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How to Set Up an External GPU for Your Laptop
February 28, 2019
High-performing gamers know better than anyone how much the right tech and gear can impact user experience and performance. When it comes down to that critical shot or strategic ambush, having the best tech on your side really counts.
High-quality graphics not only bring the game scape to life. They can also give you a broader perspective so you can play at your best and stay a step ahead of your competitors and enemies.
What is an external GPU?
An external GPU, otherwise known as an eGPU, is a relatively new concept that can help laptop users achieve desktop-quality graphics by connecting an external hardware dock. An eGPU is most often used to elevate graphics in gaming, transforming the visual experience for gamers. They can also be used for video and graphics editing.
When upgrading your graphics with an eGPU, it’s important to do your research before you can elevate your gaming experience. Not all laptops are compatible with an eGPU, and some may require the same manufacturer for both the computer and dock.
How do eGPUs work?
In general, laptop computers tend to have less graphics processing power than we see in desktops, meaning that the image quality isn’t quite as clear or powerful as on a desktop.
This can be an issue for gamers who want to grasp the entire scope of the game scape and increase performance ability. Gaming is about transporting the player to another universe after all, and without high-quality graphics, the full experience just isn’t possible. That’s where an eGPU comes in.
By combining a desktop-style power supply, a powerful graphics card, and a PCle, an eGPU allows your laptop to request to retrieve graphics from the external dock rather than the internal graphics card to reflect better graphics on your laptop display. While they’re most common for laptops, eGPUs can also be used to upgrade desktop graphics performance.
Plugging in an external graphics processor doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the same level of performance or graphics that you would if it was mounted internally, but it can definitely make a difference.
Since this is an upcoming technology, you can expect to see improvements in these units in the near future, but if you’re hungry for an elevated gaming experience now, you may want to check to see if your computer is eGPU compatible.
Benefits of connecting an external GPU
Investing in an eGPU can help laptop users address aging internal graphics technology without having to purchase an entirely new PC. With an eGPU, you can keep your gaming good luck charm gear, but still reap the benefits of powerful graphics processing.
Opting for an eGPU rather than a whole new gaming laptop setup can not only save on cost, but also maintain the versatility you have with your laptop as a gaming device and everyday computer.
Besides accelerating graphics for the games you already love, better graphics processing can open the door for more graphics-intensive and newer games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Experience the most vibrant visuals in the gaming industry as they were meant to be seen.
Despite the advanced visual performance, you may see some limited capabilities with functionality, especially if your laptop isn’t designed to handle such powerful graphics processing. It’s important to do some serious research before choosing an eGPU to ensure it’s compatible with your computer and won’t cause any functionality challenges when installed.
Is my laptop eGPU compatible?
When it comes to upgrading your gaming setup, detail is everything. Most eGPU docks require the host computer to have a Thunderbolt™ 3 port to connect to the external graphics dock. Thunderbolt 3 is a high-speed input/output port from Intel® that allows the eGPU to communicate with the laptop to provide accelerated graphics.
If you’re looking for a multipurpose laptop that can double as a gaming powerhouse just as easily as a pinnacle of productivity for your home office, add the Thunderbolt 3 connection to your must-have list. This feature gives you the freedom to upgrade your graphics without having to completely replace your computer and can benefit your budget.
If you don’t have a Thunderbolt 3 connection, you may be out of luck as far as the current eGPU market stands. Most eGPU options use Thunderbolt as the industry standard and widely consider it to be the best connection technology available, transmitting data at speeds up to 40 Gbps.
In addition to compatibility with your laptop’s connection, you’ll also want to consider an eGPU’s compatibility with the graphics card of your choice. Some eGPU docks have graphics cards pre-installed, while others give you the freedom to choose the right graphics card for you.
If you decide to choose your own graphics card to outfit your external graphics dock, just be sure to do your research and make sure your model is compatible with both your laptop’s connection and the graphics card you want.
How to choose an external GPU
With many eGPU docks on the market, it can feel cumbersome for gamers to choose the right one for their gaming. We’ve compiled a list of five of the top eGPU characteristics to consider when you’re weighing your options. When looking into an eGPU, make sure you know some of the specifics about your laptop, including details about the computer power supply unit (PSU).
1. PSU max power
Visually-intensive games require a lot of power to perform at their intended level. This means it’s important that any external hardware, like an eGPU, has access to a lot of power to make these elevated graphics possible. Currently, the best eGPUs on the market run anywhere from less than 100W up to 650W. Staying above the 400W range is a safe place to be for a powerful graphics performance.
2. PSU Type Location
Like most other hardware systems, eGPUs need a cooling source in order to work hard without burning out the internal mechanisms. External graphics processors can use either an external or internal fan unit to cool as the processor is hard at work taking your laptop’s graphics to the next level. An internal cooling system can minimize the space your eGPU occupies while also providing a more efficient cooling process.
Updating your graphics may occupy a bit of your gaming center’s real estate, but some docks take up more space than others. When you’re choosing a dock, consider the size of your space as well as the weight of the station to make the right choice for your ultimate gaming center.
4. Compatibility with laptop connection
Make sure your laptop is eGPU compatible with the connection to your laptop. It’s very important and can help ensure you get the best graphics for your laptop.
5. Compatibility with graphics card
Some docks include a graphics card that is pre-installed, while others leave the graphics experience up to the user. Choosing which graphics card to use can be the biggest decision of all when updating your gaming system.
Gamers will first want to consider what kind of games they’ll be playing as well as the GPU requirements for these games. Take inventory of the kind of games you’re currently playing and keep in mind the games you may play in the future when choosing a graphics card. Opting for a more powerful graphics card may give you access to newer, more graphics-intensive PC games in the future.
Investing in hardware can feel like a pretty big commitment, especially when it comes to gaming technology, so doing your research is crucial. Reading eGPU reviews from other gamers who have tested the product and can speak to its compatibility with different laptops can also be helpful in the decision-making process.
How to set up an external GPU
Once you’ve done your research on eGPUs, chosen your external gaming graphics card, and ensured compatibility, you’re ready to set up your eGPU. Each dock is different, so you may need to consult your manufacturer’s website for proper setup instructions. As an example, we’ve used our HP OMEN Accelerator as a guide for eGPU setup.
What do I need to connect an external GPU?
Depending on your set up, you may need different components, but in general, you’ll need:
- eGPU, laptop, display monitor
- Thunderbolt 3 connection and cord
- Video graphics card
- Power supply
HP OMEN Accelerator
The HP OMEN Accelerator is a powerful eGPU solution for high-performing gamers. Accelerate your graphics with a dock that’s designed with gamers in mind. The HP OMEN Accelerator is compatible with the industry’s top graphics cards and graphics intensive games for an eGPU solution that works.
How to set up the HP OMEN Accelerator
1. Install HP OMEN Accelerator software on your laptop by visiting www.hp.com/go/OMENGA1-10.
2. Connect HP OMEN Accelerator’s power supply cable to power as well as the display monitor if you’re using one.
3. Take the Thunderbolt cable and connect from the dock to your laptop. The Thunderbolt connection is indicated by the bolt icon. Your device should recognize a Thunderbolt connection and show a pop-up message. Click “OK” to allow the Thunderbolt connection. Click “Always Connect” to automatically connect in the future.
4. Once you’ve established the connection with your laptop and display, you’re ready to start gaming.
If you’re using your own video card, follow these instructions to remove the existing external gaming graphics card using the HP OMEN Accelerator:
1. Lift the latch at the corner of the dock which will lift the entire lid.
2. Unscrew the three spring-loaded screws surrounding the video card.
3. Disconnect the power supply from the card.
4. Unscrew the bracket and slide it out of the dock.
5. Press the release button at the PCI slot and remove the graphics card from the unit.
Whether you’re a casual gamer looking to elevate your gameplay or a professional gamer who needs the cream of the crop when it comes to graphics, an external GPU is a great option to deliver the gaming experience of your dreams.
About the Author: Sophie Sirois is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Sophie is a San Diego-based content creation specialist covering the latest in tech and digital news.