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What is a MUX switch?

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  • What about Nvidia Optimus?
  • How to tell if your laptop has a MUX switch

Gaming laptops have come a long way, especially in recent years, and they’re more feature-laden than ever before. One feature that we’re seeing more often in modern gaming laptops is a MUX switch. It’s a neat little tool that can help boost battery life or ensure maximum GPU performance in your laptop, but there’s a lot more to dig into. How does a MUX switch work? Is it something you really need in your laptop? Let’s explore the MUX switch to help you get a clear understanding of the hardware feature.

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What is a MUX switch?

Changing the way you use your laptop

Source: NVIDIA

Laptop processors (CPU) generally come with integrated graphics built right into the chip, allowing the PC to display video without the need for a separate GPU. However, more powerful laptops — like those for gaming, design, or development work — usually have a standalone (usually referred to as “dedicated” or “discrete”) graphics card (GPU).

A MUX switch, which is an easier of saying “multiplexer,” is a standalone chip that lives inside your laptop, designed to allow for quick switching between integrated graphics and a discrete GPU. It effectively moves the graphics demand from integrated to discrete hardware, and vice versa, as needed.

You cannot add a MUX switch to your laptop after purchase, as it’s integrated into the main board. If, after reading this guide, you think a MUX switch can work for you, be sure to shop for a laptop that explicitly says it includes a MUX switch.

Why use a MUX switch?

Some notable improvements

Let’s say you have a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU to go along with the main processor’s integrated GPU. The discrete GPU is a standalone piece of hardware with its own power needs, which are higher due to the improved graphics performance it can offer. You’ll want to use the discrete GPU while gaming for better framerates and overall quality, but what about when you’re using the laptop for other tasks?

Gaming laptops are increasingly blurring the line between work and play, and having a discrete GPU enabled while going about tasks like web browsing, streaming, and productivity work doesn’t usually make sense. Running the discrete GPU (even mostly in the background) means it’s sucking up power, which can seriously affect battery life.

Lenovo Legion Pro 5 (2023) with AMD hardware

A gaming laptop that can also work in a professional setting.

Being able to switch your laptop display to run directly off of the integrated graphics in the CPU mostly solves this issue. Integrated graphics, while not as powerful as discrete graphics, use less power while still being able to easily handle practically any non-intensive tasks.

There are also, perhaps more important, improvements to performance when your discrete GPU is allowed to run without communicating with the CPU’s integrated graphics. When you use a MUX switch to go full discrete GPU mode, your laptop’s integrated graphics are effectively removed from the equation, allowing the discrete GPU to output straight to your display. This results in lower latency and, usually, improved framerates.

What about Nvidia Optimus?

New ways to play

Nvidia Optimus and the newer Advanced Optimus technologies are exclusive to laptops powered by Nvidia GPUs. Optimus was unveiled in 2010, and Nvidia updated it with Advanced Optimus in 2020.

A laptop with Optimus enabled would tap the discrete GPU to work on heavier tasks, but the output would still ultimately pass through the integrated GPU to be displayed. With Advanced Optimus however, the result is much closer to a true MUX switch in that it can allow the discrete GPU to completely bypass the integrated GPU when outputting video.

Advanced Optimus brought us G-Sync displays in laptops, as it allowed the more powerful and advanced discrete laptop GPUs to directly power the display without relying on comparatively wimpy integrated graphics features and specs.

AMD also has SmartAccess Graphics which essentially does the same thing as Nvidia Optimus by intelligently swapping between the discrete GPU and integrated graphics as needed on AMD Radeon hardware.

How to tell if your laptop has a MUX switch

You might already have one in your PC

Legion Pro 5 (2023) GPU working mode menu

The MUX switch settings within Lenovo’s Vantage app

The MUX switch is a small piece of hardware on the inside of your laptop, so being able to tell if you already have one isn’t always easy. It might be advertised as a feature on the laptop’s product page, but this is not always the case. If you can’t find the details in product documentation or product review, you aren’t out of luck.

Most modern gaming laptops come with a dedicated app for system controls — Lenovo has the Vantage app, HP has the Omen app, etc. — and this is usually where you’ll find the MUX switch and its settings. It’s not always called a MUX switch either, so you might have to do some digging if it’s not immediately apparent. You might see it under the label of GPU mode, GPU working mode, GPU Switch, or Hybrid mode, but there should always be a toggle available.

If you don’t see the MUX switch in the laptop’s proprietary system control app, you might still be in luck at the BIOS level. If you boot into BIOS, watch out for something similar under the name of Hybrid graphics or Advanced Optimus.

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Do you use your laptop’s MUX switch?

A MUX switch isn’t a must-have feature, and a lot of cheaper gaming laptops don’t come with the feature at all. Whether you use your laptop’s MUX switch really comes down to personal preference. I would recommend most people take advantage of the extra feature, as it can help prolong battery life during casual use or help maximize performance while gaming.

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