Find the best eGPU enclosures from our daily updated Buyer’s Guide. See their ranking based on recent build count. Check comparisons of the latest Thunderbolt 3 enclosures with linked hands-on reviews. Support our community by buying your components at the linked online retailers (Amazon, Newegg, etc). Read Thunderbolt 3 eGPU Overview to learn more about eGFX features, performance, and setup. Last but not least, visit our forum to seek help and advice from other enthusiasts on the best eGPU that fits your needs.
Thunderbolt 3 External GPU Overview
External GPU (eGPU) is an ever-developing solution for laptop users who need more graphics power for gaming, AR/VR development, AI/machine learning, and manny other high demand computing tasks. Thunderbolt 3 can now be integrated to the same physical port as USB-C. Flexibility and convenience is Thunderbolt 3 best selling point so it became the chosen standard input/output for eGPU use. A single laptop that’s highly portable for daily use would transform into a capable gaming machine or workstation thanks to the power of an eGPU.
There are more than a dozen of Thunderbolt 3 external graphics solutions (eGFX) currently available. They share the same core components to enable external graphics with a Thunderbolt 3 capable laptop. In this buying guide we focus on the enclosures rather than the main host computer. We have prepared an ultrabook laptop buying guide if you’d like to learn more about the other end of the equation.
An Intel-certified Thunderbolt 3 external GPU solution must have these four components:
- Thunderbolt 3 Controller – Alpine Ridge is most popular while the newer Titan Ridge also works with USB/C systems (non-eGFX use).
- USB-C Controller – Texas Instrument TI83 chipset has the best compatibility with host systems and regulates power delivery.
- Power Supply – Internal PSU for all-in-one enclosure or external power adapter for smaller footprint/quieter & cooler operation.
- Enclosure/Case – This component pays for R&D and therefore no Thunderbolt-3-mainboard-only solution is available for DIYers.
An eGPU for your laptop is what a sidecar is to a motorcycle; it adds capacity and utility only when needed while also remaining mobile. The convenient plug-and-play connectivity allows hot-plug and surprise removal. Besides the graphics performance boost, there are several note-worthy features some Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures provide.
- Power Delivery – Standard 15W for downstream bus-powered devices and up to 100W for upstream charging for Thunderbolt 3/USB-C laptops.
- Expansion I/O – A wide host of connectivity protocols ranging from Ethernet and USB ports to SATA drive and Audio IN/OUT.
- Daisy-Chain – Up to six devices can connect to the host system through a single Thunderbolt 3 cable.
The actual performance of your laptop + eGPU depends on many variables. Beginning with Intel 6th generation U and H processors, many laptops have Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. Appropriate pairing of processor and external graphics card would prevent CPU-bottlenecking during use. Generally speaking, a GPU performs at best 80% of desktop-level when gaming. External GPU performs much better in computing tasks with many scenarios seeing very marginal loss or none at all when the application is designed to take advantage of eGPU.
- CPU Architecture – Quad-core CPU helps minimize performance loss. A laptop with Intel 8th gen and newer CPU is recommended.
- PCIe Lane – x4 PCIe connection over Thunderbolt 3 provides optimal bandwidth. Direct CPU attachment on H-CPU systems for best performance.
- Cooling System – Proper cooling of both eGPU as well as Thunderbolt 3 connection through the system PCH & CPU.
- Thunderbolt 3 Cable – A passive .5m provides full 40Gbps bandwith and 100W PD. Active cable provides same bandwidth in longer sizes.
- Application Design – Well-optimized software and games delivers the best eGPU experience.
Windows is the most mature operating system with eGPU support. Most Thunderbolt 3 Windows systems requires no manual setup. Once connected, Windows can detect and configure appropriate drivers for the external graphics card. Recent Linux distros have great support for Thunderbolt 3 as well. The main issue is driver installation and screen output configuration. Apple has been improving eGPU support in macOS. Unfortunately AMD is the only choice starting with Mojave 10.14. Boot Camp mode to run Windows on a Mac also lack official eGPU support. At eGPU.io, we have built a community of eGPU experts and enthusiasts who provide creative solutions for non-officially supported configurations.
- Windows: Error 12 solutions and Boot Camp solutions to setup eGPU on Mac computers.
- macOS: Purge-Wrangler script and automate-eGPU EFI to enable eGPU on Thunderbolt 1/2 Macs, older AMD cards and Nvidia cards.
- Linux: Xorg config, easy-to-setup script, and primary display script to facilite eGPU configuration.
Best eGPU Enclosure Reviews
Our community has reviewed almost every eGPU solution currently available. Below are the concluding snippet from each eGFX review. Click on the corresponding title to read the full review.
The Razer Core V2 is the filet mignon you order at a fine dining restaurant. It’s delicious and refined with the price to match. The Core X is more like a Big Mac. It gets the job done, appealing to many palates and satisfying your hunger affordably. The Core X checks off many of the items from the Core V2 wishlist including a sub $400 price point and a quieter power supply. Meeting these demands meant compromising the slender build, RGB effects and expansion I/O. Despite this, Razer not only priced its new enclosure at $299 but also increased the Power Delivery, internal enclosure volume and GPU max power. Effectively the Core X emerges as the go-to single I/O Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure that can pair with almost all graphics cards and Thunderbolt 3 laptops.
I’ve been using this Sonnet Breakaway + RX 580 eGPU setup for the past week. It has been a reliable, capable and quiet workhorse with the Late 2013 Mac Pro trashcan. The enclosure has been housed under the desk, hidden from view. Many times I’ve forgotten it’s even there. The Sonnet Breakaway is like your accountant. He may not be the most fun or flashy. But when the IRS comes knocking, he’ll crunch the numbers like nobody’s business to get the job done. All the while being calm and collected.
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.
Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box
Razer Core V2
HP Omen Accelerator
VisionTek mini eGFX
Zotac Box Mini
AKiTiO Node Pro
Lenovo TB3 Graphics Dock
Sonnet Breakaway Puck
AKiTiO Node Duo
Asus ROG XG Station 2