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External Graphics Upgrade for Notebooks

Upgrading your Laptop

Laptops are fantastic tools, but the portable design philosophy that makes the laptop possible is responsible for one of its most irritating flaws: an utter lack of upgradeability. Sure, you can upgrade the RAM in your laptop, but other than that, you’re probably out of luck. Even if your CPU is fast enough to perform the newest tasks, your video chipset will often limit what you can do.

Want to use three or more displays? Sorry, most laptops only support the included display plus another using an analog out. Want to buy an external Blu-Ray player for your laptop? If your integrated video chipset doesn’t support DHCP, or doesn’t accelerate decoding, it’s not going to play Blu-ray movies. What if you’d like to play some of the newer video games? Sorry, your laptop’s integrated video is too slow, and you can’t upgrade the video card...

Or can you?

While it’s true that there are a small number of laptops out there with an upgradeable video chipset solution, such as MXM, Axiom, or Dell’s proprietary slot, these are by far the minority. For most laptops, upgrading the internal video chipset is simply not an option. Yet with the introduction of the external ExpressCard interface, we have seen companies explore the realm of the external graphics card upgrade.

By now you have probably heard of XG Station from Asus, an ExpressCard solution currently in development, but not yet ready for purchase or even testing by our labs. The PC technology company MSI demonstrated the Luxium, but when we talked to them they told us it was nothing more than a technology demonstration at this time. A company called Magna has been selling the ‘Expressbox’, which, with no included videocard, looks to be an ExpressCard-to-PCIe adapter that leaves the graphics card purchase and installation up to the user. What you might also have heard of is another solution by a company called Village Tronic: the ViDock Gfx.

  • a 6pack in
    thats a nice work around for 3d graphics on laptops. but at the 429 price tag plus the price of a 8600gt or a 3870.. thats getting pricy.

    its a valid option, but one that a normal user should think twice about.

    nice write up
    Reply
  • crazyhandpuppet
    "If your integrated video chipset doesn’t support DHCP, or doesn’t accelerate decoding, it’s not going to play Blu-ray movies."

    Amazing how far DHCP has come over the last few years... Looks like it's already replacing HDCP :)
    Reply
  • cleeve
    DHCP... ugh.

    Sorry, I'm Lisdexic!

    We'll have that fixed real soon. :)

    Reply
  • cleeve
    At $429, it comes with an 8600 GT or 2600 PRO.
    Reply
  • gwolfman
    Did they beat ASUS to the punch? When is this product available?
    Reply
  • gwolfman
    No Call of Duty 4 benchmarks? :*(
    Reply
  • cleeve
    Call of Duty 4 is so much easier on hardware, I prefer to concentrate on stuff that will really challenge it like Crysis and SupCom so we have a worst-case scenario.
    Reply
  • piratepast40
    There are several interesting points here. The fact that card compatability is dependant on chipset type is interesting but not really shocking. It's (sort of) similar to the hybrid SLI and Crossfire capability of the 780 series chipsets and the way the chipsets support specific GPU series. It sounds as though another header or bus type is needed to fully support the concept. The expresscard/USB bus was the holdup a year ago and it appears to still be the main bottleneck. I'm curious to see if AMD's PUMA platform or Intel's version (forgot the name) will show us something in this area. Am also wondering if one of the laptop OEM's might offer the external card setup for specific models of their computers. Will be interesting to see what others are doing. Haven't heard anything at all from ASUS since early last year.
    Reply
  • spuddyt
    would it be possible to run crossfire/sli with two of these things? (largely out of curiosity, twould be insane to actuall sensibly do it...) That way wouldn't you have 2 seperate pcie 1x bandwidths to play with/
    Reply
  • anonymous x
    aww, i wish the express card slot had enough bandwidth to suport a geforce 9800 card
    Reply