In Spring 2016 Radeon Technologies Group introduced AMD XConnect Technology, its software solution for external graphics cards. This software utility automatically handles graphic switching between the computer’s internal graphics card and the external Radeon GPU depending on the task. AMD XConnect seemed very promising at the time, as Razer was showcasing real-world use of such a setup with its Blade Stealth and Razer Core, the very first certified production external graphics card enclosure.
Scanning quickly through our eGPU implementations table you can see many more people have had success using Nvidia graphics cards over AMD ones. Nvidia didn’t make a big deal about its eGPU software, Nvidia Optimus, but the software outdid AMD XConnect. External GPU setups with Nvidia cards are likely to work more quickly and easily compared to AMD ones.
Where is AMD XConnect Technology at now, almost a year later? Starting with version 15.12, Radeon Crimson Edition is the graphics driver software for AMD graphics cards. This driver software package also contains the AMD XConnect utility to support the use of external GPU. Since late 2016 AMD has picked up the pace with driver releases. I’ve seen performance gains in my triple CrossFire RX 480 gaming desktop with every Radeon Crimson Edition update. Although it’s been marginal improvement, it still makes the GPU function better. So let’s find out how far AMD XConnect Technology has come by testing the AKiTio Node Thunderbolt enclosure with an R9 Fury Nitro.
My previous Windows Thunderbolt 3 laptop was a Dell XPS 9350. As many of you have read about the Dell’s crippled PCIe connection (2x instead of advertised 4x PCIe 3.0), I exchanged the XPS 9350 for an HP Spectre 13. This Spectre 13 is a late 2016 model with Kaby Lake and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. The first thing I did was verify the PCIe connection. I can confirm it’s running at 4x PCIe 3.0.
The next step was to see which Thunderbolt firmware and controller this HP Spectre has. The Thunderbolt controller is 1577 with NVM firmware 16. From what we’ve learned through other Thunderbolt 3 computers, older NVM firmware on non-certified eGPU hosts means that Intel Thunderbolt Software declares “NO” to External GPU Support. This doesn’t matter as long as you have an external graphics card enclosure with high compatibility such as the AKiTiO Node.
This post is neither a review of the HP Spectre 13 nor the AMD Radeon R9 Fury, but there’s something to be said about the stark contrast in this pairing. The Spectre 13 is one of the thinnest and lightest Thunderbolt 3 laptops on the market. The R9 Fury Nitro is a tank of a graphics card measuring at 12.8x5x1.7 inches. The R9 Fury is twice the volume of the Spectre 13.
The only task I needed to do was open up Device Manager then right click the newly found Microsoft Display Adapter to update its drivers. Windows figured out the installation and after a few screen flashes AMD XConnect was up and running. I fully anticipated but did not encounter error 12, a common issue with eGPU setup in Windows.
It was amazing how seamlessly this eGPU implementation went. Besides Thunderbolt Software’s warning about external GPU possibly not working properly after I plugged in the AKiTiO Node, there were absolutely no issues. AMD XConnect handled connecting and disconnecting the external graphics card without fail.
AMD XConnect Technology supports these graphics cards:
- Radeon RX 400 Series
- Radeon R9 Fury
- Radeon R9 Nano
- All Radeon R9 300 Series
- Radeon R9 290X
- Radeon R9 290
- Radeon R9 285
Running with an external display, the eGPU performed better by roughly 10%. If portability is a priority, this performance loss is not a significant trade-off.
Check out eGPU.io forum for latest Thunderbolt 3 eGPU testing and development. Please share your thoughts in the comments or in our forum.
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