Question How can I force my laptop to use discrete graphics?

Zii

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Feb 22, 2013
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Using an Inspiron 7548. It has intel HD 5500 and AMD R7 M265.
Bought this laptop back in 2016 and I swear it has NEVER used the "discrete" AMD graphics, not even once.

Running Userbenchmark gives me the follow error:



I tried connecting another monitor through HDMI, same error.
Since I bought this laptop in 2016, I had crimson drivers installed, so just a few weeks ago I installed the newest Adrenalin drivers.
Yes, I went through safe mode, DDU, and did fresh installs of both AMD and Intel display drivers. I even tried uninstalling Intel HD drivers which made everything worse as my laptop was now running on "generic windows display adapter drivers". Tried disabling the Intel HD through device manager but that didn't force the AMD GPU either.


Oh, and neither the GPU or APU show up in task manager.



And yes, AMD drivers are up to date like I stated before. There is a "switchable" graphics option in the settings but it doesn't allow me to alter any program settings. It doesn't see anything running despite having a dozen programs open. (chrome, photoshop, steam, etc) It's always blank:


Lastly, going into BIOS settings doesn't do anything for me either. There isn't a single option regarding display adapters or GPU settings, just some stupid battery options. According to this link, my BIOS is the latest version of 2015. Intel drivers are also set to "performance" like that made any difference whatsoever.

Any advice or workarounds? I'm about to pull out what's left of my hair :(
 
When under battery power, the default will be to use the integrated adapter to save battery power.
Plugged in, you should be able to use the discrete adapter.

With nvidia graphics, a right click on the desktop will bring up the nvidia control panel.
Managing 3d settings will allow you to pick integrated or discrete graphics.
There is also a auto setting.

Find the amd equivalent.
Possibly your laptop has a driver update for graphics.
 

QwerkyPengwen

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Laptops will by default use the integrated graphics until the system recognizes a graphical load such as a video game and only then does it switch over to using the other GPU.

So unless you are playing a basic game at horrendous frame rates on the lowest settings then your laptop is using the Radeon like it should.

But if you wanted to use an external GPU in general in order to get better performance from a beefier GPU, then you need either thunderbolt connection or external pcie connector built into the laptop.

And looking at its specs it doesn't look like it has either.

So the best you could hope for is using USB 3.0 and just not getting as much throughput for an external GPU.

But by default you usually can't force the usage of the dedicated chip and it only gets used when it's needed for things such as gaming.
 

Zii

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I
When under battery power, the default will be to use the integrated adapter to save battery power.
Plugged in, you should be able to use the discrete adapter.

With nvidia graphics, a right click on the desktop will bring up the nvidia control panel.
Managing 3d settings will allow you to pick integrated or discrete graphics.
There is also a auto setting.

Find the amd equivalent.
Possibly your laptop has a driver update for graphics.
I am always on AC power. Forgot to note that.

The 2015/2016 Crimson version of AMD drivers had the switchable graphics equivalent, however it did not work and would always hang or crash, hence why I updated to 2019 Adrenalin. The Adrenalin driver also has the option for switchable graphics as shown in the image above, however it does not let me configure it on a per-application basis as it should. None of my programs show up in that tab.

Everything is up to date as I have confirmed that directly through Dell's update tool.
 

Zii

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Feb 22, 2013
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Laptops will by default use the integrated graphics until the system recognizes a graphical load such as a video game and only then does it switch over to using the other GPU.

So unless you are playing a basic game at horrendous frame rates on the lowest settings then your laptop is using the Radeon like it should.

But if you wanted to use an external GPU in general in order to get better performance from a beefier GPU, then you need either thunderbolt connection or external pcie connector built into the laptop.

And looking at its specs it doesn't look like it has either.

So the best you could hope for is using USB 3.0 and just not getting as much throughput for an external GPU.

But by default you usually can't force the usage of the dedicated chip and it only gets used when it's needed for things such as gaming.
I only really want the R7 M265 to work. I've been having the exact issues you describe, not even being able to run a visual novel at 15fps because the Intel HD graphics are just that bad. Constantly I suffer from not being able to watch 1080p videos ON MY HARD DRIVE because they won't play correctly/are a pixaled mess. Both HWinfo and MSI afterburner confirm that my AMD GPU is NEVER used in any application. Not a single game nor Photoshop, not 4K videos, nothing. It never switched over from Intel Graphics.

Is it really that impossible to force a dual-GPU laptop to actually use the 2nd GPU?
 
The way the Nvidia and AMD switchable graphics have worked for about the last 8 years is that the Intel integrated GPU always drives the screen. The discrete GPU acts as a co-processor. When a program you've designated to use the dGPU runs, it does whatever graphics processing is necessary on the dGPU. Every time the dGPU finishes drawing a frame, it passes the completed frame to the iGPU. The iGPU then displays it. (It's like vsync is always on, with the two GPUs acting as the two vsync framebuffers.)

This is how you're able to simultaneously run different programs, some of which are set to use the iGPU, some set to use the dGPU. It's because the dGPU is never in control of the screen (in fact it cannot draw to the screen at all). It only passes completed frames to the iGPU for display. So it's impossible to disable the iGPU and use only the dGPU on these laptops.*

The process is highly driver-dependent. About a year and half ago, Nvidia and Intel seem to have finally added the switchable graphics code to their mainstream drivers code (what you get via Windows 10 Update, or if you download the drivers from their website). But I dunno the status of AMD's video drivers. In order to get the graphics to work properly, you may need to limit yourself to using the video drivers (AMD and Intel) on Dell's support site for that laptop. The drivers may be old and out of date, but if the switchable graphics code isn't in AMD's and Intel's mainstream drivers, then the drivers on Dell's support site are the only ones which will work.

(The order you install the AMD and Intel drivers may matter. I seem to recall having problems with install order with Nvidia and Intel video drivers on some laptops in the early 2010s. Edit: And you may encounter a situation where Windows 10 Update installs non-functional video drivers, so turn off your network before installing Dell's drivers. If it works after the driver install, but Windows Update replaces the drivers with non-functioning drivers when you enable the network, go into device manager, the properties page for the GPUs, check to see which ones Windows updated, and roll back that driver(s) to the previous version. This is the method Microsoft settled on for telling Win 10 not to update certain drivers.)

Please note that because the dGPU acts as a co-processor, there is no way to set the laptop to use only the dGPU. The iGPU is the only GPU connected to the screen. The dGPU can only get frames to the screen by passing them to the iGPU via software.

* There are a handful of gaming laptops which wired things up differently. On these laptops, if you go into the BIOS settings, you can select which GPU drives the screen. If your laptop has this setting (doubtful since it's an office-grade Inspiron), then switching the BIOS to use the dGPU will accomplish what you want, at the cost of a significant hit to your battery life.

An even smaller number of laptops hooked up the iGPU to the built-in display, but hooked up the dGPU to the external monitor port. Generally these are laptops which have Displayport-out since Nvidia added Displayport support before Intel. But I've seen at least one laptop with HDMI-out set up this way. On these laptops there is nothing to set. You simply plug in a monitor into the external display port, and its display runs directly on the dGPU. If the Intel graphics died, you could still use the laptop with an external monitor. But there is no way to switch the built-in display to use the dGPU.
 
Last edited:

Zii

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The way the Nvidia and AMD switchable graphics have worked for about the last 8 years is that the Intel integrated GPU always drives the screen. The discrete GPU acts as a co-processor. When a program you've designated to use the dGPU runs, it does whatever graphics processing is necessary on the dGPU. Every time the dGPU finishes drawing a frame, it passes the completed frame to the iGPU. The iGPU then displays it. (It's like vsync is always on, with the two GPUs acting as the two vsync framebuffers.)

This is how you're able to simultaneously run different programs, some of which are set to use the iGPU, some set to use the dGPU. It's because the dGPU is never in control of the screen (in fact it cannot draw to the screen at all). It only passes completed frames to the iGPU for display. So it's impossible to disable the iGPU and use only the dGPU on these laptops.*

The process is highly driver-dependent. About a year and half ago, Nvidia and Intel seem to have finally added the switchable graphics code to their mainstream drivers code (what you get via Windows 10 Update, or if you download the drivers from their website). But I dunno the status of AMD's video drivers. In order to get the graphics to work properly, you may need to limit yourself to using the video drivers (AMD and Intel) on Dell's support site for that laptop. The drivers may be old and out of date, but if the switchable graphics code isn't in AMD's and Intel's mainstream drivers, then the drivers on Dell's support site are the only ones which will work.

(The order you install the AMD and Intel drivers may matter. I seem to recall having problems with install order with Nvidia and Intel video drivers on some laptops in the early 2010s. Edit: And you may encounter a situation where Windows 10 Update installs non-functional video drivers, so turn off your network before installing Dell's drivers. If it works after the driver install, but Windows Update replaces the drivers with non-functioning drivers when you enable the network, go into device manager, the properties page for the GPUs, check to see which ones Windows updated, and roll back that driver(s) to the previous version. This is the method Microsoft settled on for telling Win 10 not to update certain drivers.)

Please note that because the dGPU acts as a co-processor, there is no way to set the laptop to use only the dGPU. The iGPU is the only GPU connected to the screen. The dGPU can only get frames to the screen by passing them to the iGPU via software.

* There are a handful of gaming laptops which wired things up differently. On these laptops, if you go into the BIOS settings, you can select which GPU drives the screen. If your laptop has this setting (doubtful since it's an office-grade Inspiron), then switching the BIOS to use the dGPU will accomplish what you want, at the cost of a significant hit to your battery life.

An even smaller number of laptops hooked up the iGPU to the built-in display, but hooked up the dGPU to the external monitor port. Generally these are laptops which have Displayport-out since Nvidia added Displayport support before Intel. But I've seen at least one laptop with HDMI-out set up this way. On these laptops there is nothing to set. You simply plug in a monitor into the external display port, and its display runs directly on the dGPU. If the Intel graphics died, you could still use the laptop with an external monitor. But there is no way to switch the built-in display to use the dGPU.
Thank you so much for the in-depth explanation! When I used the HDMI port and connected an external monitor, I was baffled as to why it still didn't switch over to the dGPU. And you're right, there is no option in BIOS to dedicate any specific GPU unfortunately. So what's the point of even have a dGPU if I can't even use it?

Do you think the reason it hasn't switched to dGPU is because my AMD driver are too... "new"? What do you suggest then? Uninstalling everything and going to the Dell support website and hope the (old) drivers they have available will still work?

Is there any other way to tell if the laptop has successfully switched to using dGPU? I mean I think MSI afterburner and HWinfo were good enough, by showing 0% utilization on the dGPU at ALL times, but maybe they're not designed to read dGPU's correctly and there is a better tool

In the end, I have a gaming desktop so I don't need the Inspiron to game on, but it is practically unusable with Photoshop work as it takes ages to load a few layers because Intel HD graphics just suck. And it would be nice to be able to play videos in snippets of greater than 4 seconds at a time...

I think I learned my lesson though, never buy a laptop with iGPU and dGPU. I'm actually really sad to hear that all the $400 Ryzen 3 APU laptops are significantly better than my $900 i7/dGPU Inspiron :(
 

Zii

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Well that's the only issue I'm having here really. It's absolutely impossible to find an option that lets me choose with GPU to use with whichever application. It either doesn't exist, or doesn't work when I try to alter the settings. Been driving me crazy because I follow all the online guides to the dot and it does not work for [insert un-googlable reason here].
 

buggaby

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Might be too old to post, but can you see in the Windows Task Manager which GPU is being used? I have a similar desire (side-stepping the really slow iGPU), and when I use the NVIDIA Control Panel, it shows that some processes are running on GPU1 instead of GPU0.
 

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