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How do I use an external video card with a laptop?



My desire to start a laptop with an external graphics card began in 2015 when I set off for PC gaming – a popular pastime that I neglected since my childhood.

But the only PC I had at the time was a 2011 Lenovo ThinkPad X220 laptop with integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics. This will not cut it for real PC gaming. Sure, the laptop would work well enough for older titles like Diablo III especially on the tiny 1366×728 screen of the laptop, but forget about more graphics-intensive modern games on an external 1080p monitor. That's why I decided to set up external graphics cards (eGPU).

And indeed, I found whole communities of people making DIY setups with desktop graphics cards via ExpressCard or mPCIe slots on their laptops to play games on an external monitor. It is not difficult to configure, and the use of desktop graphics cards with a laptop has become even easier recently. The wide availability of Thunderbolt 3 in combination with external video card docks has made the process even easier for people with a more modern notebook.

Many do-it-yourselfers who use Thunderbolt 3 or use the ExpressCard / mPCIe route end up with a connector gaming experience that requires little or no modification ̵

1; though it does require a bit of research. However, once you've done that, you'll face a PC gaming setup in which you'll lose your balance at about the same price as a new Xbox One S, depending on which graphics card you choose. This is much cheaper than building a whole new game desktop, and you can still use the portability of your laptop by disconnecting the eGPU hardware.

We will introduce you to the configuration process of an external video card later in this article through the DIY process. along with the sudden increase in streaming PC games from the cloud. First let's look at the modern approach of using a graphics card dock over Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Card Docks

  Razer Core Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

A Razer Core laptop connected to a Razer Blade Stealth over Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C

Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) is Intel's fast external input / output port that enables speeds of up to 40 gigabytes per second (GBps) via a compatible USB-C port. For resource-intensive activities such as games, a fast connection between your laptop and an external graphics card is a big performance boost.

Previous attempts at external graphics card docks were there, but were mostly overpriced and reliant on proprietary connection technologies. Thunderbolt 3 levels the playing field, and several companies now offer TB3-based graphics card docks, complete with dedicated power supplies, additional ports and of course room for desktop graphics cards.

Everything is not perfect in the world of Thunderbolt 3-powered graphics, however. For the most part, enclosures are still a costly undertaking – much more than the DIY method that we will outline later. You'll also need a relatively new notebook with a Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C port. Today, most Thunderbolt 3 laptops and graphics card enclosures work well together with Intel's Thunderbolt 3 graphics compatibility technology, which needs to be specifically enabled by PC makers.

If you are looking for a new laptop that is compatible with an external graphics card dock, some good options in this writing include the HP Specter X360 and the latest Dell XPS 13. Still, Nando recommends an eGPU Expert, who is an administrator at eGPU.io, looking for your desired laptop model for compatibility with the video card housing before buying, just to be sure.

Once you've sorted out your laptop, it's time to decide which graphics card to buy. We can not cover all possible enclosures here, since virtually every major manufacturer of PC graphics cards puts their own graphics dock on the market, but let's look at some of the key products that have been introduced in recent months.

Razer Core and Core X

  razer core gpu AMD

An open Razer core with an AMD Radeon Nano graphics card.

When we looked at the original Razer Core, it was Splash's first big TB3 case, which was supposedly designed for Razer Blade laptops but works with any compatible TB3 system. It was also priced at a whopping $ 500. Since then, the Razer Core has split into two different models: the Core V2 and the Core X.

[ Further reading: The best graphics cards for PC gaming ]

The Core V2 costs the same $ 500 as the original. This is still a lot more than most other external graphics docks, but this luxurious model has four USB 3.0 ports for gaming peripherals, a 500 watt internal power adapter, and Ethernet. It's also nice to see with a CNC-milled aluminum exterior and Razer's Chroma RGB lighting system.

The Core X has a cheaper price tag for $ 300 and a 650-watt power supply, but lacks USB and Ethernet ports. It also lacks the custom-built-plaster of the Core V2, as it relies almost exclusively on standard components. The Core X fits larger cards with up to three slots. We did not check it, but Macworld loved it.

PowerColor Gaming Station

  powercolorgamingstation PowerColor

The PowerColor Gaming Station

PowerColor's Thunderbolt 3-based Devil Box was a similar fancy box that cost $ 450 in the early days of the external Graphic docks was sold. It's still listed on the PowerColor website, but it's not easy to find. The preferred housing of PowerColor is the simple named Gaming Station ($ 300 on Newegg ). The newer box rocks a 550-watt power supply, Ethernet and five USB 3.0 ports.

PowerColor maintains a list of supported graphics and host systems in the specification section of its gaming station website. Be sure to try it out before you buy!

Akitio Node

  akitio node Akitio

Akitio has gone all-in on external video card docks by offering not one but three models: the Node , Node Lite and Node Pro. A major difference between most Akitio products and the other graphics card enclosures we have seen is that Akitivos, with the exception of the original Node, are not certified by Intel as external graphics (eGFX) peripherals. Instead they are general PCIe boxes. We will not go into the distinction here, but you can read about it on Intel's Thunderbolt blog.

The original Node packs a 400W PSU and costs $ 260 on Amazon. It does not provide additional ports for connecting peripherals, but the cheaper sister model of the case. The Node Lite is currently being offered at $ 200 on Amazon . It's a PCIe certified box with a DisplayPort port and an additional Thunderbolt 3 port for peripherals, but you also need to bring your own power adapter. Both docks support half-length, full-height, and double-width cards.

Finally, the Akitio Node Pro (currently priced at $ 340 on Amazon) has a DisplayPort input and a second Thunderbolt port, a heftier 500-watt power supply, and a handy retractable lunch box as you put your graphics dock on the road want.

The rest

  aorus gaming box Gigabyte

These are not the only eGPU boxes. Gigabyte is selling the Aorus GTX 1080 Gaming Box with a preinstalled Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 for $ 700 on Amazon or a version with a GTX 1070 for $ 550 on Newegg . Zotac sells the Amp Box and the Amp Box Mini PCIe Enclosure. Heck, even Apple's equipped eGFX box support for MacBook users with macOS High Sierra. And for anyone with a compatible Alienware laptop, there is the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, which has a proprietary port but costs only $ 170 on Amazon

Also, Asus, HP, Lenovo, and many other manufacturers offer Thunderbolt 3 -based graphics card docks. It's safe to say that external GPUs are now a full-fledged trend – albeit a niche scenario.

Now, with our DIY eGPU manual for the Thunderbolt 3, let's get you started turning older laptops into slot machines.

Next Page: Dipping into DIY external graphics.


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