Using Multiple Displays with the Lenovo W520 and Windows 8

When Lenovo started shipping hybrid graphics in their W500-series workstations, it was a great improvement for road warriors who need both full-power graphics when connected to a power source and long battery life on the go. This is achieved by the presence of two video cards – an integrated Intel chip side-by-side with an nVidia Quadro GPU. The nVidia drivers ship with software that automatically switch between graphics modes based on the current power profile.

This configuration works great until the machine is connected to an external monitor or projector via the VGA port. For some reason, the nVidia software is unable to automatically balance the output between both video cards when the display is duplicated. Many users have resorted to disabling one or the other video cards in the BIOS, which works fine but requires that the change be made manually each time to computer is rebooted (assuming that the user wants the low power mode at some point – if the machine is always plugged in then it’s really not an issue).

There is, however, a way to get display duplication working with the auto-switching Optimus mode. All the configuration options are there in the nVidia control panel but the configuration isn’t very intuitive. Here’s how to make it work (this holds true for both Windows 7 and Windows 8, although the sub-menu text in the control panel is a bit different between driver versions):

 

1. Open the nVidia Control Panel application. Go to the multiple display management section.

 

2. Connect the external monitor or display. The display selector will update and show the new device. By default, the external device shows up as a second display in both sections but is only enabled under the Intel adapter.

 
 

3. Uncheck the external device under the Intel adapter then check it under the Quadro adapter. The display icons below the selection area will then change to show two screens side-by-side.

 
 

4. Right-click on the display icons and choose “Clone with” and choose one of the displays. Which display you choose varies from display to display – try one and if that doesn’t work then try the other (on the upside, you have a 50/50 chance of being right the first time). If you select the wrong one, it is likely that the display will switch to the external device only, making it a bit awkward to change back. Let the timer run down on the new configuration or disconnect the cable and try again.

 
 

5. Once you’ve selected a clone target the multiple display screen will change and the two display icons will merge into one with a circle for each display. The output should now be duplicated to both screens.

 

 

When the process is complete, it may be necessary to use Windows + P and choose the Duplicate option (but it will often switch over on its own). In most cases, Optimus will remember the configuration and connections to new devices will work automatically. This isn’t always true, especially if the display is older and doesn’t broadcast the right configuration data, so you may need to repeat the process when connecting to a new external display. This will allow you to leave the machine in Optimus mode, getting the benefit of long battery life when disconnected from a power source and the full Quadro GPU power when connected without having to choose one or the other when presenting.

 

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