Alienware Graphics Amplifier Review – Faster than Thunderbolt 3 eGPU?

eGPU Reviews, External GPU 31 Comments


The Alienware Graphics Amplifier (AGA) was one of the very first production external graphics enclosures. It was introduced in late 2014 as an accessory to Alienware’s gaming computer lineup. Instead of the more commonly known PCIe over Thunderbolt connection, Alienware created a proprietary PCIe connection and port for its select computers to pair with this Graphics Amplifier. This connection runs at x4 PCIe 3.0 and is faster than Thunderbolt eGPU, or so Alienware claims. It’s currently selling for US$169 (Jan-2018).

Alienware Graphics Amplifier vs Thunderbolt 3 Enclosures

With the onslaught of Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures, does this remain true? There’s only one way to find out. Put the Alienware Graphics Amplifier in a direct comparison with a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics enclosure, the Razer Core. The reference graphics card for this AGA review is an Nvidia GTX 980 Ti. I chose this GPU because I had run many benchmarks in my review of the Razer Core recently. We can use these data sets to look at GPU performance in desktop PCIe speed, full four lanes Thunderbolt 3 speed, and eGPU speed with a quad-core CPU.

Currently, the Graphics Amplifier is compatible with these Alienware computers:

  • Alienware 13 R1, R2 & R3
  • Alienware 15 R1, R2 & R3
  • Alienware 17 R2, R3 & R4
  • Alienware X51 R3
  • Alienware Alpha R2

Hardware Specifics

I like the design language of Alienware products. They remain unique and functional rather than following the trend of thin and light. One of my personal desktop computers is the Alienware Area 51 R2 that I use strictly for gaming. Recently, I attempted to build this Area 51 R2 into a Thunderbolt 3 test bench. It was unfortunately a failed venture.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier paired with Alienware 13 R2 + LG Monitor

Specifications   compare 
Price US$
Included GPU
Max PCIe bandwidth 32Gbps
PSU location-type
PSU max power 460W
Power delivery (PD)
USB3.0 ports (+C type)
Size (in/mm, LxWxH)
16.10 x 7.30 x 6.80
  409 x 185 x 298
Weight (kg/lb) 3.51/7.72

This Alienware Graphics Amplifier looks the part. Sitting next to the Alienware 13 R2, they make a handsome pair. Build quality is a different story though. The top cover of the AGA latches to the base for tool-free opening. The sliding release latch is rather flimsy and doesn’t always move without considerable effort. The hinges at the front let the top cover pivot forward to allow access inside this enclosure. In my experience from opening and closing the top cover, the hinges are not a good match for the length and weight of the cover. It wobbles during movement and at times feels like the enclosure would break pulling the top cover out.

Once you manage to uncover the Graphics Amplifier, the inside is clearly laid out with the main PCIe board, I/O board, ATX power supply and two PCIe 6+2-pin power cables. There are two PCIe slots on the main board. You may notice one of them is placed in reverse of the other. This reserved PCIe slot is for the proprietary connector and USB expansion board. It’s a x8 PCIe slot as far as I could tell. The other one is a x16 PCIe slot for a full-length graphics card.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier PCIe slot board Alienware Graphics Amplifier main board

I know what you’re thinking when seeing the two PCIe slots; is it possible to pop a Thunderbolt 3 add-on card in this thing? I tried, two of them, without success. The first one was the Thunderbolt board from the AKiTiO Node. The second one was an Asus Thunderbolt EX3 expansion card. Unfortunately they didn’t work because the Alienware I/O card is responsible for powering this enclosure on when it’s connected to a matching Alienware laptop. You won’t find a Power switch anywhere in or outside this enclosure.

Alienware used an off-the-shelf Dell ATX 460W power supply in the Graphics Amplifier. This PSU takes up more than half the footprint of the enclosure’s width. Using an SFX power supply found in most Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures would create more space for larger graphics cards or minimize the footprint of the AGA. The fan inside the PSU is rather loud during operation, even when idle. At the front of the Graphics Amplifier, there’s one cooling fan to direct air front to rear.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier PSU label Alienware Graphics Amplifier cooling fan

After taking the Razer Core apart in my last review, this Alienware Graphics Amplifier disassembly was a lot easier. I only needed a single Philips P1 screwdriver. The enclosure’s hinges and their mounting plates were the only parts that required special attention. I have mixed feeling about this hinge design. It’s unique but ultimately feels like a cheap toy due to poor material quality.

Unlike the half-meter long Thunderbolt 3 cables included in all TB3 enclosures, the AGA proprietary cable is almost three times as long at 4.5 ft (1.37m). The connectors are the same on both ends. Once you plug the cable into the host computer and the AGA, it will flash Red to White as an indication you need to restart the computer to make use of the Graphics Amplifier. Solid White lights on both ends mean the AGA is working. Disconnecting the AGA requires you shut down the host computer. I found the connector rather challenging to dismount from the port. It has two metal retractable hooks on the side that don’t always unhook in perfect alignment.

Testings & Benchmarks

Let’s start with Alienware’s claim that its Graphics Amp is the fastest external graphics implementation on the market. Its FAQ section describes the proprietary x4 PCIe 3.0 connection as direct and fully dedicated to the graphics card, not sharing bandwidth with any other components.

What is the difference between PCI Express Gen3X4 lanes and Intel Thunderbolt 3 Plug and Play?
The Alienware Graphics Amplifier’s technology uses a direct hardware connection, while the Thunderbolt 3 technology is based on a platform with shared bandwidth. Alienware’s amplifier will never share, or compromise, the bandwidth to your system’s GPU. Instead, it provides reserved high bandwidth directly to your system’s GPU with one unique cable connection. Alienware Graphics Amplifier utilizes four lanes of dedicated PCIe Gen 3. The Thunderbolt 3 specification is capable of either two or four lanes of PCIe depending on the OEM’s implementation of Intel’s technology. Alienware gains an advantage by having these lanes dedicated to graphics that are not shared by LAN, USB or display ports.

Here are the screen captures of CUDA-Z, GPU-Z, and HiNFO64 when I paired this AGA to an Alienware 13 R2. If you’ve read our discussion on H2D half bandwidth issues on earlier Thunderbolt 3 eGPU firmware, you can immediately tell something is not right with these numbers from the Alienware Graphics Amplifier.

Even though GPU-Z showed this AGA runs at full x4 PCIe 3.0 speed, CUDA-Z hovering around 1,600 MiB/s means it’s not anywhere near the theoretical max 32 Gbps. HWiNFO reveals the PCIe connection travels through the PCH which shares bandwidth with other components. This is against Alienware’s specification page. I reserved judgement until all benchmarks were run through this Graphics Amp to compare with the baseline numbers on my Z170 test bench. 

Nando4 recommended I try to identify the culprit in causing this GTX 980 Ti + Graphics Amplifier to run at what seems like 4x PCIe 2.0 speed. I ran GPU-Z and CUDA-Z again after having disabled all Nvidia power savings to see if those were making the difference. The results were the same. Reading through Dell’s Support articles, I checked to make sure the BIOS on the Alienware 13 R2 was the latest (it was). If you have an AGA box, please share the CUDA-Z reading.

Unsettled with this result from the 13 R2 + AGA, I found another Alienware computer that could use this Graphics Amplifier. It’s an X51 R3 small form factor desktop. Here are the screen captures of CUDA-Z, GPU-Z, and HiNFO64 for comparison.

These numbers are more in line with what I was anticipating. CUDA-Z results are in the range of low 2,800 MiB/s to high 3,000 MiB/s, close to 32 Gbps max throughput of x4 PCIe 3.0. HWiNFO64 reveals the AGA connection is going through the PCH PCIe port on the Alienware X51 R2. Again, this contradicts Dell’s claim of dedicated PCIe connection for the AGA.

The main host I’m using for this review and benchmarks is an Alienware 13 R2. This laptop has an OLED display, 6th generation dual-core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520 iGPU, Nvidia GTX 965M dGPU, 8GB of RAM, and SATA SSD. I did not use Thunderbolt 3 eGPU with this laptop due to its half-speed implementation. Instead I reused the results from the Razer Core with Blade Stealth for 4x PCIe 3.0 over Thunderbolt 3. Also shown are results from the Thunderbolt 3 Test Bench.

Alienware 13 R2GTX 965M dGPUGTX 980 Ti AMP InternalGTX 980 Ti AMP External
Unigine Valley25.4 FPS64.0 FPS72.9 FPS
Unigine Heaven24.9 FPS73.3 FPS76.7 FPS
Unigine Superposition28.0 FPS78.4 FPS86.6 FPS
3DMark Time Spy11.9 FPS33.2 FPS35.1 FPS
3DMark Fire Strike27.9 FPS67.4 FPS84.1 FPS
Rise of the Tomb Raider23.4 FPS45.0 FPS59.6 FPS
Tom Clancy's GhostRecon26.9 FPS50.8 FPS53.8 FPS
Nvidia GTX 980 TiZ170 Test Bench x4 PCIe SlotRazer Blade Stealth TB3 ExternalAlienware 13R2 AGA External
Unigine Valley90.3 FPS78.6 FPS72.9 FPS
Unigine Heaven87.6 FPS78.2 FPS76.7 FPS
Unigine Superposition91.7 FPS86.6 FPS86.6 FPS
3DMark Time Spy35.1 FPS32.2 FPS35.1 FPS
3DMark Fire Strike84.7 FPS72.7 FPS84.1 FPS
Rise of the Tomb Raider60.0 FPS57.3 FPS59.6 FPS
Tom Clancy's GhostRecon69.2 FPS56.0 FPS53.8 FPS


“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs

Alienware can claim its proprietary external graphics solution is faster than Thunderbolt 3 counterparts. This isn’t necessarily true depending on the host Alienware computer. Based on CUDA-Z numbers and comparison with the Razer Core using the Blade Stealth as well as the Z170 Test Bench, this Graphics Amp may not always perform at full x4 PCIe 3.0 speed. Unless Dell decides to publish this information, the only way to figure out what speed you’ll get is to pair your compatible Alienware computer with the AGA. In addition, the x2 PCIe routing of Thunderbolt 3 connection in the Alienware 13 R2 (and most of the XPS laptop lineup) shows Dell’s lack of commitment to fulfilling its performance claims.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier & Thunderbolt 3 enclosures Rear I/O

For users with a compatible computer, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier is still the best choice for an external graphics enclosure. It’s plug-and-play and more affordable than a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU. The downsides are no hot-swapping capability and lack of power delivery compared to Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures.

From the consumer perspective, the next AGA should become a true docking station rather than an external graphics enclosure only. That means it needs power delivery and a range of different input and output ports. While Alienware engineers are at it, they might as well tell Marketing to sell this box with a GPU. As it’s sold now, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier would more appropriately be named “Graphics Amplifiable.”

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As a Apple Mac Certified Technician, I can confirm that Apple’s engineering is far far far better than any other PC manufacturer.

Nice review


The latest set of benchmarks here shows the direct PCIe link like the AGA user easily outperforms a TB3 eGPU. It was unfortunate the Alienware 13R2 suffers from an OPI half-bandwidth issue that skewed the results a bit in this review.


Posted by: itsage I know what you’re thinking when seeing the two PCIe slots; is it possible to pop a Thunderbolt 3 add-on card in this thing? I tried, two of them, without success. The first one was the Thunderbolt board from the AKiTiO Node. The second one was an Asus Thunderbolt EX3 expansion card. Unfortunately they didn’t work because the Alienware I/O card is responsible for powering this enclosure on when it’s connected to a matching Alienware laptop. You won’t find a Power switch anywhere in or outside this enclosure. Were you able to jumper the Dell/Huntkey HU460AM PSU… Read more »


Love your research and commitment. i have following several of your threads.
i have an 13r3 now and im thinking of purchasing the alienware graphic amplifier if it can perform to it’s full potential like how it did on your Alienware X51 R2 at he range of low 2,800 MiB/s to high 3,000 MiB/s.
Do you know how it will perform on the 13r3 model?

Thanks so much for all this great info!

I’m getting a 17 R5 i7 8750H and AGA. I have a 1080ti already. Keen to see your results @itsage.


thanks man. Does this means that it will be performing equal to a desktop setup? (note pair 13r3 with AGA and external monitor)


futher to my question above, Does that means i am better off buying egpu with thunderbolt 3 connection as it gives the same performances as Alienware AGA? Currently, my specification is: i7-7700HQ 16gb 512 SSD 1060gb Im wondering does purchasing the AGA is justifiable. Concerns: 1. when will the CPU starts to bottleneck? 2. i do notice that when i game on the machine the package temperature gets up to 90 C which is hot. will the addition of AGA brings down the temperature. hence, maybe improve the life span of the laptop. 3. im want to use the laptop… Read more »

jerry Kansai

@dracuvlad, no AGA performs better than any TB3 eGPU due free of TB3 bandwidth. You can check here 8750H laptops Firestrike benchmark ranking the 3rd place Dell laptop that I believe with aga and 1080 gpu (dGPU is 1070), can only be beaten by me…with 2080ti 😉 TB3 eGPU setting, if he use higher gpu 1080ti/rtx2080 (ti), it will blow my score away. The downside from aga I believe is only you should restart your laptop to detect gpu unlike TB3 hot plug (plug and play). Other things to notice from his physical score is it’s seems lower for 8750H… Read more »

Posted by: itsage
Paired with the right host, the AGA performs better than TB3. I ran an RTX 2080 through the AGA and Razer Core yesterday. The benchmark numbers will be posted soon.

Looking forward to these results.

Great results. I feel happy with my purchase now. Other than Dirt Rally, the AGA has some fair gains over TB3 in most cases.

Thanks for the extensive testing. My 17 R5 should hopefully allow full bandwidth.


You said that the “performance difference between the Graphics Amplifier vs Thunderbolt 3 is similar to that of internal PCIe slot vs TB3” while linking this post:

So does that mean the AGA performs like an x4 PCIE 3.0 on a desktop motherboard from this table? Seeing you did this on an alienware 15 r3, I hope they preserved the same connection quality into my alienware m15 that I just ordered.

Can you do a quick benchmark of AGA paired with AW 15 r3 vs desktop on x4 PCIE 3.0? That’d be awesome


@itsage – A small nitpick for a great set of data, but: Why no 5K Valley and Heaven results? I ran them at 5K before.


@itsage, I’ll check when I get home (much) later today. I am convinced I ran them before at 5K for my own curiosity. I just did not provide the results anywhere since it didn’t seem very interesting to people as 4K adoption is tiny and 5K adoption is pretty much nonexistent.

How are you liking the Z27q, btw?


Posted by: itsage The Z27q is amazing. Its display clarity is better than the LG 4K panels sitting next to it. I prefer matte screen so this would be the perfect monitor for many if pricing and availability were within reach.   @itsage – I think HP stopped making them. When they were available, they weren’t cheap, but they were not horribly expensive and competitive with good 4K screens. Mine cost 848$ off Amazon. Which was actually cheaper than the 31″ 4096×2160 LG that it replaced. Now we are left with either the LG or Dell options, both of which… Read more »

@itsage, is the PSU in the AGA replaceable with any normal sized ATX PSU?

You mention the fan is rather noisy…


Alright, the 5K run in Valley/Heaven works, but for some reason the attach option in the forum isn’t working for me right now. I’ll forward you my results.
Overall, you need to set it to “system” resolution and tick it to full screen with the 5K set as the main monitor, otherwise it indeed seems to max out at 4096 pixels across.

@Yukikaze @itsage can you guys confirm if the internal GPU should be switching off once the AGA is connected?

In my case, my 17 R5 1070 stays on as well as my 1080ti in the AGA, 1070 is idling at 50’c causing unneeded heat/fans, I was under the impression that it switches off? I have a screen attached to the AGA.

If I disable Gsync it still stays on and if I disable the 1070 in Device Manager I can’t control screen brightness on the laptop screen and the iGPU seems to stay idle/off.

Has anyone figured out which host computers are best for the AGA?

I’m using an Alienware 17 R3 and mine hovers around ~2600 MiB/s when idle, but drops to ~2300 MiB/s under load.

I don’t think that a 12-lane CPU without a beefy PCH that adds tons of lanes can do another 4X lane for AGA. Normally an iGPU takes up PCI-E 1x, but the Alienware has a 960M or 965M, so that’s the 4x lane gone. Then it has an M.2 slot which is also probably 2x, which tops the read speeds at 1800. For example 8850U has a max of 16 lanes which are used for dGPUs and then a chipset like HM370 (16 extra lanes) or CM246 (24 extra lanes) for peripherals. The ultrabook CPUs don’t have those chipsets, but… Read more »

Hi There!

Anyone can tell me if can i plug a another type of pcie in the AGA?

I want to put a HDMI VIDEO CAPTURE CARD in the AGA.