maximum; Shadow Detail: Maximum; Vertical Sync: Off; HDR: On: Model Decals: Maximum; Motion Blur: On; Reflections and Displays: Maximum; Ambient Occlusion: On

Half Life 2 Episode 2

I used two different time demos for Half Life2 Episode 2. PortalStorm is a 25-second, physics-intensive scene from the first few minutes of the game where the citadel’s super portal releases a portal storm, flinging debris and nearby objects into the air, and causing an overhanging bridge to collapse. DriveToBase is a 36-second race with Dog from a river to the base at White Forrest, and is more representative of the majority of the gameplay in this game.

Demos were very easy to record and play back using Source’s command console. Stats were captured using FRAPS, and three runs were averaged for each set of tests.

HL2ep2 1680

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

HL2ep2 1920

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

Far Cry 2

I’d like to salute the makers of Far Cry 2 for making the easiest benchmarking system out of all. All you have to do to start the built-in utility is right-click on the game’s icon in the Start Menu and select “Benchmark”. THAT’S IT. At the end of a test you’re presented with a results page that not only gives you detailed stats, but actually automatically averages all the runs for you.

I ran the “ranch small” time demo in DX10, 3 loops per set.

Far Cry 2

2xAA; VSync off; DX10; Fire: Very High; Physics: Very High; Real Trees: Very High; Vegetation: Very High; Shading Ultra High; Terrain: Ultra High; Geometry: Ultra High; Post FX: High; Texture: Ultra High; Shadow: Ultra High; Ambient: High; HDR on; Bloom on

Crysis SP Demo

I used the popular Crysis Benchmarking Tool for this test. Unfortunately, DX10 and 64bit wouldn’t work for some reason, so I stuck to DX9 (according to talk online, there isn’t much difference in performance). I ran the “benchmark_gpu” timedemo, 3 loops per set, and had the time of day set at the default 9AM.

This game demo had a problem in CrossFire mode, where various objects in the game (random trees, shrubs, rocks, etc) would rapidly flicker. I’m guessing CrossFire was rendering each frame using alternate GPUs, and some objects were somehow loaded into one card but not the other. Since this demo is the prerelease demo, this and other problems in the game were probably fixed in later patches. Unfortunately, Crytek did not provide any updated demo to this game, nor a demo to their follow-up game Crysis Warhead.


Quality Settings: Overall Quality High; 2xAA; DX9

Fallout 3

Unfortunately, VSync cannot be disabled in this game so there was no point benchmarking it. Even on a single 4830 on the highest settings, the framerate stayed generally at the 60fps ceiling. TweakGuides suggests a hack to this limitation, but unfortunately it did not work for me.

Update: I’ve been asked to clarify why I didn’t benchmark Fallout 3. There is a phenomenon in every animated 3d game and environment called screen tearing, where the image on screen looks sliced at various parts during rapid panning (such as when you look left or right in a first person game). This can be jarring and it removes from the realism of the scene. VSync is a feature that can be included/enabled in most games which solves this problem, eliminating these jaggies during panning. But one byproduct of VSync is that it prevents the game’s framerate from going any higher than 60fps (which is the monitor’s refresh rate).

When I tried benchmarking Fallout 3, even at the most taxing configuration (highest graphics settings, highest resolution, single video card) the framerate was stuck at 60fps, and this was because VSync was enabled in the game. It also couldn’t be disabled. So, were I to benchmark it, I would simply get a whole graph showing 60fps across the board. So suffice it to say, the 4830 has power to spare for playing Fallout 3. It just can’t be benchmarked.

All Content © 2009 Bagha Shams
(Video Card photo © Micro-Star Int’l Co.,Ltd.)

Written by Bagha

August 15, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Gaming, Technology