Computers / Buying Guide

External Graphics Cards: Taking Full Advantage of Thunderbolt™ 3

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When it comes to Thunderbolt™ 3, most people think of connecting external hard drives, RAID arrays, and monitors. And with data rates of up to 40 Gbps, DisplayPort 1.2 support, and the ability to daisy-chain up to six compatible devices, it’s not hard to see why Thunderbolt 3 would be considered optimal for data transfer and video output. Intel® even made sure that Thunderbolt 3 uses the same connector as its USB 3.1 Type-C counterparts, reducing your need for adapters (is this the end of the Apple adapter meme? Oh wait, there’s still Lightning…). With enthusiasm for external graphics growing, thanks to the support of AMD and NVIDIA, as well as major PC manufacturers and third-party vendors, Intel is on a mission to build a healthy Thunderbolt 3 External Graphics (eGFX) ecosystem.

So, what are the advantages of a plug-and-play external graphics solution, like the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box or the AkiTio Node Thunderbolt 3? Well, for starters, it gives you the freedom to have one portable laptop for everyday use, which you can then connect to the eGFX enclosure via Thunderbolt 3 for powerful graphics. This means you’re not limited to purchasing heavy workstations or gaming laptops, some of which end up being more desktop replacements than actual notebooks.

AkiTio Node Thunderbolt 3 External PCIe Box for GPUs

A Thunderbolt 3 eGFX setup allows you to access your entire game library with fast storage, along with other features, such as support of up to 6 HDR displays with FreeSync or G-Sync capabilities (RIP screen tearing). You’re also not limited to purchasing graphics cards from the laptop manufacturer. Instead, you can opt for a real desktop graphics card of your choice. Choose between AMD or NVIDIA. Want the latest ASUS graphics card, or are you more partial to EVGA? A Thunderbolt 3 eGFX setup gives you the freedom to choose your own graphics card.

MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4G OC Graphics Card

Apple recently unveiled that macOS High Sierra will support external graphics cards for the Mac. In fact, Apple even offers the External Graphics Development Kit to developers for virtual reality content creation on any Mac with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. And with Apple confirming optimized support for Valve’s SteamVR platform and the HTC Vive HR Headset, a Thunderbolt 3 eGFX setup will be crucial for you to enjoy virtual reality on the Mac. The External Graphics Development Kit includes the Sonnett external GPU chassis with Thunderbolt 3 (mentioned above), an AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card with 8GB of VRAM, a Belkin USB Type-C to 4-Port USB Type-A hub, and a promo code for $100 toward the purchase of an HTC Vive.

HTC Vive VR Headset

A Thunderbolt 3 eGFX setup will give you the ability to play high-performance games from a thin-and-light notebook, including a graphical boost for applications such as image and video editing. It also provides better support for up to 6 high-res HDR displays. The gaming performance of your notebook will be upgraded to desktop-quality graphics and it will be able to utilize FreeSync or G-Sync to reduce screen tearing. With the Sonnett and the AkiTio enclosures, as well as more to hit the market, Thunderbolt 3 is making eGFX a viable option for gaming.

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