2016 15" ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW (GTX960M) [6th,4C,H] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Sonnet Breakaway 550) + Win10 // Valve Index VR FBT
TLDR: It works really well and old laptops can run VR and AAA games
System specs (model inc screen size, CPU, iGPU, dGPU, operating system which eGPU is being used)
- i7-6700HQ 4 core, 8 threads, 2.6GHz base
- v307 BIOS
- 24GB DDR4 RAM (12GB stock, 24GB max)
- 2TB NVME PCIe-3 SSD (Samsung Evo Plus 970 2TB)
- Internal GTX960M + Intel HD Graphics 530
- Thinderbolt 3 @32Gbps
- Internal 4k display, external 1080p display, Valve Index VR
eGPU hardware (eGPU enclosure, video card, any third-party TB3 cable, any custom mods)
- Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 550 with 550W PSU
- Sonnet supplied 50cm TB3 cable
- Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Gaming OC 11G
- HDMI to 1080p external monitor
- DisplayPort to Valve Index VR
Installation steps (what did you do to get it all going?)
There's a lot of info there on updating the Thunderbolt software and firmware so that the laptop properly supports eGPUs.
After that, the upgrade to the Sonnet / RTX2080 Ti combo was very easy - really just shut down the PC, disconnect the old eGPU, plug in the new eGPU and start the PC.
Nvidia GeForce Experience did the rest and I had the latest drivers already installed. Currently (02/2021) running v456.71 GPU drivers.
The machine can run with both Nvidia GPUs enabled (GTX960M and the eGPU) but I found that disabling the GTX960M in Device Manager stopped a stutter seen on VR games. Probably contention for the 4 PCI lanes that the Thunderbolt 3 port uses. The integrated Intel GPU is fine for normal working of the internal LCD 4k display.
Because the eGPU is constrained to the 4 PCIe lanes of TB3, I always run VR with Windows set to "Second Screen Only". This routes the desktop and Steam game window to use the 1080p monitor on the eGPU and prevents the rendered game from being sent back over the TB3 link to the laptop internal display.
Thunderbolt Controller info:
NVM Firmware v25.00
PD Firmware v1.07.06
Thunderbolt Software Package v18.104.22.168
Other performance mods:
Used Intel tool to undervolt the i7 CPU, allows it to run nearly 10C cooler and sustain faster boost speeds around 3.2GHz over the base 2.6GHz clock.
Using MSI Afterburner to overclock the RTX2080 Ti by +15MHz on Core and +200MHz on VRAM.
If I used the MSI overclock scanner it goes much higher but power spikes cause the PSU in the Sonnet box to trip out and shut down. Mild overclocking is stable though.
Time Spy results with internal display or external display and internal display off.
Sonnet RTX 2080Ti (CPU fan auto) (Internal monitor) (stock - no OC)
GPU 10963 (#1 69.15fps #2 64.75fps)
CPU 3436 (11.54fps)
Sonnet RTX 2080Ti (CPU fan auto) (External 60Hz 1080p monitor, internal display off) (stock - no OC)
GPU 12199 (#1 77.19fps #2 71.84fps)
CPU 3557 (11.95fps)
Comments (eg: how has the eGPU improved your workflow or gaming)
I play VR games like Half Life Alyx, PavlovVR, VRChat, NeosVR and ChilloutVR. I also play Elite Dangerous on the laptop 4k display in 4k resolution without issue.
I also edit video on Davinci Resolve with GPU rendering acceleration.
In VRChat default home world I can get a steady 120fps on the Index when using full body tracking with this setup.
@mr-ribeiro, Yeah, back at launch in 2016 it was really advanced. One of the first laptops to have 4 lane TB3 port, DDR4 RAM and a NVME SSD. I even started playing VRChat on it with a WMR VR headset on the built in GTX960M but at 20% scaling in SteamVR - lol. I picked it up in clearance sales in 2017 and it's been a solid machine and easy to upgrade the RAM and SSD.
The current eGPU solution cost as much as the original laptop though XD
But VRChat is heavily CPU bound as well as GPU bound and I'm thinking of upgrading the laptop to a new ASUS machine:
Sadly, I'd have to upgrade the Sonnet box (or the PSU in it) as it's not strong enough to power a RTX 3080.
@yumiyume, I would say to wait it out to 11th gen H-CPU. The 8th-10th gen H-CPU don't have very good Thunderbolt 3 optimization. I was really tempted by the ZenBook Pro Duo during Black Friday sales (less than $1,500) but decided to pass because of the TB3 implementation on it.
Thanks. Yes, it's a bit of a lottery whether you get a machine that has the real throughput on the TB3 port or is hobbled by something.
Disappointingly, the revelations for Thunderbolt 4 don't include any more bandwidth but a 11th gen Intel machine with a TB4 port will at least guarantee (in theory) that you get 32Gbps and not the 16Gbps you get on some TB3 implementations.