How to Change the Primary Display Adapter

By Dan Stone

Changing your computer's primary display adapter can be as easy as moving a cable; however, advanced configurations require behind the scenes tinkering. Display adapters handle graphics and video processing. Display adapter is just one acceptable name for the component: graphics card, video adapter, graphics and video card are all synonymous. The primary display adapter designation is important when the motherboard has multiple video devices: When there's only one video device it's automatically the primary display adapter.

Using Autodetect

Step 1

Shut down the computer. Rebooting will not give you enough time to complete the process.

Step 2

Disconnect the monitor cable or cables from the current graphics card's video ports. You can identify the display ports based on cable type: they use VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.

Step 3

Connect the monitor cable or cables to the desired graphics card's video ports to switch the display adapter. You may have to switch monitor cables or use a converter, if the second display adapter uses different port types.

Step 4

Power on the computer. The monitor will display the boot screen if done correctly.

Using BIOS or UEFI

Step 1

Boot to BIOS or UEFI to access the hardware configuration. If you computer came with Windows 8 installed, it is running UEFI. To reboot into UEFI, open the Charms bar, search for "UEFI," select "Settings," choose "Advanced Startup Options" and click "Restart now" under the "Advanced Startup" menu. Otherwise, press the "Setup" key -- usually "F1," "F2," "DEL," "ESC," or "F10 -- during the boot splash screen to enter BIOS.

Step 2

Locate the "primary display adapter" setting in BIOS/UEFI and change it to the desired display adapter. BIOS features, setting locations and naming conventions vary from computer to computer. The setting will feature a combination of the words display, adapter, graphics, card, video, board, integrated, device and controller. Alternatively, you can switch from built-in graphics to expansion card graphics by setting "Integrated Graphics Device" to "Always Disable."

Step 3

Save and exit BIOS/UEFI. If you don't save, the setting will not change.

Tips & Warnings

  • Display adapters include their own video ports on desktop computers, so you won't be able to use an on-board adapter through an expansion card's video port. The computer checks which display adapters are connected when the system turns on and sets the primary display adapter accordingly. Some laptop computers have two built-in graphics cards that share the same video ports and monitor connection, so there's no way to re-wire or adjust cables to select between the two.
  • Desktop computers equipped with CrossFire or SLI can use two graphics cards together when properly configured. Multi-GPU setups will configure the top or lowest numbered expansion port as the primary display adapter. You can switch the designation by switching the card connections.
  • If you're using a desktop computer with more than one expansion card, you can resolve primary adapter selection issues by removing the unused card.