Can I Upgrade My Laptops GPU/Graphics Card?

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You’re likely wondering if you can upgrade your laptops GPU for better gaming performance. Graphics Cards/GPUs are a super prominent specification now due to the rise in popularity with graphically intensive applications such as Gaming, Video Editing, and Deep Learning.

Back in the day, laptops didn’t have decent graphics, they just had a simple integrated graphics unit for simple image rendering. Now laptops with dedicated graphics are becoming widespread, you can find a laptop with the latest RTX technology effortlessly.

Answer: Laptop GPUs are impossible to upgrade whether they’re integrated or dedicated, this is because they’re usually soldered to the motherboard. The only way to change your laptop’s GPU is to get a whole new laptop, laptops just aren’t meant to be upgradable in the way desktop PCs are.

So Is It Possible To Upgrade A Laptops GPU?

All laptops have integrated graphics, and they’re permanently integrated into the CPU. They usually go by the name “Intel HD Graphics”. Integrated graphics are great for simple tasks such as – Watching videos, Processing graphical documents, and very light gaming, because of this they’re very lightweight.

And then you have laptops with both integrated and dedicated graphics, it is pretty easy to identify a dedicated GPU, usually it’ll be NVIDIA GeForce or AMD branded. The dedicated graphics cards in laptops perform closely to the desktop counterpart, the biggest difference with laptop GPUs is that they consume less power.

In most cases, upgrading the laptop graphics card is actually impossible, this is due to the graphics processing unit either being soldered to the board, or integrated with the processor.

If there is a slight chance of upgrading your laptops GPU, you’ll need to be skillful to pull off such a difficult task. The truth is, laptops aren’t meant to be fully upgradeable, you’ll more likely be able to upgrade the RAM and storage devices.

It would make better sense to just get a better laptop because it’ll save you time and patience, also you don’t put a working laptop at risk. Even if you could upgrade the graphics card, your laptop is most likely designed to handle specific power and heat requirements.

More About Laptop GPUs & Why You Can’t Upgrade Them

steraming on a laptop

Although you can’t upgrade your laptop graphics card, they’re more efficient when it comes to conserving power. This is because a laptop graphics card whether they’re integrated or dedicated is meant to conserve power and still output a decent amount of power.

The only time this isn’t the case is when you’re gaming or doing something that’s graphics-intensive, your laptop will automatically put the dedicated GPU to work and use more power in order to give you better performance. An upgradable dedicated graphics card which is usually associated with desktop PCs is more power-hungry therefore they aren’t ideal for a laptop.

Laptop components aren’t even standardized which makes upgrading borderline impossible, laptop manufacturers usually have their own custom designs for how they want their laptops to be. And even if you could upgrade your GPU, it would be extremely complicated and most likely not worth the effort.

Desktop hardware is pretty much standardized making upgradability easy and effortless, this is one of the many reasons why people still prefer desktop PCs over laptops. The main problem with desktops is that they’re big and bulky, they’re not very portable. This is where laptops shine, they offer the best of both worlds being portable with great performance.

Laptops Just Aren’t Meant To Be Upgradable

Think about it, someone who buys a laptop isn’t really focused on the specifications and the ins and outs of the hardware. They just want a laptop that’s going to last them a few years and be able to do everything they need it to do.

Another reason is the frequency of upgrading, Laptops are upgraded less frequently than desktops. Someone will upgrade their desktop around every 2-3 years, but someone will upgrade their laptop every 4-5 years. The reason why desktops get upgraded so much is that desktops are meant to be powerful workstations that are able to handle application-intensive tasks. Laptops are mainly used for general productivity, internet browsing, and light gaming.

Laptops are also meant to be cheaper than desktops, so it doesn’t really make sense to allow for upgradeability when laptops are already cheaper. If you need a faster laptop, you can probably find one on the market for pretty cheap in the next 4-5 years when you’re ready to upgrade.

LaptopsDesktops
UpgradabilityLaptops are partly upgradable, you can only really upgrade the RAM and storageYou can fully upgrade all the components within a desktop computer, there’s really no limit to upgrading them.
PortabilityLaptops are more portable than desktop computers, they’re smaller in size and run off battery power. Laptops also have wireless connectivity options.Desktop computers are not so portable as they’re larger in size and usually have a power supply to power them. Desktops usually connect to the internet via ethernet cable.
MonitorLaptop monitors are built-in and non upgradable.Desktop monitors are purchased separately, you have a large selection of monitors to choose from.
Processing speedLaptops usually have portable versions of processing devices within them, this includes CPUs and GPUs. This is so they don’t consume a lot of power.Desktops computers process data much faster than laptops, the processors are generally more powerful featuring more cores and a higher TDP.
Power ConsumptionLaptops consume a negligible amount of power, they’re able to run off battery power, and there are some really power-efficient laptops out there. Laptops will typically consume around 50W.Desktop computers’ power consumption varies, but in general, it consumes more than a laptop. You can have huge multi-GPU PCs that consume upwards of around 1000W of power.
Key differences between desktops and laptops. Points out that desktops are easily upgradable.

Is There A Way Around All The Hassle?

Photo by Paul Arnison from Pexels

Though it sounds impossible to upgrade the already existing graphics processing units, there is a way to use a modern desktop GPU with your laptop for a boost in performance. It is called an external GPU or eGPU, it has its own PCI-E connection & power supply, and you plug it directly into your laptops USB port.

On paper, it sounds like the perfect solution, but exactly how viable are they? Well, they’re more expensive than the GPU alone, and you’ll never make use of the GPUs full potential. Due to the nature of an external GPU, they’re approximately 10-15% slower than the GPU itself, so the price to performance ratio is quite poor.

In the future, this type of technology could become more viable with faster and better means of transporting data. Thunderbolt 3 currently is the best way of transferring data between the laptop and the external graphics card. Perhaps one day we can eliminate the loss of performance with better data transfer technology

It’s worth noting that not all external GPUs offer full compatibility, for example, if you see a Razer eGPU, it’s likely that it only supports a specific Razer laptop.

Are External GPUs Worth It?

Thunderbolt 3 is actually around 3x slower than a PCI-E connection, so that’ll have a sizable hit on performance, but it isn’t about the performance degradation. If you have an ultrabook, then an eGPU will be worth it because it turns a device from being only good at spreadsheets to a capable gaming machine.

If your laptop already has a decent dedicated graphics card installed, then an integrated GPU would make very little sense. This is because the dedicated GPU that comes with the laptop is likely far more efficient, and you won’t suffer from performance losses.

This video shows in detail the performance degradation of having a discrete external GPU. As previously stated, external GPUs are a great option if you have a relatively decent laptop with no dedicated graphics. External GPUs act as a solution to suffering from poor performance from integrated graphics.

Conclusion

To summarise this post, upgrading laptops’ internal graphics whether it’s dedicated to integrated is likely impossible, but there are ways around it via eGPUs (External Graphics Cards). Upgrading a laptop’s internal graphics just isn’t worth the time and hassle, and when you open up your laptop, you can say goodbye to any warranty.

And external graphics cards only really worth it if you have a decent laptop with no dedicated/discrete GPU from NVIDIA or AMD. Since external GPUs suffer from performance degradation, it’s likely not worth buying one if your laptop has a dedicated/discrete graphics card already.