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Does My Laptop Work with an External GPU?

External graphics processing units (eGPUs) are becoming an appealing option for laptop users wanting improved graphics performance without building or buying a new desktop PC. An eGPU setup can seem like the perfect middle ground solution between a gaming desktop and thin-and-light laptop. But are eGPUs right for you?

Before investing in an external GPU enclosure and graphics card, it‘s essential to consider if your laptop‘s hardware and use case justify the cost. This guide will cover eGPU compatibility factors, pros and cons of different setups, and recommendations on when an eGPU makes sense – and when you may want to consider alternative options.

What is an External GPU?

An external GPU (eGPU for short) is an additional graphics card that connects externally to your laptop, all-in-one, or small form factor computer through an interface like Thunderbolt or M.2. This gives you the power of a high-end desktop graphics card like the NVIDIA RTX 3080 without needing to build your own gaming PC.

The eGPU connects to an enclosure which usually includes its own power supply. Then a Thunderbolt or proprietary cable connects that enclosure to your computer. This allows the more powerful GPU to handle graphics rendering rather than your integrated laptop graphics. You get a major performance boost for gaming or creative applications at the cost of some convenience since the eGPU must stay plugged in to work.

eGPU Compatibility Considerations

Before purchasing an eGPU setup, you need to ensure your laptop‘s hardware and ports will support one. There are three key factors to check:

CPU Compatibility – Most eGPUs work with both Intel and AMD processors. But double check your specific CPU against the eGPU enclosure specs for compatibility.

Hardware Interface – A Thunderbolt 3 port is usually required for peak eGPU performance. Some setups may work over USB4 or M.2 but with limitations. Ensure your laptop has the appropriate port.

Power Supply Max Output – Desktop GPUs require significant power. Make sure your laptop‘s power adapter can supply enough wattage for both the internal hardware and externally connected eGPU.

As long as those three bases are covered, any modern gaming laptop or MacBook from the last 5+ years should work with most eGPU options. Very old or budget laptops likely won‘t have the necessary power delivery or data bandwidth without upgrading.

Why Consider an eGPU Upgrade?

There are some key benefits that make gamers, creatives, and enthusiasts consider investing $400-$1000+ in an external GPU setup:

Save Money vs New Laptop – Upgrading via eGPU is cheaper than buying a brand new high-end gaming laptop if you already own a decent notebook.

Versus Building Desktop – If you need one mobile and one stationary computer, an eGPU can save you space and some cost compared to a whole separate gaming desktop.

Upgradeable – You can swap out the external graphics card as new models launch rather than being stuck with what originally came in your laptop.

Improve Graphics – Obviously you‘ll see a major boost running intensive games or applications by adding something like an RTX 30 series card externally.

But there are also some definite downsides to weigh as you decide whether to pursue this upgrade path.

eGPU Considerations and Alternatives

While eGPUs seem very appealing on paper, real-world usage involves some compromises. You need to assess if your specific needs justify an eGPU or if money might be better directed to other hardware instead.

For Gaming on the Go

Lugging around an eGPU defeats the portability of having a gaming laptop in the first place. The enclosures weigh nearly 15 pounds and measure over 9" x 15" without including the laptop!

If gaming on the go is important, put funds toward the highest spec gaming notebook hardware you can afford rather than relying on external upgradeability.

As a Cost Savings Measure

Entry level eGPU enclosures start around $250 and external graphics cards themselves range from $400 up to $2000+. You‘re spending a lot for incomplete desktop performance.

If your goal is saving money long-term, even a budget desktop build with room to upgrade components is better value.

For Light Gaming and Graphics

Using an eGPU just to run lighter indie games or applications like Photoshop is overkill. A decent mid-range laptop with integrated graphics can handle that usage very capably nowadays.

Consider if you truly need the power boost before you invest in an expensive eGPU setup.

Best eGPU Setups

If you‘ve weighed pros and cons of an external GPU and decided the benefits outweigh costs for your personal use case, you next have to pick the setup. There are two main options – enclosure eGPU or M.2 eGPU.

Thunderbolt Enclosure eGPU

This is the most popular solution – grabbing a ready-made enclosure like the Razer Core X Chroma and installing a standard PCIe graphics card of your choosing. It handles power supply and cooling while connecting to your laptop via a Thunderbolt 3 cable.


  • Simple plug and play setup
  • Handles power delivery along with data transfer
  • Cooling fans keep GPU temps reasonable
  • Thunderbolt bandwidth provides excellent performance


  • Bulky to transport if you do need to move it
  • More expensive than DIY eGPU options

M.2 eGPU

The other route is buying an M.2 PCIe slot adapter that lets you externally connect a GPU intended for desktop PC motherboards rather than proprietary enclosures. Very affordable but more hands on.


  • Lets you leverage normal desktop graphics cards
  • Much cheaper than enclosure option
  • Smaller form factor for transport


  • You handle cooling and power delivery
    • Most laptop power bricks can‘t supply enough wattage
  • Potential bandwidth bottlenecks

In most cases, going the Thunderbolt enclosure route makes more sense for a simpler process, wider laptop model compatibility, and fewer headaches around supporting infrastructure for your eGPU. But DIYers on a strict budget may still get an M.2 eGPU operational with extra effort.

Do You Need an External GPU?

While eGPUs seem very promising for laptop owners seeking the power of a gaming desktop and portability of a notebook… compromised rarely deliver the full benefits of either world.

Take time to reflect on your computing habits and needs before deciding an eGPU fits the bill instead of alternative options. Make sure to factor in long-term costs like future upgrades rather than staying narrowly focused on the upfront price tag.

For most laptop gamers and creators, investing in a new high spec system or separate desktop tailored to your individual needs gives a better overall user experience than trying to make a system not intended for heavy graphics duty fulfill that role through external accessories alone.

But for some applications like VR development requiring mobility + GPU power in one package, an eGPU starts becoming one of the only viable paths to get the job done!

Don‘t rush into an eGPU upgrade without researching if it truly aligns with your use cases better than other investing that same money into new computing gear alternatives. Focus your dollars on the best solutions for how you actually intend to use your technology day to day.