Lenovo W520 and an External Projector with NVIDIA Quadro 2000M and NVIDIA Optimus

If you have come to this blog post from a search, then you are probably having the same problem I have had in the past with my Lenovo W520, specifically, duplicating the laptop display to an external projector connected to the VGA port on the side of the laptop or connected to a display port on the back of a “Mini Dock Plus Series 3”. 

W520 Connected to Projector

Well, if you have had that problem, read on.  I’ll give you two possible solutions to the problem.  One of them is likely going to work for you!

The discussion and steps in this post assume the external display (monitor or projector) is being connected to the W520 via the VGA port on the left hand side of the laptop:

SNAGHTML787d8a

However, the discussion and instructions below also apply if your external display is connected to a display port on the back of a “Mini Dock Plus Series 3” instead:

image

If you don’t want to understand the problem, but would rather just fix it, you can jump to the solutions using the links below.  If you have the time though, I suggest reading through my explanation of the issues.  It will help you get better use out of the graphics processors (YES, plural, that’s part of the confusion) on your laptop! 

Quick jump to the solutions:

Or Read on….


W520 Graphics Processors & NVIDIA Optimus

A Tale of Two Processors – Graphics Performance vs. Battery Life

The Lenovo W520 ships with two separate graphics processors.  There is the Integrated Intel HD graphics processor, as well as a separate (a.k.a. “Discrete”)  NVIDIA Quadro 2000M graphics processor.  Why two graphics processors?  Well the Integrated Intel HD graphics processor is acceptable for most business applications and has the benefit of low power consumption and thus allows for longer battery lifetimes. However for a number of graphics intensive applications (CAD, Photoshop, games, etc.), the integrated Intel HD graphics process just doesn’t have enough oomph.  Because the W520 is a high-end laptop, it includes a separate NVIDIA Quadro 2000M graphics processor that offers much better performance for those graphics hungry apps, but its use requires a lot of power, and therefore has a negative impact on battery life. 

Switchable Graphics vs NVIDIA Optimus

There have been laptops before with more than one graphics processor, but it is usually left up to the user of the system to “switch” between the different graphics cards when choosing between better battery life, and better graphics performance.  Making the switch could have been as painful, as changing the BIOS each time a changed was needed, or perhaps through a software utility that allowed the change to be made without requiring a reboot.  Still, it was a manual process either way.

The W520 however includes NVIDIA Optimus which provides automatic switching between the Integrated Intel HD graphics processor, and the NVIDIA Quadro 2000M graphics processor on an application by application basis.  Basically it removes the need for you to manually switch between the integrated and discrete graphics subsystems when you run an app.  Optimus monitors the applications you run, and automatically chooses which graphics processer to use for each application based on various criteria. For specific details on how Optimus works, you can read this NVIDIA Optimus Whitepaper.  

Wrench in the Works

So this Optimus stuff sounds pretty cool, the problem is that the game it plays with the graphics processors confuses Windows 7’s built in multiple screen management capabilities.  If we plug an external monitor or projector into the VGA port on the side of the W520 when Optimus is enabled (which it is by default), We are unable to “duplicate” the main laptop display on the external monitor or projector.  Windows 7 will allow you to “Extend” the displays, but not “Duplicate” them. 

Optimus Enabled - Dual Monitors - No duplicate

Seriously?!?! Yep, Seriously.  The problem appears to be (at least to me) that the Laptop’s built-in screen is being managed by the Integrated Intel HD graphics processor, and the external monitor or projector is being managed by the discrete Quadro 2000M.  You can see this if you open the NVIDIA Control Panel by right clicking on the Windows Desktop and selecting “NVIDIA Control Panel” from the pop-up menu:

SNAGHTML4ad47f

Then in the “Select a Task…” panel on the left, expand “Display” and select “Set up multiple displays”.  In the screen shot below, you can see that I have a “Samsung SyncMaster” monitor connected to the laptop (it is connected to the VGA port on the side of the W520) and that it is being driven by the discrete “Quadro 2000M” graphics processor, whereas the built-in “Laptop Display” is being driven by the integrated “Intel(R) HD Graphics Family” graphics processor.

SNAGHTML4f43e4

Disabling NVIDIA Optimus

When Lenovo ships the W520 with Windows 7 installed, it defaults to having the NVIDIA Optimus feature enabled.  If you don’t need the flexibility of the automatic switching provided by Optimus you can use the system BIOS to enable the “Integrated Graphics” (Intel HD) or “Discrete Graphics” (NVIDIA Quadro 2000M) specifically. 

ThinkPad Graphics Device BIOS Settings - No Callout

The table below outlines pros & cons of each choice:

Option Battery Life Graphics Performance Notes
Integrated Graphics Best Worst Pros:
  •  Best Battery Life
Cons:
  •  Worst Graphics Performance
  •  Doesn’t support multiple monitors

Recommended if running only business apps (Office, etc.) or if battery life is important, and you don’t need to use external displays or projectors.

Discrete Graphics Worst Best Pros:
  •  Best graphics performance
  •  Can support up to two monitors
     (internal & one external or two external)
  •  Screen duplication can be done using regular
     Windows 7 "Windows-P” key combination or
     control panel.
Cons:
  •  Worst Battery Life
  •  Can’t support three monitors

Recommended if you use graphics rich applications, battery life isn’t critical, and need to drive at most only two displays at a time. This option works great for a presenters laptop. 

NVIDIA Optimus (default) Middle Middle Pros:
  • Automatically balances battery life &
    graphics performance as much as possible
  • Supports up to three displays
     (Laptop and two external)
Cons:
  •  Requires use of the NVIDIA Control Panel 
      to manage screen duplication  
  •  May require custom configuration to support
     specific applications
  •  Requires Windows 7 or later

Recommended if you use both business apps (Office) and graphics rich apps regularly and want to optimize battery life, or if you need to drive three displays simultaneously.

Solutions for duplicating the display to an external projector:

Ok, up to this point we’ve learned a lot about the W520, Optimus and the Integrated (Intel HD) and Discrete (Quadro 2000M) graphics processors.  The point of this blog post however was to deal with the pesky problem of duplicating the W520’s display to an external monitor or projector.  By default, it doesn’t work as expected.  So what to do? Well, there are two ways to solve the problem. The first method involves using the “NVIDIA Control Panel” to manage your displays rather than the Windows 7 “Windows – P” key combination, or the regular Windows 7 “Screen Resolution” control panel. The second option involves turning off “NVIDIA Optimus” in the system BIOS and forcing it to always use the “Discrete Graphics” (NVIDIA Quadro 2000M) processor.  


Solution 1 – Duplicating Displays with “NVIDIA Optimus” Enabled (default)

When your Lenovo W520 shipped from the manufacturer, it was likely configured in the system BIOS to use NVIDIA Optimus.  Leaving it this way allows you to take advantage of both the integrated Intel HD graphics processor for apps that don’t need heavy graphics, while still having access to the Discrete Quadro 2000M graphics processor for graphics intensive apps.  This gives you the benefit of longer battery life when you are running regular apps, but better graphics performance (but shorter battery life) when running graphics heavy apps. 

To duplicate your display to an external monitor or projector when NVIDIA Optimus is enabled follow these steps:

  1. Open the “NVIDIA Control Panel” by right clicking on your windows desktop, and from the pop-up menu, selecting “NVIDIA Control Panel”.

    SNAGHTML4ad47f

  2. Once the “NVIDIA Control Panel” opens, under the “Select a Task…” panel on the left hand side, expand “Display”, and select “Set up multiple displays”. 

    SNAGHTML5b696d

  3. In the “Set Up Multiple Displays” panel on the right, look at the list displays shown below “1. Select the displays you want to use.”.  Take note of the number shown to the right for the “Laptop Display”.  In my screenshot above, you can see that my “Laptop Display” is currently number “1”.  Your Laptop Display’s number may be different (When I first started playing with this on my system, my “Laptop Display” was number 2, and at some point, something changed and caused the monitor numbers to switch, I am not sure what the cause was.  Regardless, it really doesn’t matter what the number is, you just need to know it).

    You can see in my screen shots that I have a “Samsung SyncMaster” connected to my external VGA port on the side of my W520.  Your monitor (or projector) make and model should be shown here instead.   In my case, my Samsung monitor is number “2” (again, your numbers may be different)

    image

  4. Under  “2. Drag the icons to match your display configuration.”, Notice that there are two boxes numbered with the same numbers as your laptop display and external display we discovered above.  Drag the boxes to represent the physical relationship between the actual displays.  This will make sure that the mouse moves correctly from display to display and that images that span multiple displays are shown correctly.  In my case, my Samsung SyncMaster (2) is to the left of my laptop screen (1) so I have arranged them to match that physical relationship:

    image

  5. Right click on one of the boxes (I usually right click on the box that represents the external display, currently number 2 in my case).  From the pop-up menu select the “Duplicate with x (use y as source)” where “y” is the number of your “Laptop Display” that we took special note of in step 3 above.  In my case, my laptop display is number 1, so I’ll choose the “Duplicate with 1 (use 1 as a source)” option.  Note that if I had right clicked on the box for the laptop display rather than the box for my external display, the menu option would read slightly different as, “Duplicate with 2 (use 1 as a source)”.  The key is the wording in the parenthesis.  The first number doesn’t matter, just make sure to choose the menu option that has the “… (use y as a source)” where “y” is the number of your laptop display.

    image

  6. Click the “Apply” button in the lower right corner:

    SNAGHTML7b5d9c

  7. Your displays should now be duplicated!  Next, you should be prompted to accept the changes.  Click “Yes” to accept the changes if things worked.  Click “No” if there was a problem.  If you can’t see anything, don’t worry, it should revert back to the previous setting after 20 seconds:

    SNAGHTML7db74f

  8. Hopefully, that worked for you!  I have been through these steps multiple times (including with an actual projector), and they have worked each time.  If you are still having problems, make sure you have updated the BIOS and video drivers for your system, and try it again. 
  9. Note that you can go back to the extended display configuration using the regular “Windows – P” key combination and selecting “Extend”:

    image
    or by repeating the steps above, but selecting “Extend desktop on this display” in step number five when you click on the single box representing the duplicated displays.


Solution 2 – Duplicating Displays with “Discrete Graphics” Enabled

If you prefer to use the discrete Quadro 2000M graphics processor exclusively, you can disable the NVIDIA Optimus feature by going into the W520 BIOS settings and setting the display to use “Discrete graphics”.  This will disable NVIDIA Optimus as well as the Integrated Intel HD graphics processor.   Once you have done that the regular Windows 7 screen management (Windows-P and Screen Resolution Control Panel) will work as normal.  To change your system over to using Discrete Graphics, use the following steps:

  1. If you don’t have BitLocker enabled, you can ignore this step and go on to Step 2.  However, if you do have BitLocker enabled on your system, you need to make sure that you have your BitLocker recovery key printed out or written down before you proceed (not the pin, but the super long recovery key).  Changing your BIOS settings will require the use of the BitLocker recovery key when you reboot, and you will want to have that handy.  To get a copy of your BitLocker recovery key, go to “Control Panel” | “BitLocker Drive Encryption” | “Manage BitLocker” | “Save or print recovery key again”.
  2. Reboot your W520.  When the ThinkPad logo screen appears, press the “F1” key on the keyboard to enter the system BIOS.

    ThinkPad Boot Logo

  3. From the BIOS screen use the arrow keys to move to the “Config” page, and then down to “Display” and press “Enter” (Sorry for the lame picture)

    ThinkPad BIOS Setup Screen

  4. In the “Display” settings, use the up and down arrow keys to move down to “Graphics Device” and Press “Enter” to access the Graphics Device options.  Again, use the arrow keys to select “Discrete Graphics” and press “Enter

    image

  5. Press the “F10” key to “Save and Exit”.  The system should reboot.
  6. If you aren’t using BitLocker, you can skip steps 6 and 7 and proceed to Step 8.  Otherwise, If you had BitLocker enabled on the system drive, you will be prompted during the boot process to enter the BitLocker recovery key mentioned in Step 1.  If you didn’t get the BitLocker key as instructed, change the BIOS setting back to the previous value, and start over, making sure to retrieve the  BitLocker key as instructed in Step 1.
  7. Once Windows has booted and you have logged in successfully, reset BitLocker by once again going into the Windows control panel, and selecting “BitLocker Drive Encryption”, then next to the system drive select “Suspend Protection” and answer “Yes” to the prompt, then immediately next to the system drive click “Resume Protection”. This will reset BitLocker with the current BIOS settings and prevent you from being prompted for the recovery on every reboot. 
  8. At this point only the Discrete Quadro 2000M graphics processor should be enabled.   Make sure that you have the external display (monitor or projector) connected to the VGA port on the side of the W520, boot the system if necessary, and log back into Windows.
  9. You should now be able to use the standard Windows 7  “Windows-P” keystroke to simply duplicate, or extend your displays.  Press the “Windows-P” key combination, then select “Duplicate

    image

  10. You can also make changes using the Windows 7 Control Panel’s “Screen Resolutions”

    image

  11. And if you prefer, you can still use the “NVIDIA Control Panel” to manage your displays.  The menu options are even friendlier. 

    SNAGHTML9dfd3

Conclusion

I have had a couple of W520’s over the past two years, and have generally run them both with the BIOS set to “Discrete Graphics”.  I haven’t had any problems, and have been very happy with the laptops and graphics over all.  I had the initial scare about not being able to duplicate my display to an external projector, but once I figured out the Discrete Graphics option, all has been well. 

Just today however, I finally decided to take advantage of my “Lenovo ThinkPad Mini Dock Plus Series 3 – 170W” and a pair of Samsung SyncMaster PX2370 displays.  I wanted to use both the external displays as well as the built in laptop display giving me three displays in all. I’ll save the steps for actually using three displays for another blog post, but my point is that the “Discrete Graphics” option has worked great for me for a couple of years.  For me at least, the “three displays” problem was the only use case I personally have encountered that required the “NVIDIA Optimus” setting. 

Multiple Monitors
My office is a hole in the wall under the stairs. High tech huh!

As I experimented with the various options, I did try the “Integrated Graphics” option but was never able to get an external display to work with it.  For me, being a presenter with the need to regularly connect to external projectors, that excluded the “Integrated Graphics” option as a viable choice. 

So my final recommendation? Use the “Discrete Graphics” BIOS setting unless you need to drive three displays, or need longer battery life, in which case you should use the “NVIDIA Optimus” BIOS setting.  Use “Integrated Graphics” ONLY if you don’t need an external monitor (EVER), you don’t use graphics apps or games,  and battery life is critical. 

Let me know if this helps you out!  I’d love to get your feedback!

19 Responses

  • […] above is my temporary test rig, trying out my new video output options that go well beyond the 2 monitor-outputs at a time max on my previously used LenovoThinkPad Mini Dock Plus Series 3 433830U. You can see the Lenovo […]

  • Thanks for this very detailed and accurate guideline. Helped me to figure out how this very advanced PC is working with external projectors…..

  • Very informative article.

  • Your post really helped me a lot to understand the graphics options of the W520. Thanks very much!

    P.S.: It was a bit difficult to leave a comment here. The fields don’t become active when you click on them with the mouse. I had to discover that this only happens when you press the “TAB” key. Thanks for your attention.

  • I have a w520.. and had the same exact problem… thanks a lots.. very appreciated.. I was not able to fix it whitout your help… thanks again

  • Thnaks for taking the time to post this.
    This has finally solved the mystery of not being able to duplicate monitors when using projectors. In my case, I do a lot of presentations and use the default Nvidia but the duplicate display issues does not happen all the time. I am not sure if the type of projector makes the difference ( I always use VGA).

    Shame on Lenovo for not addressing this issue. If spent that kind of money in a laptop, connecting to a projector should just work.

  • You are my HERO!!!! Thanks for all the work you put in on this post.

  • +1 on the hero vote. This goes a long way toward reforming my dislike-hate relationship with my W520.

  • Very useful post. I also got the three monitor scenario to work after installing Windows 8 (Win8) on this laptop. The trick was to enable Optimus as well as the OS Detection, in the BIOS. Then go to Win8’s Device Manager and make sure BOTH display chipsets are enabled. This way the NVidia chipset will drive the two external monitors, and the Intel chipset will drive the laptop’s built-in LCD screen.

    • @Babak, good point. I just re-read this and realized I didn’t mention the “OS Detection…” option in the BIOS config.

      For other readers, make sure to turn OFF (Disabled) “OS Detection for NVIDIA Optimus” when using Integrated or Discrete, and turn it ON (Enabled) when using Optimus.

      If you leave it “Enabled” when using Integrated or Discrete, the OS will just turn Optimus back on. It can be frustrating if you forget to set that option. I am ashamed for not mentioning it!

  • Oh, and make sure you download the latest Win8 driver for NVidia Quadro 2000M from NVidia’s web site before you try the above.

    The beauty of this is that the NVidia’s CPL can see and control both the NVidia-attached monitors, as well as the Intel-driven laptop LCD screen.

  • Merci beaucoup pour ce post. I will change my life with my W520 :-)

  • Thank you for publishing this! I have been using my W520 from work and cursing the fact I could not increase the video driver’s resolution to match the display’s capabilities. I hated the huge text display. But now, with your BIOS change suggestion, I have the display I’ve been wanting! Great stuff!

  • How to setup three displays with the Lenovo thinkpad w520
    Display number one on laptop.
    Display number two connected to VGA port,
    Display number three connected to DisplayPort.
    I must have the same image in each monitor.
    How can I do the correct setup?

  • I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ve been searching for this solution. Your explanation was perfect. It worked perfectly. I’m thrilled.

    Thanks.

  • THANK YOU! Must try this right away…

  • The “workaround” also applies to Lenovo W530.

    I’m not sure if the hardware is the same chips, but that doesn’t matter as I can duplicate the display now!

    Thank you!

  • […] is not a brand new issue with Nvidia Optimus solutions.  For example take a peek here for some of the reasons behind why the two cards are used and why this also affects older models […]

Leave a Reply