Living with Windows 10 4K Lag on Intel Laptops
Higher resolution displays have taken the market by storm no doubt. It’s a whole new experience when coming from a 1080p display, but a whole lot more if you’ve bought into the Windows ecosystem.
Existing owners can relate in some way with this title but if you’re well on route to get one, spoiler alert! Till Intel makes stronger integrated graphics cards and Microsoft enhance their Windows animation code, ‘Windows 10 4K lag’ would be a top search query among new owners.
However, in this article, I would show you how you could live with the current situation and make the most out of your gorgeous 4K display.
So I got my first 4K resolution laptop in 2019. This was a Lenovo Yoga 720–15ikb i7–7700HQ with Intel HD Graphics 630, a 15.6" UHD 4K LCD panel and an Nvidia GTX 1050 for that extra support. The display was beautiful in all ramifications: vibrant colors, rich-enough blacks, sharpness that could slice paper. At that moment, I was very satisfied with my purchase. That was till I swiped four fingers to switch virtual desktops. Oh boy, horror movies hadn’t prepared me for the choppy animation and frame drops I witnessed.
Updating drivers, Windows and BIOS changed very little while downgrading them didn’t help matters at all. All seems good when one or two apps are open but the moment you mix in some UWP apps and you perform an action or gesture with animations, things start to look choppy again. Downgrading to 1080p after experiencing such beauty wasn’t an option for me. This was shaping up to be the best-worst display experience I’d encountered — aside black smearing on Pixel 3 OLED (should write an article about that).
A simple solution would be to not use virtual desktops, use external displays instead or just turn off Windows animations completely. Well, it wouldn’t be a portable high-end laptop if it was forced under those conditions.
Reality was disappointing, but it was one I had to accept and learn to live with considering I wasn’t alone.
Why was this happening?
Well, it is rather complicated and I am yet to understand it fully. However, here is what I could gather over time.
- Many laptops with Intel integrated graphics can *just support 4K resolutions. Meaning that at the barest minimum, the Intel chips have enough juice to power these hefty displays but not so much that you get away without any drawbacks.
- Newer laptops with dedicated graphics like Nvidia and AMD have been forced to use Intel’s integrated chips as the primary display renderer. The dedicated chips only turn on when the laptop needs to process demanding graphics like 3D and other complex vectors, otherwise it stays off to save battery. Leaving Intel’s ‘just-enough’ juice to power the display without assistance. This has been the norm since the advent of Nvidia Optimus Switchable Graphics back in 2010.
- Microsoft hasn’t fully optimized multi-finger gestures. Precision touchpads were rather new back in the day but are now becoming a norm. Along the line, Microsoft introduced multi-finger gestures that aim to mimic Apple’s sumptuous trackpad. This worked by mapping the capacitive touch on the touchpad to similar locations on the display. Simulating touchscreen in some way. However, they don’t output smooth animations on higher resolutions compared to dedicated keyboard shortcuts. Try switching desktops with multi-finger gesture vs. CTRL + Windows Key + Arrow Left/Right, the difference should be much noticeable on higher resolution displays.
How to live with this
Things can only improve with software updates but this issue can’t be completely eliminated as it is mostly hardware-based. However, here are some ways you could get the best of both high resolution and more fluid animations with somewhat little compromises.
Change your resolution
I mentioned earlier that going to 1080p from 4K wasn’t an option for me; neither was 2K but I was able to settle down midway, at a 3K-ish resolution (2880x1620 for 15.6-inch laptops). A little counterintuitive, but the difference is actually not that noticeable. Plus, at this resolution, things quickly get better. Animations are a lot snappier, much less heat and fan noise, and slightly better battery life. Peace alas in the Windows ecosystem. Perhaps Apple knew better than most laptop manufacturers that Intel wasn’t ready for 4K yet. However, the number of active pixels remain unchanged as of when it was set to 4K res. That’s why battery drain doesn’t change much. Still, the extra pixels make it a little better than the MacBook’s native resolution.
You do however lose some screen real estate. That’s were scaling comes in handy. Scaling has improved drastically on Windows and most applications look good at this custom resolution. I use 175% scaling along with this custom resolution to give more real estate as opposed to the recommended 200%. I only had an issue once with Groove music but that has long since been fixed.
3K resolutions sadly are not offered in many laptops as a preset and for disclaiming purposes, I do not recommend you using it. However, I’ve been using it for 2 years now without any noticeable problem. As a rule of thumb, your 3K resolution would be 3/2 (or 1.5) x your native 1080p resolution. If you have a 15.6-inch laptop, that would be 1.5 x (1920x1080) = (2880x1620). It could vary for other screen sizes.
You can follow this guide to set your 3K resolution, with CRU (Custom Resolution Utility) as your last resort if Intel doesn’t allow you. Ensure to read carefully before attempting to add a custom resolution.
Change your gesture actions
As I mentioned earlier, keyboard shortcuts perform certain actions much faster than precision touchpad gestures. Thankfully, Windows provides a way to assign shortcuts to your Precision Touchpad. Simply search for Touchpad Settings and head over to Advanced Gesture Configuration. Change the gesture option for switching desktops to Custom shortcut and record the following shortcuts in the image below. You can check out my article for the best gesture actions I’ve come to love over the years.
The only drawback is that custom shortcuts don’t work when elevated windows like Task Manager, Device Manager and other apps running as Administrator are in the foreground.
Turn off Windows animations all-together
Even with all the improvement, there would still be very slight moments of lag. If you are that keen on detail, you could disable Windows animations totally, like I did once. Simply search for Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows in your Search. Click the Settings button under Performance and uncheck some or all relating animations, depending on your preference.
Well that’s about all I know and have tried for now. Hopefully, things get better with laptop 4K displays support in time, or not. Either way I’m really comfortable with these compromises and wish that manufacturers included 3K resolutions in their line-ups like Apple have done.
Thank you for reaching the end! 🥳
You can leave a comment or two, recommendations are welcome, and feel free to discuss your own experiences 😁