Nvidia Optimus: Dell XPS 13 + AKiTiO Thunder3 + GTX 980

eGPU Development 6 Comments

Frustrated with the many road blocks in macOS and the inability to get a fully working Thunderbolt 3 eGPU with my Late 2016 MacBook Pro, I decided to try its direct competitor, Dell XPS 13. This XPS 13 comes with a 13.3″ QHD+ touch screen, Intel® Core™ i7-6560U, Iris Graphics 540, and one Thunderbolt 3 port. Overall it’s as close to an apple to apple comparison to the 13″ non-touchbar MacBook Pro.

XPS 13 with Thunderbolt 3 GTX 980 eGPU

Unlike the many hours modifying system files in macOS again and again for the MacBook Pro to communicate with my AKiTiO Thunder3 enclosure, the Dell XPS 13 immediately prompted me to select my Thunderbolt approval preference.

Thunderbolt 3 Windows 10 Approval Notification

Once the GTX 980 Thunderbolt 3 eGPU got approved to connect, Windows 10 was able to download and install Nvidia drivers automatically through Device Manager. The drivers come with a Connect/Disconnect GPU utility in the system tray which allows an eGPU to be hot-pluggable.

Nvidia GPU Activity utility to connect and disconnect eGPU

Nvidia Optimus is also working great to drive the internal display. I ran Unigine benchmarks with and without an external display attached. The average performance loss with the eGPU driving the internal display is about 15%. Not a terrible compromise IMO.

Dell XPS 13 + GTX 980 Thunderbolt 3 eGPU

Benchmark ScoresIris 540GTX 980 TB3 eGPUeGPU w/ External Display
Unigine Valley223 (5.3 FPS)2163 (51.7 FPS)2470 (59 FPS)
Unigine Heaven142 (5.6 FPS)1262 (50.1 FPS)1484 (58.9 FPS)

GTX 980 Thunderbolt 3 eGPU optimus benchmarking

I didn’t want to bend the inner enclosure of the AKiTiO Thunder3 so I removed the PCIe & Thunderbolt 3 boards. The Dell DA-2 220W PSU has enough juice to power this setup without issues. As confirmed by several forum members (Splitframe and Richard), these Dell XPS laptops are running at only 16Gbps (x2 3.0) PCIe bandwidth instead of 32Gbps (x4 3.0) which Thunderbolt 3 should be running at. Nando4 provided his insights in our eGPU forum if you’d like to read the full explanation.

CUDA shows eGPU 16Gbps speed with Dell XPS 13

Check out eGPU.io forum for latest Thunderbolt 3 eGPU testing and development. Please share your thoughts in the comments or in our forum.

 

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Alex
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Alex

How’s the gaming experience on your end? I’m getting fps drops and stutters on CSGO under Windows 10 with an XPS 13 + GTX 970. I thought it might be thermal throttling, but after undervolting I’m getting the result.

Shashank
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Shashank

By the way, Dell has released a new update of their BIOS, Thunderbolt controller driver and Thunderbolt firmware on 20th December.
I hope some of the connectivity issues can be fixed by that.

Marko Ahokas
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Marko Ahokas

Thanks for a great description. What device are you using attached to the GPU?

/Marko