If you want to watch 4K videos or play high-graphics games, you will need a powerful graphics card. However, unlike desktops, it is nearly impossible to change a laptop’s graphics. Opening up a laptop and manually changing a dedicated GPU not only requires expert hands, but it also can cause irreversible damage to the motherboard. So, are you stuck with an outdated device? The Not at all!
The short answer is – You can upgrade your laptop graphics by adding an external GPU. There are 3 options for adding an external GPU to your laptop:
- Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit,
- M.2 NVMe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit,
- Thunderbolt eGPU Dock.
Today, we will discuss everything about external GPU and guide you through the process of how to upgrade your laptop graphics by adding external GPU. Let’s start with an overview of external GPU.
What Is an External GPU?
External GPUs are popularly known as eGPUs, and they are rather new in the laptop world. The aim of eGPU technology is to enable laptop users to enjoy desktop-quality graphics. eGPUs can be connected to a laptop via external hardware docks or upgrade kits.
Adding an eGPU can significantly improve your laptop’s graphics. You will experience much better visual performance in gaming, video editing, and graphics designing. However, before upgrading your laptop graphics by adding an external GPU, you will have to evaluate the laptop’s compatibility and the specs of the docks or upgrade kits and eGPUs.
How Does an External GPU Work?
Except for some high-end gaming laptops, most laptops have lower graphics processing power than typical desktop computers. Therefore, your visual experience on a laptop is somewhat inferior compared to desktops. Enhancing your gaming experience and the laptop’s overall performance often requires buying a new laptop or desktop with better graphics.
However, realistically, it is not possible for everyone to just buy a new computer to fully enjoy games with heavy graphics. Luckily, eGPUs allow you to keep your existing laptop and boost its power to match all your needs. They can also be used with desktop computers.
eGPU technology combines a powerful graphics card with a desktop-level power supply and a PCIe. It allows your laptop to bypass the internal graphics processing system and use graphics processing power from the external dock. Since the external graphics card is more powerful, you get a better graphics performance on your laptop display.
However, you cannot expect the same improvement from the external graphic card as it would be if it was installed internally. However, the eGPU technology itself is in the process of further development. In the near future, we expect to see some outstanding new features of this technology to take the laptop gaming experience to a whole new level.
How to Pick an External GPU?
Now that you understand what an eGPU is and how it works let’s move on to the hardware components. Although the technology is relatively new, there are tons of eGPU docks from renowned brands, such as Razer, Asus, and PowerColor, already available on the market.
While browsing through eGPU docks, consider the following factors to choose the best one for your laptop.
When it comes to compatibility, you will have to conduct a two-fold evaluation. First, check the laptop’s compatibility with eGPU technology. Second, check the graphics card’s and eGPU dock’s compatibility with your needs, such as the spec requirements of the game you want to play.
When analyzing your laptop’s compatibility, check if it has Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports, as most eGPU docks require that to connect to a host computer. This powerful connection technology from Intel offers a transmitting data speed of upto 40 Gbps. If your laptop does not have at least Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, you will have to go for more complicated options like using eGPU kits or upgrade kits.
Next, analyze the specs of the eGPU docks and external graphics cards you are considering. Whereas some docks come with pre-installed graphics cards, others give you the freedom of finding and adding the right graphics cards by yourself.
Start by checking the required specs of the games or editing tasks you want to do with improved graphics. Then evaluate them against the available eGPU docks and graphics card options. We recommend investing in a more powerful eGPU system than it is required to enable your laptop to handle even more demanding operations.
Games with heavy graphics require significant power from your GPU to offer the intended experience. Therefore, you will have to look for an eGPU that can access a lot of power to fully enjoy the visual experience you want. The available eGPUs on the market can run with 100W to 650W PSU power, whereas you should choose the ones with atleast 400W to enjoy peak graphics performance.
Just like desktop and laptop graphics systems, eGPU needs cooling to work. Otherwise, it will burn out the internal mechanisms. While you use external graphics processors, it can use either an internal or external fan unit to cool. We recommend looking for internal cooling options as they require less space and offer more efficient cooling.
Some eGPU docks are large and heavy, which may be too much for some gaming setups. Therefore, before choosing an eGPU system, measure how much space you have for it. Pick the one that you can comfortably accommodate within your gaming center.
How to Upgrade Your Laptop Graphics By Adding External GPU?
As we have already mentioned – You can upgrade your laptop graphics by adding eGPU in 3 ways:
- Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit
- M.2 NVMe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit,
- Thunderbolt eGPU Dock.
Below, we will explain all these options.
1. Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit
This is the most affordable option. You can install external graphics on your laptop using a Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit. You’ll have to connect this kit to the Mini PCIe slot inside your laptop. The slot is usually pre-occupied by the wireless card, which you will have to remove. Therefore, your laptop will not have WiFi connectivity anymore.
Along with losing the wireless card, there are many downsides to using this method. A Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit expands to a x16 slot, but it does offer the same bandwidth. Rather, the whole system will be limited to a single PCIe lane’s bandwidth. Using one PCIe lane will significantly bottleneck the installed graphics card’s performance.
Moreover, to power up the external graphics card, you will need a Power Supply Unit to be placed externally. The whole setup will not work properly until you disable discrete GPU and WiFi and later boot to LAN BIOS. Lastly, Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kits are not compatible with many high-end graphics cards.
2. M.2 NVMe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit
This kit is similar to the Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit. But unlike the other one, M.2 NVMe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit offers the bandwidth of 4 lanes as the M.2 slot connects to four PCIe lanes. However, it still falls short as it is recommended to allow eight to sixteen lanes for effectively run a graphics card.
This kit is more expensive than a Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit. Also, most older laptop models do not have NVMe M.w slots. In addition, compatibility issues are unpredictable in most cases.
3. Thunderbolt 3.0 eGPU Dock
This is the most expensive but reliable method of adding an external graphics card to your laptop. We have already discussed what sorts of compatibility factors you will have to consider before getting your hands on some high-end Thunderbolt 3.0 eGPU docks. Let’s move on to the setup and installation process.
When you buy an eGPU dock, you will get the manufacturer’s guide on how to set it up and run. However, the process generally goes as follows.
- Open the eGPU dock
- Place the graphics card on the PCIe slot firmly
- Connect the power cables
- Fasten the screws
- Close the dock
Now, you will need to install the whole eGPU system on your laptop. Follow the directions below carefully.
- Update the BIOS, Thunderbolt driver, and Thunderbolt firmware if necessary
- Download the driver for the new eGPU
- Connect the eGPU dock to the laptop using the Thunderbolt connection (Some docks also support USB-C connections)
- Turn the dock on
- A window will appear notifying “New Thunderbolt devices have been attached;” click OK
- On the next window, select “Always Connect” from the drop-down menu under the “Select the devices you wish to connect” section
- Click OK
- Press Window Key + R
- Type and enter “devmgmt.msc” to launch Device Manager
- Go to Display adapters
- Disable the previous discreet GPU if you have any
- Right-click on the new eGPU drive and select Update driver
- Install the driver from the files you downloaded in step 2
- After the installation, restart your laptop
Pros and Cons of Using External GPU
Now that you know all the necessary information about eGPU and how to upgrade your laptop graphics by adding an external GPU, you still may wonder if it is for you.
Well, there is no single answer to this concern, as it depends on your preference, hardware expertise, and your laptop. Adding eGPU to a laptop offers advantages as well as disadvantages. Therefore, before investing in an eGPU setup system, carefully weigh the benefits against possible issues.
- The main benefit of investing in an eGPU is that it improves your laptop’s performance. It also saves you the cost of buying a whole new PC. Moreover, it will make your laptop more versatile as you can change it from an everyday device to a gaming station by simply plugging the dock in. Also, if other specs of your laptop allow, by getting a high-end eGPU system with powerful specs, you can enjoy graphics-intensive games for the next several years.
- However, such powerful eGPU docks and cards are very expensive. It will cost you anywhere between $200 and $800 for the whole setup. With that amount of money, you can easily get a brand-new mid-range gaming laptop or desktop. If the upgrade is only for gaming, then buying a console will be a more economical choice. Moreover, if your laptop does not have a Thunderbolt 3 port, you will have to use the eGPU kits, which are problematic, and the process can damage your laptop and limit its functions.
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