What do you do when the GPU in your laptop fails?

Running VR with a laptop is a great way to keep your overall setup portable. You can take your Rift, Vive, or Windows Mixed Reality headset with you on the road to play with your friends, all the while leaving your desktop tower and monitor at home. However, laptops do come with their own drawbacks, one being they're more difficult to repair or upgrade down the line. Because VR is taxing on your graphics card (GPU), you might be in a situation where it has failed or is giving you problems while the rest of your laptop is still operating normally. Here are some options that can help you deal with this situation.

Signs that your GPU is failing

Signs that your GPU is failing

If you're unsure whether or not it's your GPU that's acting up, these are some usual symptoms:

  • You're seeing weird colors on your laptop's display, as well as in your VR headset. If you're in a game and notice that the textures aren't exactly as they should be either, you can probably point at your GPU.

  • You're hearing weird noises. If you're running a beefy gaming laptop with a dedicated GPU, it likely has its own cooling system. If you happen to hear that cooling system running out of control, your GPU might not be operating optimally.

  • Games are stuttering and crashing. Many VR games are quite the resource hogs, and while your GPU might be able to keep up during everyday tasks, asking it to run an intensive game might push it over the edge. If it seems like your game is stuttering — or even completely crashing — it probably has to do with your GPU.

  • You're seeing artifacts and glitches. Are there any multi-colored, checkerboard patterns showing up in your display? Are frames tearing over into the next ones? Does the problem persist even after you restart your PC? Your GPU is likely the cause.

  • Your laptop suffers a blue screen of death (BSOD). The dreaded BSOD will usually toss you an error, and if it has anything to do with "video" you can probably assume it has to do with your GPU.

How to stress test your laptop's GPU

How to stress test your laptop's GPU

If you've come across any of the above signs, you'll first want to make sure it is indeed your GPU that's causing problems. Be sure to update your drivers before continuing, as many problems stem from them being outdated. These drivers should come straight from NVIDIA or AMD; links can be found right here.

Now that you're updated and your GPU is still causing problems, it's time to run a stress test. There are plenty of software options out there that will get this done, but here are some suggestions.

FutureMark's 3DMark includes stress tests that are available in an Advanced edition, which costs about $30. You can also pick up the free version if you'd like to run some benchmarks.

See at FutureMark

Unigine's Heaven benchmark test is also a great way to benchmark your GPU for free. It focuses only on the GPU, providing you with a realistic idea of what's going on with your hardware. For extended stress testing, there's also an Advanced edition that costs about $15.

See at Unigine

What to do when your laptop's GPU is causing problems

Looks clean to me

You've determined that it's your laptop's GPU that's giving you problems, and you're now wondering exactly what can be done to save it.

A major cause of GPU problems is overheating. Have you noticed that things usually start out fine but soon degrade? Try turning off your laptop and letting it cool down before attempting to use VR again. Does it start out alright? This might be an overheating problem. If possible — be sure to check your warranty before proceeding — open the back of your laptop and check to see if the ventilation channels and fans are clogged with dust and hair. If everything looks clean, the fan may need to be replaced, or there may not be adequate venting. Try setting up your laptop so that the most vents possible are open to air. To see exactly what temperatures your GPU is operating, try using software like the free GPU-Z.

See at TechPowerUp

If temperatures are where they should be, drivers are updated, and you're still having GPU issues, check to see if you're still covered by the manufacturer's warranty. If so, attempting to fix anything on your own might not be worth the trouble, as you can send your laptop away for free repairs.

Where's the GPU?

If you aren't covered under warranty, you still have some options. Taking the laptop apart yourself and attempting to repair it can be a pain, as they are often assembled in a way that makes the hardware inside extremely difficult to access. If your laptop has an integrated GPU, the difficult situation is compounded further. You could technically replace the integrated GPU chip or repair the heatsink, but there is a possibility of making matters worse while you're inside. Our suggestion? If you're set on getting your laptop repaired and your warranty has expired, take it to a third-party professional who specializes in repairs.

If your warranty has expired and your laptop has a dedicated GPU and a design that makes it easy to swap out, you can always buy a replacement GPU and replace the faulty one. If you'd rather not repair or replace the GPU and would instead like to keep using the laptop until the rest of it dies, you might be able to take advantage of an external GPU (eGPU). Unfortunately, eGPUs primarily use a Thunderbolt 3 port to connect to a PC, so your laptop would have to have one for it to work. That's not all; the cost of an eGPU is likely to rival that of a brand new gaming laptop capable of running VR.

Wrapping up

Laptop GPU problems are extremely frustrating and are usually not as easy to fix as in a standard desktop PC due to the cramped design and (sometimes) integrated chips. Still, we hope that if you are seeing video problems, this guide has helped you decide on what to do. Whether you're having your laptop repaired, replacing the GPU, or buying an entirely new system, we hope you soon get back to VR.

For more information on getting the best performance from your PC, as well as VR troubleshooting guides, check out these links.