Can You Upgrade Graphics Card in a Laptop (GPU)?

Carl M. Peterson

A graphics card, also known as a GPU, is responsible for rendering images, graphics, and videos on your laptop's display. Its performance plays an essential role in determining how well your laptop handles tasks such as gaming, video editing, and graphic design.

Sometimes, you may notice a performance drop or stuttering when running these graphically demanding tasks, which can be frustrating. So, what can you do when you feel like your graphics card is underperforming? Can you upgrade a laptop's graphics card? Keep reading to find out.

Table Of Contents

Can I Upgrade a Laptop Graphics Card?

Unfortunately, you can't upgrade the graphics card on a laptop. Unlike a desktop graphics card, which can easily be removed and replaced, a laptop's graphics card is typically soldered directly onto the motherboard. This soldering makes removing or replacing your laptop's graphics card extremely difficult.

The graphics card isn't the only component that suffers from this level of integration in a laptop. Today, many laptop manufacturers have soldered various elements to the motherboard, including the CPU, RAM, and even hard drives.

Is there any Laptop with an upgradeable GPU?

A while ago, Dell recognized the demand for upgradeable GPUs among gamers. In 2019, they introduced a gaming laptop that would cater to the needs of gamers everywhere, the Alienware Area-51m.

The Alienware Area -51m was designed to be easily disassembled, allowing users to access and upgrade most of its internal components, including the GPU, CPU, RAM, and thermal cooling components.

One year later, Dell unveiled the Area-51m R2, a refreshed model of the Alienware Area-51m. However, to the dismay of many users, the updated version didn't come with any upgradeable parts.

This move to abandon the upgradeability feature in the newer model significantly impacted the Alienware Area 51 m. For one, the Area-51m can only support GPU upgrades up to the generation of graphics card it was initially designed for. It's also impossible to upgrade the processor in the Area-51m to the 10th Generation chip offered on the Area-51m R2.

Although Area 51 m offered the promise of upgradeability, it has failed to deliver on that promise effectively.

Are there any Alternatives to Upgrading a Laptop Graphics Card?

Now that we've told you that upgrading the graphics card in a laptop is impossible, you must be wondering whether there are other ways to improve your laptop's graphics performance.

The short answer is yes. There are a few alternatives. You can use an external graphics card or upgrade the MXM Graphics module.

MXM Standard

MXM, which stands for Mobile PCI Express Module, is a standard interface for laptop GPUs. It was launched in 2004 by NVIDIA. NVIDIA aimed to create an industry-standard GPU socket that would allow users to easily upgrade the GPU in a laptop instead of buying a new one.

Unfortunately, the MXM Standard, despite its noble intentions, did not achieve widespread success. This is because most laptop users often prefer buying a new machine rather than going through the complexities of upgrading their laptops' GPUs.

Also, most laptop manufacturers have moved away from including the upgradable MXM GPU socket in their designs. However, some manufacturers offer models with this feature. So, if your laptop has an upgradeable MXM socket, its graphics card is upgradeable.

When upgrading the graphics card, you only need a compatible upgrade from the manufacturer. They'll also provide detailed instructions tailored explicitly to your laptop model. Just follow these instructions carefully to ensure a smooth upgrade process.

How to Use an External Graphics Card 

If your laptop features a graphics card soldered to the motherboard, you can only upgrade the graphics card by adding an external GPU (eGPU). Here's everything you'll need:

1. External GPU Enclosure

First, you'll need an external GPU enclosure to house your graphics card. In recent years, graphics card manufacturers have developed enclosures designed explicitly for eGPUs.

The enclosures have a PCIe slot to interface with your compatible graphics card. They are also equipped with a power supply and cooling fans.

2. Desktop Graphics Card

You'll also need a suitable graphics card that will meet your performance requirements and is compatible with the GPU enclosure.

3. Thunderbolt

You should also have a Thunderbolt dock or a USB Type-C connector. Thunderbolt 3 and 4 exclusively use USB Type-C connectors, but be careful, as not all USB Type-C ports have Thunderbolt functionality.

To identify a Thunderbolt-compatible port, look for a lightning bolt symbol next to the USB Type-C port.

Steps to install the eGPU

If you have everything we've mentioned, follow these steps to install an external graphics card:

Step 1: Follow the manufacturer's instructions to open your enclosure panel.

Step 2: Install the GPU on the PCIe slot and secure it in place.

Step 3: Close the enclosure panel.

Step 4: Update your laptop's BOIS, driver, and firmware.

Step 5: Download the drivers for the eGPU.

Step 6: Use the Thunderbolt or USB-C cable to connect your laptop to the eGPU.

Step 7: Power on your laptop and the enclosure.

Step 8: When Windows prompts that a new Thunderbolt connection has been detected, click Okay.

Step 9: Next, click Connect Always >Accept.

Step 10: Once you're done, press Win+R.

Step 11: Type devmgmt. msc to open the device manager.

Step 12: Expand Display adapters, and if you initially had a discrete GPU, right-click on it and click Disable Device.

Step 13: Right-click on the external graphics and click Update Driver.

Step 14: Next, press Browse My Computer for Drivers and go to the folder where the current drivers are saved.

Step 15: Finally, restart your laptop.

Wrapping Up

Most modern laptops come equipped with GPUs that are integrated into the motherboard. The integration makes it impossible to upgrade the graphics card, as the GPUs are soldered directly onto the motherboard. However, some laptops that feature the MXM graphics card can be upgraded.

The best option for laptops with no MXM GPU is to add an external graphics card. While the eGPU can be very expensive, it offers a valuable solution for enhancing graphics performance, especially when the built-in GPU is lacking.

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