I’ve used a couple of gaming laptops in the past and know how quickly they can get outdated and it’s always the GPU first. So I did some research then and more recently on the topic of how a laptop GPU can be replaced.
Can you upgrade a laptop graphics card? Some laptops allow for graphics cards to be upgraded, however, it isn’t recommended as it can impact system stability and performance if done wrong.
Let’s take a closer look at which laptops have no chance of being upgraded as well as somewhere it may be possible. Also, we will include the best overall solution for people in this situation.
Can You Upgrade A Laptop Graphics Card?
Some laptops with a GPU mounted in a socketed mobile PCI-E module might be able to receive a user completed upgrade to the graphics card.
However, if you could replace the graphics card you would have to choose one that your laptop could still support and maintain safely.
Replacing your graphics card with one your system can’t properly cool or send power to would end in a great disaster.
For laptops designed to be ultra-thin, this is most likely completely out of the question as the GPU will be soldered to the motherboard to save space.
Even if an ultra-thin laptop did allow it, laptops of that nature are likely designed specifically to cool that GPU in that small space.
If the cooling system isn’t able to do that, then the heat will get trapped and increase the heat on the GPU and all the other components in the computer.
As the heat rises, the GPU will eventually reach thermal throttling if not properly being cooled.
This is an attempt to let your computer keep running at minimized performance to reduce temperatures as a fail-safe for when your cooling doesn’t work properly.
If the thermal throttling still isn’t enough, your PC will eventually reach the point where it must shut down to prevent the extreme temperatures that might damage the component that is overheating.
The reason why this is important to know is that most upgrades to your GPU are most likely going to increase power draw and heat if it is a more powerful GPU.
If you want to continue using your current laptop, but want to upgrade the graphics card, I would recommend going with an eGPU enclosure (external GPU).
It is a separate unit from your computer with its own PSU (Power Supply Unit) built-in to manage the power draw of the GPU and the process of transferring data to your computer.
eGPUs are also typically built to have good ventilation that allows your GPU to intake and exhaust air to maintain cool temperatures.
You would put the dedicated graphics card of your choosing in the case, plug it in using what is most likely a Thunderbolt 3 cable and benefit from a graphical and FPS without worrying about an overly-complicated setup.
This is the best solution if you don’t want to upgrade your entire laptop, but require a more powerful GPU to run the programs or games you want to run.
How big of an increase you see in performance depends on what GPU you used with your eGPU enclosure.
The enclosure itself provides a place for you to plug in a dedicated GPU and a way to transfer the power to a laptop, but how well it performs is up to the GPU you use.
Next we will talk more about how exactly a GPU enclosure works and which one is the best.
What Is An eGPU Enclosure and What Does It Do?
To start, eGPU means external Graphics Processing Unit, it’s much simpler to refer to it as eGPU.
What it does is provide separate housing for a dedicated graphics card to operate without having to be directly plugged into a PCI-E slot on the motherboard of the laptop.
You will separately buy the GPU and eGPU, whichever GPU you choose will get plugged into the eGPU enclosure which will be separately powered by the eGPU enclosure.
The benefit of doing this is gaining more power to process graphics-intensive tasks like gaming or picture/video editing.
In addition, you also gain a way to continue future-proofing your laptop until your CPU is overwhelmingly out of date.
A good enclosure will have a built-in PSU (Power Supply Unit) of at least 500 watts to manage the process of sending power to both the transfer process and GPU.
There should also be a design that supports good airflow which won’t trap any hot air and cause heating issues.
It’s a great safer, simpler alternative to upgrading your GPU in your laptop.
The eGPU enclosure can be quite big if you get one that supports a full desktop dedicated graphics card.
So ideally when using this product you will be sitting at a desk where the eGPU can stably sit and maintain plugged in.
This does mean you lose some of the mobility of your laptop in this situation which is one of the primary drawbacks of an eGPU enclosure.
But you don’t have to have your eGPU enclosure plugged in at all times.
You can unplug it if you are planning on using your laptop in bed or on the couch while surfing the internet. Then, plug it back in when at your desk trying to engage in graphics-intensive programs.
You’ll notice I talked about plugging it in. To use an eGPU enclosure right now, you must have a laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 port for the Thunderbolt 3 connector to plug in to.
The reason they use Thunderbolt 3 is that it has much faster transfer speeds than regular USB slots which allows for a much bigger benefit from the eGPU.
If your computer doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3 you most likely won’t be able to use an eGPU enclosure unless the one you are looking at buying uses a different transfer cable.
Who Should Get An eGPU Enclosure?
If you really like your current laptop and would prefer not to buy a new one with a better GPU in it, then an eGPU is a great solution to increase performance.
If you haven’t bought a laptop just yet, but intend to and are considering an eGPU I would say you should NOT get an eGPU.
The cost of buying and setting up a GPU enclosure can be quite high. After getting both the enclosure and graphics card you will spend around what a mid-range gaming laptop would cost.
For some ultra-thin laptops that cannot support more powerful GPUs, it can also be a great solution. Whenever you come to your desk you can have your eGPU waiting and ready to supercharge it for high FPS in games.
While still having a very slim design for any time you are trying to surf the web on the couch or in bed.
The reason I say you should not get an eGPU if you don’t have a laptop currently is because getting a gaming laptop with a more powerful GPU would be close in cost and you gain much more mobility.
After buying the laptop, enclosure, and a great graphics card you could be looking at nearly $2000 which is more than enough to get a high-end gaming laptop that has a tremendous GPU in it already.
You won’t have the ability to replace the GPU as you will in an eGPU enclosure, however, if you wanted to use an eGPU years in the future when your GPU gets outdated you still could.
In summary, if you want a slim laptop or already have a laptop and want to upgrade just the GPU without getting a new laptop, getting an eGPU enclosure with a new dedicated GPU is a good choice.
If you haven’t bought a laptop just yet or have a laptop that is outdated and are willing to upgrade to a newer laptop, I would recommend buying a whole new laptop with a much more powerful GPU.
Does An eGPU Enclosure Work On Apple Laptops?
Some eGPU enclosures will work on Apple laptops, but it is on a case by case so you should check before you buy.
Mainly, what you should be aware of is some compatibility issues with NVIDIA and macOS.
If you are planning on using an NVIDIA graphics card in your enclosure with your Apple laptop that isn’t possible currently.
If you are a macOS user, you must use an AMD GPU. It is unsure if this will change in the future but for now, using an AMD GPU for macOS is the only option.
Fortunately, with the release of the Big Navi GPUs, there are several great AMD GPUs for you to choose from and use with your Apple laptop.
If you happen to already be using a MacBook and prefer to stay that way, an eGPU is a great way to get better performance on your MacBook without spending a fortune on a more powerful model.
Many new Apple laptops also have a Thunderbolt 3 port which is great for compatibility with the commonly used transfer cable of eGPUs, the Thunderbolt 3.
Can You Store Other Parts Like A CPU or Storage Drive Inside Of A eGPU Enclosure?
You cannot put any other parts except for a GPU inside of a GPU enclosure. It does have a power supply as well as everything the GPU needs to operate but plugging in other components isn’t possible.
The Main Drawback Of An eGPU Enclosure
So with all of this information you have on eGPUs, what is the big drawback of this technology when looking for a GPU performance boost.
Well, the primary drawback I can see is the hefty price tag to get all this technology set up. With taxes included, assuming you get a higher-end GPU and enclosure you can end up somewhere near $1000.
That is a pretty hefty price tag for anyone to get a boost in performance. If done right it can benefit you quite a bit, but still, that is nearly half of what you would pay to get a high-end gaming laptop with the latest GPUs.
One of the primary benefits is the possibility to future-proof your laptop by having a part you can continuously upgrade as it gets outdated.
It’s only up to you to dictate based on your situation whether or not the performance is worth the cost and there are ways to bring that down.
Getting a cheaper GPU could bring that down maybe $200, but still a large sum of money nonetheless.
For many people, you will get a big boost in performance. If you are currently running a 1660 and upgrade to a 3070 there should be a very noticeable increase.
But if you are going from a 2060 to a 2080 how much you need to upgrade is questionable and you won’t gain as much of a performance boost as the previously mentioned example.
The other drawback we mentioned above is that you lose mobility when using an eGPU enclosure.
It’s equipment you must use at a desk, so traveling with it is possible but it won’t be as convenient as having an all-in-one powerful gaming laptop.
Our Favorite eGPU Enclosure
If you are sold on upgrading your GPU by using an eGPU enclosure, then let’s talk about which one you should be getting.
I like the Razer Core X because not only am I buying from a quality brand but I’m buying a well-made product that would have everything I need in an eGPU enclosure.
Starting from physical appearance, this is just a very modern-looking all-black design, with not much else to it.
It is certainly very large and heavy at around 15 pounds, but that is the cost of fitting compatibility for much larger GPUs as well as a high capacity PSU to manage the power.
If you are currently using a laptop with integrated graphics, it depends on the level of GPU you use within the eGPU, but it can make games much more playable and much better looking.
They will look better looking because with a more powerful graphics card you can increase the graphical settings.
If you require your laptop to complete any video editing, render times can be much faster, again depending on which GPU you use.
Ultimately, due to the size of this technology, it is ideal for use at a desk. For tasks, you do while away from your desk or while traveling the Razer Core X is not ideal.
The Razer Core X shines as a huge performance booster that stays in one place. If you require power on the go, you are most likely better off going for a more powerful gaming laptop with a better GPU.
Quick Tip: If you want to gain a good amount more of FPS while using the Razer Core X, try using it with an external monitor.
Plug the HDMI or DisplayPort cable directly from the eGPU to the monitor and you can get a nice performance boost.
For the latest pricing, check out the Razer Core X (link to Amazon).
5 Reasons Why You Can’t Or Shouldn’t Upgrade Your Laptop’s Internal GPU
Before you can even put a GPU into your laptop, you need to make sure it is possible. Look up the model of your computer or the brand and see if your laptop has a soldered GPU.
A soldered GPU is when the GPU on your computer has been attached to the motherboard in a permanent way. Usually, this can help conserve space in a computer to make it smaller and have better airflow.
The drawback of having a soldered GPU is you cannot replace the GPU on a laptop with a soldered GPU as you will not be able to remove it.
For many of you that will rule out the possibility there, however, let’s say your GPU isn’t soldered and you instead have a GPU mounted in a PCI-E port inside your laptop.
You now need to find out the power capacity of your laptop to ensure your system can handle the increased power draw of your new GPU.
If the GPU you are looking to use is within the power limit of your power supply, then that is another box checked.
Third, you would have to find a GPU that actually fits inside of your laptop. There is only so much room inside of your laptop to fit a dedicated graphics card.
Finding a more powerful, but identical in size graphics card is going to be very hard. Not to mention, many gaming laptops run custom GPUs that are made to fit into a laptop, which you cannot purchase yourself.
So finding a GPU that could fit exactly as your current one does while being more powerful and worth the upgrade is nearly impossible. In my research, I couldn’t find a GPU worth upgrading to that was similar in size.
Fourth, there is no telling ahead of time how hot the new GPU is going to run within your laptop’s enclosed environment.
Upgrading to a better graphics card most likely means that you are going to increase the heat put off by the graphics card.
So even if you do have an upgradable gaming laptop within your laptop’s power limits, you can’t be completely sure ahead of time your laptop can handle the heat.
There isn’t really a whole ton you can do to add cooling to your laptop either. We have an article that includes some ways you can cool a gaming PC, but the most impactful solution may decrease performance.
Lastly, the process to upgrade the internal GPU requires a skilled person and even then it is still very stressful and easy to mess up.
So if somehow you were able to get to this point of replacing the GPU, I would recommend finding a skilled tech engineer to do the job for you.
Just for a short peek at what this process may look like here is a great YouTube video covering the topic:
You can upgrade your GPU, just maybe not in the way you originally sought out to do.
Using an eGPU enclosure is a great option for gaining much more performance, but it comes at a cost.
You have to weigh out whether it is more worth it to get the enclosure or to spend more and get a new laptop that preserves your mobility.
If you haven’t bought a laptop yet, I would recommend going for a more powerful gaming laptop and skipping the eGPU enclosure.
The case for many people buying a laptop is they want to maintain mobility, if you wanted the best performance you would use a desktop and be locked down to one place.
So if possible getting a more powerful gaming laptop is the ideal solution if you are looking to maintain as much mobility of your machine as possible.
In the end, the choice is up to you but to answer your question, you can upgrade the graphics card of your laptop by using an eGPU.
It typically has a pretty easy setup and, depending on the GPU of your choosing, can improve your FPS or overall laptop performance in graphics-intensive tasks by quite a bit.