As mobile technology has continued to progress, laptops have caught up in many areas to their desktop counterparts. SSDs have shrunk in size, CPUs have become more power efficient, and batteries have improved capacity and efficiency. But there remains one major component that simply cannot perform as well within the thermally and space-constraints of a laptop: the graphics card. Due to their size and power needs, discrete graphics cards remain the single most important component in distinguishing the power of a laptop and the power of a desktop. But luckily, that’s changing too.
With improvements in external connection technology like Thunderbolt and USB-C, bandwidth has improved to the point that a GPU can be housed externally to a laptop (or desktop) and connected via cable to provide significant improvement in GPU-heavy tasks like gaming or rendering. Although still uncommon compared to traditional desktops, this solution is growing, and there are several great options available today. Depending on your reason for seeking an eGPU, our recommendations will help you find the housing that works best for you. Let’s take a look at the different options!
Best eGPUs – Our Recommendations
Best eGPU for Macbook Pro
Apple may continue to be a polarizing company, with some very strong supporters as well as strong critics, but Apple laptops continue to grow in market share and popularity. However, one segment where they remain rare is those looking for a strong graphics card, either for gaming or productivity. And especially as Apple introduces its in-house M1 chip that has shown stellar performance so far, buyers will be looking for graphics power to match the processing speed. For a Macbook Pro user that wants to beef up their graphics power to either game or perform productivity tasks, we recommend the Razer Core X.
This is a bit of an easy recommendation because in many ways, the Razer Core X is a great recommendation for any eGPU usage. But specifically, we like it for Macbook Pros because the Razer Core X only supports AMD graphics card when used with a Mac, which makes sense as Apple has historically played nicer with AMD than Nvidia (this is changing slowly for some applications). But generally, the Razer Core X is a just a solid eGPU enclosure that is officially supported by Apple. It contains the typical Thunderbolt 3 connection, as well as a built-in 650W power supply that both charges the laptop and gives power to the GPU. The compatibility list is very long, including recent cards like the 5700 XT, and the performance is as good as it gets for eGPU’s. When combined with the affordable $300 price tag, the Razer Core X is a very strong choice.
Best eGPU for Gaming
While it is pretty much understood, when we talk about gaming, we are basically leaving the world of Apple behind. Although more and more games are available for Mac, Windows remains the premier operating system for gamers. Most portable gamers will look for a gaming laptop that includes the GPU directly within the main enclosure, but there is a small subset of gamers that want a very portable laptop for travelling or schooling and then an add-on at a main station when looking to game. For these users, an eGPU is the perfect solution and our recommendation for best eGPU for gaming is the Aorus Gaming Box.
The two main ‘gaming’ oriented eGPU enclosures that are most often recommended (other than the Razer Core X) are this Aorus Gaming Box and the ASUS ROG XG Station. Between the two, there is not a huge difference, but we prefer the Aorus version for a couple of reasons: the GPU is included (the price reflects this), there is a window to see the internal parts, and the usage tends to be easier based on multiple user reviews. Aorus, a Gigabyte sub-brand, is known for high-quality components and the eGPU is a well-thought out enclosure that works with both Nvidia and AMD cards and focuses on performance to give the best gaming experience possible. If you already have a GPU that you plan on using, the Razer Core X might be a better buy, but if you don’t already have a graphics card, their bundled options make a lot of sense (going all the way up to a water-cooled 2080Ti version!) and should give you the gaming experience you crave.
Best Compact eGPU
One thing you might notice about the above recommendations, and especially the gaming recommendations, is the size of the enclosures. Many buyers end up with a set-up that rivals the size of a desktop. For some, this is no problem at all, but others want a smaller solution that keeps the advantages of the laptop while still drawing the extra graphics power. If you are looking for an external GPU enclosure but want to minimize the footprint, we recommend the Akitio Node Lite.
Akitio was one of the first to introduce the Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 connector eGPUs, and for a long time they were the major name in eGPU technology. As more and more competitors have entered the market, Akitio has become less of a household name, but they maintain their edge in compact and clean design for the space-conscious buyer. The Node Lite is the epitome of this, offering a very compact enclosure that still allows for 2-slot GPUs with a moderate power draw (usually ITX cards only unless you add the external adapter). If you are space conscious but want a larger GPU with more power, the Akitio Node Thunder2 and Akitio Node Thunder3, or even Akitio Node Pro/Akitio Node Titan for really big cards, are also great options to consider, as they provide more power and allow for larger cards. At right around $300 depending on your retailer, the Akitio Node Lite (and co.) is a stellar compact eGPU enclosure.
Best eGPU for RTX 3080 or RX 6800 / XT
As of right now, the number of professional benchmarkers or hardware testers looking into eGPU’s is limited, and the newest generation Ampere Nvidia GPUs and AMD Radeon RDNA2 GPUs continue to have major stock problems. The combination of these things means that pure eGPU comparisons for RTX 3080 (or 3090) or RX 6800/XT cards are limited, so much of the current analysis revolves around specification tracking and individual user opinions. Despite that, to accommodate the size/power draw of the RTX 3080 in particular, one eGPU has begun to rise to the top as the best option available. It shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how much we like its little brother, the Razer Core X. For an eGPU to use with the new RTX 3080 or AMD 6800/XT, we recommend the Razer Core X Chroma.
This beefed-up eGPU enclosure from Razer not only adds a little RGB-goodness, gigabit ethernet support, and additional USB ports, but most importantly, gives that little extra PSU wattage to help even the newest, most powerful cards achieve top performance. While most examples of even the RTX 3080 wouldn’t exceed the power draw of the Razer Core X, the Chroma additional power and features are likely worth it to be sure you don’t risk peaking above the power draw maximum. There exists even one level higher within the Razer lineup, the Razer Core V2, but it isn’t easy to find in stock nowadays. Unless you are thinking of upgrading to a RTX 3090 later down the road, the $430 Razer Core X Chroma is a great product and our recommendation for an eGPU to pair with an RTX 3080 or AMD 6800/XT.
Best eGPU for Video Editing
This category is a bit of a mixture of others as the GPU itself is much more important than the eGPU enclosure when it comes to video editing, and even then, most powerful GPUs will perform well for video editing as they would for gaming. Depending on the type of video editing you are doing, however, you may have a few specifics that are important for your workflow or added useful features. Luckily, one particular eGPU includes add-ons like additional SATA3 connectors, dual-chip LAN, USB ports, and broad compatibility including professional-grade GPUs like Nvidia Quadro or the VRAM beast AMD Radeon VII. For video editing or general productivity tasks, we recommend the Mantiz Saturn Pro.
Just because we are choosing to recommend this eGPU enclosure here does not mean it can’t perform perfectly well for gaming too! But the differences in features, like the added SSD/HDD connectors, can be especially useful for someone that is constantly working with large 4K video files and wants a dedicated external drive for storage. Similarly, the ability to connect a large range of graphics card, including RTX 3080 or RTX 3090 and up through professional grade cards, means that even the most serious video editor should be able to capitalize on eGPU technology to accelerate their workflow. And maybe the best part, despite the major strengths of this eGPU, the price remains eminently reasonable at $299. For all of these reasons, we have no trouble recommending the Mantiz Saturn Pro for your video editing/productivity eGPU.
As eGPU technology matures, more and more companies are entering the fray to offer an enclosure that enhances any laptop (or even desktop) to combine portability for travel and power for stationary use. Importantly, these eGPU’s are normally just the enclosure (with a few exceptions), and the graphics card itself needs to be bough separately. Of course, the exact power and increase in performance you will see from the eGPU is directly related to the GPU itself. More powerful cards tend to see larger performance gaps when compared to direct PCIe connection in laptops, but that gap is shrinking as Thunderbolt3 and other connectors increase their bandwidth.
Only you can decide if you rather have a desktop for your power-hungry needs, but if you do choose to add a performance eGPU solution to your existing laptop, these recommendations should guide you in making the right choice.