I’m on the ground this year at CES 2018. I’ll be providing updates on new products related to eGPU and other cool things I find along the way. AKiTiO, Gigabyte, Mantiz, and Razer have representatives at CES 2018, so there’s no better time to attend the biggest tech trade show of the year and meet these guys in person. ASUS will also hopefully display its recently announced XG Station Pro.
Press/Setup Day – January 8th
I arrived this morning in Las Vegas. This is my fifth time to Sin City but my first time attending CES. Rather than attending keynotes, I spent the day checking out things behind the scenes. The monorail system is definitely the way to get around town. It was already crowded this morning. When CES officially opens tomorrow, it will be a madhouse.
While competitors will be showing electric and autonomous solutions, BMW set up a small road course right outside the Convention Center to burn rubber. Exhibitors’ staff were everywhere frantically making sure things will be ready to go.
I did a recon through Tech East. My plan was to visit all three main areas (Tech East, West, and South), but I was thoroughly tired from travel and walking. The front entrance was nice and tidy, but show floors were still mid-progress with forklifts and cranes all over the place.
Amongst the chaos there were some near-ready booths. On the left is an exoskeleton monster that’s called The Prosthesis. It’s a 15 foot-tall machine that can go as quick as 20 MPH. There was also a thermal sensor solution for retail space.
I wandered into an Intel training session and was eventually kicked out. Prior to that, I managed to find two NUC Hades Canyons with 8th gen CPU. They were being used for VR demo. The NUC either has an attached eGPU or a discrete RX Vega card to handle VR. The skull graphic is backlit and very striking. At first glance the enclosure seems thicker than the previous generation.
That’s it for today. I’m getting some rest so I can go full speed tomorrow. ASUS’ booth will be my first stop.
Opening Day – January 9th
Heavy rainfall made the official opening day of CES 2018 interesting. Shortly after 7 a.m., the monorail unit I was in had a slight issue when it braked hard and came to a standstill outside its preset destination. An emergency technician came to the rescue and put it in limp mode to get the train moving again. The crowded cabin full of CES attendees were concerned whether they’d make it before opening time. Luckily we were on our way shortly.
Once I got off the monorail, I headed to ASUS’ suite. The ASUS staff I interacted with were very welcoming. ASUS set up two areas; one was general products and the other was ROG focused. The ASUS XG Station Pro was in the ROG section. I got in early enough and had some hands-on time with this new external GPU enclosure. The first thing I located was the external power brick. It’s very similar in size to the Dell DA-2.
The overall dimensions are close to the Razer Core and much smaller than the XG Station 2. The outer panels are made of aluminum. The inner cage feels like sheet metal. When you press the Power button in the back of the enclosure, the small status light in the front turns on. When there’s an active connection with a Thunderbolt host computer, the enclosure powers up alongside those LEDs.
I noticed the second TB3 port was plugged into a power adapter, so it’s likely this eGPU enclosure does not provide any more than 15W PD. The installed GPU was an ASUS GTX 1080 Ti.
The Thunderbolt 3 host computer was an ASUS ZenBook 3 Deluxe. It ran the latest Nvidia drivers, GeForce 390.65 WHQL, that add better eGPU support. Right away I noticed the disconnect and connect notification at the bottom right of the taskbar. ASUS also installed a Fan Utility software that was set on Silent Mode. I put my ears up close and could barely hear the fans. This is a drastic improvement over the XG Station 2.
ASUS had several interesting monitors on display. They are rather unique in their own category. The first is a portable 15.6″ touch screen with USB-C input and a built-in battery. The case/stand is foldable and detachable. There’s also a stylus holder on the bottom right corner by the Power button. The second monitor is something I’ve never seen or heard of before. It’s a portable 21.6″ 4K OLED display. It has two USB-C inputs and one micro-HDMI. Last but not least is a 32″ 4K Thunderbolt 3 monitor. The base/stand for this monitor serves as a Qi charging pad.
On my way out, I spotted a tiny box ASUS called the tinkerboard. It’s the size of an AppleTV.
I walked past the Lenovo section in Tech West. It wasn’t open yet, so I snapped a couple of photos of this X1 Carbon 6th Generation trapped inside a huge ice block. I need one of these to use outside in the frigid Minnesota winter!
After seeing the latest computers and peripherals, there’s no doubt that 2018 will be the year of USB-C in general and Thunderbolt 3 in specific. I wasn’t aware of Lenovo’s announcement of its Thunderbolt 3 dock with a built-in MXM GTX 1050. I plan to visit the Lenovo suite in the coming days to get some hands-on time and learn more about this dock.
I ended the day meeting with David from AKiTiO. We reminisced on the progress of eGPU in 2017. We also discussed what the community wishes to see in 2018. Apple’s external graphics support this spring is sure to influence this technology. Here’s to the success of eGPU in the new year!
Day 2 – January 10th
I started the day by visiting Gigabyte suite at the Emperors Ballroom in Caesars Palace. Brian from the AORUS team gave me a full tour of the products Gigabyte had on display. We began in a space that had several battlestations. The next room was a typical entertainment area with a big-screen TV inside a home theater stand. What was not typical was the presence of the AORUS Gaming Box paired with a Gigabyte Brix SFF computer.
There was no announcement from AORUS with regard to a new eGPU. What I heard is that the Gigabyte engineering team has been working on a 1080 Ti box that will be slightly larger than their current Gaming Box. My hope is that the length will be extended to fit reference GPUs while width and depth remain the same.
Making my way around the show floor, I saw a tiny GTX 1050 Ti. The footprint is about the size of two credit cards placed next to each other. The GPU is 2-slot thick so it felt like a hot dog when I held it. This graphics card would make a very nice eGPU with smaller enclosures such as the AKiTiO Thunder2 and Thunder3. There’s a tall PCIe slot bracket to make installation with Thunderbolt enclosures easy.
There was another prototype product that I’d like to see come to the market. AORUS is testing a racing chair with full-force feedback. Take a look at those struts!
My second stop was the Lenovo suite. My single task here was to learn more about the recently announced Thunderbolt 3 dock with a built-in GTX 1050 graphics card. Even though it’s the second day of CES 2018, Lenovo restricted access to its suite to only those it invited and members of the press.
It didn’t take long for me to locate this new Thunderbolt 3 dock once I got inside. I immediately went after the external power adapter. It’s surprisingly reasonable in size. I placed my iPhone SE on top of the power brick for scale. I asked for a spec sheet but there wasn’t one. Fortunately a very helpful Lenovo representative answered most of my questions. The output is 170W. Power Delivery is 65W. The graphics card is a MXM GTX 1050 with 4GB of VRAM.
Lenovo connected this eGPU dock to one of its new VR headsets. The external GPU was running full speed in order for the headset to work. The enclosure felt warm to the touch and the cooling fan was audible through the rear exhaust vents. MSRP is $399, and it should be available at the end of January. For more photos of the Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Dock, read my hands-on post.
My last stop was Dell. The new XPS 9370 is very striking in person. If you were impressed by the Infinity display of the older XPS 13, this next generation Infinity display will amaze you. I didn’t have much time with this XPS 9370, but the display has an anti-reflective coat that makes it look much better from different viewing angles. I had to touch the screen to confirm it wasn’t a matte finish.
The best encounter was a conversation with a Dell engineer. I took the opportunity to ask him which OPI mode this new ultrabook is set at. He saw my badge representing eGPU.io and answered saying, “We heard you about PCI lanes. These have full 4 lanes.” Updated: I received email confirmation the XPS 9370 is GT4 (4 GT/s OPI).
We proceeded to chat about the OPI modes in ULV processors, but there’s no definitive answer yet. He told me to follow up via email after CES 2018 and he’ll get the answer. The XPS 15 2-in-1 laptops were on display as well. The spec sheet showed it now sports Intel CPU with the Radeon Vega Mobile.
Unlike the heavy rain on Tuesday, the sun was out all day for Day 2 of CES. It wasn’t all sunshine at the Las Vegas Convention Center though. The power went out for a while in the Central Hall. Perhaps we’ll see more startups next year demoing infrastructure offerings rather than countless Virtual Assistant products.
Day 3 – January 11th
This was the nicest day so far this week in Las Vegas in terms of weather. It got sweeter when I visited my favorite bakery Bouchon. After coffee and a croissant, my first stop of the day was the TUL suite. The two products on display were a Mantiz Thunderbolt 3 dock and the PowerColor Gaming Box.
The PowerColor Gaming Box is essentially a more affordable version of the Mantiz Venus. It’s slightly larger and constructed out of sheet metal instead of aluminum. The PowerColor eGPU enclosure shares the internal components with the Mantiz Venus.
A more interesting product was the Mantiz Thunderbolt 3 dock. This TB3 dock has dual modes based on whether a power adapter is connected. All Thunderbolt 3 docks on the market currently require an AC power adapter. The Mantiz TB3 dock comes with a power adapter, but it can also work without one. This mode limits I/O ports to one display output, one USB port, and the single LAN port. This is a great feature for road warriors.
When you plug it into the outlet, the dock transforms into a full-feature expansion hub. First and foremost is the 87W power delivery to match the requirements of the 15″ Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro. The footprint of this dock is slightly larger than two credit cards placed side by side. It’s an all aluminum construction. You can run up to 3 displays at once. 4K @ 60Hz reduces display output to either two DisplayPort connections or one DisplayPort and one HDMI connection. The VGA seems like a waste of a port, but Mantiz told me many projectors still use this video port. The rest of the I/O are one LAN port and two USB 2.0 ports.
My final stop at CES 2018 was the Razer booth. Razer PR chose the best location possible to showcase its products. As soon as you entered the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Razer logo was front and center. To lure you in even more, there was a larger-than-life mechanical keyboard. Everyone was testing it out to see if the keys would work. Oh yes, they did.
I met up with Travis Furst, the Product Marketing Manager for Razer Core. We began the walkthrough at the Razer Blade Stealth + Razer Core V2 section. This is a very handsome pairing. It’s also one of the more desirable eGPU setups with an Intel 8th gen quad-core CPU ultrabook and a refined premium enclosure.
The main attraction at the Razer Booth was this cool concept called Project Linda. It’s got the soul of a smart phone and the body of an ultrabook. Once docked via the USB-C port of the Razer Phone, it transforms into a capable laptop. The placement of the phone’s display utilizes its touchscreen as a trackpad.
The laptop shell has the same footprint as the Razer Blade Stealth. It’s slightly thicker though to accommodate a built-in battery. Razer did not disclose the battery size but mentioned it can charge the phone when needed. This is a very exciting concept and we’ll be looking forward to see further development.
Besides Project Linda, Razer announced two other new products at CES 2018. One was a gaming speaker set, Razer Nommo, that was developed through the company’s acquisition of THX. The other was a wireless mouse with no battery inside, the Razer HyperFlux mouse and pad.
As a first-timer at CES, it’s been an exciting and at times overwhelming experience. I’m very happy to have met some of the eGPU vendors our community has been interacting with in the past year. They’re all looking forward to the development of external graphics in 2018 and beyond.
One More Thing
Not published in this post are photos of an unannounced eGPU enclosure. It’s the smallest PCIe external graphics enclosure to date. It has an external power adapter like the new ones we saw from ASUS and Lenovo. There are also expansion I/O, hosted by a second Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 controller similar to the Razer Core V2. I can’t wait until the official announcement.
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