When we hear about external graphics cards (also known as eGPUs) we can’t help but think about how promising the concept is. You can get desktop-like graphics into a laptop. While notebook GPUs are becoming more capable, desktop GPUs are still taking the jack to the water.
But is their performance comparable to internal GPUs? Is it worth spending the money it costs to have one? And which are the best? That’s what we want to talk about.
Playing on a MacBook and Mac is now possible using external graphics.
Some things you should know about external graphics cards
Whether it’s the first time you’ve heard about it or you’re already aware of how it works, it’s worth putting a few aspects into perspective. What we want, first and foremost, is to make it clear what can and cannot be expected from these components; that no one should be misled.
How do external graphics cards work?
An eGPU is the set formed by the graphics card and the container or dock, which is a PCIe slot like a desktop PC, with its own power supply. This machine is then connected to the laptop via USB-C, using a Thunderbolt interface.
Therefore, we must make sure that the USB-C port that we connect to has graphics that are compatible to Thunderbolt. Otherwise, it will not work. As long as they are compatible, the process of installing the card and drivers is exactly the same as on a desktop computer.
When you have it configured, the graphics requests go directly to the external graphics card. Since the eGPU is usually more powerful than the GPU that came with the laptop, you can get more out of a video game.
Do you get the same performance as with an internal GPU?
Here’s the crux of the matter. Unfortunately, the performance you’ll get won’t be the same as using an internal GPU. According to the University of Massachusetts, it will be reduced by 10-15%. It’s not a big loss, considering what today’s high-end graphics cards are capable of.
The performance loss is due to the manner in which data is transmitted between the eGPU and the PC. The external card is connected through a Thunderbolt interface, which, as fast as it is, cannot be compared in speed to the PCI express port of a motherboard. Some models are also compatible with USB 3.0, but in those cases the sacrifices we will have to make are much greater because of the reduced bandwidth. These are data that should be taken into account.
Docks are not cheap and are not universal.
Although a dock inside is essentially a piece of motherboard with a PCIe connector, they are quite expensive. On the Internet you can find prices ranging from almost 300 to over 800 euros.
It is also advisable to investigate which dock we want to buy. These devices open to install or replace a graphics card, but they are not universal. Some are limited by the maximum size of the card they support, while others have proprietary components that are present only in a manufacturer’s products. It’s crucial to be clear about what you’re getting into.
The best docks money can buy
Despite the hiccups, an eGPU is worth a lot. You’ll get your laptop able to move graphics with solvency; if you don’t believe us you can pass a test like 3DMark to check it out. In addition, over time the technology will improve; performance loss will be reduced. For now it’s still relatively recent; it still has to evolve a lot.
That’s why we think this article wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t offer you a list of docks that stand out for their own merits. If you can afford to try this technology, these are a few good starting points.
Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box GTX 1070
Gigabyte has been in the market long enough to earn the respect of users. With this eGPU the story won’t be any different; its compact size makes it ideal for keeping close to your laptop without disturbing you too much, and it features the GeForce GTX 1070 that the manufacturer designs for small boxes.
This model has a good selection of ports: USB and Thunderbolt for data transmission, two HDMI ports and two DVI ports. Come on, that for connectivity will not be.
HP OMEN Accelerator Shell GA1-1000
HP is proud to help you improve your gaming experience on a laptop without having to mortgage thanks to this dock. The OMEN Accelerator Shell GA1-1000 is compatible with NVIDIA and AMD cards. In addition, replacing or installing a graphics card on it is also relatively easy.
HP OMEN, the renewed range of notebooks and gaming PCs
The amazing thing about this unit is that its use is not limited only to graphics cards: it also has storage expansion ports; it can mount 2.5-inch hard drives or SSDs. When it comes to connectivity, it has HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI, as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port.
HP OMEN GA1-1000
Alienware Graphics Amplifier
Alienware is an established name when it comes to gamer technology for laptops. The Graphics Amplifier may not be the most discreet or beautiful dock in the world, but it’s one of the easiest to open to install or replace a graphics card.
Alienware’s “graphics amplifier” allows you to add a graphics card to your notebook
In addition to USB connectors to integrate this dock in any laptop, has a proprietary PCI express connector (which only works on Alienware machines) that, according to the manufacturer, reduces the loss of performance to only 5%. It is important to note that it is compatible with NVIDIA and AMD cards; with the Radeon RX 470 and the aforementioned GeForce GTX 1070 as the two recommended models.
ASUS ROG-XG-Station-2 Thunderbolt 3 External Graphics Dock
If you’re a bit up to date on gamer components, then you know that Asus’ Republic of Gamers (ROG) series includes high-end products designed to get the most out of your games. If there’s one thing Asus knows how to do, it’s to satisfy users; this dock is a good example of that.
Asus is able to eliminate edges by using several monitors at the same time.
Opening the dock to install or replace a graphics card is fairly straightforward, but like the HP unit, it also includes extra space to expand storage. It has three cooling fans and is compatible with AMD and NVIDIA products.
Sonnet eGFX Breakway Box Thunderbolt 3 GPU-350W
This unit has earned a good reputation among the media and users, who do not hesitate to sing their praises. They start with good compatibility with NVIDIA and AMD products and end with a great cooling system, which even supports liquid cooling.
Its 40 Gbps transfer rate makes it ideal for intense gaming sessions; it’s able to move demanding titles without a problem. Replacing the indoor GPU is also very easy, another plus when it comes to deciding for it.
We don’t want to be heavy, but…
We’ve said it before: if you’re playing from a laptop and want to get the most out of it, any of these options are worth it. The new gaming notebook graphics cards are narrowing the gap, yes, but they’re still a long way from what desktop GPUs can achieve.
Performance losses are relatively small; you shouldn’t notice a huge difference playing with an eGPU. And, of course, if you don’t want to have to build a PC from scratch or want to take advantage of your current laptop, they’re your best option.