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Can I Upgrade the Graphics Card in My Laptop?

A Graphics Card or Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) is a special electronic circuit that boasts the processing power required to render the images that we see on a screen. They are present on desktops and laptops. Speaking of laptops, they are very versatile computing devices that offer excellent performance and at the same time are portable. The Graphics Card on a laptop does the same thing as it does on a desktop. But what if you feel that the graphical power isn’t enough or cannot fulfill your needs? A common question every laptop owner has is “Can I Upgrade the Graphics Card in My Laptop?”.

In this guide, we will take a look at a few basics of the GPU scene of modern laptops. After that, we will try to understand the possibilities of a Graphics Card upgrade on a laptop.

Graphics Cards in Laptops

The main job of the original graphical cards was to help the CPU in rendering 3D Graphics. Of course, Graphics Cards even today do the same job. But they are much more powerful and complex than that.

With Graphical Processing Units (it is the actual integrated circuit that is the heart of a graphics card) you can render images, graphics, and videos. You can use it for content creation, gaming, and other similar graphics-intensive tasks.

As laptops are essentially computers that you can carry with you, most modern laptops have very good graphics capabilities. Using a laptop’s GPU, you can play games or encode/decode videos with the comfort of throwing it in your backpack.

Integrated and Discrete Graphics

An important thing to understand about graphics cards in general (or rather the GPUs) is that they can be Integrated or Discrete.

When we say “Integrated Graphics”, we mean the GPU is a part of the CPU and it sits on the same silicon die as the main processor. On the Intel side, such types of CPUs (CPUs with built-in Graphics) are simply known as CPUs with Integrated Graphics.

On the AMD side, the CPUs which have an integrated graphics processor are known as APUs, which is short for Accelerated Processing Units.

We know. The naming is terrible. But the essential thing is that you can get good CPUs from both Intel and AMD that have a decent integrated Graphics Processor. The benefit of such CPUs is that you don’t need a separate graphics card to make the system up and running.

Next, we have Discrete Graphics. As the name suggests, discrete graphics means a separate GPU that has its own silicon and also a special PCB. The name “Graphics Card” comes from the fact that it is a card or board with a GPU on it.

We plug the Graphics Card on the Motherboard in a special high-speed slot known as the PCIe. The two major GPU manufacturers are Nvidia and AMD. At the time of writing this guide, Intel just announced their “ARC” line of graphics cards.

The laptop scene also has a similar story. You can get laptops with integrated or discrete graphics. An important thing to note here is that almost all the laptop CPUs have integrated graphics in them, be it from Intel or AMD. Additionally, some high-end laptops or gaming laptops have additional discrete graphics as well.

Can I Upgrade the Graphics Card in My Laptop?

We have already seen a similar question regarding laptops in a previous guide. In that, we answered the question “Can You Upgrade a Laptop’s CPU?”. The answer to that question was no.

But can I upgrade the Graphics Card in my laptop? Unfortunately, the answer even in this case is also no.

First of all, if the laptop has only the CPU with Integrated Graphics, then there is no way to upgrade the Graphics Card as it is an integrated part of the CPU. As we cannot upgrade the CPU on a laptop, there is no way to upgrade the GPU as well.

What about laptops with discrete Graphics Cards or GPU? The answer is still no. this is because the discrete GPU IC is soldered directly on the laptop’s motherboard. There is no way to replace it or upgrade it.

There are some laptops such as the Dell Alienware M51, which have a separate Graphics Card instead of a soldered GPU. In such cases, there is a chance to upgrade the laptop’s graphics card.

You need to buy a better graphics card and replace the older card. There are a couple of things you need to remember. The upgrade process for this type of Graphics Card swap is very expensive.

Also, you have to check if the motherboard and the BIOS support this upgrade. So, many people avoid going through all this hassle and just buy a new laptop with a better GPU.

What are My Upgrade Options Then?

Does this mean we are stuck with the GPU that we get with the laptop? With most laptops out there, the answer is yes. But there is hope in the form of Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt is very interesting connectivity that combines PCIe, DisplayPort, and sometimes DC Power all into a single port. With Thunderbolt 3 and 4, the port is a USB Type-C.

Note that not all USB Type-C Ports are Thunderbolt capable. But all Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 Ports use USB Type-C. Look for the “Lightning Bolt” logo around the USB-C Port that indicates a Thunderbolt Port.

It is a little confusing but the important thing here is the PCIe lanes of the Thunderbolt Port. Using a Thunderbolt port, you can essentially transfer data at a very high speed (up to 40Gbps).

So, GPU manufacturers or third-party designers started to take advantage of this port in the form of External GPU or e-GPU. Some manufacturers design enclosures for traditional desktop Graphics Cards so that we can insert them into these enclosures and connect to a Thunderbolt Port.

So, the next important thing to look for is Thunderbolt support in a laptop. If your laptop comes with a Thunderbolt port, then one way to upgrade its Graphics Card or GPU is to use e-GPU over Thunderbolt Port.

Of course, this is a very expensive upgrade as you have to purchase a full desktop Graphics Card and a supporting Thunderbolt enclosure to make this an e-GPU.

Even if you buy a dedicated e-GPU Module, its cost is significantly high. So, the question is, are you willing to spend such a high-end e-GPU Module to upgrade the graphics card on your laptop?


Laptops nowadays are becoming so powerful that the majority of the users are using one to do complex tasks such as gaming, graphic design, 3D Model Rendering, Video Editing and Rendering, etc.

The GPU or Graphics Card of the laptop is the main limiting factor when we compare the performance with a desktop Graphics Card and the performance it delivers. So, many laptop users who use laptops for graphic-intensive tasks feel that their GPU is severely underpowered.

They often wonder “Can I upgrade the Graphics Card in My Laptop?”. Sadly, the straightforward answer is, no, you cannot upgrade the Graphics Card on a Laptop.

We saw the basics of Graphics Cards in laptops. We also saw the reasons why upgrading a GPU on a Laptop is nearly impossible.

Finally, we looked at a possible upgrade option in the form of Thunderbolt Port and e-GPU.

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