scattering clouds

Restoring the display quality of an unplugged Windows laptop.

The display quality of my Windows 10 laptop degrades noticeably when unplugged. The colors are washed out, the contrast is lowered, and everything looks strangely different when the laptop is powered by battery instead of an electrical outlet.

If something similar has ever happened to you, you would know how inconvenient and annoying this can get. Especially if you need to work with colors or images while travelling, as is my case when I want to tinker with some website designs.

I don’t always get the chance to plug in my laptop while on the road! How am I supposed to get anything done if I can’t even tell if the colors are correct?

Worse still, Google Search is being extremely unhelpful with this issue, with their TOP search result being an old Microsoft TechNet forum question hailing all the way back from 2014… regarding a laptop running on Windows 8.1.

Screenshot of an outdated forum post from 9 years ago being listed as Google's top search result.
An outdated forum post from 9 years ago being listed as Google’s top search result.

Ugh. Talk about dropping the ball there, Google.

According to Statcounter, only 2.6% of Windows users are still running Windows 8.1 in December 2022. So the current top Google Search result is completely IRRELEVANT to at least 97.4% of people on the internet.

A screenshot of the Windows version market share in December 2022. Data provided by Statcounter.
Windows version market share in December 2022. Data provided by Statcounter.

Thanks for being oh so very helpful there, Google Search. You REALLY nailed it on the head this time. With such levels of competence, there is no wonder why Google had to declare a “code red” amidst the rise of AI chatbots like ChatGPT.

The crux of the problem.

Since the color and display quality degrades ONLY when I unplug my laptop, the problem is most likely caused by some sort of battery-saving or power-saving feature. I.e. a well-intentioned but badly implemented feature that kicks in automatically whenever my laptop is running on battery power to help extend its battery life, usually by lowering the computer’s performance in some manner.

As the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So I need to figure out which software is causing this issue, and look for a setting to disable the offending feature. And when it comes to color and display issues, the problem is usually connected to the laptop screen or the graphics card.

My laptop screen looks to be working fine, so the problem has to be with graphics.

All modern computers will have at least one on-board graphics processing unit, better known as the integrated graphics, and it is often built directly into the laptop processor or CPU. Integrated graphics usually consume less power and are suitable for light tasks, e.g. website browsing and watching a YouTube video.

More performant computers (e.g. gaming laptops) can come with a second, more powerful graphics card known as dedicated graphics. These graphics cards are usually very hungry for energy, and are used to carry out more graphically intensive tasks, e.g. gaming and video editing. These tasks can also be performed using integrated graphics, but with far worse performance (i.e. slower).

Computers with two graphics cards will automatically switch between integrated and dedicated graphics depending on the task at hand.

For lighter tasks like rendering videos and images in a browser, however, the laptop will usually default to integrated graphics.

And that is where I chose to start my investigation.

Step 1: Identify the integrated graphics unit.

First, I need to know which type of integrated graphics is built into the CPU of my laptop. Since there are only two major manufacturers of computer processors in the world, it is usually one of two possibilities: Intel or AMD.

There are a number of ways to discover which type of processor is powering a Windows 10 computer:

  • You can check the “Performance” tab in the Windows Task Manager.
  • You can search for “About your PC” in the Windows settings.
  • You can search for “System Information” in the Windows Start menu.

Step 2: Find the graphics card settings.

Intel integrated graphics.

My laptop comes with a 10th-gen Intel processor, and its integrated graphics settings can be accessed using the Intel Graphics Command Center (IGCC).

IGCC requires your laptop to be powered by a 6th-gen Intel processor (or newer). If IGCC is not installed on your laptop, you can get it from the Microsoft Store.

AMD integrated graphics.

If your laptop comes with an AMD processor, online sources indicate that its integrated graphics settings can be accessed using AMD Radeon Software (ARS).

If ARS is not present on your laptop, you can also get it from the Microsoft Store.

Step 3: Switch off the offending feature.

Intel integrated graphics.

With a 6th-gen or later Intel processor, the offending power-saving feature can be switched off in the IGCC by navigating to “System” > “Power” > “On Battery” > “Display Power Savings” > toggle it to “Off”.

Alternatively, you can reduce the “Power Efficiency” slider to the lowest possible number (i.e. “1”) and toggle “Enhanced Power Saving” to “Off”.

A screenshot indicating how to find and turn off the "Display Power Savings" setting in the Intel Graphics Command Center.
Turning off the “Display Power Savings” setting in the Intel Graphics Command Center.

Once done, you can try to plug in and unplug your laptop to see if the new settings will take effect. Or you can simply restart your laptop to see if it works.

AMD integrated graphics.

With an AMD processor, several online sources indicate that you can switch off the offending power-saving variable brightness feature in the ARS by navigating to “Settings” > “Display” > “Vari-Bright” > toggle it to “Off”.

Alternately, you can set the “Vari-Bright Level” to the maximum possible brightness if the “Vari-Bright” setting turns on automatically when you unplug your laptop.

I suggest taking a look at the screenshots provided by Lenovo Support if you need help finding the “Vari-Bright” setting.

Once done, you can try to plug in and unplug your laptop to see if the new settings will stick. Or you can choose to restart your laptop to see if it is still working.

Closing words.

This blog post is a simple recount of how I fixed my laptop display quality issues when it is unplugged, and the steps and thought process I followed to get there.

Google Search wasn’t as helpful as I hoped it would be, though I did manage to find what I need by googling “configure intel integrated graphics power settings”, which allowed me to discover how I can change and experiment with the Intel integrated graphics settings through the Intel Graphics Command Center.

A screenshot of the final Google Search result after an extensive bout of reasoning and researching, looking for a way to prevent my laptop display quality from degrading when it is unplugged.
My final Google Search result after an extensive bout of reasoning and researching.

I’ve lamented about this in a previous blog post and I will do so again here: Google’s current search engine implementation certainly has no shortage of shortcomings.

Perhaps the advancement of AI tools like ChatGPT is actually a good thing, since it is the only thing in recent memory that can even come close to challenging Google’s stagnating dominance in the search engine industry.

A healthy amount of competition is always good. Mayhaps one day we will always get the answer we need when a question is asked.

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