January 2020 is a special time for me and eGPU.io. It marks 20 years since I immigrated to the United States. In 2000 I didn’t speak English and had never used a computer in my life. My first exposure to technology was a JVC 14” television my parents had when I was in middle school. It remained the only piece of electronics we owned until we left Vietnam.
My first Mac was a 2004 12-inch iBook. It lasted me through college and taught me how Apple built their computers, high-quality and often over-engineered. A lot has changed since then but one thing remains consistent; repairs and upgrades on a Mac aren’t usually easy or affordable. Since the latest Macs offer almost no internal upgrade path, Thunderbolt 3 enclosures for external upgrades are the way to go.
January 2020 also marks the third year of our eGPU.io community. Website traffic reached 1.72 million visitors globally in the 2019 calendar year. This was a 22% increase year-over-year. As external graphics technology becomes increasingly mainstream, we’re seeing fewer new products but more refinement in the available offerings. During CES 2020 we expected to see only a handful of new eGFXs from Gigabyte AORUS, Lagarhus Products, Lenovo, Mantiz, and OWC/AKiTiO.
Media Day 1 – Jan. 5th
I landed in Las Vegas in the morning to get situated for CES 2020. A friend drove from San Diego to meet me at McCarran airport. It’s his first time at CES, and we’re both very excited for this opportunity to catch up as well as enjoy the show.
CES Unveiled Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay was the main event of the day. It’s the official media event of CES, welcoming press and industry analysts from more than 160 countries. It featured CES 2020 Best of Innovation Award Honorees and tabletop displays from more than 180 local and global tech companies.
For me OWC was the focal point of this event. They introduced a new Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure, the AKiTiO Node Titan. Outside appearance is almost identical to the Node Pro. In order to be a certified eGFX enclosure, there could only be one Thunderbolt 3 port. Therefore the TB3 mainboard no longer has a second Thunderbolt 3 port like the Node Pro. Notable improvements are 85W upstream power delivery to the host computer and a 650W PSU to power the Radeon RX Vega 64.
Other Thunderbolt 3 items of interest were the new Dell 9300 laptops. They are absolutely stunning in person. The display is the best 13″ laptop panel I’ve seen. Build quality is excellent too. On Jan 7th at Dell Experience and I would find a Dell system engineer to inquire more on the Ice Lake processor and cooling system. Also at CES 2020 Unveiled was LG which brought two Gram laptops. These ultrabooks are incredibly light and now sport Intel 10th gen. Ice Lake CPU [i7-1065G7] with on-die Thunderbolt 3 connection.
Amongst the 180 display booths were things I never knew people would need. First one is a smart diaper. You can judge the usefulness of this product yourself by the specs sheet; I don’t need to shit on it. Second is a beauty mask with AI tech to make you more attractive. It looks like a shiny helmet worn incorrectly. The smile on that lady tells you how attractive “Jason” was with the mask on. Last product is a strange one from no where else but Japan. It’s a therapeutic pillow, a round fuzzy thing with no face or limbs. What it does have is a wagging tail when you pet it.
The last item that caught my interest was from Targus booth. They introduced the DOCK570USZ, a dock that provides up to four 4K monitor outputs through USB-C connection. This is possible thanks to the dual DisplayLink® DL-6910 chip technology [spec link]. It’s a nice solution for those who don’t need the power and expense of an eGPU but want more than two 4K external monitor outputs from a laptop. MSRP is $375.
Media Day 2 – Jan. 6th
AMD keynote was the main event of Media Day 2. It wouldn’t start until 2pm PST so I went the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend “2020 Tech Trends”. The general theme is 5G rollout, 8K, and the next wave of IoT (Intelligence of Things). Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the other end of the Las Vegas strip was where AMD held its news conference. I anticipated it would gather a lot of people so I got there early.
Fortunately I made it to the front of the line and got a chance to say Hi to Dr. Lisa Su. I also got a good seat very near the stage. AMD continues its onslaught on Intel with new mobile Ryzen processors and an insanely powerful 64-core Threadripper 3990x CPU. The only eGPU related new product was RX 5600 series graphics card announcement. Personally I don’t think it’s a very appealing offer due to how good 5000M dGPUs have gotten.
The day ended with the news conference from Sony in LVCC Central Hall. Everybody was hoping for a PlayStation 5 announcement. All we got was the PlayStation PS5 logo.
The car came as a total surprise. Vision-S is an electric car prototype for Sony to showcase their autonomous vehicle technology. It seems performance oriented judging by the matte paint finish, 21″ wheels, and massive Brembo brakes. I’m a traditional car guy so electric cars don’t really get my motor going. I want to row my own gears and be in control when I drive. The funny thing is a car like this Vision-S would cause massive confusion driving around Las Vegas during CES.
CES 2020 Day 1 – Jan. 7th
This is the official start of CES 2020. My day started at my favorite breakfast spot, Bouchon Bakery. First vendor visit was inside Sands Expo at Eureka Park. Lagarhus Products brought the BlackBeast Pro to the show. They had two BBP prototype units. One connected to a Thunderbolt 3 15-in MacBook Pro and the other to a Thunderbolt 2 13-in MacBook Pro.
Lagarhus Products did a good job preparing for CES 2020 with plenty of marketing materials and hiding all crucial components. There are no visible functional ports from the outside of the enclosure. The power and thunderbolt cables were routed through the port openings. I was neither allowed to check System Information > Thunderbolt tree nor to open the enclosure. I wished them luck with getting Thunderbolt certification. Until then I do not recommend this product [forum discussion].
Next visit was Lenovo which brought a pleasant surprise, Legion BoostStation Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure. Although the outside looks nearly identical to the Razer Core X, the its inside shares nothing in common. The component specs I could gather was a 500W PSU, 350W GPU max, 100W Power Delivery, 80mm front-mounted exhaust fan, and SATA drive connector with quick release drive caddy (fits both 2.5″ and 3.5″). There’s a Power button on the front fascia (lower left). Expansion I/Os are two USB-A ports and one Ethernet port.
The handle has a sturdy feel. You pull up on it so that the spring-loaded latches inside allow the inner cage to slide out. Due to installed components in the way, I could not see whether there are two Thunderbolt 3 controllers on the main board. The loud environment was not conductive for noise observation from the ATX PSU and 80mm cooling fan. MSRP of $249 makes this eGFX the best value on the market.
Across the hall from Lenovo was where Dell + Alienware showcasing their latest products. My main task was to find a Dell system engineer to discuss Thunderbolt 3 on the XPS 9300. I was able to chat with the Product Manager. He was very nice in providing technical explanation on Ice Lake on-die Thunderbolt 3 and how Dell was able to connect two Thunderbolt 3 ports on separate sides using a single controller. The XPS 9300 is a very capable eGPU host laptop. Alienware section was very loud and crowded. I checked out the Alienware Second Screen software. It allows a connected smartphone to display performance information.
Early afternoon visits were at the Caesar’s Palace where Gigabyte and Zotac introduced their new products. The first item I went after was the AORUS RTX 2080 Ti Gaming Box. It is a lot more compact than I expected. Gigabyte had an exposed unit behind plexiglass to show the arrangement of components inside. I spotted two Thunderbolt 3 Alpine Ridge controllers on the TB3 mainboard. The PSU seems to be the same as previous version which has a tiny and whiny 40mm cooling fan.
Gigabyte also had a lot of different products on display. I was most curious about motherboards with on-board Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The Designare lineup has always been the best choice for this purpose. The newest version has Titan Ridge controller, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and two DisplayPort IN ports. Mini PCs also interest me so I checked into Gigabyte Brix units. A Gigabyte Product Manager informed me Computex in June is when we can expect Tiger Lake Brix systems with USB4. However availability of USB4 is likely 2021 at the earliest.
Zotac is well-known for their mini PC systems and I was amazed at their collection during my visit. First was the backpack computer. Next to it was a dozen mini PCs of different sizes and configurations, including the one that looks like a 2.5″ SSD. The pop-corn machine you see in the background is actually a computer. There’s a SFF desktop sitting at the bottom and a display mounted on one of the panels.
The day ended at the Las Vegas Convention Center where Razer took center stage in the South Hall. A new product that gathered a lot of attention was the Tomahawk computer. This small form factor chassis was clearly inspired by the Razer Core X eGPU enclosure. The base board is essentially a PCIe extension connection between the computer module and graphics card.
Modularity is nice but the most appealing aspect in my opinion is component and cable management. The computer module took advantage of NUC 9 Extreme Compute Element and therefore packs a lot of I/Os including two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Members of our community have wondered about this very possibility by combining NUC + eGPU. Razer went the extra mile by removing the Thunderbolt 3 bottleneck. It’s a cool concept and I applaud Razer for trying new things.
CES 2020 Day 2 – Jan 8th
It’s my last day at CES 2020. I met Mantiz team at their suites to catch up on new eGPU enclosure as well as AMD graphics cards. While the Mantiz eGPU was not ready for production, they brought the reference model to showcase features. The highlights are 750W PSU, 96W Power Delivery, dual Thunderbolt 3 controllers, 5x USB-A ports, 1x Ethernet port, and SD card reader.
Radeon RX 5600 XT Red Devil is the new AMD card TUL showcased. It has a similar design as RX 5700 XT Red Devil except one less fan. While we were discussing Radeon cards, I inquired about RX 5700 Nano. The primary reason we don’t see Nano cards available globally is simply due to production cost. Minimum quantity for it to break even is 1,000 units. Group buy of this amount is not easy to do unfortunately.
The last appointment was with OWC. While we had a relationship with AKiTiO since 2016 when the AKiTiO Node was first announced, we have not had the chance to connect with OWC following AKiTiO acquisition. I introduced our community to OWC and discussed eGPU enclosures. With the arrival of AKiTiO Node Titan ($299), the Mercury Helios FX will be phased out.
My time at CES 2020 was a blast. It’s good to see long-term investments in eGFX from established vendors as well as new ones. AMD’s push for higher performing CPU starts benefitting laptops. Word on the street is Thunderbolt on AMD systems will happen officially.
Our mission for eGPU.io remains unchanged, to make eGPU easy and accessible for all. We’re looking forward to growing our global community and working with Thunderbolt partners on current and future products.