One of the most highly anticipated eGPU enclosures of 2017 was the ASUS ROG XG Station 2. Its spec sheet was filled with many standout features unmatched by worthy competitors. When I finally got my hands on one to review, it was definitely out of this world but not in a good way. The ultimate undoing of that powerful enclosure was the placement of its 680W fATX power supply next to the GPU. It would run loud and hot, subsequently overheating the graphics card inside. Not to be ignored was the staggering cost; it was the most expensive eGPU enclosure to date, retailing for more than $600 at launch.
To address those shortcomings ASUS completely redesigned its newest eGPU enclosure, the XG Station Pro. They set out to build a premium yet affordable external graphics enclosure that not only runs cool but also remains quiet. This was going to be a daunting task. Let’s find out if they succeeded.
Unlike the wild design and multiple lighting zones of its older sibling, the ASUS XG Station Pro sports a more clean cut, purposeful look. The Station Pro is geared toward professional uses rather than strictly gaming purposes. ASUS partnered with InWin to produce a handsome enclosure. The shell and panels are made of aluminum, anodized in space gray to pair well with the MacBook Pro. The inner cage is sheet metal construction. This makes for a light chassis that feels solid to the touch. Minimal branding is imprinted on the right panel, while a small XG Station logo is placed on the front. Rear ports are two USB-C receptacles, a Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) on the left and a USB 3.1 gen 2 (10Gbps) on the right. Located above them are the power plug and power button.
You won’t find fancy metal hinges for sideway opening of the body panels or the lava lampesque plasma tube in this enclosure as in the XG Station 2. Componentwise the ASUS XG Station Pro is stripped down to the essentials. There are three main panels that are easily removable without any tools. The UNLOCK latch at the top rear allows the top panel to slide backward and out. Once the top panel is off, the two side panels can slide upward and off the enclosure cage. The side panel’s vent cutout design maximizes airflow, and there’s even a nifty mesh filter insert that helps minimize dust buildup on the GPU’s fans. Also to note is that you can run this enclosure without the side panel installed to showcase the graphics card.
The decision to go with an external AC power adapter is crucial to keep thermal and noise levels in check. ROG’s parts bin contains many intriguing components, and the 330W (19.5V≈16.9A) power brick for this ASUS XG Station Pro is a good example. It’s about the size of the Dell DA-2, a popular AC adapter our eGPU community has used to build custom external GPU setups, yet produces much higher output. The proprietary connector is bulky and looks a bit out of place due to the ROG branding on the backside. It’s well-built though and keeps the connector securely in place.
ASUS prioritized performance when setting the max power to the graphics card. They opted for a minimal 15W Power Delivery to the Thunderbolt 3 host so that much of the AC adapter’s output goes to the graphics card (300W). Upon seeing the demo unit at CES 2018 running an ASUS Strix GTX 1080 Ti, I guessed this might have been the case. It’s a compromise that prevents charging Thunderbolt 3 laptops, but perfect is the enemy of good. I prefer to have the ability to pair the most powerful graphics card rather than charge a laptop. As seen in the featured photos, this ASUS XG Station Pro can power the GTX 1080 Ti without issue. I’ve also used an RX Vega 56 with this enclosure and it worked well.
Speaking of power-hungry graphics cards, we’ve learned that for certain beastly GPUs 300W output may not be enough. Case in point is the Vega Frontier Edition and RX Vega 64. The peak current of these cards exceeds the max output of many eGPU enclosures including the ASUS XG Station Pro with its 330W power brick. However, ASUS capitalized on the flexibility of using an external power source and created a clever power joining adapter. This Y adapter allows the XG Station Pro to draw power from two 330W AC power adapters, effectively doubling its output. Here’s an engineering sample to showcase this arrangement in action with the Vega FE.
Exploring this uncharted territory of stacking power adapters, I inquired with ASUS about whether there would be an alternate firmware for this Y adapter so that it would not only provide more output to the external graphics card but also carry higher power delivery to the host laptop. Again, Intel only approved the Thunderbolt firmware in this enclosure for 15W PD and that’s unlikely to change. As the external GPU enclosure market expands, I hope Intel grants users more choices in power outputs for different uses.
Beside lending design expertise, InWin provided cooling fans for the ASUS XG Station Pro. The fans are the non-LED versions of InWin Polaris 120mm lineup. ASUS chose this option because it’s possible to engage silent mode with these fans during light load. This is a remarkable feature no other eGPU enclosure has managed. For example, when paired with a graphics card that has Silent or Fan-Stop mode, this ASUS XG Station Pro produces exactly 0dB when idle. When the enclosure fans need to run (≥55˚C), they operate in the range of 500 to 1280 rpm and produce at most 20.2dB.
ASUS put a lot of thought into the usability of this XG Station Pro. It shows with little touches like the placement of the power button. It’s located in the back of enclosure above the power connector rather than inside as in the XG Station 2. Another example are the sleeved PCIe power cables. Handling these cables provides a premium touch over the typical rubber-shielded black and yellow wiring. Last but not least is the included 1.5m active 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable. It provides sufficient length to relocate the eGPU enclosure off your desk. All other eGFXs come with a .5m cable.
While it was an arduous process tearing down the XG Station 2, it was a joy taking apart the XG Station Pro. The only tool you need is a standard Phillips head screwdriver. All components are easily accessible. There’s a daughter board for the power plug and power button. The two 8-pin PCIe power headers sit side-by-side in the front third of the main board. Close by are two 4-pin PWM fan headers for the cooling fans. ASUS soldered ten LED diodes that run the entire length of the main board’s right edge. There’s another row of six tightly-placed LED diodes in the rear, mostly hidden from view.
The ASUS XG Station Pro’s Thunderbolt 3 main board is much simpler compared to that of the Station 2. All crucial ICs are located near the rear ports and covered under a plastic shield to prevent damage during graphics card removal and insertion. As pictured below are Texas Instrument TPS65983 USB-C controller, Intel Alpine Ridge JHL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, and Winbond 25Q80DVNIG firmware memory chip.
Testings & Benchmarks
My first test was with a 2016 15″ MacBook Pro. In macOS, you can easily find information on the enclosure’s Power Delivery and Thunderbolt firmware version. The ASUS XG Station Pro comes with firmware version 29.1. Power Delivery is confirmed at 15W. This means ultrabooks with only one Thunderbolt port that also serves as the charging port wouldn’t be a good companion for the XG Station Pro.
The ASUS XG Station Pro is macOS certified. It’s fully compatible with High Sierra 10.13.4 and newer. Keep in mind Apple only officially supports external graphics for Thunderbolt 3 Macs paired with select AMD Radeon graphics cards. For example, pairing the Vega FE to this enclosure and my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro was a smooth process. Things start getting hairy when you have an older Thunderbolt Mac and/or want to use Nvidia eGPU. Our community has been following Goalque‘s development on EFI workaround to allow Nvidia eGPU in 10.13.4 and newer. Mac_editor has been improving his purge-wrangler script to enable eGPU access on Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 Macs. I was able to use both of these workarounds to pair an R9 Fury eGPU and a GTX 1080 Ti eGPU with my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro.
An interesting feature of this enclosure is the sole USB-C10 expansion port. It’s USB 3.1 gen 2 that’s capable of 10Gbps. This port raises the question whether ASUS had planned dual TB3 configuration for the XG Station Pro but ultimately granted one TB3 port due to eGFX certification requirements. Thunderbolt 3 external GPU enclosures with expansion I/O share bandwidth with those same ports (22Gbps cap by Intel). I paired a Samsung T5 external solid state drive to test this in ATTO Disk Benchmark. These screen captures show the eGPU’s Memory Read and Write were impinged when the external SSD transmitted data.
ASUS provides three software utilities in Windows for its XG Station eGPU enclosures. The first one is ASUS Hot Plug tool. This utility is unnecessary because both ASUS external graphics enclosures work fine without it, and it misidentifies the XG Station Pro as the XG Station 2. The next utility that’s a must is ROG AURA. You can control the RGB of the ASUS XG Station Pro as well as the RGB of ASUS graphics cards with AURA lighting. Here are some screen captures of the different options in AURA. OFF is possible.
The third and final useful software utility is GPU Tweak II. You can use it to fine-tune and monitor a compatible graphics card. From my testing, the GPU fans outscream the enclosure’s fans during heavy load. Therefore setting the graphics card to silent mode using Tweak II helps reduce overall noise emission. This is of course only possible in Windows. In macOS the graphics card behaves accordingly to its factory default profile. I recommend non-reference cooler cards in Windows or macOS with Fan-Stop or Silent mode during idle and light work load.
The ASUS XG Station Pro is plug-and-play for Thunderbolt 3 Windows computers. I’ve tested with the 2017 Alienware 15 R3, 2017 Toshiba Portege X20WD, 2018 13″ Razer Blade Stealth, and 2018 HP Spectre 13. They all worked without issue. It’s also possible to use this eGFX with Macs in Windows. Due to Apple’s refusal to provide support for external GPU in Bootcamp, there’s an extensive setup procedure to make it work. Read our eGPU Bootcamp setup guide for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro to learn the process and continue your eGPU adventure.
I was most interested in finding out the performance difference between the Alienware 15 R3’s discrete graphics card, GTX 1070 vs. the external graphics card, GTX 1080 Ti. Many have expressed concern about eGPU performance loss and diminishing returns when selecting a graphics card. I ran synthetic benchmarks (below) through this host in FHD, QHD, and UHD to provide more insight and hopefully help with your buying choices. The Alienware 15 R3 has a similar Thunderbolt 3 port configuration as the 2016 15″ MacBook Pro. The PCI Express Controller for the Thunderbolt 3 port on these two hosts attach directly to the processor. This routing provides a dedicated connection from the eGPU «» CPU unlike the most commonly found arrangement of eGPU «» PCH «» CPU in other hosts.
|Alienware 15 R3||1070 dGPU FHD||1080Ti eGPU FHD||1070 dGPU QHD||1080Ti eGPU QHD||1070 dGPU UHD||1080Ti eGPU UHD|
|Unigine Valley||81.6 FPS||107.2 FPS||56.7 FPS||79.8 FPS||25.7 FPS||40.3 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven||87.9 FPS||115.7 FPS||55.6 FPS||78.4 FPS||23.7 FPS||36.6 FPS|
|Unigine Superposition||65.8 FPS||100.7 FPS||42.0 FPS||68.1 FPS||20.0 FPS||33.6 FPS|
|Tomb Raider 2013||145.6 FPS||178.9 FPS||90.9 FPS||131.5 FPS||43.8 FPS||68.1 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||147.9 FPS||147.3 FPS||96.0 FPS||115.7 FPS||47.6 FPS||67.9 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||92.7 FPS||109.2 FPS||79.5 FPS||92.5 FPS||43.3 FPS||60.7 FPS|
|Hitman||69.0 FPS||71.6 FPS||50.7 FPS||60.3 FPS||24.4 FPS||31.8 FPS|
If the XG Station 2 was rebellious, hot-tempered and looking for attention in all the wrong places, the XG Station Pro has grown up and learned from its wayward brother. It’s not only a premium eGPU enclosure but also priced competitively at $330. While its lacks in portability, the ASUS XG Station Pro prioritizes the space inside for effective cooling. 0dB during light work load is an amazing achievement and will satisfy the most demanding of buyers. Other refinements such as its clean look, ease of use, and 1.5m Thunderbolt 3 cable make this eGFX one of the most compelling enclosures this year.
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