A laptop can come in multiple shapes and sizes. They can come equipped with an iGPU which is built onto the GPU or a dedicated GPU that may or may not be soldered onto the laptop’s motherboard. Often times a laptop purchased today is considered to be obsolete within 6 months of its purchase. It was also previously thought that you would need to purchase a completely new laptop if you wanted some more graphical oomph on it. We’ve now been graced with Thunderbolt ports that allow for external graphics docks. What if your laptop has a capable CPU but lacks the necessary ports to deal with a graphics dock? This tutorial will show you how to add a discrete GPU to your laptop courtesy of the EXP GDC Beast video card dock.
1. You will need to identify the make and model of your laptop. You can do this by flipping the laptop over and on its underside there should be a sticker to identify the make and model of the laptop as well an SKU to narrow down your search. This will come handy to source the manual off the www.
2. Either by disassembling or via the laptop’s manual, take note if your laptop comes equipped with a mini PCI-E port. If it’s occupied by a wireless connectivity card, you will need to get a hold of a USB driven wireless adapter for your internet connectivity.
3. Cross-reference your laptop with the EXP GDC Beast card block’s compatibility list here.
For the sake of this tutorial we’re dealing with the mini PCI-E version. In theory any laptop with a mini PCI-E laptop will work but having it match the compatibility list is added measure for confidence. If your laptop does not have a mini PCI-E port, EXP GDC Beast make an NGFF version as well as an Expresscard and an M.2 version of the EXP GDC Beast. If you’re a Mac owner, fret not, EXP GDC Beast make one too. At the time of this writing, the prospect of going with M.2 for this GPU expansion should be kept on ice due to incompatibility issues on current gen laptops.
4. If your laptop checks out, purchase the graphics dock kit and await its arrival.
5. Once you receive delivery of the adapter kit, you will need to disassemble the underside of your laptop. Often times, it can be as simple as removing a single flap to gain access to your mini PCI-E port or you will need to undo the entire underside of your laptop. This will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
6. Remove the wireless adapter from the mini PCI-E port, retain the retention screw for repurposing. Now would be a good idea to tuck away the wires leading away from the wireless adapter.
7. Insert the EXP GDC Beast’s mini PCI-E end into the slot.
8. Hold it down with a finger and use the retention screw in step 6 to fasten the PCB breakaway connector.
9. Flip the laptop over and open the lid.
10. Place the graphics card dock/block on a stable surface and set it aside. You will need to have an external monitor that can connect from your dedicated, external GPU’s display connectivity options. Ofc you’re also going to need a dedicated desktop grade graphics card.
11. Connect the HDMI port leading out of the EXP GDC Beast mini PCI-E pcb break away to the graphics card dock.
12. Connect the power to the dock using the bundled power brick found on Dell XPS laptops. If you purchased another bundle (sans the power brick) but received a 20/24pin to 8pin harness, you will need a reliable and robust desktop grade PSU of at least 450W-550W. Connect the harness to the 8pin connector on the side with the HDMI input.
13. Drop in your desktop graphics card into the graphics card dock’s PCI-E x16 slot. You should hear the latch click into place as you secure the GPU.
Although it isn't officially stated in the link about support for GTX1000 series GPU's, you can drop in a GTX1060 into the dock and you should be good to go.
14. Connect your GPU to the external monitor.
15. If your GPU requires additional power, you can use the 6pin output to dual 6+2/8 pin connector to connect to your GPU’s power input.
16. If you don’t have a USB driven keyboard and mouse, it doesn’t matter but when you close the lid on your laptop, the external keyboard and mouse will come in handy.
17. With all necessary connections secured, you can now go ahead and press the Power button on your laptop. If you see a blank screen on your laptop screen as well as your external monitor, it’s possible that your BIOS is locked from the manufacturer. There is a work around to find an unlocked (compatible) BIOS though you will need to find it through searching around the www.
18. Plug in an available USB driven wireless adapter to gain access to the internet.
19. If you can boot to GUI successfully, you will now need to download the necessary drivers for your GPU.
If you’re working with an Nvidia GPU, go here.
If you’re working with an AMD GPU, go here, for the latest drivers.
20. After downloading the appropriate drivers, install them in an elevated command. That is, right click installer>Run as Administrator or double clicking will accomplish the same feat.
21. Follow through the onscreen instructions by clicking on Next.
22. Once installation is complete, reboot your laptop.
23. Right click on your desktop>screen resolution (if you’re working with Windows OS environment). Set the external display as your primary monitor/display.
24. You can additionally go to Device Manager and disable the dedicated GPU on your laptop (if it came equipped with one). Please be sure not to disable the iGPU that might exist on your laptop’s processor. If the laptop does not have a dedicated GPU, skip this step.
Note: Desktop grade GPU’s shrunk to fit inside a laptop are denoted by an M at the end of their numbering i.e. GT950M
You can perform one more reboot but you should be good to go from here on out. If you’ve made it through to the end, you should now be able to task your laptop with some graphically demanding game titles or workloads like Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite.