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How to force the Microsoft Surface Book to use its Nvidia GPU

Here’s how to ensure that you have the added power of the Surface Book’s dGPU, as and when you want it.

Microsoft’s Surface Book is a powerful and unique piece of kit, not least because it features a detachable design with a secondary graphics card courtesy of Nvidia. Despite the extra oomph, however, it’s sometimes tricky to tell whether or not you’re actually using the Book’s discrete GPU or it’s simply falling back on its lesser integrated graphics hardware.

Thankfully, with a tiny amount of tinkering you can guarantee that you get the added power of the Nvidia dGPU with these simple tricks.

Keep it docked

It’s an obvious one, but if you didn’t realise it, the more powerful Nvidia GPU is housed in the base of the Surface Book, meaning the moment you undock the digital clipboard portion of the device, it only has the option of using integrated graphics.

Microsoft Surface Book - detach
Don’t detach the keyboard if you want to harness the extra power of the Nvidia dGPU

To get the best performance from your Surface Book, keep the screen and keyboard portions connected.

Update your drivers

This step won’t be essential for every user, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor even if only to make sure that your Surface Book’s Nvidia GPU is running on the latest drivers.

Windows Device Manager

Open the Start Menu and type ‘Device Manager’ into the search box. Alternatively, open the Control Panel, click on ‘Hardware and Sound’ and then select Device Manager from within the Devices and Printers sub-menu.

Once Device Manager is open, look down the list until you see ‘Display adapters’ and unfurl this list to see both ‘Intel(R) HD Graphics 520’ and ‘NVIDIA GeForce GPU’.

Select the Nvidia GPU and mouse over the new icons that appear on the toolbar above. The third option from the right should be the ‘Update Driver Software’ button; this is the one you want to click.

Device Manager driver update

The subsequent menu screen gives you the ability to ‘Search automatically for updated driver software’ – choose this option (making sure you have an active internet connection) and if your Nvidia GPU isn’t up to date, this will download the latest drivers and take you through the installation process.

The Nvidia Control Panel

Once your graphics drivers are all up to date, as with the previous step, open up the Start menu, but this time, search for the ‘NVIDIA Control Panel’. Alternatively, you can find it under the ‘Hardware and Sound’ section in the Windows Control Panel (if still it doesn’t appear, try restarting your Surface Book).

The Nvidia Control Panel is the app needed to govern when and with which applications the Surface Book chooses to leverage its Nvidia GPU.

Click the images below to enlarge.

NVIDIA Control Panel 1 NVIDIA Control Panel 2

Once open look, for the ‘Manage 3D Settings’ drop-down menu on the left. When selected you’ll see a screen titled ‘Manage 3D Settings’ which by default displays the ‘Global Settings’ tab. The drop-down menu under this tab governs whether the Surface Book automatically chooses on an app-by-app basis whether to use the Nvidia dGPU or not.

You can also choose to set all compatible applications to use the Nvidia card by selecting ‘High-performance NVIDIA graphics’ from the menu, or force all apps to rely on the integrated graphics card alone, by choosing the relevant option.

To the right of the ‘Global Settings’ tab is the ‘Program Settings’ tab. It has a number of controls broken down into two sections. First, you’ll find a drop-down menu showing all the programs compatible with the Nvidia GPU (it’s advised to keep the ‘Show only programs found on this computer’ checkbox ticked). Here you can select a specific program or add one you know is installed if it doesn’t initially appear on the list, using the ‘Add’ button and locating the relevant .EXE file. (the ‘Remove’ button will take programs out of the list).

NVIDIA Control Panel 3 NVIDIA Control Panel 4

Once you’ve found the program you want to control you can move to option two, which governs which GPU the Surface Book pushes it to use. By default all applications will likely be set to whatever the ‘Global Settings’ tab dictates; however, you can expand the drop-down menu to specify one of the two GPUs on an app-by-app basis if you prefer.

Once you’ve chosen which apps will use the Nvidia GPU and which won’t, you can simply close the NVIDIA Control Panel and your settings will be saved.

That’s all there is to it! If for whatever reason your apps don’t look or feel like they’re harnessing the extra power of the Nvidia GPU, a restart will often help line things up. Let us know how you get and drop any queries or questions in the comments below.

Read next: Microsoft Surface Book Review: In Depth

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