Laptop upgrades: CPU and GPU usually cannot be upgraded or replaced

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WyomingKnott

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I have frequently seen questions about "How can I upgrade the CPU in my laptop" or "What graphics card should I get with my laptop so I can upgrade it later?" In most cases, these upgrades cannot be done.

o Almost all notebooks do not have "graphics cards" the way a desktop machine has. They either use the onboard graphics on the CPU and passed through the chipset, or have a graphics chip attached to the motherboard.

o In the case of onboard graphics for Intel, your Device Manager will show something like "Intel(R) 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express Chip Set." This is integrated into the CPU and the motherboard's chipset, does not exist as a physically separate object, and can't be changed.

o In the case of a separate graphics chip, the motherboard is highly customized for this particular chip. It may be compatible with no other chip, or a small number of chips in the same family.

o There is one other case, known as MXM, which I will discuss later.

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o Whether or not the CPU and / or GPU chip can be replaced depends on two things. First, in many cases they are soldered to the motherboard and cannot be removed. Second, if they are socketed, only a small number of chips will be compatible with the motherboard, and you probably won't be able to substitute a chip with higher power consumption; the motherboard may not be able to provide it.

o Socketed machines tend to be both more expensive and uncommon. Anyone who can provide a link to examples, especially not-expensive ones, please PM me so that I can update this.

o Motherboards are highly customized for the particular machine. Its case, its power supply, the intended CPU and, if present, GPU, the display. Unlike a desktop motherboard, you cannot simply pull out the motherboard and drop in a new one. There will be some limited interchangeability within similar models from the same maker.

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o The exception mentioned above is the MXM, or Mobile PCI Express module. If a notebook machine supports an MXM card, you can use an MXM graphics card. In this case, the machine will actually have a separate graphics card, not the configurations that I described above. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_PCI_Express_Module .

As above, if you can provide a link to an example please PM me. Here is one: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/msi-gt80s-titan-sli-gaming-laptop,4580.html

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As far as other components go.

o The hard drive / SSD is usually simple to replace, but this will depend on the machine.
o The memory is relatively easy to replace, but laptops do not take regular desktop memory. Their are more compatibility issues with laptop memory than with desktop memory. I personally stick to memory I got through the manufacturer.
o Screen replacement. This is a contentious topic. I will say that it's possible, it's quite difficult, and you have to find one of the very few screens that will be compatible with your machine.

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Note that technically a soldered-on chip can be replaced with one compatible with the same motherboard, either to replace a failed one or upgrade within a small range. However, this requires very expensive soldering equipment and much experience, and may be more expensive than replacement. Most repair shops will choose to put in a complete replacement motherboard.
 

Frikster

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Jan 30, 2016
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What about Sager laptops? They tend to have a reputation for being highly modular. Can you replace their CPU's and/or GPU's?
 

Flash Cloud

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Jul 18, 2015
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Laptop CPUs can generally be replaced if the product line suffix does NOT have the letter H in it. Take for example a Core i7 4700HQ. This processor is soldered to the motherboard. The H lets you know it is ball grid array and thus soldered. A Core i7 4700MQ is a mobile chip and is pin grid array. It is socketed and easily replaceable. The Q of course stands for quad core.

Sager (and by extension Clevo) actually DOES have some HQ processors in their low range to mid range line up. The high end laptops are usually either MQ or K or generally pin grid array. You have to pay attention to the specs of what it is you are buying.



 

JasmineJasmine

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Jan 21, 2016
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It really depends on the laptop. I just replaced a NVIDIA Geoforce GTX 970M on an MSI GT70 2QD Dominator laptop. This card is completely replaceable - just requires some cleaning and reapplication of thermal paste. When the GPU is integrated into the motherboard (like my 17" 2011 Macbook Pro), there is no real opportunity for upgrade. When it has glitched out due to the known NVIDIA issue with this Apple line, I have had no choice but to reflow the solder around the GPU with a heat gun. So far this has worked.
 
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