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How to Set Up an External GPU for your Laptop – Step by Step

How to Set Up an External GPU for your Laptop

If you are looking to set up an external GPU for your Laptop read our step-by-step instructions.

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Related: Best External Graphics Card Dock

Most laptops in the mid-range segment come with CPUs with an in-built GPU. Gamers, photographers, and graphic design professionals swear by the added boost that a GPU can lend to the system, especially a laptop that has to be carried around for work and pleasure. Many of such people use them as their primary work machines. It is much better than the integrated graphics that such laptops ship with, which meant that the CPU had to handle the dual task of running the applications as well as supporting the graphics-intensive work functions. This scenario often resulted in lags, system crashes, and frustration all around.

But, if you are a photographer tediously editing your photos on photoshop, or a YouTuber working on Adobe Premiere Pro in 8k, or a gamer trying to play the graphic-intensive “Metro Exodus,” you know that often the inbuilt GPU doesn’t cut it, and the terrifying lags and crashes come back. The best way to solve this is by adding an external GPU to your laptop to enhance the graphics performance.

What is an external GPU, you ask?

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An external GPU (often shortened to eGPU) is the new magical solution that can give desktop-level graphics and power to your laptop so that those lags and crashes can become a thing of the past and you can keep on punching your gaming opponents out of the water, as it were. It can also lower the load on your internal GPU, freeing it up to do more of the lightweight graphic work, while it bears most of the burden on its capable electronic shoulders, so to speak.

External GPUs work by using an external hardware dock and combining a PCIe with a powerful desktop-class Graphics Card and unlimited power supply that provides the additional graphic juice for your laptop needs.

What will you need?

To install an external GPU to your laptop, you will need three things:

  1. An external hardware dock
  2. A graphics card from any reputed company like MSI, Gigabyte, Asus, to name a few
  3. A power supply kit
  4. Laptop with Thunderbolt 3 Port
  5. Thunderbolt 3 cable

Choosing the Right Hardware for your External GPU

These days, you might be flushed with choices if you are in the market for an external GPU hardware dock. There are so many makes at every price point, and the fact that the advertisements on them claim that they all do the same thing does zilch to make a choice easier. It becomes essential to do your research beforehand and understand what you are looking for before buying a dock. Here are six things that should help you to make the right choice:

Check the power capacity:

Graphic intensive work – primarily gaming more than anything else – requires a lot of power. This means that the external GPU should be power-efficient and be able to handle those high frame rates. Most external GPU docks available in the market range from 100 watts to 650 watts. The higher the power rating, the better, and anything above 450 watts should do the trick for most cases.

Cool it down:

We have all faced it – the dreaded heating problem due to intensive tasks. This is more true when it comes to external GPUs. Since GPUs are meant to give an additional power boost to your laptop while handling high-octane gaming or intensive animation and video editing, it is quite natural that it will heat up during the long hours of usage. Hence, it is imperative to keep it cool to ensure long-term use. It is vital to buy a dock that has an inbuilt fan for this purpose. Having an internal fan also minimizes the load on your laptop, as the GPU will work more smoothly if it’s cool and adequately ventilated.

  1. Size:

    Is there anyone who doesn’t like a clean setup? We think not. The benefits of having a clean and optimally productive workspace (read desk) are universally acknowledged, and there are hundreds of studies out there that have proven that we are more effective if our desk is clean and organized. So, depending on the amount of space your desk has, an external GPU can render havoc with your clean and enviable desk setup unless you are careful in choosing just the right size for your needs. Gaming is no fun if your entire station is cluttered and there is an extensive dock sitting there, taking up most of the space. So choose wisely.

  2. Check Laptop compatibility:

    The type of connection the dock has is perhaps the most important criterion to keep in mind while in the market for external GPUs. Not only does Thunderbolt 3 provide a more seamless and fast experience while engaging in graphic intensive processes, but it is also a lot better at managing power efficiency and less prone to damage over long-term use; the idea is to be future proof since you will want to get a good number of years worth of use out of the external GPU before moving on to buy a new one. This will only work if your laptop has a Thunderbolt 3 port. Suppose it doesn’t, then you have to open it and swap out the WiFi card, which is cumbersome, expensive and ends the mobility of your laptop since you will have to open up your computer and manually remove the connection with your external GPU hardware dock every time you want to move out with it. So if your laptop has a Thunderbolt 3 port (most mid-range laptops do these days), buy a dock with a Thunderbolt 3 connection.

  3. Check Graphics Card Compatibility:

    Some docks come raw, and some have a graphics card already inbuilt inside them. While it’s always better to choose a graphics card separately based on your needs, sometimes you might be stuck with a dock that has one already built-in. In this case, it is still possible to run it with a separate graphics card of your choice, but before you make that investment, you need to check whether it is compatible with the inbuilt one so that you don’t run into snags later on. If you don’t want to buy an additional graphics card, then the one built into the dock should be fine for most graphics-intensive work, but it won’t be the same as a dedicated graphics card.

  4. Choosing the Graphics Card:

    Choosing the right kind of graphics card is also essential since it is the card that will do the work and give the power through the dock for the graphics-intensive processes you run. Choosing the right graphics card depends on your budget and the amount of energy you need. Especially for gamers, it is essential to take stock of the kind of games and the frame rate at which they want to play and to check reviews by other gamers from the type of graphic card they need. This similarly extends to other work such as video and photo editing, animation work, and graphic design. However, even if you might not need the power at the moment, choosing a more powerful graphics card can prove to be a good future-proof investment since you wouldn’t have to replace it when your applications become more graphic intensive and add more features that require a powerful GPU to support them. The mantra is to invest once but to invest well.

How to Connect an External GPU?

Assuming that you have opted for an external GPU dock with a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the connection is straightforward. The exact specifics will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; we have broken it up into the following steps using the HP OMEN Accelerator as an example since it is compatible with the top graphics cards available in the industry and it is an external GPU solution that is well-reviewed:

  1. The first thing you have to do is to visit the website and install the HP OMEN Accelerator software on your laptop.
  2. After the software has been installed, you will find that the HP OMEN Accelerator has a power cable to supply power to the dock. You need to connect that to the power and external display (if you are using one).
  3. Connect the Thunderbolt 3 cable to your laptop. If the connection is made, you should see a Thunderbolt connection icon with a bolt icon. Your computer will also recognize a thunderbolt connection and show a pop-up message asking you to click “OK” to accept the Thunderbolt connection. You need to click on “Always Connect” so that you may automatically connect at any time to plug it into the laptop in the future.
  • That’s it! You are ready to start using those graphic-intensive applications!

The HP OMEN Accelerator comes with an inbuilt graphics card that should do the job for most of the tasks you throw at it, but if you want more juice by using your own graphics card from another company, removing the inbuilt graphics card is relatively straightforward:

  1. At the corner of the dock, you will find a latch that can be lifted to lift the entire lid.
  2. Three spring-loaded screws need to be unscrewed.
  3. You need to disconnect the power supply from the graphics card
  4. You will also need to unscrew the bracket and slide it out of the HP OMEN Accelerator dock.
  5. Finally, it would be best to press the release button at the PCI slot, and then you can remove the inbuilt graphics card from the unit.

To Conclude

The fact of the matter is this – internal GPUs are acceptable for casual hobbyist gamers. Still, suppose you are a professional in any field that involves heavy graphic use, like video editing, photography, graphic designing, or professional gaming. In that case, that inbuilt card will not cut it for you. For that, you need an external GPU to save yourself the frustration and the lags and crashes so that you can concentrate on what you do best without worrying about laptop performance.

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