Gigabyte pulled a Hulk move by shredding the clothes off a mini-ITX GTX 1080. If the plastic cooling shroud was on, the massive 130mm cooling fan would have chopped it into pieces. All this transformation was done to fit a beast of a graphics card into the smallest PCIe Thunderbolt 3 eGFX enclosure on the market. The result is the AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box.
From the outside the Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box looks identical to its older and slightly less powerful brother, the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box. Seven screws and one metal armor removed shows the major difference between these two – the graphics card itself. All other components are the same.
To handle the increased TDP, Gigabyte implemented a much bigger cooling fan for the GPU. While the AORUS 1070 Gaming Box uses an off-the-shelf GV-N1070IXOC-8GD which has a 90mm fan, the GTX 1080 in this Gaming Box is custom-built with a massive 130mm cooling fan. Due to spacial constraints, there’s no room for a typical shroud covering the GPU heat sink and other bits. In my opinion, it looks awesome naked.
Unlike the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box at launch, the Thunderbolt firmware of this AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box does not suffer from H2D issue. When paired with a Thunderbolt 3 laptop that has full 4 PCI Express lanes for its Thunderbolt 3 port, Device-to-Host/Memory Read should show 2,6XX MB/s and Host-to-Device/Memory Write should show 2,2XX MB/s in either CUDA-Z (Nvidia GPUs only) or AIDA64 GPGPU benchmark. Keep in mind, macOS and Boot Camp Windows via apple_set_os.efi may show 1,6XX MB/s for Host-to-Device. This is a fairly recent observation by eGPU.io forum member lexine and confirmed by others. We’re still gathering more information to determine whether this is caused by the newer firmware of the Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro.
The remainder of the components are direct carryovers from the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box. The PSU is an Enhance Flex ATX 450W unit that features a single rail 12V. Its 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 1080 Gaming Box turns on when there’s communication with a Thunderbolt 3 host. The enclosure fans are two tiny 40mm units that omit a buzzing noise during use. For more details, please read my AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box review.
The main board contains all crucial components of a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure as well as rear expansion I/Os. On the top side I spotted a TI83 USB-C controller and DSL6450 Intel Thunderbolt 3 controller. The Winbond EEPROM is located on the bottom side. The RGB LED strip is on this same board and can only be controlled by AORUS Gaming Engine software in Windows.
Downsides are build quality and limited upgrade options. Gigabyte essentially built a metal enclosure to barely contain a small PSU, two tiny fans, and the naked mini-ITX GTX 1080. The benefits are a light and compact external graphics card that’s portable enough to be a regular travel companion. The sides of this Gaming Box are 90% mesh to allow sufficient airflow. This is essential to prevent thermal buildup and overheating given the tight space inside.
I’ve tried to swap a few AMD mini-ITX GPUs in this AORUS Gaming Box enclosure with mixed success. The only card I got to run was a Sapphire Radeon R9 285 Compact. This GPU has the same 8-pin power connector as the mini-ITX GTX 1080. My attempts with an HP OEM RX 580 mini-ITX have failed so far. While the GPU physically fits inside this enclosure nicely, the 6-pin power connector presents a challenge that I’ve yet to overcome. I remain hopeful that Gigabyte is working on an AORUS RX Vega Nano Gaming Box.
Power delivery and additional USB ports are nice features for Thunderbolt 3 ultrabooks. 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.
Testings & Benchmarks
Of great interest is whether this new Gaming Box works in macOS High Sierra as an eGPU. When released on September 25th, only a select few AMD graphics cards were suitable for external use. Since then there have been positive developments to make use of Nvidia graphics cards as Thunderbolt 3 eGPU in macOS 10.13. One of the workarounds was discovered by a new eGPU.io member, yifanlu. He has created an installer package, NVIDIAEGPUSupport for ease of implementation. I followed his instructions to install this workaround and was able use AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box with my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro running 10.13 [17A405] as well as 10.13.1 [17B48].
Nvidia web drivers in macOS High Sierra are still very much a work in progress. To extract the most performance from an Nvidia eGPU, Windows 10 is the more appropriate operating system to conduct testing. The Thunderbolt 3 host I used for benchmarking this AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box is an Alienware 15 R3. It has a quad-core i7-7700HQ processor and an Nvidia GTX 1070 discrete graphics card. I know owners of a laptop with these specs are unlikely to need an eGPU. The reason I chose this laptop is to show the potential of eGPU were PC manufacturers to build more laptops catering specifically to external graphics use.
As discussed in my review of the Dell Precision 7520, the best Thunderbolt 3 eGPU host is one with a quad-core processor, integrated graphics only, and direct x4 PCIe lanes over Thunderbolt 3 connection to the CPU. There’s no such machine on the market that I’m aware of. This AW15R3 comes close in that it meets 2 of the 3 requirements. The discrete GTX 1070 can be disabled through Device Manager so that it works as an iGPU-only laptop.
One observation I had while benchmarking the discrete GTX 1070 graphics card is how loud the Alienware 15 R3’s cooling system was. The fans ran full speed for as long as the dGPU was taxed. I measured a range of 68-71 dB at the two rear exhaust vents of the laptop. Temperature wise, it was averaging 60˚C at these two vents. The Alienware 15 R3 ran much cooler and quieter with eGPU use. The only noticeable heat and noise were from the front of the Gaming Box where two tiny 40mm enclosure fans reside. Heat and noise generation from the AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box is considerably lower than the AW15R3 (around 57 dB and 38˚C).
In gaming laptops, the dGPU level of performance output based on power source is another concern. The discrete GTX 1070 performs best while plugged in and Energy preference set to Best Performance. During battery use, the system is optimized to preserve battery life rather than maximize performance. Nvidia Experience also caps the FPS at 30 by default. This gaming laptop is very much intended to be used stationary and plugged in.
So who needs this much graphics performance in such a small piece of equipment? The Gigabyte AORUS team would probably say that’s the wrong question to ask. The AORUS brand is operating with a pioneer spirit that’s all about speed. So let’s take a look at the performance differences between the GTX 1060, GTX 1070, and GTX 1080 when used as external graphics cards.
I ran the same synthetic benchmarks at 1080 (FHD), 1440 (QHD), and 2160 (UHD 4K). Here are the specifications of the four graphics cards I used for this review. The benefits of higher performing graphics cards start to show at higher resolutions.
- EVGA GTX 1060 3GB – 1,835 MHz – 1,152 cores – 9 CUs
- Gigabyte GTX 1070 8GB – 1,721 MHz – 1,920 cores – 15 CUs
- Dell GTX 1070 8GB – 1,695 MHz – 2,048 cores – 16 CUs
- AORUS GTX 1080 8GB – 1,733 MHz – 2,560 cores – 20 CUs
|AW15R3 @ 1920x1080||GTX 1060 eGPU||GTX 1070 eGPU||GTX 1070 dGPU||GTX 1080 eGPU|
|3DMark Time Spy||5,406||7,730||8,858||9,452|
|3DMark Fire Strike||10,313||14,147||16,928||16,669|
|Tomb Raider 2013||89.9 FPS||120.6 FPS||140.7 FPS||141.8 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||66.2 FPS||87.3 FPS||105.6 FPS||112.6 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||52.7 FPS||79.0 FPS||87.9 FPS||88.7 FPS|
|Hitman||47.6 FPS||64.4 FPS||65.5 FPS||71.0 FPS|
|AW15R3 @ 2560x1440||GTX 1060 eGPU||GTX 1070 eGPU||GTX 1070 dGPU||GTX 1080 eGPU|
|3DMark Time Spy||3,517||5,421||5,556||6,498|
|3DMark Fire Strike||6,277||9,196||10,951||11,068|
|Tomb Raider 2013||61 FPS||85.9 FPS||91.6 FPS||105.8 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||36.4 FPS||59.6 FPS||74.8 FPS||75.1 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||42.1 FPS||57.8 FPS||68.6 FPS||71.2 FPS|
|Hitman||29.1 FPS||43.3 FPS||49.9 FPS||51.3 FPS|
|AW15R3 @ 3840x2160||GTX 1060 eGPU||GTX 1070 eGPU||GTX 1070 dGPU||GTX 1080 eGPU|
|3DMark Time Spy||1,773||2,756||2,723||3,298|
|3DMark Fire Strike||3,445||5,110||5,919||6,189|
|Tomb Raider 2013||30.5 FPS||44.5 FPS||44.8 FPS||55.9 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||12.0 FPS||34.2 FPS||38.6 FPS||42.3 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||20.6 FPS||36.1 FPS||40.7 FPS||43.2 FPS|
|Hitman||11.1 FPS||19.3 FPS||22.9 FPS||24.5 FPS|
External graphics performance disparity is appreciable going from GTX 1060 to GTX 1070 and from GTX 1070 to GTX 1080. Gaming at higher resolutions reduces frame rates as well as Thunderbolt 3 performance loss. Unlike larger eGPU enclosures, the custom enclosure for the AORUS Gaming Box limits your options for future upgrades. Therefore, my recommendation is to get the best one you can afford.
The Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1070 is already the best value for a full feature ready-to-go eGPU ($570 in the US currently). The AORUS GTX 1080 Gaming Box kicks it up a notch, priced at $700 with the performance improvements to match. This eGPU is a portable powerhouse that truly shines in QHD and UHD gaming.