Released in spring 2016, the original Razer Core was the first certified Thunderbolt 3 eGFX. Razer scored another first with the updated version of this handsome-looking enclosure, the Razer Core V2. It’s currently the only available enclosure to sport a dual Thunderbolt 3 controller setup. This design separates external GPU and expansion I/O workload. Two TB3 controllers run in parallel and are daisy-chained through a single Thunderbolt 3 connection to the host computer.
The Razer Core V2’s outer shell remains the same as the V1, but its inner carrier has more room to accommodate larger graphics cards. Other refinements inside the box include the TI83 USB-C controller for better macOS compatibility and higher Power Delivery.
Razer’s claim of dedicated PCIe lanes for both eGPU and expansion ports is misleading. While one DSL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller hosts the external GPU and the other hosts the I/O, they can only share at most 4 PCIe lanes via a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. Intel Thunderbolt Software shows two Thunderbolt 3 devices both named “Razer Core” daisy-chained together through one port. The Thunderbolt tree in macOS System Information confirms this daisy-chain arrangement. The main benefit of this new dual TB3 controller design is to stabilize I/O traffic during high eGPU use. Mouse freezing while connecting to the eGPU is a common issue for the Razer Core and other Thunderbolt 3 enclosures that have expansion ports.
There is a performance trade-off for scenarios when both the eGPU and expansion ports are fully utilized. Unlike the previous generation of the Razer Core that prioritizes external graphics, the I/O ports can now use up to 17Gbps out of a maximum 22Gbps Thunderbolt 3 data transmission bandwidth. As shown in HWiNFO64 screen capture above, there are two ASM1142 USB hubs (8Gbps) to handle four USB 3.0 ports (5Gbps each) and a third ASM1142 USB hub to handle the Ethernet port (1Gbps). With that said, the chance of using all 17Gbps via the expansion ports is unrealistic. Most will occupy two USB ports with low-bandwidth peripherals such as a mouse and keyboard. An external SSD for game storage is one device that may saturate the 5Gbps per USB port.
The main board is clearly labeled as to where each connector and component is supposed to go. One of the main reasons we didn’t recommend the original Razer Core to Mac users was due to its macOS incompatible USB-C controller, the TI82. The Core V2 remedies this issue. It now uses the Texas Instrument TP865983 USB-C controller (highlighted in green) as found in all Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures released in 2017. The dual DSL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controllers (highlighted in orange) are placed right by the PCIe slot and I/O slot. The I/O TB3 controller is mounted facing the bottom of the main board. The Winbond EEPROM chipset (highlighted in yellow) sits next to the TB3 controller that hosts the GPU.
Visually the only way to distinguish the Razer Core V2 from its previous iteration is to look at the back of the enclosure. The Core V2 has all rear exhaust vents arranged horizontally across the top. Another subtle change is seen in the base of the V2. Its platform is lowered to provide more headroom for the graphics card. This results in the Thunderbolt 3 port placement under the power plug rather than above it like in the V1.
The gap between the bottom of the graphics card and the RGB light strip is also minimized, necessitating a clever PCIe slot release handle. This handle starts at the back of the PCIe lock and extends to the other side of the inner carrier for ease of GPU removal. All other eGPU enclosures on the market have the typical PCIe lock release that requires extra effort to locate and free the GPU.
One carryover component is the power supply. It’s the same Enhance ENH-2350 500W, single rail 12V PSU as the original Razer Core. The wiring harness provides one proprietary main board connector and two 6 + 2-pin PCIe power cables. In the Razer Core V1 these two PCIe power cables come straight to the GPU. In the V2 all three power cables go from the power supply to the main board. Razer added a pair of removable PCIe power cables to draw power from the main board to the GPU. The attachment point is at the front of the main board with connectors that look the same as 6-pin PCIe plugs. The other end to the GPU is 6 + 2-pin connectors.
While I see the appeal in removing one PCIe cable for graphics cards requiring a single cable, I’m not clear on the benefits of this rerouting. Perhaps this arrangement allows for increased Thunderbolt 3 power delivery to 65W vs. 45W in the Razer Core V1.
Similar to the original Core, the Core V2 has a total of five cooling fans. There are two 40mm fans, one in the front and the other in the rear of the fATX power supply, that produce a high-pitched noise. The base of the inner carrier contains three 60mm fans. The front 60mm fan is housed inside the PSU front shroud to channel cool air from the bottom of the enclosure directly into the power supply. The other two 60mm fans sit in the middle and rear to assist with airflow up and out through the top vents. With more space inside, airflow should be better than the original Core. Noise emission remains very similar to the V1. During operation the noise registers around 48dB from half a meter away.
Razer used fewer components to build the Core V2, so it’s slightly lighter. It’s also marginally better to service when issues arise. I had a hard time taking apart the original Razer Core. This time around it was a bit easier. I manged to cut my finger pulling the white power connector that’s firmly attached to the main board. One observation of the inner carrier base is that the bottom vents and fans are likely to accumulate dust over time.
Testings & Benchmarks
A notable refinement in the Razer Core V2 is the increased Power Delivery. It provides 65W to all Thunderbolt 3 laptops with PD 3.0. This is a huge improvement over the first version that was designed primarily as an accessory for the 12″ Razer Blade Stealth that requires 45W. The majority of TB3 laptops need 45W to 65W of PD. One outlier is the 15″ MacBook Pro. It has an 87W power adapter but should be able to charge through the Razer Core V2, albeit at a slower rate.
Thunderbolt firmware version 26.1 is the newest we’ve seen to date. Intel freshly baked this version to manage the dual TB3 controller design in this Razer Core V2 and newer eGPU enclosures yet to be announced in 2018. As mentioned earlier, the use of TI83 USB-C controller allows for macOS Sierra and High Sierra compatibility. Thunderbolt 3 enclosures with the TI82 such as the Core V1 require a workaround for macOS.
In Windows, detection issues are often caused by older BIOS, Thunderbolt firmware, and/or Intel Thunderbolt Software on the host computer. It’s important to update to the latest BIOS and Thunderbolt firmware from your computer manufacturer’s support website. Be careful with Intel Thunderbolt Software though. I’ve found the very outdated and very recent versions to cause the most challenges for eGPU detection.
All expansion USB ports have full compatibility in both macOS and Windows. The Ethernet port works right away in Windows but needs drivers to work in macOS. A quick search for AX88179 brought me to AXIS AX88179 – USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet product page. Here’s the link to the macOS drivers installer.
The Razer Core has more tasteful RGB than other eGPU enclosures I’ve tested. There are two lighting zones, one LED strip by the mesh window and another under the front of the enclosure. In order to change the RGB mode, you need to install Razer Synapse in Windows. There’s not much functionality with this software other than switching lighting modes and colors.
For performance benchmarks, I chose the three Thunderbolt 3 host computers below to emphasize the importance of having the right eGPU host. The worst-case scenario is with a laptop such as the XPS 9360. Dell crippled this otherwise excellent ultrabook by assigning only 2 PCIe lanes for the Thunderbolt connection and setting the OPI in low-power GT2 mode. The best-case scenario is with a laptop like the 15″ MacBook Pro that has its Thunderbolt 3 connection attached directly to a quad-core processor via 4 PCIe lanes. The Spectre X360 represents a good eGPU host for ultrabook users. It only has an integrated graphics card for the best portability and battery life while featuring a quad-core CPU, 4 PCIe lanes, and high-performance OPI GT4 mode.
- Late 2016 15″ Apple MacBook Pro | iGPU & dGPU| 6th gen Intel quad-core i7-6700HQ | x4 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to CPU
- Early 2017 13″ Dell XPS 9360 | iGPU only | 7th gen Intel dual-core i7-7560U | x2 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to PCH | OPI GT2
- Late 2017 13″ HP Spectre X360 | iGPU only | 8th gen Intel quad-core i7-8550U | x4 PCIe 3.0 Thunderbolt 3 to PCH | OPI GT4
|13″ Dell XPS 9360||13″ HP Spectre x360||15″ Macbook Pro|
|Razer Core V2||XPS9360 Internal||XPS9360 External||13X360 Internal||13X360 External||15MBP Internal||15MBP External|
|3DMark Time Spy||3,841||5,881||5,777||5,565||5,233||6,076|
|3DMark Fire Strike||11,645||18,628||17,012||17,569||16,603||19,122|
|Tomb Raider 2013||84.9 FPS||122.5 FPS||109.3 FPS||114.7 FPS||112.0 FPS||124.2 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||76.6 FPS||104.7 FPS||92.9 FPS||103.2 FPS||89.7 FPS||98.7 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||47.6 FPS||75.6 FPS||67.0 FPS||90.7 FPS||69.3 FPS||93.8 FPS|
|Hitman||63.2 FPS||65.6 FPS||62.0 FPS||66.9 FPS||67.0 FPS||68.7 FPS|
At $500, the Razer Core V2 is one of the most expensive eGPU enclosures on the market. The value proposition Razer wants you to consider is that you’re getting a Thunderbolt 3 docking station daisy-chained to a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU box. This eGFX caters to convenience-minded buyers rather than performance seekers. If you’re in the latter group, an eGPU-only enclosure and a separate Thunderbolt 3 dock, each with dedicated 22Gbps bandwidth, would yield the highest performance.
Our wishlist from the original Razer Core was a TI83 controller, a quieter power supply, and a sub $400 price. The V2 came up short with only a macOS compatible TI83 controller. However its handsome design, premium build quality, and usability refinements make it a more palatable purchase.