Tech the Halls: 12 Days of Christmas– Day #2: Laptop External GPU Upgrade

11-15-2017 10-41-09 AM
Have an older laptop with a low end graphics chip built-in and thought you had no options other than to buy a new much more expensive laptop to play those awesome new games or get better 2D & 3D performance. Think Again!


Historically, laptops were great for the convenience of portability, but performance came at a major cost compared to desktop computers. The other major difference was that unlike desktops that allowed for you to upgrade many of your hardware components when they become outdated, you were pretty much stuck with whatever you purchased, so the decision to purchase and the cost you were willing to invest was a major decision, and so often we would settle for the less expensive option at the sacrifice of getting the performance we really wanted.
Now that has finally changed. You have option that may breathe new life into that old laptop at a fraction of the cost of upgrading to a completely new laptop. Not only are there low end options but many of the major hardware manufacturers are bringing their own solutions to market as well and many are being marketed as a “Gaming Box” upgrade.

How Does it Work?

In the most basic configuration, you have a box with a PCI Card slot that you put any GPU card that you have purchased. The newer GPU cards usually require an extra power supply connector plugged into them, usually supplied in the desktop computer, now supplied in the “Gaming Box’.  The “Gaming Box” will then have two cables. The first is the power supply that will connect to the wall outlet, and the second will be the USB 3.0 data cable from the PCI slot to the laptop’s PCI Express connection. This will then by-pass the internal laptop graphics chipset and force it to use the External GPU upgrade instead.

Is my Laptop Compatible?

The secret to making all this work with your laptop is that your laptop must have a PCI express connection. So the laptop top needs to be new enough to have one of these connections, either internally or externally.
If you are lucky and your laptop has an external PCI express card slot then it’s easy, just plug-in and go. If your laptop does not have an external PCI express slot, there may still be hope, but it means you may have to make a few minor changes to your laptop. Normally, the Wi-Fi adapter is plugged into the internal Mini PCI slot inside your laptop, and some laptops make it easy to get to it by providing a single cover with 1 screw to remove under the laptop, others may require more extensive disassembly of the laptop to get to it.
Once you determine where yours is and how to get to it, you will need to understand that once you remove the Wi-Fi adapter, you will no longer have the ability to have a Wi-Fi connection. Your options are either live without it and use a cabled network connection, or purchase a USB Wi-Fi adapter. If you’re internal Wi-Fi is older and slower, this could be an opportunity to speed up your laptop’s Wi-Fi as well as your GPU. USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt may also be options.

What is the Cost?

Prices will vary based on many factors. Expect the price to range from $10 to $1500 depending on the branding and the additional bells and whistles, and if they include a GPU.
Paul Comtois is a Client Support Specialist at Triella, a technology consulting company specializing in providing technology audits, planning advice, project management and other CIO-related services to small and medium sized firms. Paul can be reached at 647.426.1004. For additional articles, go to Triella is a VMware Professional Partner, Microsoft Certified Partner, Citrix Solution Advisor – Silver, Dell Preferred Partner, Authorized Worldox Reseller and a Webroot Reseller.
© 2017 by Triella Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction with credit is permitted.

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