Adding a desktop graphics card to a laptop

The bane of Integrated Graphics, as the last remaining major hitch to gaming on an otherwise fantastic computer, I made it my mission to find a solution. No longer will the crappy Intel graphics chip (X4500MHD aka GM45) hold me back from fully enjoying contemporary PC games. And just in time too – Starcraft II is just around the corner.

The solution is called a (DIY) ViDock (Video Dock). Subtract the DIY portion and you’ve got a commercial product made by villagetronic. After seeing how outrageous the price was – it was ~$400 – I dug a bit deeper. It turns out that the components that make up the ViDock are pretty simple and easily obtainable.

To guide me throughout the quest I utilized a vibrant DIY community on notebookreview forums spearheaded by a diligent fellow by the alias of nando4. His knowledge hsa allowed the DIY’r spirit to flourish in many, myself included. Plus, the current form in which the technology now exists, it doesn’t take a genius to do what we’ve done.

Interested in using a 3d graphics card such as one produced by ATI or Nvidia? Then read on for a step-by-step account how.

1. Attempt to determine if your laptop can host the DIY ViDock.
This means scouring the forums. Read It All. RTFM, if you will. If, after you’ve read the forum, and searched it, you’re still unsure about the capabilities of your laptop, post a question. Your question should contain a couple key ingredients.
  1. An Everest screenshot of your PCI ports, like this
  2. Screenshots of your device manager’s I/O and Memory mappings, like this
  3. Additional info such as your system’s specs, the GPU you plan to use

2. Order a PE4H or PE4L from hwtools. This is the key piece of hardware that will permit the connection. My experience with the hwtools company was good – decent communication and good product. While the shipping is a bit steep it arrived very quickly considering the distance it traveled (from Taiwan). It cost $108 and about 7 business days from order to a PE4H+EC2C at my door.

3. Choose and get a video card that meets your bang-for-buck ratio. Pay close attention to the amount of power the card will need to draw (TDW). I choose a Nvidia GeForce GT240 because it does not require an additional power supply adapter. Specifically, it requires less than 75W at maximum and does not have an additional power plug on the card itself. And because it was only $50 after MIR – I wanted to keep under $200 for this project.

4. While waiting, you may want to prepare by making a USB bootdisk. Chances are good that you will need one in order to do the PCI resource reallocation. It is necessary if when you plug in the DIY ViDock rig a windows yields error 12: cannot allocate resources. Here are detailed instructions how to do this. This is by far the hardest step that requires at least knowledge of how to read hex-byte memory addresses in order to find a vacant space.

5. All the instructions, pros/cons, possible enhancemets such as x1E or x2 PCIe connect, are all laid out by on the first post of that thread and should answer all questions. If you have any, folks including myself are generally happy to assist, especially with specific inquiries.

6. ENJOY! And do share your experience with the notebookreview DIY ViDock community as well as this blog.

Nothing finer in computing prowess than a ultra-powerful ultraportable like my Thinkpad X200 being equipped with a desktop caliber GPU.

X200 Totally Docked

DIY ViDock


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11 comments

  1. <neo>Whoa.</neo>

  2. Sweet! … I’m thinking about doing my own Vidock as well. What resolution, and settings were you able to get on SC2 Beta ? If it’s below high or ultra, I might just consider building a cheap desktop instead.

    HP dv6835nr
    Intel Core2Duo
    GPU: Intel chip
    RAM: 4gb

  3. Hey Felix, I run at medium-high settings. It’s very smooth… I could probably pump it up but there’s some funkyness going on with the power current going PE4H. When it ramps up the card stops running and the machine freezes. See that rubber band? it’s *mostly* fixed the problem. Fortunately hwtools is sending me a replacement.

    As for your setup, I think you’d easily be able to run SC2 on high setting – possibly ultra though wouldn’t count on it – as long as you have a higher end ATI card – a 5750 and greater ought to do it w/plenty of GDDR5 memory (2GB is ideal).

  4. Post owner:
    Does your X200 able to do x1E or x2 PCIe connect?

  5. Forests, currently I’m running a x1. x1e is not supported due to the express slot occupying port 4. In theory, x2 is possible but will take a fairly substantial amount of work to attain with no guarantees as of yet (haven’t seen any success stories…)

  6. it would be easier to simply by a gaming laptop such as an asus g53jw or an alienware m15x but nice job aniway

  7. What a great post you have. I have found you site to be very interesting.

  8. Hi,
    This is great!
    Im just curious?
    I looked at the HWtools website and it supplies a “power supply cable and power supply switch” with the package.
    Do i need to buy a power supply to use a desktop graphics card?
    I cant just attach the G card to the PE4H and the PE4H to the expresscard and use it?
    I noticed you have a large power supply below your laptop. Is that for the PE4H?

  9. Yes, you need to provide the PE4H power. Either via a suitable laptop DC adapter (that I had no luck finding, at least not one that provided stable power) or by pc power suppy. It is critical that the power supply be of good quality. I had so many issues that turned out to be due to the cheap power supply units I used. This cannot be understated – get a good power supply, I had good luck w/Crucial.

    The other problem with a laptop power adapter is that it limits the graphics card you can use to one that consumes 75watts MAX. The PE4H can supply it that much via the PCI-E slot. If the card needs more than that, it’ll have an additional power plug and you’ll need a pc power supply for that.

  10. Hi,
    nice article!
    Can you remove the ViDock while the machine is running?
    That would be very interesting for me because I want to be able to remove my T400 from the dock without shuting it down.

  11. Nick, hmm. Maybe if you could plug this into a usb port instead, then maybe you could just go ‘eject usb port to safely remove media?’ Then your screen would flash, and then go back to the default graphics card already in the laptop?

    Too bad that this all can’t just be done on the usb port I think though. ._.
    I’m sure that there’s definitely a way, but from what I read it has to be hooked into a PCI-e slot (port?) Which my ASUS N53SV doesn’t seem to have ( just the dvd, usb, Ethernet, audio, mic, card reader & hdmi ) So I’m not sure if this can be done on mine or not. :l

    Although I was looking at upgrading to a Sager NP6370..maybe this one could do this? Or maybe I could just custom order it with a slot for that as Xotic PC does that sort of thing.

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