How to Upgrade a Laptop Graphics Card

If you have the right laptop, it can seriously boost performance

What to Know

  • The easiest way to upgrade your laptop's graphics is to buy a new laptop.
  • Only a very few select laptops let you upgrade the graphics chip directly.
  • External GPU enclosures let you use an additional external GPU.

This guide will explain the different options you have for upgrading your laptop's graphics and which ones may be best for you.

Buying New Gives You the Best Laptop GPU Upgrade

Laptops, even gaming laptops, aren't typically designed with graphics card upgrades in mind. Unlike desktops, which have lots of space and use components built with ease of replacement in mind, laptops don't have room to spare, so they don't have easy-to-swap parts.

Dell Alienware Area 51m R2 Exploded


There are a minimal number of laptops that do have the option of graphics upgrades, such as the Alienware Area 51m and its various revisions. However, that upgrade program was limited, very expensive even for the time, and hasn't become more affordable.

Alienware Upgrade kit


The best way to upgrade your laptop's graphics is to buy a new one with a better GPU. The laptops with the best graphics cards tend to be gaming laptops.

External Laptop Graphics Cards: An Option For Thunderbolt Laptops

If you already have a nice laptop and don't want to switch to a whole new one just for the graphics, there is another option that can lead to excellent GPU performance in any laptop—as long as you have a compatible Thunderbolt port.

Razer Core X EGPU enclosure attached to a laptop


A handful of external GPU enclosures let you attach a desktop graphics card to a laptop via the Thunderbolt 3 interface. It's not as fast as using a desktop GPU inside a powerful desktop, but it can be an excellent way to improve your laptops' GPU performance without buying the whole laptop. It also gives you access to a broader range of GPU options that aren't limited by thermals or power in the same way as mobile GPUs.

These enclosures include a power supply, which will require an external power cable to run and, in some cases, have separate cooling systems to maintain safe operating temperatures for the graphics card you install. Some have optional extras like USB hubs, RGB Lighting, and Gigabit Ethernet, built-in, but they're far from necessary features.

The GPU you can fit into any enclosure is limited by its physical dimensions, the capability of its built-in power supply, and your budget – graphics cards are exceedingly expensive. If you're upgrading from integrated graphics, your laptop will have much greater graphics capabilities when using an external GPU enclosure than it would without – don't expect desktop-like performance.

If you have a compatible Thunderbolt 3-equipped laptop, you can buy a desktop graphics card and external GPU enclosure kit and plug it in to begin taking advantage of higher speed graphics.

  • What graphics card do I have?

    To find out what graphics card you have in Windows 10, open Device Manager > Display Adapters. You'll see your graphics card there. In MacOS, open the Apple menu and select About This Mac.

  • How can you make sure your laptop is using the right graphics card?

    If your laptop has more than one graphics card, such as an integrated GPU and a gaming GPU, you can make sure it uses the right card by going into the laptop's settings. For example, open the Nvidia Control Panel settings to select a preferred processor for specific programs like video games.

Was this page helpful?