The laptop graphics card is usually in the form of chips installed on the laptop motherboard from the factory. There may be some exceptions in some models, but in most cases, you can find the graphics card soldered in the expansion slot close to the CPU. So it’s not something that is designed to be removed, replaced, or upgradeable. So for those asking, “can I upgrade my laptop graphics card? There you have your answer.
Unfortunately, you can’t remove and replace factory-installed graphics cards in view of upgrading the GPU. So you’d most likely end up bricking the laptop.
So, what do you do if you want to turn your old laptop into a gaming one and get more graphics performance out of it? Keep reading, and I’ll explain why upgrading the laptop graphics card is almost impossible. But, more importantly, I’ll tell you the options you have.
Can I Upgrade My Laptop Graphics Card? A Detailed Explanation
In most cases, replacing the graphics card will not be possible or sensible.
Upgrading to a better graphics card is not as easy as upgrading a desktop PC’s, where you can plug the new, standardized graphics card into the PCI slot.
It is only possible with an MXM 1, 2, 3, or HE slot (Mobile PCI Express Module) from NVidia. The Axiom slot developed by ATI was unsuccessful, so ATI also developed graphics cards for the MXM slot.
But still, upgrading the graphics card in the laptop is not recommended. This is because the cooling capacity may not be sufficient, and there are often problems with the incompatible graphics BIOS and the height of individual components.
The best option today will be to get an external discrete graphics card station. It is installed via the thunderbolt port of the laptop, like a speaker or power bank. It, therefore, serves as a reserve graphics card station for the main one on the board in the laptop.
Even if it is theoretically possible to upgrade the one on the main board, replacing a graphics card on a laptop is, in most cases, impossible without special equipment such as soldering stations. And even then, an upgrade is only possible in a few models.
Still, the procedure is often very expensive, generates too much heat, and the new GPU chip will not fit into the housing.
Only since the introduction of the standardized graphics card modules from ATI (AXIOM) and above all from NVIDIA with MXM (Mobile PCI Express Module) in 2004 has it been theoretically possible to change the graphics card in laptops.
As far as I know, it was previously only possible to exchange the graphics card in some Dell devices (because Dell designed its module and used it for some series).
For example, it was possible to use the graphics card from the Dell Inspiron 8200 in the 8100.
Laptops without MXM, Axiom, or “Dell Slot” therefore offer practically no possibility to upgrade the graphics card. This is also a problem for repairs since the GPUs are usually soldered directly to the mainboard, and the entire mainboard has to be replaced.
Read also: What Does GPU Stand For in Computers?
What Are the Alternatives?
It’s generally not possible to upgrade the laptop graphics card chip on the motherboard.
But as always in the computer hardware industry, there’s always a way around this.
The following methods can improve the graphics performance or the laptop’s performance. One of these will be even more sensible if your computer uses a graphics unit integrated into the CPU.
Alt 1. Get an external GPU
The smoothest way around is to get an external GPU. Before introducing you to what they are, I’ll tell you what the different graphics cards used in laptops are.
There are 3 different variants of graphics cards – the external plugged-in GPU docking station, the internal discrete graphics, and the chipset-integrated graphics card variant.
Version 1: The external discrete GPU
The external discrete graphics card is separately plugged into a laptop. It may be externally installed on the laptop, but it works with the internal chipset.
It allows your laptop to get more graphics from the external GPU. This helps the laptop to reflect more graphics on display.
An external GPU works like a power bank intended to charge the laptop – but this time with graphics.
With this variant, supplementing, adding, or upgrading a laptop’s graphics card is usually not a problem since the mainboard does not have to be tampered with.
Laptop manufacturers such as Dell, Toshiba, and Asus design their own graphics card slots for external graphics cards.
Version 2: The internal discrete onboard graphics card (dedicated GPU)
The internal, discrete graphics GPU is soldered to the mainboard. However, it’s separated from the processor as the main graphics card chips are.
So this type has dedicated memory and will reduce the workload on the main processor.
Version 3: Internal integrated graphics
Internal integrated graphics are the usual type found in laptops. It is integrated into the chipset with no separate GPU.
Like the dedicated graphics version, you can best replace the graphics chip (if possible) using a complex process on a BGA rework station. To do this, however, you must remove the entire mainboard.
Alt 2. Replace the CPU
Some laptops still have CPUs that are not soldered in place. This allows you to install more powerful processors (depending on the motherboard socket, of course). You can find all information about your built-in CPU on Google, including the socket.
This way, you can determine which more powerful CPUs fit on the same socket. Of course, you must also ensure that the components are compatible and that the heat development is not higher.
However, interchangeable CPUs are quite expensive and even rare to find. It’s best to look for the maximum CPU installed in the same laptop and buy the used one, for example. Most of these processors also contain a better-integrated graphics unit, which improves performance.
Alt 3. Replace the memory
The main memory directly influences the graphics performance of CPUs with integrated graphics (APU). This is because the graphics unit uses part of the built-in main memory (RAM) as graphics memory. That’s a bit like giving your graphics card more and faster RAM.
As a rule, installing a set of 2 of the same RAM size is best. After that, you can either switch to larger memory or choose a faster bandwidth (DDR1/2/3/4/5… the higher the number, the better).
Alt 4. Last but not least – SSD is the magic word
It’s also much easier to replace or upgrade the hard drive. You give your entire system a makeover by replacing the conventional hard drive with an SSD.
An SSD can also drastically reduce game loading times and thus ensure a smoother gaming experience.
How to Upgrade Your Laptop’s Graphics Card – Step-by-step Instructions
If you’ve confirmed that your laptop has an MXM socketed GPU, then maybe you can upgrade the graphics card on the motherboard.
Some upgradeable laptops are models with MXM GPUs like the Exigo or Legion and the Dominator pro and Titan series from MSI. But still, you’re doing this at great risk to the motherboard.
So if that’s not a problem and you’re willing to try it, I’ll explain how you can upgrade your laptop’s main GPU in this section.
Preparations for changing the graphics card
1. Check the CPU and RAM
Before you shell out any money and invest in a new graphics card, you should ensure that your laptop has enough memory and CPU to drive the graphics card.
To do this, open the Task Manager with the key combination [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[Esc] and go to the “Performance” tab.
Here you can see how the CPU, RAM, and GPU (graphics card) areas are used during active gaming. Of course, there is little point in investing in a new graphics card if your computer lacks RAM.
2. Check the connections
Before you buy, also check whether your computer has enough connections and space so that you can install the new graphics card correctly.
The values for this can be found, for example, on the data sheets of the housing.
In addition, the length for certain housings or the number of occupied PCI Express slots for users of other peripherals, such as WLAN or early SSDs, are relevant.
3. Check the power supply
You should ensure that your power supply has enough power to drive the new graphics card. You can find the maximum number of watts required by the GPU in the product information for the graphics card or on the manufacturer’s website.
So be generous when sizing the power supply. Incidentally, a power supply unit achieves optimal efficiency with a load of around 50 percent.
4. Create a backup
Before you can finally start, you should create a backup of your PC. Not much can go wrong when changing a graphics card. Nevertheless, you should rather be on the safe side here.
Uninstall the graphics card driver
The first step to a new graphics card is to uninstall your old graphics driver. However, this can lead to complications after installing the new graphics card.
- To do this, open your laptop’s Device Manager through the Windows search bar
- Expand your Display adapters by clicking the arrow in front
- Then double-click the graphics driver and go to the Driver tab
- Click the Uninstall Device button and confirm the deletion
- After that, shut down and turn off your computer. Then unplug the device to remove power from the device.
Remove the graphics card
It’s time to get down to business. First, remove the screws on the case side of your laptop to get access to its inner workings. Then remove your old graphics card by following the steps below:
- If applicable, remove both the PCIe power cable(s) connecting the graphics card and power supply and the HDMI or DisplayPort cable on the back of your case that connects the monitor to the graphics card.
- If present, loosen any screws connecting the graphics card to the chassis.
- Press the lever on the mainboard’s PCI Express slot and pull the graphics card out of the connector. Lift the graphics card slightly to facilitate release.
Installing the graphics card – step by step
Installing the new graphics card follows the same steps as removing it – except in reverse:
- Insert the graphics card into the mainboard until the lever to the right of the connector clicks into place.
- Screw the graphics card to ensure a more secure hold.
- Plug the power adapter’s PCIe power cable and the monitor’s HDMI or DisplayPort cable into the slots provided. Make sure that the cables are not directly in front of any fans. So the cooling of the computer is not inhibited.
Tip: Leave the case’s side panel open until the entire process is complete. So you don’t have to unscrew them again if something doesn’t work.
After the successful installation and start, the usual image of a booting system should be visible on your display. Without a dedicated driver, Windows uses a standard graphics driver. It doesn’t look particularly nice, but it’s enough for installing the official driver.
You can either install this using the CD that may be included or obtain the current version from the manufacturer’s website.
After downloading, install the driver as usual. The screen may lose the signal several times for a moment. But that’s nothing to worry about. The new driver just started its work.
If you have a monitor with Adaptive Sync, you can activate Nvidia G-Sync or AMD FreeSync to prevent tearing effects in games and videos.
Can You Add a Graphics Card to a Laptop for Gaming?
Yes, definitely! You can add an external discrete graphics card station, the eGPU, to a gaming laptop.
Most modern gaming laptops are compatible with these dock stations with special ports.
The connection method can be with a VGA, Bluetooth, or in most cases, a Thunderbolt 3 port.
3 Best External Graphics Cards for Laptops
Remember I told you external graphics cards are your best shot if you need to upgrade your graphics card safely? And now, here are the best external graphics card docks (eGPUs) for laptops.
- Compatible with Windows and MacOS laptops
- Requires Thunderbolt 3
- 650W PSU
- NVIDIA /AMD PCIe Support
With a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the Razer Core X docking station can work with computers equipped with Mac and Windows systems. It has three slots that allow it to support desktop PCIe graphics cards easily. It is a device that also integrates Plug and Play technology for speeds of up to 40 Gb/s.
In terms of power, this box has all the weapons. Its power supply is 650 watts, and the maximum power of its graphics processor is 500 watts. So when plugged in via USB cable, it can deliver 100Watts of power to your PC. Likewise, it makes it lightweight and portable.
On the one hand, the Razer Core X eGPU has the features to support Radeon cards that are compatible with NVIDIA, AMD XConnect, and Geforce. But, on the other hand, it works well with the latest desktop graphics cards.
- Waterforce cooling system
- Works with Thunderbolt 3
- 3 DisplayPort 1.4, 3 USB-A 3.0, 2 HMDI 2.1, and 1 Ethernet RJ45 port
The Aorus RTX 3080 Gaming Box is Gigabyte’s latest attempt at an external graphics solution. In addition, this box is integrated with a unique cooling system called the Waterforce system.
Gigabyte specifies that the water block has a large copper base surmounted by an “optimized” pump. More interestingly, the manufacturer points out that the water block is not limited to the GPU but also refreshes the memory and the MOSFETs. It is then connected to a 240 mm radiator, which is topped by two 120 mm fans.
All this takes place in an entirely black parallelepiped-shaped box. It is connected, of course, to the PC itself, through the Thunderbolt 3 connector, which ensures sufficient speeds and helps take full advantage of the GeForce RTX 3080.
Beyond the power of the latest graphics card from NVIDIA, the Aorus RTX 3080 Ti Gaming Box has a wide range of connectors: 3 DisplayPort 1.4, 3 USB-A 3.0, 2 HMDI 2.1, and 1 Ethernet RJ45 port find themselves on the back of the beast.
- Thunderbolt 3 interface with 2 USB-C ports
- External 150W power adapter
- Dedicated DisplayPort for a second monitor
This external graphics card box is a great option if you don’t want to get a high-performance laptop that is relatively expensive. Its additional power, provided by the 400 Watts SFX block, allows you to update your laptop or mini PC easily. For example, terminals that could not support a VR headset can now use this device to work with virtual reality. In addition, it is a cheaper device, and it’s compatible with Mac and Windows.
However, this AkiTiO Node external graphics card does not have good charging power.
Therefore, you must keep your laptop charged while you play a game. Also, you may have a small problem with the fan. They emit a somewhat disturbing noise from time to time. Nevertheless, nothing calls into question the quality of this device. You can use it with all graphics cards.
Other features of the AKiTiO Node Duo include its compatibility with Thunderbolt 3, and its design goes very well with recent MacBooks / iMacs. In addition, it offers two ports that you can use simultaneously. However, it is too higher-priced compared to the power delivered.