Surface Laptop and Pro External GPU (Compatibility check)


A GPU, also known as a Graphics Processing Unit, is a specialized electronic circuit fitted in a computer and used for graphics and video rendering. Sometimes, users will plug in an external GPU to improve the display performance of their laptops. Therefore, if you have a Surface Laptop 3, you might be wondering if you can run an external GPU on it.

So, can you run an external GPU with a surface laptop 3? You cannot run an external GPU on your Surface Laptop 3 because they are not compatible. An external GPU requires a computer to have Thunderbolt 3 technology, which can provide enough bandwidth of up to 40Gbps. Your Surface Laptop 3 does not use Thunderbolt 3 technology, and it has a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 with a maximum bandwidth of 10Gbps. Even if you cannot use an external GPU on your Surface Laptop 3, its display performance is still top-notch because it has an excellent GPU.

In the past, if you wanted your laptop to perform tasks well beyond its GPU’s ability, you had no option but to buy a new and better laptop. Nowadays, you have the option of buying an external GPU, plugging it into your laptop, and boosting its graphics performance. Read on to find out if you can run an external GPU with a Surface Laptop 3 and if you can run an external GPU with the Surface Pro.

The Surface Laptop 3 is an excellent personal computer from Microsoft with a sleek design, sturdy build, and excellent performance. An external GPU can give a laptop additional graphics performance such as special effects, color grading, rendering, and animation. Therefore, if you want to use your Surface laptop 3 for gaming or work, you might wonder if you can use an external GPU to improve its graphics performance.

It is not possible to run an external GPU with a Surface Laptop 3 because of incompatibility issues. The Surface Laptop 3 also has an excellent GPU that can perform well on numerous tasks like gaming and creating special effects. If your Surface laptop 3 has a poor display, you need to perform a diagnostic and repair the damage. You can also use several methods to improve your laptop’s GPU performance, such as improving airflow and overclocking.

The most important thing you need to check before purchasing an external GPU is whether your laptop is compatible with the technology. Not all laptops have the necessary technology to run an external GPU, and the Surface Laptop 3 is one of them.

Many external GPU docks require a laptop to have a Thunderbolt 3 port, which you can use to connect the external GPU. The Thunderbolt 3 port can provide a maximum bandwidth of 40Gbps, while your Surface laptop 3 uses a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port, which only provides a maximum bandwidth of 10Gbps.

The Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports look the same, so it is easy to mistake them if you are not careful. Thunderbolt 3 is a data and video transfer protocol that is developed by Intel; you need to obtain a certification from Intel to use it.

Not many companies, including Microsoft, want to use Thunderbolt 3; hence, why your Surface Laptop 3 uses the USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port. To tell the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 ports, gear, and cable have an arrow-shaped like a lightning bolt.

Even if your Surface Laptop 3 cannot run an external GPU, there is no need to worry about its graphics performance because it has an excellent GPU. The Surface Laptop 3 comes in two versions, the 13.5-inch screen, and the 15-inch screen. The Surface laptop 3 13.5″ uses the Intel Iris Plus Graphics while the Surface laptop 3 15″ uses an AMD Radeon Vega 9 Graphics Microsoft Surface Edition GPU or an AMD Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics Microsoft Surface Edition GPU.

These GPUs work very well for light gaming and working on tasks such as rendering, animations, special effects, and grading. Therefore, there is no need to use an external GPU to improve its display performance.

If your Surface laptop 3 has a graphics performance issue, you can improve the performance by doing several things, and one of them is to check and update the graphics card drivers. If your Surface laptop 3 has AMD graphics, you need to ensure that the drivers are always up to date.

You can set your laptop to automatically update the drivers because it is difficult to keep track of which drivers are updated and which ones are not. Every time your Surface laptop 3 connects to the internet, it will check for any updates on the graphics drivers. If there are any drivers, it will also download and install them, depending on your settings.

Sometimes, the low graphics performance is caused by reduced airflow into the laptop. The Surface Laptop 3 has a single fan that is used to cool the electrical components inside it. After some time, the fan gets covered in dust, preventing it from effectively cooling the electrical components like the GPU.

If you have not opened your laptop or cleaned it for a while, then the low graphics performance could be caused by a dusty fan. You can clean your laptop using compressed air or a small brush. If you do not remove the dust, the life expectancy of your laptop’s GPU reduces. You can also improve airflow into your Surface Laptop 3 by placing it on a hard flat surface when using it.

You can also overclock your laptop’s GPU to improve its performance. Overclocking the GPU is the most effective method of ensuring you get the most out of it. Overclocking is the action of increasing the clock rate of your laptop beyond what is recommended by the manufacturer.

It is safe to overclock the GPU, but you need to be careful not to exceed the voltage limit set by the manufacturer. If your Surface Laptop 3 has an AMD GPU, you can overclock it by 10 or 15% using overclocking software such as MSI afterburner or Asus overclocking utility.

Overclocking can invalidate the warranty so please think carefully before deciding to overclock the laptop’s GPU or even CPU for that matter.

Check out the latest prices on Amazon for Microsoft Surface devices.

Can You Run an External GPU with the Surface Pro?

Microsoft designed and developed the Surface Pro as their first 2-in-1 tablet, and it has excellent performance. You can use the Surface Pro for some light gaming and general productivity like video editing, creating special effects, and animation. However, you might want to improve your Surface Pro’s graphics performance and are wondering if you can use an external GPU.

You cannot run an external GPU on your Surface Pro because it does not have the necessary technology. The Surface Pro does not have a dedicated GPU, and it uses an integrated graphics card. The integrated graphics card on your Surface Pro works well with normal productivity and some light gaming. Using an external GPU to improve graphics performance is a fairly new concept, and it is very important to know how it works.

The Surface Pro has a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port that allows data transfer at a maximum bandwidth of 10Gbps. Most external GPUs require the Thunderbolt 3 technology that allows data transfer at a maximum bandwidth of 40Gbps. Many manufacturers of laptops and tablets have to get a license from Intel before they can use it on their devices. Microsoft is yet to incorporate the Thunderbolt 3 technology on their Surface line; therefore, you cannot use an external GPU for now.

The Surface Pro uses Intel UHD graphics for the Intel Core i3 version or Intel Iris Plus Graphics for Intel Core i5 and i7 versions. The graphic performance is much better on the quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 than on the dual-core Core i3. However, the quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 cost more; therefore, you must spend more. The Integrated graphics card is capable of light gaming and some general productivity such as video editing.

Using an external GPU to improve a laptop’s graphic performance is a fairly new concept, so much so that only a few laptop manufacturers make their device compatible with external GPUs. In addition to Thunderbolt 3 technology compatibility, the external GPU has to be compatible with your laptops. Some external GPU docks have graphics cards pre-installed, but you can also find one that lets you choose the graphic card that works best with your laptop.

If you have a laptop that is compatible with the Thunderbolt 3 technology, you can use an external GPU to improve its performance. An external GPU allows your laptop to request to retrieve graphics from the external dock rather than from the internal graphics and reflect better graphics on your laptop’s screen.

Some users prefer to use an external GPU because they can use their laptops for different tasks. For example, if you are a student, you can plug in the external GPU, play games for a few hours, remove it, and head to class or the library to take notes and complete assignments.

One of the benefits of using an external GPU is saving money. If your laptop’s internal GPU is aging badly, it is very difficult to replace it. In the past, the only option you had was to purchase a new laptop. After the introduction of external GPUs, you can still use your old laptop. Using an external GPU prevents you from spending a lot of money on two devices. You can use your laptop for different tasks instead of having two or more for completing different tasks.

Another benefit of using an external GPU is that better graphics allow you to play more graphics-intensive games or tasks such as creating special effects. However, using an external GPU does not directly translate to better graphics performance.

You need to research before choosing an external GPU to ensure it is compatible with your laptop. External GPUs are not cheap; for example, the Razer Core X Aluminum External GPU costs 399 US dollars, and it will be a waste of money if you buy it and find out that it is not compatible with your laptop.

There are many external GPUs in the market, and you need to be careful when buying one. You need to check certain things before buying an external GPU, and the first one is PSU max power. PSU means Power Supply Unit, and most graphics-intensive games require a lot of power to perform well. You need to buy an external GPU with access to a lot of power; therefore, you should not buy an external GPU with a power supply of less than 400W.

External GPUs also need cooling for them to work properly. Therefore, you need to check where the manufacturer of the external GPU installed the PSU. The PSU needs to be in a place it cannot cause overheating. You also need to check the size of the external GPU and how it will fit on your gaming or working center. If you carry your external GPU to different locations, you need one that will not cause problems when packing.

You also need to check the compatibility of your laptop’s connection. The Thunderbolt 3 port and USB-C port look the same but what differentiates them is the speed at which the ports transfer data. You might think the port on your laptop can be connected to an external GPU, but it fails to work after buying one.

If you are not sure if your laptop has the correct port to connect with an external GPU, check the laptop’s user manual or consult an expert. You can also read reviews or descriptions of various external GPUs online to see if you can find one compatible with your laptop.

Overclocking can invalidate the warranty so please think carefully before deciding to overclock a device’s GPU or even CPU for that matter.

Final Word

Microsoft did not design and develop Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro for gaming. Therefore, the Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro do not need high-performing graphic processing units. Also, only a few users use their Microsoft laptops and tablets for intensive gaming; thus, Microsoft does not see the need to incorporate Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology on their devices.

Therefore, if you want to buy a laptop or tablet with an intention of using an external GPU on it in the future, you should consider another brand. Also, if you want a laptop that is compatible with Thunderbolt 3, visit the Intel Thunderbolt Technology website, which has a list of all certified Thunderbolt 3 laptops. The technology revolving around external GPUs keeps improving. Maybe soon, Microsoft might incorporate Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 onto their laptops and tablets.

Jas Singh

I specialize in writing about technology subjects from Citrix, gaming to products from Apple, Microsoft, Oculus. My goal is to ensure the information I write, is to the point, has the relevance required and is easily understood by all.

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