ASUS XG Station Pro Review - Cool, Calm and Collected
 
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ASUS XG Station Pro Review - Cool, Calm and Collected  

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itsage
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Introduction

One of the most highly anticipated eGPU enclosures of 2017 was the ASUS ROG XG Station 2. Its spec sheet was filled with many standout features unmatched by worthy competitors. When I finally got my hands on one to review, it was definitely out of this world but not in a good way. The ultimate undoing of that powerful enclosure was the placement of its 680W fATX power supply next to the GPU. It would run loud and hot, subsequently overheating the graphics card inside. Not to be ignored was the staggering cost; it was the most expensive eGPU enclosure to date, retailing for more than $600 at launch.

To address those shortcomings ASUS completely redesigned its newest eGPU enclosure, the XG Station Pro. They set out to build a premium yet affordable external graphics enclosure that not only runs cool but also remains quiet. This was going to be a daunting task. Let's find out if they succeeded.

Hardware Specifics

Asus Xg Station Pro Strix Gtx 1080 Ti Lg 4k Bird View

Alienware 15R3 + ASUS XG Station Pro + GTX 1080 Ti + LG 4K Bird's-eye View

Specifications  compare 
Price US$
$330
PSU location-type
AC-ext
PSU max power 330W
GPU max power
300W
Power delivery (PD)
15W
USB-C controller
TI83
TB3 USB-C ports 1
Max GPU len (in/cm)
12.24/31.1
Weight (kg/lb) 2.29/6.50
Updated firmware 29.1 ✔
TB3 cable length (cm) 150
Vendor page link
Implementations
link
Asus Xg Station Pro Strix Gtx 1080 Ti Lg 4k Front View

Alienware 15R3 + ASUS XG Station Pro + GTX 1080 Ti + LG 4K Front View

Unlike the wild design and multiple lighting zones of its older sibling, the ASUS XG Station Pro sports a more clean cut, purposeful look. The Station Pro is geared toward professional uses rather than strictly gaming purposes. ASUS partnered with InWin to produce a handsome enclosure. The shell and panels are made of aluminum, anodized in space gray to pair well with the MacBook Pro. The inner cage is sheet metal construction. This makes for a light chassis that feels solid to the touch. Minimal branding is imprinted on the right panel, while a small XG Station logo is placed on the front. Rear ports are two USB-C receptacles, a Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) on the left and a USB 3.1 gen 2 (10Gbps) on the right. Located above them are the power plug and power button.

You won't find fancy metal hinges for sideway opening of the body panels or the lava lampesque plasma tube in this enclosure as in the XG Station 2. Componentwise the ASUS XG Station Pro is stripped down to the essentials. There are three main panels that are easily removable without any tools. The UNLOCK latch at the top rear allows the top panel to slide backward and out. Once the top panel is off, the two side panels can slide upward and off the enclosure cage. The side panel's vent cutout design maximizes airflow, and there's even a nifty mesh filter insert that helps minimize dust buildup on the GPU's fans. Also to note is that you can run this enclosure without the side panel installed to showcase the graphics card. 

Asus Xg Station Pro Front Open View

ASUS XG Station Pro GPU Side Open View

The decision to go with an external AC power adapter is crucial to keep thermal and noise levels in check. ROG's parts bin contains many intriguing components, and the 330W (19.5V≈16.9A) power brick for this ASUS XG Station Pro is a good example. It's about the size of the Dell DA-2, a popular AC adapter our eGPU community has used to build custom external GPU setups, yet produces much higher output. The proprietary connector is bulky and looks a bit out of place due to the ROG branding on the backside. It's well-built though and keeps the connector securely in place.

ASUS prioritized performance when setting the max power to the graphics card. They opted for a minimal 15W Power Delivery to the Thunderbolt 3 host so that much of the AC adapter's output goes to the graphics card (300W). Upon seeing the demo unit at CES 2018 running an ASUS Strix GTX 1080 Ti, I guessed this might have been the case. It's a compromise that prevents charging Thunderbolt 3 laptops, but perfect is the enemy of good. I prefer to have the ability to pair the most powerful graphics card rather than charge a laptop. As seen in the featured photos, this ASUS XG Station Pro can power the GTX 1080 Ti without issue. I've also used an RX Vega 56 with this enclosure and it worked well.

Asus Xg Station Pro Power Brick Vs Sfx

SFX PSU vs. ASUS XG Station Pro AC Power Adapter

Asus Xg Station Pro External Ac Adapter

ASUS XG Station Pro External AC Adapter Label

Speaking of power-hungry graphics cards, we've learned that for certain beastly GPUs 300W output may not be enough. Case in point is the Vega Frontier Edition and RX Vega 64. The peak current of these cards exceeds the max output of many eGPU enclosures including the ASUS XG Station Pro with its 330W power brick. However, ASUS capitalized on the flexibility of using an external power source and created a clever power joining adapter. This Y adapter allows the XG Station Pro to draw power from two 330W AC power adapters, effectively doubling its output. Here's an engineering sample to showcase this arrangement in action with the Vega FE.

Asus Xg Station Pro Dual Ac Adapter Pcb Closeup

ASUS XG Station Pro Dual AC Adapter PCB Closeup

Asus Xg Station Pro Dual Ac Adapter Connector Closeup

ASUS XG Station Pro Y Adapter Connector Closeup

Asus Xg Station Pro Dual Ac Adapter Vega Fe

ASUS XG Station Pro Dual Ac Adapter Radeon Vega FE

Exploring this uncharted territory of stacking power adapters, I inquired with ASUS about whether there would be an alternate firmware for this Y adapter so that it would not only provide more output to the external graphics card but also carry higher power delivery to the host laptop. Again, Intel only approved the Thunderbolt firmware in this enclosure for 15W PD and that's unlikely to change. As the external GPU enclosure market expands, I hope Intel grants users more choices in power outputs for different uses.

Beside lending design expertise, InWin provided cooling fans for the ASUS XG Station Pro. The fans are the non-LED versions of InWin Polaris 120mm lineup. ASUS chose this option because it's possible to engage silent mode with these fans during light load. This is a remarkable feature no other eGPU enclosure has managed. For example, when paired with a graphics card that has Silent or Fan-Stop mode, this ASUS XG Station Pro produces exactly 0dB when idle. When the enclosure fans need to run (≥55˚C), they operate in the range of 500 to 1280 rpm and produce at most 20.2dB.

Asus Xg Station Pro Rear Io Connected

ASUS XG Station Pro Rear I/O Connected

ASUS put a lot of thought into the usability of this XG Station Pro. It shows with little touches like the placement of the power button. It's located in the back of enclosure above the power connector rather than inside as in the XG Station 2. Another example are the sleeved PCIe power cables. Handling these cables provides a premium touch over the typical rubber-shielded black and yellow wiring. Last but not least is the included 1.5m active 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable. It provides sufficient length to relocate the eGPU enclosure off your desk. All other eGFXs come with a .5m cable.

While it was an arduous process tearing down the XG Station 2, it was a joy taking apart the XG Station Pro. The only tool you need is a standard Phillips head screwdriver. All components are easily accessible. There's a daughter board for the power plug and power button. The two 8-pin PCIe power headers sit side-by-side in the front third of the main board. Close by are two 4-pin PWM fan headers for the cooling fans. ASUS soldered ten LED diodes that run the entire length of the main board's right edge. There's another row of six tightly-placed LED diodes in the rear, mostly hidden from view.

Asus Xg Station Pro Component Layout

ASUS XG Station Pro Component Layout

The ASUS XG Station Pro's Thunderbolt 3 main board is much simpler compared to that of the Station 2. All crucial ICs are located near the rear ports and covered under a plastic shield to prevent damage during graphics card removal and insertion. As pictured below are Texas Instrument TPS65983 USB-C controller, Intel Alpine Ridge JHL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, and Winbond 25Q80DVNIG firmware memory chip.

Asus Xg Station Pro Ti83 Usb C Controller

Texas Instrument TPS65983 Usb-C Controller

Asus Xg Station Pro Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Alpine Ridge JHL6540 Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Asus Xg Station Pro Winbond Ic

Winbond 25Q80DVNIG firmware memory chip

Testings & Benchmarks

My first test was with a 2016 15" MacBook Pro. In macOS, you can easily find information on the enclosure's Power Delivery and Thunderbolt firmware version. The ASUS XG Station Pro comes with firmware version 29.1. Power Delivery is confirmed at 15W. This means ultrabooks with only one Thunderbolt port that also serves as the charging port wouldn't be a good companion for the XG Station Pro.

Asus Xg Station Pro Power Delivery

Asus Xg Station Pro Firmware Version

The ASUS XG Station Pro is macOS certified. It's fully compatible with High Sierra 10.13.4 and newer. Keep in mind Apple only officially supports external graphics for Thunderbolt 3 Macs paired with select AMD Radeon graphics cards. For example, pairing the Vega FE to this enclosure and my 2016 15" MacBook Pro was a smooth process. Things start getting hairy when you have an older Thunderbolt Mac and/or want to use Nvidia eGPU. Our community has been following Goalque's development on EFI workaround to allow Nvidia eGPU in 10.13.4 and newer. Mac_editor has been improving his purge-wrangler script to enable eGPU access on Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 Macs. I was able to use both of these workarounds to pair an R9 Fury eGPU and a GTX 1080 Ti eGPU with my 2016 15" MacBook Pro.

2016 15 Macbook Pro Asus Xg Station Pro Radeon Vega Fe Egpu About

2016 15" Macbook Pro Asus XG Station Pro Strix GTX 1080 Ti eGPU About

An interesting feature of this enclosure is the sole USB-C10 expansion port. It's USB 3.1 gen 2 that's capable of 10Gbps. This port raises the question whether ASUS had planned dual TB3 configuration for the XG Station Pro but ultimately granted one TB3 port due to eGFX certification requirements. Thunderbolt 3 external GPU enclosures with expansion I/O share bandwidth with those same ports (22Gbps cap by Intel). I paired a Samsung T5 external solid state drive to test this in ATTO Disk Benchmark. These screen captures show the eGPU's Memory Read and Write were impinged when the external SSD transmitted data.

Alienware 15 R3 Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Aida

AW15R3 + XG Station Pro + GTX 1080 Ti eGPU Aida

Alienware 15 R3 Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Samsung T5 Atto

AW15R3 + XG Station Pro + GTX 1080 Ti + Samsung T5 Aida & Atto

ASUS provides three software utilities in Windows for its XG Station eGPU enclosures. The first one is ASUS Hot Plug tool. This utility is unnecessary because both ASUS external graphics enclosures work fine without it, and it misidentifies the XG Station Pro as the XG Station 2. The next utility that's a must is ROG AURA. You can control the RGB of the ASUS XG Station Pro as well as the RGB of ASUS graphics cards with AURA lighting. Here are some screen captures of the different options in AURA. OFF is possible.

HP Spectre 13 Asus XG Station Pro Strix GTX 1080 Ti eGPU Aura

ASUS Aura All Synced

HP Spectre 13 Asus XG Station Pro Strix GTX 1080 Ti eGPU Aura Temp

ASUS Aura Temperature Mode

The third and final useful software utility is GPU Tweak II. You can use it to fine-tune and monitor a compatible graphics card. From my testing, the GPU fans outscream the enclosure's fans during heavy load. Therefore setting the graphics card to silent mode using Tweak II helps reduce overall noise emission. This is of course only possible in Windows. In macOS the graphics card behaves accordingly to its factory default profile. I recommend non-reference cooler cards in Windows or macOS with Fan-Stop or Silent mode during idle and light work load.

HP Spectre 13 Asus XG Station Pro Strix GTX 1080 Ti eGPU Tweak Ii

ASUS Tweak II

The ASUS XG Station Pro is plug-and-play for Thunderbolt 3 Windows computers. I've tested with the 2017 Alienware 15 R3, 2017 Toshiba Portege X20WD, 2018 13" Razer Blade Stealth, and 2018 HP Spectre 13. They all worked without issue. It's also possible to use this eGFX with Macs in Windows. Due to Apple's refusal to provide support for external GPU in Bootcamp, there's an extensive setup procedure to make it work. Read our eGPU Bootcamp setup guide for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro to learn the process and continue your eGPU adventure.

I was most interested in finding out the performance difference between the Alienware 15 R3's discrete graphics card, GTX 1070 vs. the external graphics card, GTX 1080 Ti. Many have expressed concern about eGPU performance loss and diminishing returns when selecting a graphics card. I ran synthetic benchmarks (below) through this host in FHD, QHD, and UHD to provide more insight and hopefully help with your buying choices. The Alienware 15 R3 has a similar Thunderbolt 3 port configuration as the 2016 15" MacBook Pro. The PCI Express Controller for the Thunderbolt 3 port on these two hosts attach directly to the processor. This routing provides a dedicated connection from the eGPU «» CPU unlike the most commonly found arrangement of eGPU «» PCH «» CPU in other hosts.

Alienware 15 R31070 dGPU FHD1080Ti eGPU FHD1070 dGPU QHD1080Ti eGPU QHD1070 dGPU UHD1080Ti eGPU UHD
Unigine Valley81.6 FPS107.2 FPS56.7 FPS79.8 FPS25.7 FPS40.3 FPS
Unigine Heaven87.9 FPS115.7 FPS55.6 FPS78.4 FPS23.7 FPS36.6 FPS
Unigine Superposition65.8 FPS100.7 FPS42.0 FPS68.1 FPS20.0 FPS33.6 FPS
Tomb Raider 2013145.6 FPS178.9 FPS90.9 FPS131.5 FPS43.8 FPS68.1 FPS
Shadow of Mordor147.9 FPS147.3 FPS96.0 FPS115.7 FPS47.6 FPS67.9 FPS
Dirt Rally92.7 FPS109.2 FPS79.5 FPS92.5 FPS43.3 FPS60.7 FPS
Hitman69.0 FPS71.6 FPS50.7 FPS60.3 FPS24.4 FPS31.8 FPS

Conclusion

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.

Group Buy

ASUS has extended a group buy to our forum members. The XG Station Pro will be available for US$299.99 on Amazon (ship worldwide). If you're interested please visit this topic and leave a comment.

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Locky28
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Great write up thanks IT Sage! I had mine arrive last week and have been blown away by the design quality, from the internal components to the fine chamfering ot the top edges. 

My only complaint is the Graphics Card I bought off of Ebay has coil whine, so I don't get the full 0db experience 🙁

I absolutely recommend this enclosure.

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mac_editor
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Awesome write-up! Would also love to see a seperate What's In The Box (tho review does contain basically what's there) kind of section for users interested in purchasing the enclosure. I for one keep an eye out for those that come with carrying cases (of which I'm only aware of Aorus lol).

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Eightarmedpet
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wimpzilla
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Hello

@TheITSage

I would also explain in details how ASUS implemented the power delivery in this new eGPU enclosure.

As far i know the 330Watt power brick is made by Delta, did not inquired on the precise model ASUS used, but it seems a decent branded power brick.
I would not be much worried about the Delta brick against a normal Enermax SFX, even i would prefer having the last, but i would still had checked it's T° after some hours of utilization.

The brick output 19.5v@17A equal to roughly 330Watt if one consider the power supply efficiency and T°.
The 19.5v need to be converted by a buck converter to 12v for the gpu and 5/3.3v for the logic circuit board IC's.
Hence in this case you have an additional conversion step you wouldn't have in other eGPU enclosure that are based on 12v power supply.
So the 12v rail stability, current capability that feed the gpu, depend also how efficient and good the buck converter present onto the eGPU board is, in addition to the psu used.

I'm pretty curious tho regarding the pcb board that allow the user to connect in parallel 2 psu to double the current and power capability to 600Watt. 
If i look at the pcb board i can notice some mosfets, a control IC and some filtering components.
Not sure how ASUS implemented this pcb, i can only suppose it is a current balance control board, as the sense wire seems tell. 

Also note that you couldn't use an external 12v psu to feed the eGPU pcb board if any damage would apply to the power brick.
Since ASUS packed a non standard power connector and voltage supply, one would only rely on ASUS to service the unit.

I thought these engineering point should be included in a way or other to the review. 
Imo, there would be no issue if the pcb board is well developed by ASUS, i couldn't leverage in depth the pcb by lack of high quality picture.
You can send me one if interested leveraging in depth the buck converter power circuit.

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itsage
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@wimpzilla The external AC power adapter is Delta ADP-330AB D. I took a photo of this power brick next to SFX to show the size of it. The photos on our website are minified to save bandwidth. CDN service for ten of thousands hits a day costs a bit. There are a few pictures of the power daughter board and Y adapter PCB. I will post those later. 

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wimpzilla
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@TheITSage

Understood, i'm sorry you are right did not thought about the bandwidth.
I'm sorry i misread, i thought was the ADP like, not the same model.

No need to upload in the article, it you can just mp, for you if you are interested by a in depth circuit analysis.
Found this new way to implement the power delivery quite original, just curious how they did it.
I mean not someone else would not look at it someday and not i'm too curious to go check it by myself. ^^

As always, feel free to delete, add, move this technical post as you wish and best suit for the forum.
It is just for you to know the basic electronics behind and for purpose of this review, if it help.

 

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wimpzilla
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I had some spare time and tried to work with the picture of the board pcb you posted.
Usually in almost all eGPU enclosures big enough to get a psu, the power supply is done using the 12v provided by the psu.
So the board would have different power planes dedicated to the 12v that feed the pci-e and feed some voltage regulators for the 3.3v/5v IC's logics.
What's new in this ASUS enclosure is the way the power supply is managed, feeding the eGPU enclosure with 19.5v as a regular laptop.
So as any laptop or small eGPU enclosure that run over a power brick, there must be some kind of regulation done on the boad pcb to provide 12v for the gpu.
The simpliest way to achieve that is the usual buck converter or VRM, the same kind one would find on the motherboard, gpu, laptop.

Here ASUS implemented, from what i can leverage from the picture quality, a 3 phases VRM dedicated to transform the 19.5v to 12v.
I have marked the each phase and the VRM controller, without the chip number it is hard to know the precise phase implementation of the controller.
Here i would say it's set to maybe 3 or 3+1 phases, 3 phases for the 19.5v to 12v conversion and maybe another phase for the 5v/3.3v, not sure if this is not done by a simple LDO. 
Also i do not know which MOSFET ASUS used and it's the power rating, either i do not know the switching frequency of the VRM controller to calculate the power efficiency. 
Tho if one notice there are 2 unused 8pin connectors not soldered, dunno if these are connected directly to the 12v power plane or to the 19.5v one.
I would have liked that ASUS allow the usage of the 12v power supply in case the power brick fail or use the eGPU pcb integrated into another build.
Also worth to note that there are holes on the pcb near the VRM maybe used, it seems, to fit a heatsink on top of the MOSFETS for better cooling.

ASUS Egpu

 

The rest of the board seems pretty usual, as we found on other eGPU enclosures with the IC's logic dedicated to the TB3 stuff.

As always feel free to move these technical info in a better appropriate place, as suited for the forum.

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itsage
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wimpzilla
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Thanks you.

I was wrong on some aspect of the pcb, the picture greatly helped to sort out, i updated the picture you sent me.
-What i thought the VRM controller is in reality an ITE IC, often designated as I/O controller also managing the t°, voltage, fans, current monitoring.
-The main 3 phases VRM for the gpu 12v have doubled Hi side and Low side mosfets to help the current balance on the phase.
-All the other minor rails needed as the 5/3.3v or lower, are provided by power stages, being a set of Hi/Lo mosfets integrated into a single package.
-Not sure about, i suppose a simple LDO voltage regulator is maybe used to feed the voltage needed to drive the mosfets.
-A low current phase is maybe build using the internal mosfet of the IC tagged by the ?, pretty curious if this IC is not the VRM controller at the end.

Overall i'm surprised by the amount of VRM this pcb alone pack, without knowing the exact IC part number used it's hard to tell more.
I would suggest you to test both connectors on the back of the pcb while the enclosure is running, would be interesting to know on which power plane it's running, 12v or 19.5v.
If you could try to read the number on the IC marked with a ?, the one that is connected to the small inductor, i would suppose this one would be the VRM controller.
IF the back connectors support 12v and would feed either the gpu and board, it would be nice if ASUS include them into the finished build.
Would be great to have the ability to either run both a psu or a power brick, maybe the only enclosure that would offer this option.

asus xg station pro main tbt board

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