Upgrading a laptops graphics/video card

by on September 5, 2009

Q: Can I update my graphics/video card on my laptop?

A: This has to be one of the most ask questions here at AskAGeek.com so I wanted to spend sometime on this. Most laptops out there cannot be upgraded. My rule of thumb is if you have to ask someone if it can be upgraded then the answer is no it cannot be. People who buy laptops that can have their graphics/video cards upgraded usually do so on purpose and they pay a higher price for that feature.

Some people say “premium” laptops can have their graphics/video cards upgraded but what exactly is a “premium” laptop? Is a “premium” laptop a laptop that cost a lot of money? If that is the case then how do you tell if you have a “premium” laptop if prices drop year over year? A laptop that might have cost $2,000.00 last year might only cost $1,800.00 this year so if you set a price on “premium” at $2,000.00 then when the same laptop drops in price to $1,800.00 is it no longer premium?

I think it is safe to say that the price you pay for a laptop does not directly relate to if the graphics/video card can be upgraded. You will, however, pay more for a laptop that can have the graphics/video card upgraded than you would for one that cannot if all the other components are the same.

What about these “desktop replacement” laptops? Surely they can be upgraded right? If a desktop graphics/video card can be upgraded then surely a “desktop replacement” laptop can have its graphics/video card replaced too right? Well that is not really the case. The “desktop replacement” marketing term just means it is as powerful as a desktop so you could live without a desktop. In reality a lot of people get by without a desktop. So I think we can safely say this marketing term will not help us in figuring out if our video card can be upgraded.

So how do we figure out if our graphics/video card can be upgraded in our laptop? The simple answer is you look in the manual or contact the manufacturer of the laptop. I must say that at least 95% of the laptops out there either cannot have their graphics/video cards upgraded or that if they can it is not even worth doing.

The reason I say it is not worth doing is that less than 1% of laptops out there use standard desktop video cards and if your laptop does then it probably weighs around 10+ pounds and you special ordered it for a lot of money. If you have one of these systems then upgrading the graphics/video card is probably worth your time. For the rest of us, the laptops that can be upgraded do not use standard video cards. They use special graphics/video cards that you have to get from the person that made your laptop.

This means you will most certainly be paying a premium for the graphics/video card. You would also have to take your laptop completely apart. Now there is always an exception to every rule so I am sure there are 1 or 2 laptop models out there that I have not come across yet that make the process easy but they are few and far between. In the process of taking apart the laptop you could possibly damage another part of the laptop making the upgrade end up costing more.

So assuming you can do the task yourself without damaging your laptop you are probably looking at $250.00+ for the video card. If you cannot do the task yourself you are probably looking at $400.00 to have a professional get the graphics card and do the work. So at that point you have to ask yourself if the rest of the components in the laptop are good enough to spend that money or if you should just get a new laptop. Chances are if the graphics/video card is so bad that it wont do what you need then other parts of the system are just as bad and you would be better off just getting a new laptop and selling yours on eBay to help cover the cost.

I hope this is helpful to everyone that ever wonders if they can upgrade their graphics/video card not only to answer the main question of if it is possible but also to highlight why it might not be the best idea even if you fall into the group that possibly can.

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