Conflict makes life interesting. For eGPU enthusiasts, this could not be more true. We want thin and light ultrabooks to fit our mobile lifestyle and at the same time demand capable gaming laptops or workstations wherever we want. This wish is slowly coming to fruition, but the cost is high. The average price of an eGPU enclosure is $300, and the majority of enclosures currently available are rather bulky, negating the portability of an ultrabook. Naysayers would deem such a setup a waste and claim the money could be better spent on a proper gaming desktop.
Enter the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box, the newcomer to a growing list of external graphics options. Gigabyte’s goal with its external GPU solution is to lower the eGPU entry price and minimize its physique. It accomplishes this by building a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure around a Mini ITX-sized GTX 1070 graphics card. Gigabyte manufactures both the enclosure and GPU so it can afford to undercut the competition. Priced at $599, it’s about $100 less than building a comparable eGPU with a GTX 1070 ($400) and Thunderbolt 3 enclosure ($300). The GTX 1070 Gaming Box is featured through AORUS, Gigabyte’s premium brand that caters to gamers.
Having been accustomed to handling regular size external GPU enclosures, my first reaction upon seeing the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box was to wonder where the rest of the components went. It’s significantly smaller than the other enclosures on the market. For example, the AKiTiO Node is more than four times the metric volume of the GTX 1070 Gaming Box. The second smallest eGPU enclosure, Razer Core, is more than twice the size. Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 is by far the lightest eGPU as well.
How did Gigabyte manage this? It starts with the light and rather flimsy construction of the inner metal frame. This component serves as the base that wraps around the front and back and is secured at the top by a 6mm wide metal retaining bar. It takes a steady hand with a light touch not to break things when handling the internal components of this box. The enclosure was clearly not meant to be user-serviceable. The outer case reinforces the whole unit, and the enclosure feels much sturdier with it on. The sides are 90% mesh to allow sufficient airflow. This is essential to prevent thermal buildup and overheating given the tight space inside.
The graphics card is an off-the-shelf Mini ITX variant of Gigabyte GTX 1070 GPU offerings. The exact part number is GV-N1070IXOC-8GD. Due to current high mining demand, this graphics card alone commands at least $500. I commend Gigabyte for committing a good quantity of these GPUs for the AORUS Gaming Box launch. Miners, you are more than welcome to buy these boxes. Make good use of the GTX 1070 GPU then sell the Thunderbolt 3 enclosures to us for $100 a piece. Everybody wins!
Gigabyte’s PCB expertise shows in the arrangement of the Thunderbolt 3 board. It was able to fit not only the crucial components for a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU main board but also additional rear I/Os and a strip of LEDs. On the top side I spotted the usual suspects, a TI83 USB-C controller and DSL6450 Intel Thunderbolt 3 controller. Flipped to the bottom I found another old friend, the Winbond EEPROM. Nando suggested this EEPROM stores the enclosure’s firmware that dictates Thunderbolt eGPU functionality and USB-C power delivery. Further study of this component would help us understand more about Thunderbolt 3 devices in general and eGPU use in specific.
An eGPU enclosure this size necessitates a tiny power supply and little fans. This is the weak point of the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box in terms of noise level. The 40mm fans inside this enclosure are not excessively loud, but they run at higher speeds and therefore have a high-pitched buzzing noise. The power supply is an Enhance Flex ATX 450W unit that features a single rail 12V. Its custom wiring harness provides one 24-pin power cable for the Thunderbolt 3 board and one 6 + 2-pin PCIe power cable for the graphics card. There’s no power switch on the PSU. The AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box turns on when there’s communication with a Thunderbolt 3 host.
The RGB LEDs are on-board and placed in a rather unfortunate location. They’re at the outside edge of the Thunderbolt 3 PCB, in direct view when you look at this enclosure from the side. The default settings are very bright. In order to change the brightness or completely turn them off, you’ll need AORUS Gaming Engine software in Windows. I set the LEDs to Monitoring mode which changes colors based on the GPU temperature. In this RGB mode, Green means “Go” and Red means “Stop.” It confirms my distaste for RGB in computer peripherals especially when they remind me of traffic laws and cops.
Testings & Benchmarks
Shortly after the news broke on this Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box, many eGPU.io members expressed interest in using it with Macs. I obliged and paired this 1070 Gaming Box with four Mac laptops that span across three Thunderbolt generations. The featured B&W photo you see starts with the Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box on the far left, mid 2015 11″ MacBook Air, mid 2017 13″ MacBook Pro, late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro, and late 2011 17″ MacBook Pro. The good news is they all work with this gaming box in macOS Sierra 10.12 using goalque’s automate-eGPU script. In fact it was a very easy process, and I was up and running with this eGPU within 10 minutes (YMMV; I’ve only done this hundreds of time in the past year).
Power delivery and additional USB ports are nice features for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pros. There are four standard USB ports in the rear of the box, one of which is orange and serves as a charging port for mobile phones. It has Quick Charge support (QC 3.0) but does not transmit data. The other three USB 3.0 ports can be used with peripheral devices. Power delivery (PD 3.0) is as promised at 100W when connecting with the supplied half-meter long Thunderbolt 3 cable. I tried a 2m Thunderbolt 3 cable, and PD drops to 60W.
Regarding the next macOS release High Sierra 10.13, the verdict is still out whether Nvidia GPUs will receive external graphics support from Apple. Recent news of Nvidia officially joining the eGPU market suggests the company does not want to miss out on the action. I will be trying this AORUS Gaming Box Thunderbolt 3 board with an RX 470 to confirm whether it works in 10.13 beta. We’ve also made suggestions to Gigabyte US and AMD to join forces and introduce a Radeon option. We got confirmation RX Vega cards have native eGPU support in High Sierra. My wishful thinking is that we’ll see an AORUS RX Vega Nano Gaming Box by the end of the year.
On the Windows side of things, I’d say this enclosure is my go-to recommendation for most eGPU gamers. It’s a ready-to-go solution right out of the box and feels complete with extras such as the carrying bag and AORUS Gaming Engine software (read my unboxing post for more details and photos). I’ve tried this GTX 1070 Gaming Box with my Z170 Thunderbolt 3 Test Bench, XPS 9550, and XPS 9250 2-in-1 alongside the Mac laptops in Bootcamp.
It’s essentially plug-and-play for the PC Thunderbolt 3 hosts. The Mac laptops are more challenging, and the degree of difficulty varies depending on whether there’s a discrete graphics card. The 13″ Thunderbolt 3 Macbook Pro was fairly simple because it only has an iGPU, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. The 15″ Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro presents multiple challenges for an eGPU implementation in Windows via Bootcamp. I won’t go into details in this review because we’re working on a comprehensive Bootcamp eGPU setup guide for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro.
One performance flaw we observed with this Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box is the Host-to-Device speed. This is a well-documented issue we found with other Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures. Intel has approved newer firmware to remedy this issue. It’s disappointing to see Gigabyte has not implemented the newest Thunderbolt firmware prior to launch. We contacted Gigabyte about this, and it’s working on releasing the Thunderbolt firmware update soon. The launch units have firmware version 25.25 as shown in macOS System Information under Thunderbolt tree.
To present a consistent set of performance data, I decided to run all benchmarks through the Z170 Thunderbolt 3 Test Bench. It was paired with a 4K external display so that we can see the GTX 1070 eGPU performance at 1080, 1440, and 4K. I tried to emulate internal display acceleration mode by feeding output to the 4K display through the Test Bench’s on-board HDMI rather than display ports on the eGPU. Unfortunately Nvidia Optimus doesn’t work very reliably for this mode. I’ve had better success using AMD XConnect on this Test Bench.
I also ran this GTX 1070 as a discrete GPU on this Test Bench. Keep in mind the current Thunderbolt firmware of this 1070 Gaming Box suffers from the half Host-to-Device bandwidth issue. Once Gigabyte releases a firmware update to remedy this, we expect eGPU performance to improve. Here are the numbers.
|Gigabyte GTX 1070||FHD dGPU||FHD eGPU||QHD dGPU||QHD eGPU||UHD dGPU||UHD eGPU|
|Unigine Valley||91.6 FPS||78.7 FPS||55.9 FPS||50.9 FPS||25.6 FPS||24.3 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven||91.1 FPS||76.1 FPS||54.1 FPS||48.1 FPS||23.5 FPS||22.2 FPS|
|Unigine Superposition||93.4 FPS||85.0 FPS||60.3 FPS||56.6 FPS||30.6 FPS||29.7 FPS|
|3DMark Time Spy||60.9 FPS||35.3 FPS||37.6 FPS||34.5 FPS||17.9 FPS||17.0 FPS|
|3DMark Fire Strike||84.1 FPS||70.6 FPS||49.2 FPS||42.7 FPS||26.6 FPS||24.8 FPS|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||60.0 FPS||55.8 FPS||60.0 FPS||57.1 FPS||44.5 FPS||43.7 FPS|
|Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon||91.3 FPS||48.6 FPS||66.0 FPS||40.3 FPS||36.2 FPS||27.1 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||119.9 FPS||79.9 FPS||78.0 FPS||66.4 FPS||43.1 FPS||38.6 FPS|
Conflicts can be good. It motivates us to consider alternatives and find workarounds. The Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box is a mighty example of solving eGPU gaming conflicts. It provides the best price to performance ratio and is the most portable external graphics solution available. This tiny external graphics box will be spending countless hours in all corners of the world improving frame rates. It raises the bar for the competition to lower Thunderbolt 3 enclosure pricing.
As a welcoming gesture to the eGPU community, Gigabyte US has extended an AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box giveaway for eGPU.io members and /r/eGPU subreddit subscribers. If you’d like to participate in this giveaway, please leave a comment in the discussion thread of this review. The lucky winner will be chosen at the end of August.