2017 Intel NUC7i7BNH [7th,2C,U] + GTX 1660 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (ASUS XG Station Pro) + ...
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2017 Intel NUC7i7BNH [7th,2C,U] + GTX 1660 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (ASUS XG Station Pro) + Win10 [emmgee]  


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Joined: 3 years ago

System specs 
The NUC is a small computer that resembles a laptop in the sense that the enclosure does not have any expansion slots.  It has a Thunderbolt 3 port.  My unit has 16 GB DD4 RAM.  I use Windows 10 Professional 64-bit.  Prior to installing the expansion chassis, I connected the NUC to a Dell WD15 Thunderbolt dock which in turn was connected to my monitor.  So I assumed I had adequate Thunderbolt support, but I was incorrect as noted below.  

The stock NUC uses Intel® Iris™ Plus Graphics 650 GPU.  I use my system for photo editing with Capture One – admittedly not as demanding as gaming.  Editing was too slow for me so I investigated ways to increase editing speed.  I learned that Capture One makes good use of OpenCL-supported GPUs so I decided that a fast GPU card in a suitable enclosure was likely to improve my editing experience.  I consulted Capture One technical support ahead of doing research into graphics cards and enclosures.  They agreed this was a good approach.  My understanding is that Adobe products do not take advantage of hardware acceleration in the same way.

eGPU hardware 
I purchased the ASUS XG Station PRO because it was slightly smaller than other full-size enclosures and the reviews that I read specifically said how quiet it was.  That was very important to me.  I purchased the MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Ventus XS 6G OC after looking at benchmarks (this OpenCL benchmark article was very helpful), looking at YouTube videos, and doing pricing research on the web.  I wanted a relatively new release but didn't need the fastest board in the world.  My research led to the conclusion that the GTX 1660 was close enough in performance to the GTX 1660 Ti but at a good price.  My thanks to eGPU.io for its very informative data and reviews.

I have used this setup a relatively short time.  My NUC fan seems to run a lot and the memory use during editing is higher than I remember.  I think my next step will be to increase my system RAM to 32 GB.  The noise is acceptable.  As I get used to the new gear I'll think of ways to keep the fan from coming on so much.  But even if it stays the same, I'll be happy.

Hardware pictures 
I'm on a business trip and don't have the ability to take a photo.  Not sure that it would help anyone that much.  My desk has a small shelf near the floor where I have my NUC, my Synology RAID enclosure, and now the eGPU enclosure.  Because it's under the desk, the small amount fan noise is farther away.

Installation steps 
I didn't keep a log so I can only offer general comments.  The physical installation of the card in the enclosure was straightforward as was connecting the cables.  As noted above, my NUC had successfully connected with a Thunderbolt 3 dock so I thought maybe everything would work right away.  Wrong. 

The next thing I did was try to load the Nvidia drivers.  I started at the MSI site.  The drivers are not readily available.  I thought if I registered the card that I would get a driver link.  After a very frustrating experience with finding my serial number and security code, I registered the card but didn't find a driver link.  I went to the Nvidea site and found that there is no link that is labeled "GFX 1600".  After clicking around I found it was listed under "Series 16".  Very intuitive.

I loaded the driver and still nothing.  I had updated my NUC drivers only a couple of weeks earlier.  But I figured it was worth trying to update the Thunderbolt drivers again.  So I did that.  I saw something about launching the "Thunderbolt software".  I couldn't find anything called that.  Here's where I wish I could be more helpful.  I rebooted just to be sure that everything was loaded.  I believe that I saw a message that said something about a Thunderbolt device was detected but Device Manager didn't see the GPU.

I don't know how I did it, but somehow I did launch the Thunderbolt software.  I looked at the GUI and saw options to give permission to use the dock, which I did.  I don't know if the card was visible immediately after that or I had to reboot.  But eventually the card was visible.  When I launched Capture One, it detected the new card and reinitialized the hardware acceleration.  My initial experience with editing was really great.  I've used the system for a half a day since then I'm convinced that it's faster.  It was certainly more fun.

Other than my subjective comments above, I have no benchmarks.  Benchmarks for the GFX 1660 are readily available on the web.

Typically when I upgrade to something like this I wind up spending time learning the ins and outs of the new thing and finding a way to tweak things to make them even better.  I expect that this will be true for the new GPU.  I hope doubling the memory will help.  I might try overclocking.  But my initial experience of faster editing times and smoother use of the controls has been very positive.

I anyone from Nvidia or MSI is reading this – please make the use of your web site easier and more intuitive.  If anyone from Asus is reading, how about including something obvious to give general instructions about installing Thunderbolt software in Windows (not to mention OS X).  After all, everyone who buys the XG Station Pro will connect to a computer and I'll bet most will be like mine – very advanced and ready for Thunderbolt connectivity but help your customers go the last mile.

2017 Intel NUC7i7BNH [7th,2C,U] + GTX 1660 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (ASUS XG Station Pro) + Win10 [build link]  

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