Upgrading Your Laptop's Graphics Card

Upgrading your laptop's graphics card is no walk in the park; in fact it's something more akin to open heart surgery. But it can be done, and the rewards can be well worth the trouble and risk.


Who doesn't want better graphics quality from their notebook PC? You can get there by doing it yourself. But be warned: If the upgrade is possible at all for your laptop, it can be a time-consuming operation that involves disassembling virtually your entire notebook, so don't enter into this process unless you are willing to accept the risk of doing serious harm to your machine. That said, if done properly, this project can give you noticeably higher frame rates in the end. (Read about other laptop upgrades.) Click on to see how we replaced a notebook's graphics card.

Step 1: Remove the Hinge

On some newer, high-end notebooks, the graphics card can be accessed simply by opening a panel on the bottom of the computer. But for most older machines, disassembly will take more steps.

The first thing you need to know is that your laptop can probably support only a handful of very specific graphics cards, if the card can be upgraded at all. Your best source for an upgrade card will likely be the manufacturer that made your portable.

Be sure to consult your laptop's service manual (which can usually be downloaded from the manufacturer's support page) before attempting to open up your machine. Also, make sure you guard your hardware against possible electrostatic discharge by wearing an antistatic wrist strap whenever you handle any internal components.

Laptop designs vary, but the upgrade process usually begins with removing hinge covers: Pry up any plastic hinge cover and pull it away from the chassis. Avoid excessive force, as pulling too hard can break the plastic parts.

Step 2: Detach the Keyboard

Detach the keyboard by taking out the screws beneath the hinge cover that secure it, lifting it off, and then unplugging the connector. On some notebooks, simple latches allow you to remove the keyboard without unscrewing anything.

(Note: In a job like this, it's important to keep track of where each screw came from. A good way to keep things organized is to use paper cups to hold the screws--one cup for each step of disassembly--and label each cup clearly.)

Step 3: Remove the Display Assembly

Remove the display assembly--the entire apparatus of the screen--by removing the screws on the bottom and back of the portable, and unplugging the video and Wi-Fi antenna cables (pictured).

Next, take out the optical drive; this usually means depressing the latch on the bottom of the laptop and sliding the drive out sideways.

Step 4: Remove the Shell

Remove the upper shell by taking the screws holding it out of the bottom of the PC.

Step 5: Replace Graphics Card, and Close

On our laptop, the preceding steps gave us access to the graphics/video card assembly, which we removed by loosening two screws. Then, after installing our new card, we reversed the procedure to put everything back together as before, and fired up the laptop.

New card installed, the system gave us basic video with standard VGA drivers, which kicked in automatically. After we downloaded the proper video driver from the vendor's Web site, we enjoyed full resolution and color support.

Read about other laptop upgrades.

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