External graphics solutions have been around for almost a decade. Yet they’re a foreign concept for the majority of computer users. Some say it’s the high cost. Others blame it on the performance loss. This struggle is not unique to external GPU. We’ve seen this time and time again with new and developing technologies.
One major indicator of mainstream adoption is key player participation. With Apple’s official support of external GPU in macOS High Sierra and HP’s entry to the Thunderbolt 3 external graphics enclosure market, we believe it’s primetime for eGPU. Let’s take a look at the OMEN Accelerator by HP.
Similar to the OMEN X desktop, the tilted angle design causes this box to take up more space than it should. According to the specifications on the OMEN by HP GA1-1000 Accelerator Shell product page, the dimensions are 15.75 x 7.87 x 7.87 in (400 x 200 x 200 mm). We decided to measure the tallest point to the bottom of the feet and side to side. In real-world use, the dimensions are 15.75 x 10.5 x 10.75 in (400 x 267 x 273 mm). Therefore, the OMEN Accelerator currently holds the title for the largest Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure footprint. For more pictures and unboxing, check out this post.
HP claims this 45º-tilted design helps with cooling. We took the enclosure completely apart. Between the inner metal cage and outer plastic shell, there’s not a whole lot of airflow through these vents. Seen from the outside, cutouts on the plastic shell give an illusion of sufficient cool air intake. Vent holes on the inner metal cage significantly reduce the opening surface for airflow.
The main Thunderbolt 3 board is well-sorted and contains all expansion ports. The rear I/O are 4x standard USB ports, 1x USB-C port and 1x Ethernet port. Inside the enclosure HP has a neat solution for connecting the SATA drive by using a single flex cable to handle both data and power. This cable is rather fragile so take special care when mounting/unmounting the SATA drive so not to damage it. On this main board, we spotted the familiar components of a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure: TI83 USB-C controller, DSL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, and Winbond chipset.
Components per dollar, this OMEN Accelerator wins hands-down. It’s confusing though because if HP’s aim was to provide an affordable eGPU enclosure, it could have kept the design simpler and used many fewer parts. In return HP could sell the OMEN Accelerator for an even lower price. Taking this enclosure apart, we counted a total of 49 Phillips screws and 15 individual components.
As an example, this eGPU enclosure can be used with just its skeleton, sitting on one side to take up less space. Such arrangement provides a lot more airflow and much easier access to internal components. The plastic shell and legs add no value other than extending the current OMEN design language. Another strike against the plastic shell is the way the top cover operates. It wobbles during opening and closing. The lever is flimsy, and the cover lacks the substantial weight to fully sit in alignment with the bottom shell when closing. You always have to give it an extra push to secure.
The Achilles’ heel of this OMEN Accelerator is its power supply. It’s the only Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure to use a standard-size ATX PSU. It’s massive compared to SFX and custom mATX power supplies in other enclosures we’ve reviewed. While we agree the ATX form factor makes swapping the PSU a breeze, the selling point of this eGPU enclosure is that it’s the most affordable, ready-to-go solution on the market.
The 500W power supply is rated for 80 Plus Bronze efficiency, and the 12V is carried through multi-rails and capped at 420W. We wish the budget spent on the extra “show” pieces had been allocated to the “go” bits. The enclosure front cooling fan is an ADDA 120mm unit. It exhausts hot air through the front fascia. In a menacing way, it seems the Voodoo face breathes hot air when you put this thing through its paces. It can get loud too. The noise level as observed is more noticeable out the rear end than the front (mid 60s dB vs. low 50s dB).
Usability-wise, the power supply is placed in such a position that makes access to the PCIe slot cumbersome. For such a large enclosure, there’s very little space for an average adult’s hands to reach inside this enclosure to mount and unmount a graphics card. The mood light LED module is another showy component that’s not very user-friendly. It obstructs the travel path of the graphics card. Even though there’s enough room to install a longer card, you can’t physically get it through unless you remove this lump. The two mounting screws for this LED module are behind the front fascia. Last but not least, the secure screw for the graphics card can only be accessed through a small red hole labeled GFX SCREW. You’ll need a long thin screw driver to secure and unsecure the graphics card.
Testing & Benchmarks
HP Marketing and Support states this eGPU enclosure is for the HP line of Thunderbolt 3 laptops. Worry not because the main board components mean full compatibility with macOS and Windows. If your computer has Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, you’ll most likely be able to use this OMEN Accelerator Shell. The same goes for older Thunderbolt I and Thunderbolt II computers. The Apple USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter is the only extra part needed.
Power Delivery at 60W is suitable for many ultrabooks. While requiring 87W, the 2016 15″ MacBook Pro was still able to retain its full charge while using the OMEN Accelerator. The Thunderbolt firmware version on this OMEN Accelerator is 25.25. We observed no H2D issues. HP did its homework and packed this enclosure with many features and the latest Thunderbolt eGPU firmware version.
In macOS the expansion ports work well via direct Thunderbolt 3 connection. They also work on older Thunderbolt Macs. If your Mac is currently running High Sierra, we recommend pairing this enclosure with AMD GPUs (list of supported cards). Nvidia users should stay with macOS Sierra to retain external graphics functionality. There’s no confirmed workaround for Nvidia eGPU in 10.13.
In Windows the overall experience is plug-and-play. The OMEN Accelerator software is a nice touch. It allows you to monitor network speed through the expansion Ethernet port and manually switch between eGPU and dGPU (if the host computer has one). Keep in mind Boot Camp mode for a Mac to run Windows has several challenges. The first challenge is that Apple’s firmware tends to deactivate the Mac’s iGPU. The second issue is resource allocation for eGPU that causes error 12. We detailed a step-by-step Boot Camp eGPU setup guide for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro if you need help. Last but not least, the expansion ports may not have full compatibility through the Apple USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter for older Macs.
We paired the OMEN Accelerator with an AMD Radeon R9 Fury then ran benchmarks with three Thunderbolt 3 laptops in external display mode. These hosts represent the majority of eGPU-capable ultrabooks available today. The results provide an overview of the performance differences in quad-core vs. dual-core processors. Two primary performance hindrances in many ultrabooks including the Lenovo Yoga 720 we tested are x2 PCIe lanes over Thunderbolt connection and low power OPI GT2 mode. As seen in the Yoga 720’s AIDA64 results, Memory Read and Write are half bandwidth compared to the other hosts.
- Late 2016 15″ Apple MacBook Pro | iGPU & dGPU| 6th gen Intel quad-core i7-6700HQ | x4 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to CPU
- Mid 2017 13″ Razer Blade Stealth | iGPU only | 7th gen Intel dual-core i7-7500U | x4 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to PCH | OPI GT4
- Late 2017 13″ Lenovo Yoga 720 | iGPU only | 8th gen Intel quad-core i5-8250U | x2 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to PCH | OPI GT2
|OMEN Accelerator + R9 Fury||2016 15" MacBook Pro||2017 13" Blade Stealth||2017 13" Yoga 720|
|Unigine Valley||65.7 FPS||65.0 FPS||53.6 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven||57.3 FPS||55.3 FPS||53.0 FPS|
|Unigine Superposition||65.6 FPS||64.9 FPS||64.7 FPS|
|3DMark Time Spy||29.7 FPS||28.8 FPS||29.8 FPS|
|3DMark Fire Strike||34.8 FPS||34.2 FPS||35.3 FPS|
|Tomb Raider 2013||82.1 FPS||81.6 FPS||82.3 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||80.9 FPS||82.9 FPS||70.9 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||66.3 FPS||64.2 FPS||52.0 FPS|
|Hitman||72.6 FPS||61.7 FPS||42.8 FPS|
Retailing at $299, the OMEN Accelerator is the most affordable full-feature Thunderbolt 3 external graphics enclosure as of Fall 2017. It’s compatible with both macOS and Windows. At first glance, the design is polarizing and the footprint too big. There are also usability concerns with component placement inside the enclosure. Nevertheless the features provided by this all-in-one docking eGPU solution make it a great value.
With Intel pushing Thunderbolt 3 technology aggressively by dropping licensing fees and making ULV quad-core available in ultrabooks, participation by HP in the developing eGPU enclosure market is certainly a good omen. We sincerely hope HP can work its magic through this eGPU voodoo doll to accelerate mainstream adoption of external graphics.