Best Laptops for eGPU - June 2020 Thunderbolt 3 Laptop Buyer's Guide
 
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Best Laptops for eGPU - June 2020 Thunderbolt 3 Laptop Buyer's Guide  

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itsage
(@itsage)
Illustrious Member Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
 

As we've gained a better understanding of Thunderbolt 3 external GPU for laptops, the unknown rests on the performance of the host computer. Thin and light laptops ayore often a top choice to pair with an external GPU. This article serves as the laptop buying guide for choosing the best laptop for eGPU. Ultrabooks with Thunderbolt 3 port/s are considered eGPU compatible laptops. The best laptop with eGPU support are ones with eGFX certification from Intel. I've been testing a 2019 Razer Blade Stealth Ice Lake (i7-1065G7) + AORUS RTX 2080 Ti Gaming Box in Windows & Linux as well as a 2019 13-in MacBook Pro (i7-8569U) + VisionTek mini eGFX in macOS. These pairings yield the highest graphics performance in terms of Thunderbolt 3 laptop + external graphics card setups. The Razer Blade Stealth and Apple 13" MacBook Pro share many fundamental components with a handful of other Thunderbolt 3 laptops that we will explore below.

Intel Thunderbolt Technology website has a long list of certified Thunderbolt 3 laptops. Besides confirming Thunderbolt 3 connectivity that enables external GPU for laptop use, it lists standard specs such as hours of battery life, Intel Core i7/i5 CPU, internal graphics, DDR4 RAM, SSD, FHD or 4K display, usb 3.0 ports, weight, dimensions, bezel thickness, and etc. The multitude of choices and information can be overwhelming. Yet the specifications we are most interested in regarding external graphics card for laptop application are not readily available. So then what are the most important criteria you should consider when choosing the best laptop for eGPU pairing? Through thousands of implementations and build guides, we've distinguished three key features:

 

Laptops with ULV CPU

In this article, we're focusing on the newest crop of laptops with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. They now sport Intel 10th generation quad-core as well as hexa-core ULV processors, doubling and tripling the core count of the previous generations. The top turbo speed is dependent on both the CPU workload and the laptop's cooling system. If nearing the limits of TDP and CPU junction temperature (95˚-105˚ C), the CPU will throttle down performance. Therefore thin and light laptops are more than skin deep and the best laptop for eGPU requires a good cooling system to obtain peak performance.

With nearly identical architecture to the previous generation, the 8th generation ULV CPU offers performance improvements by running double the number of cores, often at a more efficient reduced speed to maintain limits and thereby giving greater overall workload. These ultrabooks are the first revision with quad-core processors and should be future-proof for the next few years. Intel 10th generation CPUs have two different families with Comet Lake coming with a top 6-core option and Ice Lake with 4-core with on-die Thunderbolt 3 controller. At this time, the i7-10710U configuration was the highest performing, readily available ULV CPU. Considering external graphics card for laptop application though, the integration of Thunderbolt 3 controller on i7-1065G7 makes it the more appealing choice due to less latency.

Spec Intel Core i7-1065G7 @ 1.30GHz Intel Core i7-10710U @ 1.10GHz
Base Speed 1.3 GHz 1.1 GHz
Turbo Speed Up to 3.9 GHz Up to 4.9 GHz
# of Physical Cores 4 (2 logical cores per physical) 6 (2 logical cores per physical)
Configurable TDP-up 25W 25W
First Seen on Chart Q2 2019 Q4 2019
Single Thread Rating 2,559 2,433
CPU Mark (Dec-2019) 10,634 13,115

Laptops & PCIe Lanes

Thunderbolt connection allows at most 4 PCI Express lanes between the host and the device. In an ULV CPU laptop, this means allocating 4 out of a maximum 16 PCIe lanes. There are several peripheral components inside a laptop that make use of these high-speed interconnect lanes. For a typical laptop the NVMe flash storage drive gets a x4 PCIe connection. The Wireless card and other components may use a few x1 PCIe connections. If there's a discrete graphics card, it will consume another x4 PCIe connection. Resource allocation conflicts arise when PC manufacturers decide how best to use these 16 lanes. Due to Thunderbolt 3 connectivity being a relatively new standard, Thunderbolt 3 ports are often not top priority.

Best Laptops for eGPU use

2018 Razer Core Blade vs. 2017 Dell XPS 13 9360

One performance hindrance is a x2 PCIe 3.0 via Thunderbolt 3 connection. This is applicable for most single TB3-port laptops, the Razer Blade Stealth being the exception. The Dell XPS 13 is perhaps one of the most popular ultrabooks in the past few years. Many wish to use it with an eGPU, but it's been plagued with only 2 lanes for its sole Thunderbolt 3 port. The good news is things are gradually changing with the emergence of Thunderbolt 3 external graphics solutions. At CES 2018 I had a discussion regarding this with Gary L., a Dell system engineer. He confirmed 2018 and newer XPS 13 would provide 4 PCIe lanes for its dual Thunderbolt 3 ports.

x4 PCIe lane configuration in laptops x2 PCIe lane in laptops is not ideal

The HWiNFO64 screen capture on the left shows PCIe configuration in the Razer Blade Stealth. The PCI Express Root Port #5 [A1/C1] attaches to a x4 connection that connects to the Thunderbolt 3 [Alpine Ridge] controller. This controller then hosts a single Thunderbolt 3 port. We also see PCI Express Root Port #3 [A1/C1] attaches to the Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1535 Network Adapter. Last but not least, PCI Express Root Port #9 [A1/C1] attaches to a Samsung NVMe 960 controller. The HWiNFO64 screen capture (on the right) of a Dell XPS 9360 shows its inferior x2 PCIe connection to the Thunderbolt 3 controller.

OPI Mode in Laptops

An infrequently discussed feature is the On Package DMI interconnect Interface (OPI). ULV processors such as the i7-8550U use OPI because, unlike HQ or HK processors, it lacks the Direct Media Interface (DMI 3.0) to facilitate communication between the PCH and CPU. The system designers can choose to either extract the most performance or optimize energy consumption on these ULV processors. OPI 2GT/s is ideal for extended mobile use at low-power tasks, while OPI 4GT/s is excellent for high-performance applications. These two OPI modes operate at a max theoretical throughput of 20Gbps and 40Gbps respectively. When you consider Intel's claim of 40Gbps bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, it makes total sense OPI 4GT/s is the more appropriate choice for eGPU use.

Unfortunately the OPI settings are not something users can change at their convenience. The settings are baked into the system firmware/BIOS. At the moment PC manufacturers do not disclose the OPI mode in their marketing information. The only way to find out is to run performance tests yourself. If the laptop has an NVMe storage controller, read speed should exceed 1,800 MB/s in benchmark software such as ATTO to confirm the laptop is set to OPI 4GT/s. 

AIDA64 GPGPU Razer Blade Stealth Ultrabook laptops ATTO Razer Blade Stealth Ultrabook laptops AIDA64 GPGPU Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook laptops ATTO XPS 13 Ultrabook laptops

As seen in the AIDA64 benchmarks above, OPI 4GT/s systems can extract the most out of Thunderbolt 3 eGPU. Keep in mind that Intel caps the throughput in these eGPU enclosures at roughly 22Gbps to preserve bandwidth for DisplayPort transmission over Thunderbolt 3. As external graphics adoption and demand grows, we hope Intel and partners dedicate more resources to optimize Thunderbolt 3 performance in general and external graphics use in specific.

Best Laptops for eGPU

With new laptops coming out frequently, we plan to update this article on a monthly basis. Below is the best eGPU laptop list that details the trinity of performance specs to host external GPUs. Relatively cheap eGPU laptops are Lenovo 700 series and HP Spectre 13 series. More premium ones are Apple 13" MacBook Pro, Lenovo X1 Carbon, and Razer Blade Stealth. If you have an Intel 8th gen or newer quad-core+ laptop not in this list and can confirm x4 PCIe + OPI 4GT/s, please share your findings by posting a build guide in our forum. We'll keep this list up-to-date with user reports.

 

Lenovo Yoga 700 Series

$799

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Lenovo

HP Spectre X360

$1,099

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

HP Spectre
13

$1,199

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Lenovo Yoga 900 Series

$1,049

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Lenovo

Dell XPS 13

$1,399

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Dell

 

Apple MacBook Pro 13

$1,799

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 4 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

$2,099

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 10th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Lenovo

 

Higher performance laptops?

Intel released 8th-generation 6-core (hexa)  and 9th/10th-generation 8-core (octa) Q 45W CPUs. These come packaged in laptops with larger chassis to accommodate more substantial cooling systems, coupled with bulkier power supplies to drive them. A bigger package that packs a bigger punch. It's definitely worth the performance advantage if you can trade portability for performance.

Older laptop options?

eGPU.io user builds listed as 32Gbps-TB3 are confirmed to offer full Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth performance. At the link below, you can select LCD, CPU and then review the System Brand and Model widget for options to consider. Proceed to review user builds with your targeted system.

https://egpu.io/external-gpu-implementations-table/?table_filter ="32Gbps-TB3 "

This topic was modified 6 hours ago

external graphics card builds
best laptops for external GPU
eGPU enclosure buyer's guide

 
2020 13" MacBook Pro [10th,4C,G] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB3 (AORUS Gaming Box) + Win10 2004 [build link]  


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Fred_K
(@fred_k)
Eminent Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

Well written guide! I am excited to see the recent development with eGPUs. My next laptop will definitely be a thin and light laptop with an eGPU. Personally I hope Apple will release a 13" MBP with 4-core CPU in the near future (Or even 6-core 15") with native eGPU support.

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

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Viktor Sinelnikov
(@viktor_sinelnikov)
New Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

I heard that this processor doesn't work on 4.0GGz in gaming. It reaches it, works 5 mins, then gets overheated and throttle to 1.8GGz. Is it true?

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

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Laxlad
(@laxlad)
Active Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

Very informative article , but it does leave me with some questions. About the pcie lanes since there are 12 total if I was going to purchase a ultrabook 2-in-1 with a dedicated graphics card would it be better to get a SATA3 ssd instead of an NVMe(because NVME takes up x4 pcie lanes). I only ask because of the upcoming ASUS Zenbook Flip 15 (i7-8550u, 16gb ram ddr4, GTX1050) UX561UD. It gives the option of and HDD, sata3 ssd, or a pcie ssd instead. Does a sata3 ssd take up any pcie lanes? This leaves me to wonder if the advertised Thunderbolt 3 will be a full 4x pcie or it will be 2x pcie. Sorry if these are dumb questions I am completely new to this.

In other words
12 pcie lanes
-4 lanes for dedicated gpu
-4 lanes for NVME storage if chosen
-1 lane wifi
-1 maybe usb 3.1

https://www.asus.com/2-in-1-PCs/ASUS-ZenBook-Flip-UX561UD/ The website says that the thunderbolt 3 has 40gbs transfer speeds.

I also used this site for reference
http://www.startlr.com/asus-zenbook-flip-15-ux561ud/

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

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Eightarmedpet
(@eightarmedpet)
Noble Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago
 

That Razer core looks dead nice... have I ever mentioned my desire for more compact high end enclosures? 😉

Also, surely the MacBook Pro 13” deserves a recommendation as one of the few (only 2?) with built in official egpu support (ok, coming very soon)?

2017 13" MacBook Pro Touch Bar
GTX1060 + AKiTiO Thunder3 + Win10
GTX1070 + Sonnet Breakaway Box + Win10
GTX1070 + Razer Core V1 + Win10
Vega 56 + Razer Core V1 + macOS + Win10
Vega 56 + Mantiz Venus + macOS + W10

---

LG 5K Ultrafine flickering issue fix

 
2017 13" MacBook Pro [7th,2C,U] + RX 5700 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.15.4 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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Eightarmedpet
(@eightarmedpet)
Noble Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago
 

I have my doubts over these latest gen CPU's too, most games favour clock speed over core and I imaging the extra cores mean more heat and quicker throttling. Of course thats all just guess work from me, going to try to look up some comparison benchmarks...

2017 13" MacBook Pro Touch Bar
GTX1060 + AKiTiO Thunder3 + Win10
GTX1070 + Sonnet Breakaway Box + Win10
GTX1070 + Razer Core V1 + Win10
Vega 56 + Razer Core V1 + macOS + Win10
Vega 56 + Mantiz Venus + macOS + W10

---

LG 5K Ultrafine flickering issue fix

 
2017 13" MacBook Pro [7th,2C,U] + RX 5700 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.15.4 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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4chip4
(@4chip4)
Estimable Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Even if you have a game which mismanages cores/multithreading, Windows has a processor affinity mechanism in task manager that, err... manages this:

...and since the dual-core turbo-boost of 8th gen CPUs is actually considerably higher than 7th gen, there should be no reason why they would work not only as good as, but better than 7th gen CPUs. My experience in games and VR has been improved quite a bit by going from 7500U to 8550U. YMMV.

2017 HP Spectre x360 15 i7-8550U GTX150 + GTX970@16Gbps-TB3 (HP Omen Accelerator) + Oculus Rift + Win10 (no guide)
HP Omen Accelerator Thunderbolt 3 enclosure legs stand removal walkthrough
Employed by HP, but my posts and opinions expressed on this forum are my own.


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4chip4
(@4chip4)
Estimable Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

@laxlad The PCI lane allocation is a hardware (motherboard) thing, changing how the drive is connected will not change this, unless the laptop with the SATA drive physically doesn't have the NVMe port (and has a different motherboard, which is unlikely). Normally the non-NVMe option exists to free that port for use with another device or make the HDD cheaper, I have not yet seen a single device where those lanes were allocated to TB3.

2017 HP Spectre x360 15 i7-8550U GTX150 + GTX970@16Gbps-TB3 (HP Omen Accelerator) + Oculus Rift + Win10 (no guide)
HP Omen Accelerator Thunderbolt 3 enclosure legs stand removal walkthrough
Employed by HP, but my posts and opinions expressed on this forum are my own.


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chx
 chx
(@chx)
Estimable Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

12 pcie lanes
-4 lanes for dedicated gpu
-4 lanes for NVME storage if chosen
-1 lane wifi

USB C is provided by the Thunderbolt circuit as far as I know so we don't need separate lanes. Indeed the laptop you linked has two Thunderbolt 3 ports which makes 4 PCIe lanes a hard requirement. The laptop either connected the GPU over x2 or the NVMe socket only has two lanes. My bet is on the latter -- but the GPU wouldn't be bottlenecked by x2, it's only an 1050.

Lenovo ThinkPad 25 -- GALAX SNPR TB3 1060 -- Lenovo Graphics Dock -- Benq BL2411PT - - two PackedPixels - Dasung not-eReader backer


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Eightarmedpet
(@eightarmedpet)
Noble Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago

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