To many non-gamers, the term MUX switch may seem strange or alien. However, this vital part of your gaming laptop lets you let your GPU loose with the flip of a switch and increase your FPS performance at the expense of using more battery life.
If your gaming laptop comes with a MUX switch and you want to know everything there is to know about it, then you’ve come to the right place! We’ll cover everything there is to know about MUX switches, how your integrated graphics processors interact with them, and what it means for you!
What is NVIDIA Optimus Technology?
Before discussing MUX switches, speaking about Optimus and what it does for your laptop is essential. There are two graphics processors within your gaming laptop if you have a MUX switch, your integrated graphics card on your motherboard and the discrete GPU, usually from NVIDIA.
In almost all cases, the discrete GPU (or dGPU) is far more powerful than the integrated GPU (or iGPU). However, the cost of using your more powerful GPU is that your battery life drains exceptionally quickly when you use it. Luckily, your new gaming laptop is smart enough to know when to use each. So when you boot up a game with high graphical requirements or high-resolution video editing files, your computer will automatically switch to using the dGPU. This is what Optimus is, also sometimes called MS Hybrid.
If your gaming laptop doesn’t have a discrete GPU, it’s unlikely to have a MUX switch. Many laptops, like inexpensive 2-in-1 laptops, need an NVIDIA graphics card or AMD switchable graphics.
The Optimus Bottleneck
If Optimus can switch between your iGPU and your dGPU, why is a MUX switch necessary? Unfortunately, while the NVIDIA Optimus is a stellar piece of software, it still has flaws.
The main issue with the Optimus is that it is limited by your iGPU, no matter how robust your AMD or NVIDIA dedicated GPU is! Why? It all has to do with how the iGPU and dGPU are connected and how your laptop display is wired to the graphics processors.
The issue arises when your dGPU generates frames during a high-intensity game, which are sent through the iGPU before reaching your external monitor or laptop display. If your dGPU develops a resolution in 4k, but your iGPU can only support a maximum resolution of 720p, then the Optimus has no choice but to conform to the iGPU’s resolution. And while this wasn’t a specific issue when this technology was released in 2013/14, the rate of progression has caused this to become annoying for gamers who have integrated graphics processors and want to use their laptops to design or play games.
What is a MUX Switch?
MUX switches are the response to this unfortunate interaction between the integrated GPU, the discrete GPU, and the NVIDIA Optimus. With a MUX switch, short for a Multiplexer Switch, you can toggle it to run your gaming laptops in iGPU mode (sometimes called hybrid more or Optimus) or dGPU mode (discrete GPU mode).
You’ll find that most modern gaming laptops often have the MUX switch between the iGPU and the dGPU, which removes that bottleneck and allows you to choose between the graphics processor that you want to use at any given point. But the ability to disable Optimus is not something you can add to your gaming laptop if you want to, and it’ll have to come with your computer’s hardware to use it.
And once you’ve managed to disable Optimus, you’ll need to restart your computer. This is the same for when you enable it back again as well. Once you’ve switched off and disabled Optimus, you won’t be able to use the integrated graphics card. You’ll immediately notice the difference between gaming and heavy data science programmes. Remember that using your dedicated GPU will drain the battery life of your gaming laptops more substantially than if you kept Optimus on.
What about Advanced Optimus?
In response to the increased use of MUX switches since the NVIDIA Optimus was released, NVIDIA opted to release a newer iteration of their Optimus in April of 2020 called the Advanced Optimus.
This new iteration is intended to bridge the gap between the benefits and downfalls of the original NVIDIA Optimus. Based on the concept of the MUX, Advanced Optimus allows users to utilise a dynamic display switch to change between their integrated graphics and dedicated GPU. It does this automatically, like the original Optimus feature, depending on your computer’s or gaming laptop’s detected workload. And best of all, you don’t need to restart your computer to change between GPUs.
Even though this would theoretically fix all of the issues that users have been complaining about, the use of Advanced Optimus is barely heard about. Some more savvy tech people reading this article may not have even heard of NVIDIA releasing it! Only a few of the current-gen models of gaming laptops even offer the Advanced Optimus, with about 20 models claiming to have this feature within their hardware.
And so, the MUX switch is still the more prevalent option for many gamers when they choose which model they want to purchase. An automatic MUX switch like the NVIDIA Advanced Optimus is an almost invisible market contender, even though our research shows its features solve the issues.
Our running theory is that the models that support the Advanced Optimus hardware are either too expensive of an option for gaming laptops to purchase or their earlier experiences with NVIDIA Optimus have turned them off from the idea of the Advanced iteration.
How to Check if my laptop has a MUX switch?
Now that we’ve discussed what precisely a MUX switch is, here’s how you can go about finding out if your laptop has a MUX switch:
- Most laptop manufacturers don’t list the fact that they have a MUX switch in the specs of their gaming laptop products. If it isn’t in your gaming laptop’s spec list, you may still have a MUX switch built into it. You must open a companion app to check correctly, such as Alienware laptops’ Command Center, NVIDIA Control Panel, or Armourly Crate for Asus Tuf machines.
- Once you open the relevant control panel or command center, please open it and navigate to the features section of the control panel.
- Within the features, find the GPU settings. Depending on the model, this will vary for various gaming laptops, but you should be able to choose between a Hybrid Mode or Discrete GPU Mode.
If you can’t find any MUX switches in your settings, don’t worry! It may be within the BIOS settings. This is a common place for Dell gaming laptops to hide whether or not they have a MUX switch. Here’s how to do it!
- To access your BIOS settings, you’ll need to restart your computer first. Get this article up on your phone while restarting your laptop if you’re on your PC reading this.
- Once your computer is restarting, press the F2, F10, F12, or the Del key. The timing of this can be tricky if your computer reboots quickly, so you’ll need to press the key quite soon if this is the case.
- Once you’ve accessed the BIOS settings, you will likely find the MUX switch within the Advanced settings. It may not explicitly say MUX switch but instead, refer to the setting as Hybrid Mode or Discrete GPU Mode.
Should I Purchase a Laptop with a MUX Switch?
We’ve covered quite a bit about the history of MUX switches and how they work, but we have yet to discuss whether you should purchase a laptop with a MUX switch specifically for its functionality.
We’ll cover the top benefits of purchasing a gaming laptop, MUX switch built in, as well as the costs of purchasing.
Benefits of a MUX Switch
We’ll be covering the benefits of purchasing a laptop with a MUX switch for your high-end gaming laptops:
The most obvious benefit of being able to turn on a MUX switch is that your dedicated GPU, no matter if it’s an NVIDIA GPU or another brand, increases gaming performance. While the range of performance differences can vary between certain laptops, users can expect anywhere between 20 – 40 percent higher performance if they solely use their dedicated graphics card for gaming.
Better performance because the iGPU doesn’t throttle will allow you to have a display output and graphical output and enjoy your video game at higher graphic settings. Whether it’s for you or your kid’s games, you can expect a better experience overall.
Unlock Performance Features
Interestingly, disabling Optimus and using a MUX switch instead can also offer you more features when you game. These features are unlocked when you use your laptop in discrete GPU mode and when the integrated graphics card is not throttling your GPU.
One of these features is Nvidia Shadowplay, which records video game content. This feature unlocks requires a direct connection to discrete GPUs in order to work, so it is less useable when your integrated GPU is in the way.
Higher Quality Visuals
In addition to boosting gaming performance, another effect is increasing graphics performance for visuals. Your external monitor or external display will offer a more vivid appearance – think of the beautiful colors of a Google 12-inch Chromebook!
And there’s a reason for this too! The integrated graphics card can grey out the colours when your discrete GPU mixes with your integrated GPU.
Cost of using a MUX Switch
A few costs, or flaws, come with using and purchasing a laptop with a GPU switch. These are something to keep in mind if you plan on using them to make the most of your RTX 3050 or higher!
Decreased Battery life
The foremost cost of using a MUX switch is that your laptop will quickly drain its battery life. The dGPU is the main contributor to this heightened battery drain, as the increased performance affects the battery life of any laptop, such as an MSI laptop or Lenovo Legion.
Some laptops offer a longer battery life that negates this, but in most cases, you’ll want to stop using the discrete GPU very long off charge. You’ll use about twice as much battery life when using your dedicated GPU instead of the hybrid mode, so keep an eye on your laptop’s battery life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Need some answers about everything to do with MUX switches? Don’t worry! We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions about this quality-of-life feature for your GPU and answered them here today.
What does MUX switch do?
As outlined, the MUX switch allows users to switch between their integrated GPU and their more powerful discrete GPU. Usually, this is done automatically, depending on the workload of your computer.
For example, suppose you’re running a program with many data points for a computer science project. In that case, your computer will automatically switch from using your integrated GPU to your discrete GPU. Since the discrete GPU and integrated GPU are connected, without the MUX switch, your discrete GPU will be constrained by the highest resolution of your integrated GPU.
However, keeping your MUX switch on your discrete graphics processors will drain your laptop’s battery quickly – especially if you’re using your laptop as a monitor for your PlayStation 4.
Is the MUX switch significant?
The MUX switch is not a necessary purchase for most gaming laptops, and there are really excellent features if your laptop has a MUX switch. A MUX switch allows you to choose between your integrated and discrete graphics, and it can save your battery life by disabling your discrete graphics if necessary.
If the idea of extended battery life and a notable performance difference when in discrete graphics mode is a big thing, we recommend you purchase a gaming laptop with a built-in MUX switch. They can be quite expensive, so if you’re a struggling college student or new to gaming, we recommend looking for something else.
Should MUX switch be on or off?
That depends on what you want to use it for! Turning your MUX switch on will turn off your integrated graphics processor and strictly use your dedicated GPU, which is often substantially more powerful than the former.
Remember that your battery life will drain exceptionally quickly if you keep your gaming laptop in discrete graphics mode. To save your battery life, turn off your MUX switch and keep your gaming laptop from using the discrete GPU mode. This, however, may decrease the performance when you play games and your computer is struggling with storage or lag.
While it is a shame that the NVIDIA Advanced Optimus has not garnered the favor of gamers, the MUX switch is a valuable feature for fine-tuning your laptop’s display while gaming. This unique piece of hardware is not a necessary piece of a gaming laptop, so if you are planning to look for a laptop with a MUX switch, we recommend looking at the specs and price of laptops that offer it and making a decision from there.
Writer Graham Grieve brings two decades of technical communications experience to The Holy Tech coverage. Isaac contributes articles on laptops, tablets and PCs, alongside various software and hardware guides. Isaac is a former newspaper journalist who also worked in tech communications for some of the country’s biggest corporations. He also counsels and creates material for other technology publications and hosts a podcast.
Isaac’s in-depth reporting and knowledge of hardware and software issues helps The Holy Tech’s readers learn how to choose the right products, or solve tricky problems.