Best External Graphics Card (eGPU) (2019 Review)

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Chances are you already know about the massive performance increase an external graphics card (eGPU for short) can give to your laptop gaming experience. In short, you can hookup an external desktop level graphics card in an enclosure to your laptops USB-C port and upgrade your laptop to desktop level performance without the bulk. We review the best external graphics cards below, if you’re in a rush and looking for the sweet spot between price vs performance get the AORUS RTX 2070 Gaming Box it also the easiest to use and comes with a RTX 2070 GPU or if you are just looking for an enclosure for your existing card grab the Akitio Node .

Best Alienware

The Alienware Graphics Amplifier boasts a full PCIex16 slot and a 460W PSU, powerful enough for any graphics card on the market.

Pros:
  • 460W PSU
  • Easy to use
  • Looks good
Cons:
  • Alienware only
  • Loud fan
  • Dust magnet

Design

The Alien Graphics Amplifiers looks like most eGPU enclosures (a toaster), with the only difference being the extra flair and grilles. It is a big unit with dimensions of 185.42X408.94X172.72 mm. On the inside, the first component that you’ll see is a 460W power supply, which is enough to run virtually all the available graphics cards in the market. You will also see a full PCIex16 slot, where you can connect your graphics card. Besides this slot, eight-pin and six-pin connectors are available for you to use depending on your graphics card’s power requirements. The enclosure has four USB 3.0 ports at the back that you can use to connect it to your laptop.

Setup

The setup process is straightforward – you will first open the enclosure, plug in your favorite graphics card, use the necessary power connectors, close the eGPU, and then connect the Alienware Graphics Amplifier into a socket. Connect the unit to your laptop, and you should be good to go. If you intend on using an external monitor, plug it in directly into the graphics card. After setting up everything, you may need to update the drivers on both your laptop and the graphics card.

Best Razer eGPU

The Razer Core V2 does not come with a graphics card out of the box. It does pack a massive 500W power supply, and has Razers standard high build quality.

Pros:
  • Chroma lighting
  • Easy to use
  • Good GPU compatibility
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • No GPU included
  • Limited laptop compatibility

Razer, are one of the leading gaming laptop manufactures, and has now entered the external GPU market. One of their most important contributions to the market is the Core V2, which is the second generation of the company’s external GPUs. The Core V2 eGPU is a bit bigger than its predecessor to support more powerful graphics cards and other workstation grade components. This unit can work with your laptop and charge it at the same time and serve other portable PCs beside Razer laptops. Core V2 is available at an eye-watering 500-dollar price point.

Design

If you are familiar with other Razer products (phones and laptops), then you must be familiar with their signature look. The Core V2 maintains the same beautifully, anodized black aluminium body that you will see on all Razer laptops and the previous eGPU generation. Regarding the previous Core, it is identical to the V2, though the latter has some significant changes regarding performance. You will still see the company’s logo on the right side of the eGPU and a large, metallic grille on the left side. It has vents along the bottom, front, and the top to help in managing temperature increases within the unit. Dimensions are 11.8×5.7×1.7 inches, which is slightly larger than the previous generation. Top it all, the V2 features some lovely lighting.

Compatibility

The Core V2 comes with a Thunderbolt 3 port, which means it can connect to different laptops, including the non-gaming ones. It will work on all these only if the non-gaming laptops have a Thunderbolt 3 port. You will have to check whether your computer can facilitate this type of connection before going for the Core V2. This eGPU can support a wide variety of graphics cards, such as AMD’s Radeon 500 series and NVidia’s 10-series. It also facilitates the Quadro GPUs from NVidia, which are responsible for running computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Setup

Setting up the Core V2 is easy. You start by opening the enclosure from the front to expose the graphics card slot. Insert the card and then secure the GPU before finally connecting the necessary plugs. You don’t have to restart your laptop to effect these changes. The enclosure allows you to customize colours to how you want it to glow.

Performance

The Core V2 won’t come with a graphics card out of the box. It comes with a massive 500W power supply, which should be enough to support any full-sized GPU available in the market. In the unit, you will find a total of five cooling fans – one at the back of the power supply and another at the front. These two fans are quite noisy, producing a high-pitched sound. The other two fans are in the middle and rear, where they help in pushing air out through the top vents. Noise levels are at 48dB at a distance of half a meter.

 

Best Value

Product 3 Description: Aorus Gaming Box cost 100 dollars more than the Razer Core V2, but it comes with a GTX 1070 graphics card already fitted inside.

Pros:
  • GPU included
  • Powers the laptop
  • Very portable
Cons:
  • Limited GPU upgrades
  • Flakey USB
  • Coil whine

The Aorus Gaming Box has similar features to the Razer Core. It is also an external GPU enclosure, which works with laptops through a Thunderbolt 3 connection. Aorus Gaming Box cost 100 dollars more than the Razer Core V2, but it comes with a RTX 1070 graphics card already fitted inside. This unit is compact and relies on Gigabyte’s RTX 1070 GPU and a 450W power supply. Being thin limits upgradeability of the Aorus Gaming Box, but it allows it to remain small and portable. It weighs just five pounds, making it easy to carry it around in your backpack, and it doesn’t take up so much space in a desk setup.

Design

The design on the Aorus Gaming Box is pleasing to the eye. It is metallic on all sides, with large vents on the right and left sides. RGB lighting is present to give it an even more gorgeous look. At the back of the Aorus enclosure, you will find all the necessary input and output ports: Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0 ports (one with Quick Charge 3.0), and AC power input. All the graphics card outputs are also part of this list: two DVI ports, HDMI, and DisplayPort.

Setup

The setting up process is quite simple for the Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box. You must plug the eGPU into a power source and then use a Thunderbolt 3 cable to connect it to your laptop. The Thunderbolt 3 driver utility in your laptop will set everything up after going through a few prompts. You must then install the NVidia GeForce graphics drivers, and you should be good to go. The Gaming Box will do its job well by automatically switching to the external GPU whenever you run a game. If you opt to use a monitor instead of the laptop screen you will notice that the external display performs slightly better than the latter. You can also connect your mouse and keyboard to the USB 3.0 ports.

Performance

The Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box unit is a complete plug-and-play system without an On/Off switch. By connecting the unit to a power source and your laptop, it will automatically wake up and switch to using the external graphics card when needed. If you disconnect the Aorus Gaming box from your notebook, the transition process to integrated graphics will be smooth. Besides boosting your portable PCs graphical performance, the eGPU unit also charges up your laptop through the Thunderbolt 3 connection with the power of up to 100W. Regarding noise, this unit doesn’t disappoint as it is relatively quiet with low fan noise even under load. The fans don’t have to spin at crazy speeds, thanks to large air vents on the sides that supply enough air to cool the GPU unit.

Best Cheap eGPU

An affordable but massive eGPU, that works on the MacBook pro.

Pros:
  • Cheap
  • Easy to use
  • Macbook Pro support
Cons:
  • Short TB3 cable
  • Not portable
  • Loud fan

Akitio Node is one of the eGPU enclosures that support a wide variety of laptops as long as they rock the Thunderbolt 3 port. The manufacturer behind this product stresses reliability and practicality more than anything else. However, the most outstanding feature of the Akitio Node is that it is the largest of all the enclosures mentioned in this roundup. The size is reminiscent of that of an actual computer. For this reason, it is the least portable of all the mentioned products.

Design

The design of this unit is quite simple – it features a metallic chassis covered by the matte shade of black. It has two vents, one at the top and the other on the side to facilitate air flow. The front has additional grilles due to the presence of a fan on the inside. This part acts as the air inlet, while the other vents serve as exhausts. On the rear end of the chassis, there is a single Thunderbolt 3 port, a handle and thumb screws. On the inside, the eGPU enclosure carries a 400W power supply, a fan, and the main board with the essential slot – PCIex16. Given its size, the Akitio Node enclosure can house even the double-length graphics cards. Also, the massive Zotac 1080 AMP Extreme edition GPU can easily fit into this system. Unfortunately, the Akitio Node lacks a USB port, meaning you have to plug all peripherals into your laptop.

Setup

Like in most enclosures, the setup process is quite simple. First, you will have to remove the thumbscrews at the rear end of the enclosure. Once you take them out, push the chassis forward using the handle. The board should be in front of you ready to receive your graphics card of choice. After inserting the card, you will need to push the board back into its original position and use the thumbscrews to screw it into place. Connect it to your laptop via the Thunderbolt 3 port. It should also work on the MacBook Pro 2016, though only when you are using the AMD RX 400 series graphics card. Once everything is ready, switch on your laptop and let it install the necessary files from the eGPU. You should now be able to enjoy improved graphics, especially if you are into gaming.

Performance

The Akitio Node puts up a rather impressive performance. For instance, if you use an AMD RX480, you will play most 1080p games at a consistent 60 fps. If you use NVidia graphics cards, which are more powerful, you can get higher frame rates at even more explicit resolutions. Despite this performance, the Akitio Node has one issue of concern in regards to fan noise. The fan is annoyingly noisy. You could swap out the stock fan, but it may produce similar results. Despite being a nuisance, the fan does an excellent job in expelling hot air from the eGPU enclosure.

Best High-End

Classic ASUS ROG appearance, it is not a cheap eGPU but it does support two cards and has a 500W PSU.

Pros:
  • 500w PSU
  • Dual GPU
  • Latest GPU support
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Did not max out GPU performance
  • Large cards were harder to remove

The Asus RoG XG Station 2, might be the answer to your laptop gaming woes, and I wish it was out last time I was shopping for a new gaming laptop in the under 800 dollars category. With this unit, you can vamp up your laptop’s performance to tackle even the most graphically demanding games.

Design

The XG Station 2 takes after the RoG G20 desktop PC considering its engrave red and black design. It also has a barrow plasma tube in front of the graphics amp to create electricity sparks, which give it a futuristic look. If watching a GPU at work is your thing, the XG Station 2 has a panel of glass along one side to allow you to peek into eGPU enclosure. The lighting gimmicks on this unit are worth staring, given their beauty. The dock has four USB 3.0 ports and a LAN socket for you to connect most of your peripherals if you have several, including mice, keyboards, and headphones. This unit’s setup process is straightforward like with all the other enclosure.

Performance

You can plug and unplug the XG Station 2 without having to restart your laptop. The graphics station has a power supply with the capacity to produce 500W to the card. With this amount of power, the XG Station 2 can support the latest graphics cards from both AMD and NVidia. The only problem is that they don’t come with the eGPU enclosure, you must buy them separately. As such, it can be quite expensive. This unit can also support full VR gaming, but you may need to spend some more cash if you don’t have the necessary VR devices. Another issue with this graphics station is that it only supports five laptops. In this case, you have to check with the manufacturer to find out whether your laptop is one of the supported ones.

Considerations Before Buying an eGPU

Being a new product in the market, few people are familiar with eGPU enclosures. For this reason, you may not know exactly what to look for when the need to purchase one of these devices arises. Here are some of the things to consider before handing over your money to the seller.

Dimensions

Ensuring that the GPUs fit into an enclosure is the essential aspect of this process. Most enclosures will fit the biggest of graphics cards without any problems, but as technology continues to advance, more compact models should start appearing. Check on the amount of space an enclosure will take up and where you’ll keep it. Ask yourself whether what you find is portable. Go for the lighter models if you are always on the move. Always carry it in a padded container to reduce the risk of damage.

Technical Considerations

Check out the compatibility of ports and whether they have good speeds. You will need a port with higher
bandwidth for the best user experience. Thunderbolt 3 is the most common port for this kind of use. The problem is that only high-end newer laptops have these ports. Do not buy an eGPU before confirming whether your laptop supports Thunderbolt 3.

Another vital thing to check is the list of compatible computers for specific enclosures. Ensure that your laptop is in this list and double-check so that you don’t end up with the wrong product. Also, check whether the power rating can support the graphics cards that you intend to work with.

Purpose

If you are the kind of person who always goes for the latest tech or gadgets, the price might not be a problem for you. However, if you are just out looking for a high end gaming PC, you’d want to build one rather than investing in a high-end laptop plus a graphics card, and an eGPU enclosure. If you want the best performance out of your eGPU, you’d want to connect it to a different display other than the laptop’s, such as a monitor or a TV. That means forking out some extra cash for a display. Remember, it all boils down to your preferences.

The Bottom Line

Laptops do a great job in providing most desktop computing capabilities with portability. However, using laptops comes with the disadvantage of losing the ability to upgrade most internal components. Since not everyone can afford to purchase a new laptop every few years, getting an eGPU seems to be a reliable approach towards keeping up with the seemingly rapid advancements in computer processing. The external graphics card enclosures mentioned above are future proof. They will allow you to upgrade your GPU without ever having to worry about them not being compatible with your laptop. From the detailed descriptions of each eGPU, you should be able to make the right purchasing decision that meets your needs.

Editor & reviewer of gear from iOS control pad’s to high-end PC gaming hardware. He’s been gaming since the 1980s and mostly plays CS GO & Overwatch.