External GPU on older laptop with Ubuntu 18.04.1 and Windows 10 Pro 1909
Many older laptops still have an acceptable CPU, but are lacking in the
GPU/graphics area. Hardware is available to allow a desktop GPU to be easily
attached to the laptop, at a much lower price than a new laptop. Most
external GPU hardware connects with USBc/Thunderbolt, which is not available
on most older laptops. Other options, like an M2 or an expresscard connection
are available, and will provide the desired graphics upgrade.
The EXP GDC Beast adapter converts from a laptop's expresscard slot to an
external PCIe slot, allowing plugin of a desktop GPU. Other versions are
available using an M2 adapter, but to attach those, the latop case needs to be
opened. Older issues reported with the adapter have been fixed with current
Linux kernels and Windows releases. Setup for an external GT 640 GPU (1GB
video memory) was trivial: In the BIOS/UEFI settings, turn off the discrete
graphics and ensure that the expresscard slot is enabled.
The laptop used was a Lenovo W520, with Nvidia 1000M Quadro graphics and an
expresscard slot. This is a 2011 64 bit UEFI machine, pre secure boot, dual
booting 64 bit Ubuntu 18.04.1 (kernel 4.15) and 64 bit Windows 10 Pro 1909
build 18363.628. The adapter was a Semoic Express Card Mini PCI-E version
Expresscard V8.0 EXP GDC Beast PCIe PCI-E PCI laptop external independent
video card dock ($40.00 on sale). The power supply was a Dell D220P-01 power
supply P/N:MK394 ($20.00). The GPU was a 1GB video memory GT 640. Consider
getting/making a case to keep fingers/cables out of the GPU fan.
Shutdown the Ubuntu 18.04 running on the internal Nvidia Quadro using the 390
driver. On the laptop, plug in the expresscard on the adapter cable. On the
adapter, plug in the GPU, and the 6 pin power supply cable. The cable to
supply additional power to the GPU from the adapter was not used. Plug in the
power supply, whose light stays yellow until the laptop is powered, then it
turns green. Start the laptop and select the BIOS/UEFI settings. Ensure the
graphics mode is set to internal (not discrete or automatic). Ensure that the
expresscard slot is enabled. Save and exit. Start the laptop, it will find the
new hardware, and use the existing Nvidia 390 driver (the latest one offered
from the standard repositories) on the laptop's display. No additional modules
needed to be loaded, no xorg.conf was needed, and no kernel options like
pci=nocrs were used.
If a monitor is attached to the external GPU, it will display a screen
positioned to the right of the laptop's display. Adjust the screen positions
in the Settings/Display section. Now run Software and Updates, select the
Additional Drivers tab, and update the Nvidia drivers to the now offered 345
version. Reboot, and Ubuntu should be using the 345 drivers for the GT 640
GPU. Shutting down the laptop will depower the GPU, and put the power supply
into standby (yellow light).
Review the setup video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0YMBvNFgyE The most
valuable part is warning of the long wait with no progress bar on the
automatic Windows Nvidia device install). (Plug everything in), boot Windows,
let it find the new device, and let it update, drivers. There is no progress
bar, so be patient and let it finish. Reboot, and the new device should be
seen and used. The laptop screen will be used and if a monitor is attached to
the GPU, it will display a second screen to the right of the laptop's display.
No errors were encountered in either setup. Note that the internal Quadro
1000M is a 2GB card, so GPUs up to 2GB probably will not have any problems on
this W520. GPUs with larger video memories might have issues. Machines
originally released with 32 bit OSes (like the Lenovo W520), might have
problems with the PCI buffering at the top of the lower 4G of memory.
Solutions are available on support sites like