External Thunderbolt 3 GPU Overview

eGPU Development

External graphics card (eGPU enclosures) available in 2016

An external GPU (eGPU) is an ever-developing solution for laptop users who need more power for gaming, VR development, and other high demand computing tasks. Thunderbolt became the chosen standard input/output for eGPU with its high bandwidth that supports high-resolution displays and high-performance data devices.

The next generation of Thunderbolt connectivity for the majority of personal computers is Thunderbolt 3. It is now integrated to the same physical port as USB-C. The whole computer industry and Intel itself touted this as the connector that does it all. So much so that Apple decided to drop all existing I/O in favor of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 in its newest MacBook Pro laptops. Other manufacturers such as Dell, HP, Razer, and Alienware are following suit.

An external GPU for a thunderbolt-equipped laptop is what a sidecar is to a motorcycle; it adds capacity and utility only when needed while also remaining mobile.

No manufacturer is currently selling a complete universal Thunderbolt 3 eGPU solution. If you want an eGPU, you have to build it yourself. Alternately you can buy one of the few available options (Razer Core or AKiTiO Node) with unclear support for your laptop. Either option you choose, you’ll need help in terms of software solutions to make use of an eGPU in either Windows or macOS. eGPU.io is a community of eGPU experts who provide help and knowledge on this process.

A very popular choice for building an eGPU is to start with an AKiTiO Thunderbolt enclosure. This enclosure has dual Thunderbolt 2/3 ports and a full-length PCIe slot. Another prerequisite for an eGPU build is a 200W+ power supply. Some have used Desktop ATX power supplies with 500W+. Many are turning to a Dell DA-2 power brick which has an output of 220W. Last but not least the heart of an eGPU is a powerful graphics card.

In order to have a fully functional eGPU, these three steps must be completed:

  • Step 1 – Communication between the Thunderbolt enclosure to the computer.
  • Step 2 – Recognition in Windows or macOS that the enclosure contains a graphics card.
  • Step 3 – Appropriate drivers for the GPU are installed and loaded in Windows or macOS.

Both Nvidia and AMD have drivers and software to support eGPU in Windows 10. macOS on the other hand is still a challenge. This is due to hex editing of system files and other complications with Apple’s implementation of Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The eGPU community is working on a solution for macOS.

Visit eGPU.io forum to share or inquire about your eGPU builds.

Check our list of eGPU implementations submitted by forum members. You can search by computer model, enclosure, graphics card, and operating system.

Refer to this Wikipedia article for a list of Thunderbolt-equipped devices.

 

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