If you have a laptop and want to play the latest games or do some serious video or photo editing, you might wonder if you can upgrade the graphics card.
The answer is no. Laptops don’t have the same kind of upgradeability as desktop computers. This is because the graphics card is soldered onto the motherboard. This means that if you want to upgrade your graphics card, you need to replace the entire motherboard.
But there are some ways to add external graphics cards to laptops, and we will talk about that later in this article.
So, Can I Upgrade the Graphics Card in My Laptop?
The short answer is no. You cannot upgrade the laptop graphics card like you would on a desktop PC. As I told you, laptop GPUs are soldered on the motherboard, making it impossible to replace or upgrade (You can learn our article “Can you upgrade your laptop motherboard?” to learn more). Not to mention that most laptops come with integrated graphics (iGPUs).
Just like in desktop computers, laptop graphic cards use the PCI-Express (PCIe) standard for connecting to the motherboard. But, in laptops, the difference is that there are no PCIs slots as you know them from the desktop. The connection is internal, and it uses a special kind of connector.
And at this point, you might be thinking. “Why they don’t just make it possible to upgrade the graphics card?”
And this brings us to the next section.
Related Article: Can I Upgrade My Laptop Processor?
Why Can’t I Upgrade the Graphics Card on My Laptop?
The main reason why you can’t upgrade your laptop’s graphics card is that laptop manufacturers want you to buy a new laptop when your old one becomes outdated. It’s all about making money.
And before you start calling me a conspiracy theorist, let me explain myself by talking about the MXM standard.
The Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) standard
The MXM standard is a standard for removable graphics cards used in laptops. It was developed by MXM-SIG which is controlled by Nvidia and was introduced back in 2004. And while many of its features are being used, the upgradability feature is not.
This is because while Nvidia that develops and controls the standard would benefit, the laptop manufacturers responsible for adding an MXM slot to their laptops would not.
If you were able to upgrade your laptop’s graphics card, it would mean that you could keep using your old laptop for a few more years instead of buying a new one. And that is something the manufacturers don’t want.
So you can see I am not crazy when I say it is all about the money.
But as I told you, there are some ways to upgrade the graphics on your laptop even if you can’t replace or upgrade the graphics card.
Related Article: What Is A Good Processor Speed For A Laptop?
How to Upgrade the Graphics on Your Laptop?
Even though you cannot physically replace or upgrade the graphics card on your laptop, you can add an external graphics card to your laptop. There are three ways to do that, and this is what we will talk about now.
Thunderbolt 3.0 eGFX Dock
The first way is to use an external GPU enclosure kit that uses the Thunderbolt 3.0 standard.
This is the most straightforward way to add an external desktop graphics card to your laptop, as all you need to do is connect the graphics processing unit to the dock and then connect the dock to your laptop using a Thunderbolt cable.
The big advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require any special software or drivers as it uses the Thunderbolt standard. These kits come with their own power supply, so you don’t have to worry about that either.
But eGFX docks have some disadvantages too.
The first one is that they are pretty expensive. A good quality Thunderbolt 3.0 eGFX dock can cost you around $300.
The second disadvantage is that not all laptops have a Thunderbolt 3.0 port. And even if they do, the graphics performance won’t be the same as if you plugged the GPU straight into the PCIe slot.
Finally, they offer only 4 PCIe lanes. High-performance GPUs need at least 8 PCIe lanes for optimal performance, so you can expect some serious bottlenecking if you use one of these docks with a top-of-the-line GPU.
Related Article: How Many PCIe Lanes Do I Have? [Solved]
M.2 NVMe to PCIe eGPU Kit
The second way to connect a desktop GPU to your laptop is by using an M.2 NVMe to PCIe eGPU Kit.
And before I start talking about this method, let me be clear that I don’t recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with computers as it requires you to open up your laptop and do some soldering.
I only mention it here for the sake of completeness.
So, if you are still with me, this method uses the M.2 NVMe SSD slot to connect an external laptop graphics cards. It is a small kit that you need to connect to the NVMe slot and then plug your GPU into its PCIe x16 4-lane slot.
These kits come with a PCIe cable to connect to your GPU and different power inputs like a 24-pin or an 8-pin to connect to your PSU.
The big advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require a Thunderbolt port as it uses the NVMe slot.
But there are some disadvantages too.
The first one is that you have to open up your laptop and do some soldering. If you are unfamiliar with that, I recommend you take your laptop to a professional as you can easily damage it.
The second disadvantage is that you must sacrifice one of your M.2 slots as you need to use it for the eGPU kit. And that can be a big problem because laptops don’t have that many M.2 slots, to begin with.
The third disadvantage is that they use the PCIe x4 interface, which means that you will have some serious bottlenecking if you use a high-end GPU.
Finally, the fourth disadvantage is that they don’t have a power supply, so you need to buy one separately.
Related Article: How Many NVMe Slots Do I Have? [Solved]
Mini PCIe to PCIe eGPU Adapter
The third and least recommended way to connect an external graphics card to your laptop is by using a Mini PCIe to PCIe x16 eGPU adapter.
This method uses the mini PCIe slot that is usually used for the WiFi card to connect an external graphics card to your laptop.
This means that you will have to open up your laptop, unplug the WiFi card and plug in the eGPU adapter in its place. Then you must plug your GPU into the adapter using a PCIe x16 one-lane slot.
So now that you have an idea of how these adapters work, let me tell you why this is the worse way to connect an external graphics card to your laptop.
The first reason is that it requires you to open your laptop and unplug the WiFi card which is not something easy.
The second reason is that if you use this method, you won’t have WiFi on your laptop. This means that you will have to either use a wired connection or buy a WiFi card separately.
The third reason is that they use the PCIe x1 interface, which is not enough for a high-end GPU. So the bottlenecking will be even worse than with the M.2 NVMe to PCIe eGPU kit.
The fourth reason is that they don’t come with a PCIe cable or a power supply, so you need to buy a desktop power supply with a PCIe cable separately.
And the fifth and final reason is that you will need to change some bios settings to make this work which can be a bit tricky, and even if you manage to change them, it might not work with your laptop.
So, as you can see, this is not the best way to connect an external graphics card to your laptop, but it is an option if you are desperate.
These are the three ways you can connect an external graphics card to your laptop. To be honest with you, I would not add an external GPU to my laptop, as even the best way to do it, will lead to some serious bottlenecking.
If you are into gaming and want a system that you can upgrade and add components like a GPU or extra RAM, I recommend you save up some money and build a desktop PC. It will be cheaper in the long run and get a much better gaming experience.
But if you insist on adding an external GPU to your laptop, I recommend you go with the first method, the Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure.
Related Article: Can I Use Laptop HDD In Desktop?
I hope I have answered the question; can I upgrade my laptop’s graphics card and give you some helpful information.
If you have more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
Nick Ryley, is a computer architect and the owner of The Pc Geekz.
His love to play games got him interested in computers in the first place. He wanted to be able to build a gaming PC that could run all the latest games at max settings and this has him pursuing a major in computer architecture!
He started this blog to help people out and answer some of the most common questions about computer building