Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm looking around for laptops and I've seen some "switchable graphics" in the graphics cards. What does this "switchable" apply to?

Before anyone points out this question: What is switchable graphics?

I'd like to mention it doesn't actually answer what switchable graphics are, just what "serious graphics" in the context of the question might be.

share|improve this question
Try google or wikipedia buddy... – echarnley Apr 29 '11 at 0:23
@echarnley wouldn't have come here if I had found it there. Nice of you to assume stuff about me. – KdgDev May 3 '11 at 16:54
Questions is already answered, but a worthy sidenote is that switchable graphics on HP laptops (and very possibly others) are intended to work only in windows 7. In linux, bsd, windows xp you have access to only the slower integrated videocard, so there is no switching.... such a shame on these intel/ms interlocking tactics. – user164333 Oct 10 '12 at 19:51
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Switchable graphics is fairly simple at the core: the computer has two different graphics cards, one an efficient integrated type (usually Intel Extreme Graphics) and one a much more powerful but less energy efficient discrete card. The computer then switches between them, depending on what you need. Since most of the time you're on the integrated card, you save power, but you still have the power to run more graphics-intensive programs.

In practice, it gets a lot more complicated. There are a few different solutions that I'm aware of:

  • nVidia Optimus: This is the official nVidia solution. It is not yet seen in too many machines, and it's still somewhat immature (drivers can be iffy, it's annoying to troubleshoot at the moment). The big upside to Optimus is that it switches between cards 100% automatically, completely transparently to the user. Some people find this annoying, though, because there's no real way to check which card is currently operating, you just have to trust that the system works. On Optimus systems, you can set which card is the default and which card specific programs should run on in the nVidia control panel. Switching between cards really is completetly seamless - no black flash or anything. My understanding is that nVidia achieves this by actually having the graphics cards share a frame buffer, so they both write to the same VRAM for display.
  • Hewlett-Packard's system: Many newer HP laptops feature a proprietary system using an Intel integrated adapter and an AMD/ATI discrete. On these systems, there is a simple program that allows you to manually select which adapter to use. The screen will turn off for just a moment, as it completely switches video sources in this system. You can have it automatically go to integrated when the laptop is on battery, but to my knowledge this is the limit of automation - it will not automatically select cards based on software running (e.g. it will not automatically switch to discrete when you start a video game).
  • Lenovo has a proprietary solution that works basically the exact same way as HPs, to my understanding. I have not actually used this system.

There are probably other systems out there, but these are the three that I'm aware of. Optimus is probably the best solution, as long as it's working fine. If you have trouble, though, it's probably the most annoying to fix.

Edit: At least Lenovo is now using Optimus in its laptops instead of its older proprietary system. I suspect HP has gone the same way.

share|improve this answer
From as it sounds, Lenovo is 100% the same as the HP one. (Got a Lenovo T500 with Intel MHD4500+ATI 3650. However, drivers are somewhat problematic sometimes ...yes, here too. Not just Optimus. Most of the time, I just enable the card I need (if I travel, the Intel; if I'm at home, the ATI, and that's it.). – Shiki Apr 29 '11 at 7:44
Thanks for explaining that – KdgDev May 3 '11 at 16:56

Same as it ever was. Some laptops have an integrated graphics processor (IGP) because of the chipset they use, but also have discrete graphics because integrated graphics lack desired performance. "Switchable" means that the computer decides which to use at what time. This means that it can power down the discrete graphics when the display doesn't need them to save battery power, switch to discrete when a game begins, or use the IGP to display the desktop while the discrete graphics are performing non-graphics tasks (transcoding video, etc).

In the future when we see even more motherboard components in processors, I suspect you'll always have an IGP adapter because it's on-die with the processor.

share|improve this answer

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .