I have 2 graphics cards in my laptop (Alienware M11X); the first is the default Intel graphics card, and the second is a high perf Nvidia card.

I would like to play my Steam games with the Nvidia card (namely Half Life 2, Ep1), but it keeps playing with the Intel card. This is what is shown everytime I start the game:

Using intel card

I have tried starting steam.exe with the Nvidia card, but that doesn't change the card the game uses. I have also tried setting the Nvidia card to the default card to use for all programs, but the game still does not use it. Is there a way for me to do this?

  • This has all changed with the current version of Windows. I'm using Windows 11. You're notified in the Nvidia panel described that this setting is now part of Windows and the Nvidia panel no longer had any effect. Go to Settings➡️ System➡️ Display➡️ Graphics. I've only tested this in Windows 11.
    – RoboJ1M
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 19:38

7 Answers 7


I have a similar computer set up, and here is how I make it work:

  1. Go to the NVIDIA Control Panel by right clicking on your desk top and clicking on "NVIDIA Control Panel".

  2. In the default screen that pops up (it should be "manage 3D settings", and the "Program Settings" tab should be automatically selected), under "1. Select a program to customize:" hit the "Add" button.

  3. From here, navigate to the folder where your steam games are located. For me, it is C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common.

  4. Select the folder for the game you want to use your NVIDIA card for, and find the .exe for that game (it's usually right in the main game folder). Select it and hit open.

  5. Then, under "2. Select the preferred graphics processor for this program:" open the drop-down menu and select "High-performance NVIDIA processor".

  6. Finally, hit apply in the far bottom right corner, and you should be good to go!

When you start the game from Steam, the .exe will be opened, which will now run with your NVIDIA card by default rather than your integrated card. I've noticed that most older games, when started, will use the integrated card by default. The method described above can be used for any .exe file, not just games in your steam library!

  • 2
    Yes this did it: I couldn't find the '.exe' before so assumed steam was doing some other behind the scenes stuff to start the game or something lol. Once I did this the dialog above didn't even pop up anymore. I also downloaded the optimus test tools and it said the 'hl2.exe' was using the Nvidea card :)
    – LynchDev
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 14:20
  • 2
    With some (not all) Steam games, including Civilization V and Telltale's The Walking Dead for me, forcing the game to run with the discrete Nvidia card fails. I've found in these cases that quitting and restarting Steam as administrator is the only way to get the discrete card to handle the game. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 19:57

Alienware m11x utilizes Optimus technology which switches between your Intel HD (to safe your battery life) and nVidia (high preformance on demand) GPU. When you start a game, it do (well, should) switch to your nVidia graphic card.

Just in case, I suggest updating your GPU drivers up to date. If you want to be sure Optimus is working as it should, try monitoring your GPU temperature during gameplay or stress test.


This may not answer the question exactly, but could help determine if the nvidia card is being switched to during high load (which is part of what the question is about).

Optimus State Viewer

Using this tool you could be sure about whether the optimus technology is actually working and you may not have to force anything since its for the best. But if you really need the dedicated card to be grinding all the time then you can force it through the nvidia control panel as others have said.

All you have to do is run the tool and then when you think the load is heavy, like in the middle of a huge battle ingame, you alt-tab out of the game and you can clearly see the state of optimus in the tool.

  • 1
    How would you use this tool to figure out if the card is being switched to?
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 19:39
  • All you have to do is run the tool and then when you think the load is heavy, like in the middle of a huge battle ingame, you alt-tab out of the game and you can clearly see the state of optimus in the tool. Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 20:00
  • I'd recommend adding that to your answer. It's all well and good to recommend a product, but it's usually a good idea to detail how to use it to meet the need when you do.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 20:43

I think what is confusing you is just because Steam gives you that pop-up doesn't actually mean that you are using it. On my laptop I get the same message, but if I was actually using the Intel GD Graphics chipset. The game would not be playable as it does not support certain pixel shaders. So in reality you can just ignore the message, as more then likely in your case you are using the dedicated video card.

  • Yup. Steam is not a game, it doesn't need to use the good GPU.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:54

I have the Alienware M14X, and if I'm not plugged into an AC outlet, and Window 7's power options is not set on "High Performance" then I get this similar error in other games. Make sure that you're plugged in and that the Power Options in Windows is set for High Performance.

Edit: I believe that Henry2626's solution equates to the same thing as mine, but it's a more roundabout way of enabling "High Performance." Another way to enable this without going into Power Options is via the tray where you see the battery/charge icon near the clock. Clicking on this will give you some power options, but if you don't see High Performance, click on "More Power Options" which will take you to same Control Panel area that I originally advised.


It's a bug with the ATI card.

It seems that the card becomes unresponsive - so optimus switches out to the intel card.

Usually turning off the Alienware, pulling the power cord, pulling the battery and holding the power button in will resolve the issue.

I have an M17X-R3.

  • 3
    The OP doesn't have an ATI card. Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:56

This might be a little dumb but... Are you sure your monitor is plugged to the high end card?

I say this because this process was mostly autodetect afterward for me

  • 6
    It's a laptop, he doesn't need to plug in a monitor...
    – JohnoBoy
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 15:05

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