“The short answer is – No, It is not possible to upgrade the graphics card of your laptop in most cases. That is because most laptops, even high-end gaming ones, are not designed with graphics card upgrades in mind. However, there are some workarounds if you are really keen on it.”
However, such band-aid solutions are often not worth the time or effort. But we also understand that it is difficult for most laptop owners to just give up on their existing one and buy a brand-new laptop with a better GPU. After all, one surefire way to improve gaming performance or work better with heavy rendering applications is upgrading your system’s GPU.
If you have an underperforming laptop and are wondering if you can upgrade its GPU, you are at the right place. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about upgrading your laptop graphics card so that you can decide if you should proceed with it.
An Overview of Laptop Graphics
In general, the GPU (Graphical Processor Unit) supports the CPU (Central Processing Unit) with additional processing power for rendering images, videos, and 3D graphics. Graphics cards are available for both desktops, laptops, smartphones, and other devices. If your device is used for graphics-intensive tasks, such as gaming and video editing, it will need a good graphics card.
There are two types of GPUs for laptops and desktops: discrete GPUs and integrated GPUs. Discrete GPUs are installed separately on the motherboard, and they have their own special PCBs and silicon. On the other hand, integrated GPUs are installed as a part of the CPU, and they share the main processor’s silicon die.
A discreet GPU uses power and thermal resources more independently than an integrated GPU. It also has its own VRAM cache, and the graphics card is installed on the motherboard through a high-speed PCIe slot. In contrast, an integrated GPU functions by directly sharing RAM and other resources with the CPU.
Most laptops come with integrated GPUs. In contrast, discrete GPUs are only available on high-end laptops or gaming laptops. Discreet GPUs are often more powerful than integrated GPUs.
When Would You Need to Upgrade Your Laptop Graphics?
Not every laptop owner wonders, “Is it possible to upgrade my laptop graphics card?” Only a handful of people are likely to explore this option. Although it is difficult for most people to upgrade their laptop GPU, you can take on this challenge if you are facing any of the following issues.
- Your laptop is too outdated to handle most graphics-related tasks, and you don’t want to give up on it.
- You are a gamer, and you need the GPU upgrade to play the newest titles.
- You regularly have to work with rendering tasks that demand a lot of resources.
- Your laptop’s current GPU is bottlenecking the machine.
- You cannot afford to buy a high-end laptop or desktop yet.
Is It Possible to Upgrade Your Laptop Graphics Card?
As we have already discussed, it is not possible to upgrade your laptop graphics in general. Most modern laptops do not have any GPU upgrading facility in their designs. However, you can upgrade your laptop graphics if you have some particular Alienware laptop, your laptop supports Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 connectors, or you have the expertise to work with the laptop’s delicate hardware system.
You can not replace or upgrade integrated graphics because of the SOC (System on a Chip). This SOC contains both the CPU and the GPU on the same chip. SOCs are commonly used on laptops because of their compact design, economical manufacturing cost, and low power demand.
When it comes to discreet graphics, they are not absolutely impossible to upgrade or change. But it takes a significant amount of time, effort, knowledge, and expertise to do so. Discreet graphics cards are too big to be integrated into a SOC system. That’s why they are soldered onto their PCB boards on the motherboard’s PCIe slot. That way, manufacturers can keep their laptops sleek and lightweight.
There are only a few laptops that allow you to upgrade their graphics. Such laptops are very expensive and require a unique type of graphics card, which are very rare to find. Therefore, most manufacturers that tried to work with this technology have given up on it.
How to Upgrade Your Laptop GPU?
Now that you understand why it is almost impossible to upgrade your laptop graphics card, let’s talk about how to take on the challenge and make it possible. There are three ways to upgrade your laptop’s GPU: adding an external graphics card, physically upgrading the discreet GPU, and upgrading the MXM graphics module.
Below, we will discuss all three processes along with their pros and cons. Please carefully go through each method to pick the best option for you and your laptop.
Adding an External Graphics Card
Adding an external graphics card is the easiest and quickest option for upgrading your laptop graphics. You will need to buy an external graphics card and connect it to your laptop using a Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit, an M.2 NVMe to PCIe x16 eGPU Kit, or a Thunderbolt 3/Thunderbolt 4 eGFX Dock.
Very few people use eGPU kits as they require you to open your laptop. Moreover, they also come with a slew of problems, especially compatibility issues. Using an eGFX dock is more popular as it does not require you to open up your laptop. If your laptop has a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 port, you can simply plug it into the enclosure and start using it.
Pros of Using External GPUs
- In most cases, no need to open up the laptop
- Does not require fiddling much with the motherboard
- Fast and easy to install
- Offers desktop-quality graphics performance
Cons of Using External GPUs
- Thunderbolt 3.0 or 4.0 ports are only available on high-end laptops
- Both the enclosures and external graphics cards are very expensive
- Performance deteriorates over time
Upgrade Discreet GPU
Before proceeding with this process, we want to remind you that upgrading the discreet graphics of your laptop is NOT recommended. You should only use this method if you have plenty of knowledge, skill, and experience in working with laptop hardware.
Here’s how to physically upgrade the discreet GPU of your laptop.
- Get an eGPU upgrade kit and a compatible discreet graphics card
- Using the BIOS, uninstall your laptop’s GPU
- Power off and unplug your laptop
- Take the battery and back panel out
- Using a screwdriver, remove the GPU and CPU heatsink gently
- Remove the two hex nuts
- Pull the old graphics module out
- Put the new graphics card in place and press it gently to secure it there
- Fasten the hex screws
- Clean the CPU IHS and old thermal paste with 90% isopropyl solution and soft fabric
- Apply the thermal paste on CPU IHS and GPU die
- Re-attach the GPU and CPU heatsinks
- Screw the back panel and battery in place
- Turn the laptop on and install the updated GPU driver
- Restart the laptop
Pros of Physically Upgrading Discreet GPU
- Provides consistent performance, does not degrade over time
- Sometimes it offers better performance than external graphics cards
Cons of Physically Upgrading Discreet GPU
- A very complex and time-consuming procedure
- High probability of damaging the motherboard
- The required components are expensive
- Only professionals can perform this method
Upgrade the MXM Graphics Module
Some laptops have an MXM or Mobile PCIe Express Module interface. When this technology was being developed, one objective was to include common upgradeable GPU sockets. However, most laptop manufacturers do not implement the upgradeable option because of the several limitations that come with it.
If your laptop has an MXM interconnect standard, you can replace or upgrade its GPU. GPUs designed with MXM interface can be installed on the motherboard using an end-connector. Examples of such GPUs include NVidia Geforce GTX 965M, 970M, 980M, Radeon RX 480, Radeon R9 M295X, etc.
However, you need to make sure that the new GPU is manufactured by the same company as the old GPU to ensure compatibility. Your new GPU also needs to be of the same physical dimensions and power limit as the old one.
You will get detailed installation instructions on the manufacturer’s guidelines that you will receive with your product. However, usually, the process is the same as upgrading a discreet GPU which we have already discussed.
Pros of Upgrading the MXM Graphics Module
- Better chance of finding a compatible graphics module
- Less expensive than other options
Cons of Upgrading the MXM Graphics Module
- A limited number of options
- Most laptop manufacturers do not integrate MXM technology in their designs
- A very complex procedure that is only recommended for laptop hardware experts
- Need to be very careful in selecting the new MXM graphics module
Why Don’t Experts Recommend Upgrading Laptop GPU?
Experts do not recommend upgrading laptop GPU because the associated risk and required time, money, and effort are not worth it. Instead, they recommend getting a new laptop with better graphics capabilities or a desktop computer.
If you do not want to invest in an external graphics card, you will have to proceed with methods that are suitable only for professionals. Hence, there is a high chance that you may cause irreversible damage to your laptop. Even if you seek professional help for it, the service charge will be high as the process is delicate. In contrast, if you want to use external graphics cards, the cost will be almost the same as getting a new budget laptop or a low-end gaming system.
Should You Upgrade Your Laptop Graphics Card?
Now that you understand how to upgrade your laptop’s graphics card and the pros and cons of each method, it’s time to come to a conclusion. “If you do not have the option of buying a new device, you can either use external graphics or physically replace the discrete graphics or MXM graphics modules. If you want the safest route, go for the external graphics. And if you are confident about fiddling with laptop hardware, replace the graphics modules manually.”