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How to transform your laptop into a gaming powerhouse with an external graphics card

With a little bit of research and elbow grease, an external graphics setup can transform your laptop into a gaming powerhouse for a fraction of the price of a whole new gaming PC.

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Setting up your eGPU

The research is done, the BPlus board has arrived, your graphics card is ready for unboxing, and so is the PSU. It’s time to get this eGPU rocking.

For our example, we’re hooking up an Asus GeForce 750Ti overclocked edition and a Corsair 430M PSU to a PE4C 2.1a from BPlus. The board connects to a Lenovo X220 via an ExpressCard slot, and the card also connects to an external 22-inch 1080p display via one of the 750Ti’s DVI ports.

First, slip your graphics card into the PCIe slot on the BPlus board.

egpu card Ian Paul/IDG

Next, hook your (not yet powered-on) PSU’s 24-pin ATX power supply pins into the BPlus board.

egpu hero Ian Paul/IDG

Now connect the 8-pin PCIe connector on the board to the 6-pin power connector on the graphics card.

powerboard Ian Paul/IDG

Finally, insert the ExpressCard cable into the laptop, then slide the opposite side of the cable—the one with the HDMI connection—into the HDMI port labled “X1” on the PCIe adapter. At this point you’d also connect your graphics card directly to your external monitor, typically via HDMI or DVI.

Now it’s time for the moment of truth. Flip on your PSU (don’t worry if nothing happens yet), power on the external display, and then boot your laptop—or at least, that’s the boot order that works for me. Some users report that booting an eGPU setup works only when they hook into the ExpressCard slot after the initial boot, or when Windows has loaded.

final shot egpu Ian Paul/IDG

It ain’t pretty, but it works.

Whatever your boot order is, and assuming you had a plug-and-play setup like I did, you should boot into Windows as usual. Your laptop may make a few false starts before it powers on correctly, because you’ve added new hardware to it. Once you’re in Windows, you can check to see if your graphics card is detected by opening the device manager and looking under Display adapters.

If your graphics card is unidentified, manually download and install your card’s drivers from AMD or Nvidia. You may then need to reboot the system to get your eGPU setup working properly.

Once that’s done it’s on to the wonderful world of gaming. Here’s a look at some eGPU benchmarks I ran on my own GTX 750 Ti-powered setup to give you a sense of what to expect from a comparable system. Remember that the GTX 750 Ti is an entry-level graphics card, too. More expensive and and more recent graphics cards can obviously perform much better.

Next page: eGPU benchmarks.

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