So you just bought a new laptop – awesome! It’s feather-light, its battery lasts forever, and it packs in a hardware configuration that allows it to take on a desktop and live to tell the story. But can it game? Unless said new laptop happens to be an Alienware gaming rig or similar other beast, in which case we take back the “feather-light” part, chances are your answer was a sad sigh and a feeling of emptiness inside.
We’re not haters nor do we want to ruin the joy your new purchase has brought to you, but it’s a well known fact that graphics power has always been any laptop’s Achille’s heel, and since you’re reading this, chances are you’re already well aware of this aspect and looking for a fix. Luckily for you, you’re in the right place: you’re about to boost your laptop’s graphics capabilities by getting the right eGPU, so wipe away your tears and keep reading, as we’re about to embark on a journey that will transform your beloved laptop companion into a beast of a gaming machine.
In this guide, we will have a look at the best eGPUs currently out there. It’s worth noting that the list is not a top-style list, so an eGPU’s position within the list does not reflect its performance level.
Best External GPUS – Our Recommendations
1. Gigabyte Gaming Box
Gigabyte is one of the most popular GPU brands out there, so it was only logical that they would extend their product line to include eGPUs. Their imagination of the perfect eGPU is an enclosure that’s small, sleek, powerful, and ready to use out-of-the box. As such, Gigabyte Gaming Box eGPUs come with included GPUs in mini-ITX formats from the brand’s own lineup, such as an RX 580, for AMD fans, or GTX 1070, GTX 1080, and RTX 2070 for fans of the green camp.
Coming with a weight in the ballpark of 2 kgs (give or take, depending on the exact model), the unit is light enough to be easily moved around, and also comes with an internal power supply, making it even more obvious that it’s meant to be an option for people that need mobility without having to worry for external power bricks. One more sign in this regard is the fact that one of the four integrated USB 3.0 ports is dedicated for charging mobile devices and supports Quick Charge 3.0 and Power Delivery 3.0, ensuring that your phone can be quickly charged from it along with your laptop, which can receive up to 100W of power directly via the Thunderbolt 3 connection. If all this doesn’t make it evident that the thing is meant to be carried around, there’s one more aspect that will ruin all doubt – Gigabyte ships it with a dedicated carrying pouch.
The design of the Gigabyte Gaming Box falls more on the simplistic side, with mesh side panels that allow for improved airflow whilst giving you a great view of the GPU, along with an RGB Fusion-compatible LED strips below the GPU for some gaming lighting.
On the upgrability side, the Gigabyte Gaming Box has its pros and cons. The upside is that all versions come with a gold-efficiency 450W power supply, which is enough to power most of current and upcoming GPUs. The downside is that, due to its reduced dimensions, the only upgrade options lie within the mini-ITX GPU segment, so you will need to stick with this format. Be that as it may, for a casual user, this is more than enough, so overall, the Gigabyte Gaming Box is a very solid option for those that want a solution that just works.
- Small and powerful;
- Multiple variants to choose from, with mid or high-end GPUs;
- RGB lighting
- Additional connectivity & mobile charging options.
- Limited upgradability options.
2. ASUS RoG XG Station 2
Whenever you hear the terms “ASUS RoG”, you’re most likely imagining a massive device with sharp angles, aggressive look and, last but not least, outstanding performance. That’s because ASUS managed to build this image for its Republic of Gamers range of products, and it’s easy to understand why – all RoG products have been designed with performance and aesthetics in mind, aimed at taking gaming at another level. The ASUS RoG XG Station 2 eGPU fits the bill perfectly.
First of all, that thing is big, so it’s not an option for people that want a portable / easy to move around eGPU solution. It weights 5.1 kgs out of the box, and it’s worth noting that it comes without a GPU, so once you factor that in as well, you’re looking at over 6 kgs of pure graphics power.
Given the size and weight of the RoG XG Station 2, the first question that comes to mind is: does it make good use of its size and weight? The answer is simple: hell yeah! Aesthetics wise, the XG Station 2 looks like it’s been pulled straight out of a Transformers movie, coming with an unconventional shape, plethora of RGB lights and ROG-specific engravings on the panels which also serve for cooling purposes. Even more unconventional than its shape is its opening mechanism – the XG Station 2 splits vertically and the two halves are opened outwards, creating a W shape when open. One side is dedicated to housing the GPU, while the other holds the PSU and PCBs.
In the performance department, the ASUS RoG XG Station 2 does not disappoint either – the behemoth can house GPUs up to 310mm in length, and up to 2.5 slots in width, which means most high-end current and future GPUs should fit in just fine. Powering any GPU you might opt to go with in the XG Stations 2 won’t be a problem either, as the eGPU comes with a 600W power supply. An interesting aspect about the XG Station 2 is the fact that, while it comes with four USB 3.0 and one Gigabit ethernet port, it makes use of a separate USB-B connector to transmit data to and from these ports, thus leaving the full bandwidth of the Thunderbolt 3 connection for the graphics card.
RoG has always been known for its performance and being regarded as a premium product, and neither of these factors come cheap, so the main downside of the ASUS RoG XG Station 2 is its price. If you can look past that, though, the ASUS RoG XG Station 2 is a great choice.
- Great hardware compatibility and upgradability options;
- Great aesthetics;
- Great performance.
- Big & Heavy;
3. Razer Core V2
Razer is one of the most resonant names in the field of gaming gear, so it comes as no surprise that they decided to expand their product line to include eGPUs. Their products have always been renowned for their excellent performance, imposing looks and, last but not least, for their price, the latter not necessarily in a very good way – Razer products have always had a tendency to be expensive, being considered premium options in their field. The Razer Core V2 is no exception.
Despite its fairly simple design, the Razer Core V2 identifies itself as being a Razer product from the first glimpse. Its build quality is evident from the quality materials used: the case is made of anodized aluminum and comes with a matte black finish, giving it a minimalistic and sober look. However, the large vertical fins spanning across the entire front, top, and bottom of the case act both as a cooling solution and as an aesthetics extra, giving the case a bit of aggressiveness. A grille cutout on its left side provides a view to the GPU, while the engraved Razer logo on the right panel along with the RGB lighting present at the bottom of the front panel as well as inside the enclosure, near the GPU, completes the gaming look and feel of the case. And since perfection lies within the details, the RGB lighting is Razer Chroma-compatible, meaning it will sync up with other Razer Chroma products you might hook up to it for the maximum immersive effect.
With a weight of only 3.5 kgs, the Razer Core V2 falls in the category of easily portable eGPUs, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices performance in the process. While it may look and feel small, it can fit 2-slot GPUs of up to 312mm in length, which covers a wide chunk of the high-end GPU segment. The power department is on par too, the Core V2 coming with an enclosed 500W PSU. On the extras side, the Razer Core V2 packs in four USB 3.0 ports and a gigabit LAN port, all of which transfer their data over the Thunderbolt 3 connector the eGPU uses to connect to the host machine.
Overall, the Razer Core V2 is an excellent pick if you’re looking to buy a stylish eGPU that looks, feels and performs like a premium product. However, premium doesn’t come cheap, so be ready to open your wallet pretty wide.
- Premium materials and build quality;
- Excellent hardware support;
- Decent connectivity options;
- RGB lighting.
- Very expensive compared to its competitors.
4. AKiTiO Node Pro
AKiTiO is a brand that may not be as renowned as others in this list for the untrained eye, but don’t let that fool you – AKiTiO has been in the field of external peripherals before most of the other brands. In fact, that’s the main specialty of the California-based company: external expansion and storage solutions. eGPU enthusiasts consider it to be one of the pioneers of the eGPU industry due to the fact that AKiTiO made use of the promising Thunderbolt technology right from the start, when it was Apple-exclusive. As such, among its first mainstream products were the Thunder1 and Thunder2, were Thunderbolt-based expansion boxes that aimed to add expansion options to Macbooks of those times. However, enthusiasts saw much more potential in those devices, and started modifying them to transform them into what we today know as an eGPU.
AKiTiO was not deaf to the community feedback, and started working on an official eGPU solution, and thus, with the release of the third line of products from the Thunder series, AKiTiO’s first eGPU was born: the AKiTiO Thunder3. Fast forward some tweaking, polishing and a few more products down the line, and we have the AKiTiO Node Pro – one of the most balanced eGPU solutions out there.
Based on the company’s philosophy of keeping things simple and practical, the AKiTiO Node Pro is not a show-off product, coming with a pretty simple design. Design-wise, the Node Pro is essentially just a rectangular box with a mesh cutout on one side and a retractable handle on the top side for easy carrying, very much resembling a SFX case. On the inside, though, the company’s experience in the field of external expansion options becomes evident, with the usability of the available spaced pushed to the maximum. The PSU and PCBs are shielded, thus providing a thermal separation from the GPU, as well as good internal aesthetics, not that the latter would matter, but it’s one more indicator that perfection lies within the details, and that AKiTiO aims for said perfection. Despite its small size, the AKiTiO Node Pro can house a full-length (up to 320mm) dual-slot (2.5 slots maximum width) GPU easily. On the back side of the enclosure, two Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB Type-C connectors as well as a Display Port, ensuring decent connectivity with other peripherals.
Overall, the AKiTiO Node Pro is definitely a worthy pick if you’re not interested in aesthetics and other fancy stuff, but rather want a product that just works.
- Premium build quality;
- Efficient use of available space;
- Retractable handle, for easy carrying;
- Decent connectivity options;
- Excellent price.
- Lacks LAN port ;
- No RGB of other aesthetics options.
5. VisionTek Mini eGFX
VisionTek is another example of a brand that is not so well-known for their products, yet managed to deliver an excellent eGPU solution. While the company is not a big competitor in the hardware segment under their own brand, they have been in the industry for more than 20 years, and have specialized in engineering, manufacturing and distribution of various computer components and accessories for multiple brands. One of such accessories is the VisionTek Mini eGFX.
With the Mini eGFX, VisionTek targeted one of the often overlooked areas of the eGPU segment: entry-level users. Starting from a philosophy that there are a lot of ultrabook users out there that don’t necessarily need the graphics power of an RTX or other high-end GPU, VisionTek opted to focus more on size and connectivity rather than raw power. The result is that the VisionTek Mini eGFX is one of the eGPUs with the smallest footprint out there, measuring just 215mm x 70mm x 152mm. Despite its small size, it accepts GPUs up to 175mm in length, thus being compatible with a pretty wide range of mini-ITX graphics cards. You do need to take the power supply into consideration, though, as the included one (which is an external brick, connecting to the unit via a 6-pin connector – the same type of 6 pin you normally find in GPU power connectors) can only supply 240W of power, out of which only 150W are allocated to the GPU. On the upside, due to the fact that the power connector of the power brick is a GPU-style 6-pin connector, you can easily hook up a 6-pin power cable from a regular PSU and get more power, should you really need it.
Another interesting aspect of the VisionTek Mini eGFX is its port arrangement: since the enclosure was shrunk down to the maximum to be as small and portable as possible, the main aspect that dictated the location of the ports was the physical limitation of the PCB. As such, the Mini eGFX comes with two Type-A USB 3.0 ports and one Type-C port on the front, the display ports from the GPU on the back, the power connector on the left side, and the Gigabit LAN connector on the right side, giving the Mini eGFX a rather interesting look when all ports are in use, as if the enclosure is anchored down by all the cables connecting to all its sides.
- Very small size and weight;
- Offers decent connectivity options;
- Offers decent GPU support given its size.
- Port arrangement is a bit awkward;
- Power supply is external, and provides little power.
6. Razer Core X
At the opposite side of the VisionTek Mini eGFX comes the Razer Core X. While the former is small and light, the latter is big, heavy, and proud of it all. The Core X is Razer’s solution for those that seek raw Razer performance without a hefty price tag.
The Razer Core X is one interesting beast for a variety of reasons. First of all, it lacks Razer’s usual RGB touchups and any other fancy aesthetics. Instead, it comes with a rather minimalistic design that gives very little insight of what hides under the hood. You could almost say that, compared to its little brother, the Core V2, the Core X looks kind of dull and boring. However, it’s not all in the looks: imagine the Core V2 as a tuner sports car, with fancy neons and bodykits, scissors doors and loud audio systems, while the Core X would be a muscle-car – it may not look like much nor can it do any party tricks, but boy can it run!
Razer designed the Core X with one thing in mind: performance. The first hint in this regard is the ginormous power supply the unit comes with: a whopping 650W ATX power supply that delivers 500W to the GPU, and up to 100W to the host machine. Add the fact that its generous size allows for GPUs of up to 3-slots wide and 320mm-long to fit in nicely, and you’ll understand why the Core X is a beast – it can house and power almost any high-end GPU out there without breaking a sweat. The plethora of interior space also allows for better cooling, and the enclosure also comes with an included 120mm fan to improve airflow even more.
If there’s one thing that can be held against the Razer Core X, that would be the fact that it comes with no additional connectivity options whatsoever. There’s no USBs of any type for hooking up other peripherals and no LAN port, which is a bit of a bummer considering the massive size of this thing, so enjoying a full gaming experience will require the use of an additional dock to connect all the necessary peripherals. On the upside, the lack of ports, RGB lights and other fancy stuff is correctly reflected in the Core X’s price, the unit being significantly cheaper than its smaller brother, while offering significantly more potential.
- Excellent hardware compatibility and upgradability options;
- 650W ATX power supply included;
- Premium materials and build quality.
- Lack of any form of connectivity options;
- Big and heavy.
7. HP Omen Accelerator
HP is a brand that got its notoriety within the business segment, being one of the key players in the industry. The brand dipped its toes in other segments aside business, making its way in the gaming world with Omen – its line of gaming-grade PCs, laptops and accessories. One of those accessories is the HP Omen Accelerator, the company’s take on eGPUs.
If you’re familiar with Omen products, the Omen Accelerator will look very familiar, as it looks very much like a scaled down Omen X PC, retaining the same sideway cube design and the same red and black color scheme. If you’re not familiar with the Omen X, the HP Omen Accelerator will just look like an awesome eGPU that strafes away from the traditional look. Either way, HP did a great job with the Accelerator aesthetics-wise, as the unit is sure to grab attention.
Great looks is not all that the Accelerator packs, as the unit also shines in the performance department. Due to its large size, the eGPU can house bulky GPUs with ease, and the included 500W power supply can power said GPUs accordingly. The PSU is a standard ATX format PSU, which means it can be upgraded easily with an off-the-shelf ATX PSU of higher power if needed. On the GPU side, upgradability is also on the menu, as the Omen Accelerator can house full-length double-width cards, meaning it’s very likely to be compatible with your GPU of choice, regardless of what said GPU is.
Another strongpoint of the HP Omen Accelerator lies in its connectivity side, though, the unit being one of the most equipped options out there. It comes with gigabit LAN included, along with four USB Type-A ports, one USB 3.1 Type-C, and one Thunderbolt 3 port. The true beauty is on the inside, though, where the unit comes with a SATA III connector, allowing you to connect a 2.5” HDD or SSD, thus expanding the storage space of your host machine. A usage scenario for this nifty feature could be to hook up a storage drive that contains your entire gaming library – that way, you don’t use space unnecessarily on your host machine while not connected to the eGPU, and get instant access to your games when you hook up the eGPU.
One more advantage of the HP Omen Accelerator is its software suite, which is very intuitive and powerful enough to make the whole eGPU-using experience seamless.
- Excellent hardware compatibility and upgradability options;
- 500W ATX power supply included;
- Premium materials and build quality;
- Excellent connectivity options (including SATA III port);
- Big and heavy;
External GPU Buyers Guide
Laptops + GPUs: the love story that never happened
Laptops are cool machines. They’re great for those moments when you need to be productive while on the move, and most modern ones can zip through everyday tasks without breaking a sweat. However, things tend to go south when the tasks you throw at a laptop start getting graphics-intensive, such as editing photos or videos or, God-forbid, rendering or gaming. Those are all tasks that will kneel pretty much any modern laptop.
You see, right from the start, laptops have been designed with one main aspect in mind – portability. This meant that laptops had to be easy to carry around and use on the move, which prompted manufacturers to go to extreme lengths to shrink them down without sacrificing computing power, and while these efforts paid off in the CPU department thanks to low-power CPUs that can still pump out more-than-decent performance, not the same can be said about GPUs unfortunately. GPUs are generally renowned for two things: their power hunger and their heat output, none of which go well with portable machines. Most laptop manufacturers opted to rely on integrated graphics, which was enough for most users. Except for users that needed more graphics horsepower, that is.
But what about gaming laptops such as RTX 2080 Laptops, you ask? Wouldn’t those cater to those needs, given the fact that they have “gaming” in their name, and therefore come with gaming-grade GPUs? Of course they would, but there’s a catch: those machines are usually bulky, heavy, and power-hungry, so essentially the opposite of what you’d want in your everyday work laptop, thus defeating the purpose of having a laptop in the first place. Let’s put it into numbers to paint a clearer picture: Apple’s 13-inch Macbook Pro weighs roughly 1.37 kgs, the 15-inches version weighs roughly 1.87 kgs, and most other ultrabooks fit in this weight range or are even lighter. The average battery life of these machines is in the ballpark of 8 hours, give or take.
Now let’s look at a gaming laptop, such as Asus’s ROG GL504GW – it comes in a 15.6” chassis and weighs 2.45 kgs. Average battery life in non-demanding tasks: 5 hours. Average battery life when gaming: 1.5 hours, so better not get too comfortable and hope for a serious gaming session on battery, as it won’t be happening. Sure, it packs some serious hardware power, but that doesn’t really make up for the weight and battery life if you need a machine that’s portable and
What we’re trying to say here is that, except for a relatively small niche of professionals, gaming laptops are not a great option for an everyday work machine.
So where does that leave a user that wants the convenience of portability without sacrificing graphics performance? In search of a great eGPU, of course.
eGPUs – The Beginnings
One of the most prominent trends in laptops is to go smaller, thinner, and ditch everything extra. In fact, a lot of modern laptops give up on useful features as well, such as connectivity options, in order to achieve the sleekest look and feel, which is not always a good approach. Be that as it may, it does come with its upsides: by externalizing peripherals, laptop manufacturers have helped us get accustomed to using external peripherals, which paved the way to the birth of one crucial peripheral – the eGPU.
eGPU stands for External GPU, and the name is pretty self-explanatory: it’s an external GPU that you plug to your laptop for extra graphics performance. You don’t just take the video card and glue it to your laptop, though – you put it into an enclosure that usually contains a power supply as well, and connect the whole contraption to your laptop for that much-needed boost. In case you’re wondering why you did not hear much about eGPUs so far, there’s a fairly simple explanation for that – despite the fact that eGPUs have been around for quite a while now, they have yet to become mainstream because Thunderbolt 3, the connection method used to connect an eGPU to a host machine, is just becoming mainstream now.
Unlike standard peripherals such as keyboards, mice, or external hard drives, which are all accommodated by USB 2.0 or, more recently, USB 3.0, a GPU needs a whole lot more bandwidth to operate properly, and the only connectivity methods that provided said bandwidth were the Thunderbolt 1 and 2 standards, both found exclusively in Apple devices. With Thunderbolt 3 finally making its way to PCs as well, things changed. Offering up to 40 Gbps of bandwidth available for data transfer, Thunderbolt 3 is one of the biggest technological breakthroughs, especially if you take into account the fact that they can carry all sorts of data such as raw data, video and audio and, last but not least, power, making it the go-to solution for all connectivity needs.
eGPUs were among the first peripherals to take full advantage of what Thunderbolt 3 technology had to offer, making it possible to hook up desktop-grade GPUs to laptops, thus giving them a significant performance boost. And so, a new era began.
External GPUs are still in their infancy today, with numerous aspects still in need of some polishing, but their potential is already obvious – a GPU can provide roughly 85% of its performance when used as an eGPU. Taking into account the fact that we’re talking about a core component of a computer being externalized, a performance drop of 15% compared to its intended operation conditions is more than decent, and it’s important to pinpoint once more that we’re talking about a new technology, so you can expect that performance loss to reduce to negligible amounts along the way.
Aside from performance loss, another key aspect that still needs tweaking is compatibility. As mentioned before, eGPUs are still new technology, and taking into account the fact that they use a fairly new connectivity method that was designed to handle multiple types of data, it is not uncommon for hiccups to occur. Among the most common issues is the fact that some manufacturers opt to not always go the full mile with the USB-C ports, in some cases these ports coming with no Thunderbolt 3 compatibility, which means that even though they physically look and feel like a Thunderbolt 3 port, they don’t have all the underlying hardware support for such use, thus making them inadequate for supporting an eGPU. Even devices that do have full Thunderbolt 3 compatibility may run into issues with eGPUs due to other hardware compatibility issues caused by the fact that using an eGPU does not only imply ensuring good data transfer rates between the eGPU and the host machine, but also requires that the host machine knows how to properly route graphics data to and from the eGPU, which is not something all machines can do.
What we’re saying here is that, while it’s alright to be excited about eGPUs, it’s also recommended to remain realist when it comes to the technology, and understand that it may take some times, effort and hit-or-miss testing when choosing the right eGPU. It will be worth it, though – we promise!
With that being said, let’s have a look at what’s out there today, as even though the eGPU scenery is still new, a lot of manufacturers are testing the waters with various models and approaches to eGPUs, so picking the right option can already be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, the available options can be easily categorized, making it a tad easier to choose the best eGPU for you.
Choosing the Right eGPU – A overview of external GPUs in 2019
The first step in choosing your eGPU is to accurately assess your needs and expectations: do you need the eGPU to provide a moderate boost of performance and plan to use it on the laptop’s built-in display, or plan to go full berserk and hook up multiple monitors and external peripherals to it, for a full gaming experience? Do you want it to be a small and discrete addition to your laptop, that blends in and can be easily moved around when needed, or does size not matter and you don’t mind a behemoth underneath your desk? Do you want to spend some picking separate components such as GPU and power supply yourself, or need an off-the-shelf solution that you can just plug in and start using? All these are questions you need to answer before picking an eGPU, as most of the eGPUs out there will tick some of these boxes, but not all.
Here are the most important aspects to keep in mind when looking for an eGPU:
Contrary to popular belief, size DOES matter, especially when it comes to
The power supply is another important factor to take into consideration, especially if you’re looking into upgrading the GPU down the road. Some
High performance equals high heat output, so you need to make sure that the heat generated by the GPU while under load can be efficiently evacuated. The GPU card of your choice may have a solid cooling solution of its own, but if the
Remember how we said that
You know what they say – beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the aesthetics of the