Razer Blade Stealth + Razer Core V2 RX Vega 56 eGPU

Ultrabook Buyer’s Guide: Best Laptops for External GPU

eGPU Resources 47 Comments

As we’ve gained a better understanding of Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) eGPU enclosures, the unknown rests on the performance of the Thunderbolt 3 host computer. Thin and light ultrabooks are often a top choice to pair with an external GPU. This article serves as a buyer’s guide for choosing the best ultrabook to get the most out of a TB3 eGPU. The particular setup I’m using is an early 2018 Razer Blade Stealth with the Razer Core V2. This pairing is one of the highest performing TB3 ultrabook + eGPU setups as of Q1 2018. The Razer Blade Stealth shares many fundamental components with a handful of other Thunderbolt 3 ultrabooks that we will explore below.

Intel Thunderbolt Technology website has a list of certified Thunderbolt products. You can visit this link to find Thunderbolt 3 laptops currently available on the market. The multitude of choices can be overwhelming. Yet the specifications we’re most interested in for external graphics use are not readily available. So what are the criteria you should consider when choosing the best ultrabook for external graphics pairing? Through hundreds of implementations and build guides, we’ve distinguished three key features:

ULV CPU

For this buyer’s guide, we’re focusing on the newest crop of ultrabooks with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. They now sport the Intel 8th generation quad-core ULV processors, doubling the core count of the previous generation. The top turbo speed is dependent on both the CPU workload and the ultrabook’s cooling system. If nearing the limits of TDP and CPU junction temperature (95˚-105˚ C), the CPU will throttle down performance. Thin, light systems are more than skin deep.

With nearly identical architecture to the previous generation, the 8th generation ULV CPU offers performance improvements by running double the number of cores, often at a more efficient reduced speed to maintain limits and thereby giving greater overall workload. These ultrabooks are the first revision with quad-core processors and should be future-proof for the next few years. At this time, the i7-8550U configuration was the highest performing, readily available ULV CPU.

Spec Intel Core i7-8550U @ 1.80GHz Intel Core i7-7600U @ 2.80GHz
Base Speed 1.8 GHz 2.8 GHz
Turbo Speed Up to 4.0 GHz Up to 3.9 GHz
# of Physical Cores 4 (2 logical cores per physical) 2 (2 logical cores per physical)
Configurable TDP-up 25W 25W
First Seen on Chart Q2 2017 Q1 2017
Single Thread Rating 2079 2128
CPU Mark (Feb-2018) 8111 5583

PCIe Lanes

Thunderbolt connection allows at most 4 PCI Express lanes between the host and the device. In a ULV CPU ultrabook, this means allocating 4 out of a maximum 12 PCIe lanes. There are several peripheral components inside a laptop that make use of these high-speed interconnect lanes. For a typical ultrabook the NVMe flash storage drive gets a x4 PCIe connection. The Wireless card and other components may use a few x1 PCIe connections. If there’s a discrete graphics card, it will consume another x4 PCIe connection. Resource allocation conflicts arise when PC manufacturers decide how best to use these 12 lanes. Due to Thunderbolt 3 connectivity being a relatively new standard, Thunderbolt 3 ports are often not top priority.

2018 Razer Core Blade vs. 2017 Dell XPS 13 9360

One performance hindrance is a x2 PCIe 3.0 via Thunderbolt 3 connection. This is applicable for most single TB3-port ultrabooks, the Razer Blade Stealth being the exception. The Dell XPS 13 is perhaps one of the most popular ultrabooks in the past few years. Many aim to use it with an eGPU, but it’s been plagued with only 2 lanes for its sole Thunderbolt 3 port. The good news is things are gradually changing with the emergence of Thunderbolt 3 external graphics solutions. At CES 2018 I had a discussion regarding this with Gary L., a Dell system engineer. He confirmed the latest 2018 XPS 13 9370 now provides 4 PCIe lanes for its dual Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The HWiNFO64 screen capture on the left shows PCIe configuration in the early 2018 Razer Blade Stealth. The PCI Express Root Port #5 [A1/C1] attaches to a x4 connection that connects to the Thunderbolt 3 [Alpine Ridge] controller. This controller then hosts a single Thunderbolt 3 port. We also see PCI Express Root Port #3 [A1/C1] attaches to the Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1535 Network Adapter. Last but not least, PCI Express Root Port #9 [A1/C1] attaches to a Samsung NVMe 960 controller. The HWiNFO64 screen capture (on the right) of a Dell XPS 9360 shows its inferior x2 PCIe connection to the Thunderbolt 3 controller.

OPI Mode

An infrequently discussed feature is the On Package DMI interconnect Interface (OPI). ULV processors such as the i7-8550U use OPI because, unlike HQ or HK processors, it lacks the Direct Media Interface (DMI 3.0) to facilitate communication between the PCH and CPU. The system designers can choose to either extract the most performance or optimize energy consumption on these ULV processors. OPI 2GT/s is ideal for extended mobile use at low-power tasks, while OPI 4GT/s is excellent for high-performance applications. These two OPI modes operate at a max theoretical throughput of 20Gbps and 40Gbps respectively. When you consider Intel’s claim of 40Gbps bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, it makes total sense OPI 4GT/s is the more appropriate choice for eGPU use.

Unfortunately the OPI settings are not something users can change at their convenience. The settings are baked into the system firmware/BIOS. At the moment PC manufacturers do not disclose the OPI mode in their marketing information. The only way to find out is to run performance tests yourself. If the ultrabook has an NVMe storage controller, read speed should exceed 1,800 MB/s in benchmark software such as ATTO to confirm the laptop is set to OPI 4GT/s. 

As seen in the AIDA64 benchmarks above, OPI 4GT/s systems can extract the most out of Thunderbolt 3 eGPU. Keep in mind that Intel caps the throughput in these eGPU enclosures at roughly 22Gbps to preserve bandwidth for DisplayPort transmission over Thunderbolt 3. As external graphics adoption and demand grows, we hope Intel and partners dedicate more resources to optimize Thunderbolt 3 performance in general and external graphics use in specific.

Best Ultrabooks

Below are the best ultrabooks with the trinity of performance specs to host an external GPU. If you have an Intel 8th gen quad-core ultrabook not in this list and can confirm x4 PCIe + OPI 4GT/s, please share your findings by posting a build guide in our forum. We’ll keep this list up-to-date with user reports.

 

Lenovo Yoga 730

$849

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

HP Spectre X360

$1,099

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

HP Spectre
13

$1,199

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Lenovo Yoga 920

$1,299

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Dell XPS 13 9370

$1,399

i7 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

 

Apple MacBook Pro 13

$1,799

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 4 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Lenovo X1 Carbon

$2,099

i5 Starting MSRP
  • Intel 8th gen quad-core
  • x4 PCIe Connection
  • OPI 4GT/s Mode
  • 2 x TB3 ports
  • User Build Guide
Price on Amazon

Want more performance?

Intel released 8th-generation 6-core (hex) Q 45W CPUs. These come packaged in laptops with larger chassis to accommodate more substantial cooling systems, coupled with bulkier power supplies to drive them. A bigger package that packs a bigger punch. It’s definitely worth the performance advantage if you can trade portability for performance.

Older notebook options?

eGPU.io user builds listed as 32Gbps-TB3 are confirmed to offer full Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth performance. At the link below, you can select LCD, CPU and then review the System Brand and Model widget for options to consider. Proceed to review user builds with your targeted system.

https://egpu.io/external-gpu-implementations-table/?table_filter=”32Gbps-TB3 “

 

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Fred_K
Member

Well written guide! I am excited to see the recent development with eGPUs. My next laptop will definitely be a thin and light laptop with an eGPU. Personally I hope Apple will release a 13″ MBP with 4-core CPU in the near future (Or even 6-core 15″) with native eGPU support.

Member

Very informative article , but it does leave me with some questions. About the pcie lanes since there are 12 total if I was going to purchase a ultrabook 2-in-1 with a dedicated graphics card would it be better to get a SATA3 ssd instead of an NVMe(because NVME takes up x4 pcie lanes). I only ask because of the upcoming ASUS Zenbook Flip 15 (i7-8550u, 16gb ram ddr4, GTX1050) UX561UD. It gives the option of and HDD, sata3 ssd, or a pcie ssd instead. Does a sata3 ssd take up any pcie lanes? This leaves me to wonder if… Read more »

Member

12 pcie lanes
-4 lanes for dedicated gpu
-4 lanes for NVME storage if chosen
-1 lane wifi

USB C is provided by the Thunderbolt circuit as far as I know so we don’t need separate lanes. Indeed the laptop you linked has two Thunderbolt 3 ports which makes 4 PCIe lanes a hard requirement. The laptop either connected the GPU over x2 or the NVMe socket only has two lanes. My bet is on the latter — but the GPU wouldn’t be bottlenecked by x2, it’s only an 1050.

Guest

I heard that this processor doesn’t work on 4.0GGz in gaming. It reaches it, works 5 mins, then gets overheated and throttle to 1.8GGz. Is it true?

Eightarmedpet
Member

I have my doubts over these latest gen CPU’s too, most games favour clock speed over core and I imaging the extra cores mean more heat and quicker throttling. Of course thats all just guess work from me, going to try to look up some comparison benchmarks…

Eightarmedpet
Member

That Razer core looks dead nice… have I ever mentioned my desire for more compact high end enclosures? 😉

Also, surely the MacBook Pro 13” deserves a recommendation as one of the few (only 2?) with built in official egpu support (ok, coming very soon)?

Member

Sigh. Another post purporting that x4 is significantly better than x2. This very site has the benchmarks to prove it wrong at https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/pcie-slot-dgpu-vs-thunderbolt-3-egpu-internal-display-test/ and also notebookcheck at https://www.notebookcheck.net/eGPU-Two-PCI-e-lanes-no-problem.266658.0.html

The truth is that x2 vs x4 only matters if someone wants to use an 1070 or faster to accelerate the internal display. Otherwise, you could pick anything. I am trying to spread this information but it’s an uphill battle with articles like this.

MarkieG84
Member

It makes a difference in stability. Benchmarks spit out a number, but 1% lows are very important.

4chip4
Member

Even if you have a game which mismanages cores/multithreading, Windows has a processor affinity mechanism in task manager that, err… manages this:

…and since the dual-core turbo-boost of 8th gen CPUs is actually considerably higher than 7th gen, there should be no reason why they would work not only as good as, but better than 7th gen CPUs. My experience in games and VR has been improved quite a bit by going from 7500U to 8550U. YMMV.

Eightarmedpet
Member

Cheers for the info, happy to stand corrected… roll on updated MacBooks!

MarkieG84
Member

Yes it is a massive difference.

4chip4
Member

@laxlad The PCI lane allocation is a hardware (motherboard) thing, changing how the drive is connected will not change this, unless the laptop with the SATA drive physically doesn’t have the NVMe port (and has a different motherboard, which is unlikely). Normally the non-NVMe option exists to free that port for use with another device or make the HDD cheaper, I have not yet seen a single device where those lanes were allocated to TB3.

Member

There are many different considerations when picking a laptop and Thunderbolt bandwidth is only one of them and if we would tell people to not bother with that unless X then their picking would be that much easier. 

This article needs a first sentence saying “if you are using an external monitor then this article doesn’t apply, all of them are the same”. That’s all I am trying to say.

Member

Thanks for the info guys.  I didn’t clarify in my post but the reason I was concerned about the 4x pcie lanes because I plan on connecting an ssd and Ethernet connection to the egpu (mantiz Venus).  from what I gather 4 lanes handle this better than 2.  But if I were to just connect an egpu without any other peripherals I would be less concerned with 2 vs 4 lanes.  Ownordisown in YouTube does a very good video showing the marginal difference between 2 vs 4 lanes when it comes to just using an egpu without connected peripherals. thankyou… Read more »

Joikansai
Guest

Greetings  Very nice guide. I’m newbie here, this forum helped me a lot. Now I’m just curious why should i undervolting my i77500U  (Blade Stealth) with i7500 to be able to play AC Origins on internal screen (1440p, high) on Razer Core v2 with evga 1080 sc. Is it my ultrabook CPU too weak on default setting to play it? Because  on my i7 7700 HQ gaming laptop, i don’t need to close all running apps to run AC Origins with my Razer Core. Is there any gpu recommendation for UCPU, like price for performance for example? I have also… Read more »

irev210
Member

A small but meaningful typo.

TDP max on 8550u is not 15w, it can tdp up to 25w sustained while it can turbo to over 35w.

This can mean really big differences in performance when gaming on an eGPU where CPU power is needed.

Ideally, you want a laptop that can send 25w to your 8550u without power or temp throttling.  That’s good for some serious performance increases depending on workload.

4chip4
Member

You’re right it’s wrong to say TDP max is 15W, but it’s also misleading to say it can do sustained 25W, because that depends on the cooling architecture of the device. Most ultrabooks today will be doing 15W sustained with 25W Boost. CPUs nowadays actually have three (manufacturer provided) TDP modes of operation. This is not just about changing TDP wattage in XTU and such, these are actually distinct limits/modes of operation, with different guaranteed frequencies (c in cTDP for configurable), for example for the 8550U: (nominal) TDP: 15W (1.8GHz) cTDP up: 25W (2GHz) cTDP down: 10W (800MHz) The important… Read more »

irev210
Member

Right, completely depends on the OEM implementation.

I recommend that egpu.io start adding laptop tdp and performance stats as the difference is striking.

Check out notebookcheck’s recent roundup – https://www.notebookcheck.net/A-performance-comparison-of-all-new-ThinkPad-notebooks.286486.0.html

The one laptop can pull 44w of tdp, crushing all other laptops.  Just amazing.

When selecting a laptop for egpu, proper tb3+proper power and thermal designs are required.

4chip4
Member

Even those short bursts of 44W don’t come for free – you can see that the CPU hits 100C within seconds. Performance-wise, that’s fine, but it definitely won’t help silicon (and especially battery) degradation, and makes for a nice lap-warmer 🙂  In practical terms, if having a “cTDP up” device with x4 lanes is so important, what you’re saying is “I want a HQ chip” – where you get all the goodies – tons of cores, tons of PCI lanes, high minimum clocks. U chips never were about raw performance, but striking a good balance between battery life and performance.… Read more »

irev210
Member

@4chip4 – you make some good points, here are my thoughts Even those short bursts of 44W don’t come for free – you can see that the CPU hits 100C within seconds. Performance-wise, that’s fine, but it definitely won’t help silicon (and especially battery) degradation, and makes for a nice lap-warmer Are you saying that Intel doesn’t properly design their CPUs or that lifespan will shorten if they are used this way?  I’d love to see any data you have showing that designing Intel CPUs around Intel’s own power/thermal limits will result in shortened design lifespan. I am also assuming… Read more »

ondert
Member

How about LG Gram? LG has added 4-line Pci-e supported Thunderbolt 3 port on the latest iteration.

4chip4
Member

Are you saying that Intel doesn’t properly design their CPUs or that lifespan will shorten if they are used this way?  I’d love to see any data you have showing that designing Intel CPUs around Intel’s own power/thermal limits will result in shortened design lifespan. Umm, yes? Intel gives you a warranty, which is based on a statistical model. Silicon ages, and the degradation rate is correlated with both temperature and number of executed cycles even if you operate within the parameters. Intel does not know or has a say what the thermals will be in an OEM device. The… Read more »

irev210
Member

We can agree to disagree on this one  TANSTAAFL The double standard is somewhat amusing.  Your HP laptop runs hotter you know; according to your long winded explanation of thermodynamics, your HP laptop probably lasts only 50% as long as the Dell 9370.  All of what you just said basically said the Dell’s superior thermal solution and cooler operating temps make it an excellent choice 🙂 According to your link, since Dell laptop battery doesn’t get as hot as the spectre x360, it will last much longer  🙂 So based on all that, you should probably switch laptops asap!!!! In all… Read more »

Guest

Out of curiosity, what’s that big-ass monitor on the first picture of this article?

4chip4
Member

@irev210 No, I *am* agreement that different design choices lead to different characteristics. What I didn’t agree with is that those design limitations are random or largely irrelevant (ie that bumping wattage is “free”). There is a reason why the same chips have different thermal and power limits – and it’s not that somebody just forgot to tick a box (regardless of who the manufacturer is). Here’s an example for the specific two devices you mentioned – x360s and XPSes do not have 1:1 the same target markets, it’s just that for eGPU uses we need to work backwards due… Read more »

wimpzilla
Member

Hardware Unboxed compared the TB3 2x/4x pci-e bandwidth difference in game using the same cpu.

Guest

Very helpful thank you! Two questions, first rather theoretical, TB3 right now supports up to 40GBps but we are only connecting 4PCIe 3rd gen lanes (4x8GBps), now would it be possible – or rather – useful to connect 5 or 6 PCIe lanes to a TB3 port? would that lower the performance drop we currently see on GPUs in cores? now secondly a very specific question: Is there a reason the MateBook X pro is not listed as a good device for eGPUs? Even so mobilTechReview states that the TB3 has 4 lanes there is still controversy about that is… Read more »

Guest

I am still searching for a laptop for my new setup and there are lots of questions i still have and things i would like to understand better then i do at the time, thanks to anyone who can clear some things up for me (sorry this will be a long post): uhm just a small note before i begin, @4chip4 you above mentioned the hp 13t as a replacement for the x360, from everything i could find the hp spectre 13t costs the same (in europe!) has less battery and the screen moves less, also the flex seems to be… Read more »

Roon Boon
Guest
Roon Boon

Hey, how about the new Asus Laptops?

Smoke
Guest
Smoke

how about the Asus Zenbook S + 1070eGPU?

odin
Member

There are two more that might need consideration. 1. Samsung Notebook 9 15. You might think this would not be a contender, but a Windows Central reviewer stated it as 4-lane Thunderbolt 3 here: https://youtu.be/a2-h3E02mvQ?t=2m31s Even though it has an MX150 discrete GPU. I did a lot of investigation to try to get some clarification somewhere about this, and I found this nugget on the Notebookcheck review ( https://www.notebookcheck.net/Samsung-Notebook-9-NP900X5T-i7-8550U-GeForce-MX150-Laptop-Review.287284.0.html ). You would think with an MX150 dGPU that it would have a 4-lane implementation since that’s the physical wiring, but on inspection of this review it looks like the MX150… Read more »

veriestVarlet
Member

Looking at the connections on a Thinkpad X1 Tablet 3rd Gen. The root looks like a proper 8 GT/s, as is the NVMe, but the card, 750 GTX in an Aorus 1070 Box, it looks like it’s connected at 2.5 GT/s.



Could the TB3 on these tablets be a bit nerfed? Or is the current card/box just not needing the full speed.

veriestVarlet
Member

Not too familiar with benchmarking with AIDA64 but starting up a game and reran HWINFO, low and behold the connection is full speed. Looks like the Thinkpad X1 Tablet 3rd Gen is a good option. 



Guest

I see that the HP Spectre x360 with an i7 processor has been mentioned in this list. I would like to buy an HP spectre but my budget allows me an i5 model only. Can someone please confirm if it would be eGPU compatible or not?

Ziggity
Member

“Intel released 8th-generation 6-core (hex) Q 45W CPUs. These come packaged in laptops with larger chassis to accommodate more substantial cooling systems, coupled with bulkier power supplies to drive them. A bigger package that packs a bigger punch. It’s definitely worth the performance advantage if you can trade portability for performance.” Can someone clarify if that is indeed the case? I’ve read in several places that despite the expected performance gain, 8750H based systems don’t perform as well as 8550U based ones in eGPU scenarios. And if so, what might be the reason? Something related to the dGPU or perhaps… Read more »

Joikansai
Guest

Posted by: Ziggity “Intel released 8th-generation 6-core (hex) Q 45W CPUs. These come packaged in laptops with larger chassis to accommodate more substantial cooling systems, coupled with bulkier power supplies to drive them. A bigger package that packs a bigger punch. It’s definitely worth the performance advantage if you can trade portability for performance.” Can someone clarify if that is indeed the case? I’ve read in several places that despite the expected performance gain, 8750H based systems don’t perform as well as 8550U based ones in eGPU scenarios. And if so, what might be the reason? Something related to the… Read more »

Eightarmedpet
Member

@itsage is that pic a V1 core with a Ref Vega 56?