AMD pushes for an Universal External Graphics Standard — here’s why we think it makes sense
No matter how much I enjoy reviewing notebooks packing monstrous performance into their portable or less-than-portable bodies, they are still some way away from matching the performance of gaming desktops. This is a fact that every gaming laptop user has realized and accepted, but recently the sudden repopularization of external graphics card solutions has brought a glimmer of hope for us gamers who need to use laptops but still want to game.
Robert Hallock of AMD:
Alright, let’s have some Real Talk™ about gaming on the go. Gaming notebooks are great for gaming, but nobody in their right mind wants to carry one all the time. Ultrathin notebooks are awesome to carry, but nobody in their right mind would confuse one for a gaming notebook.
But there’s still a HUGE appetite for thin notebooks that can game. I also bet there’s a bunch of gamers out there who, as they get into their 30s and 40s, wouldn’t mind condensing their entire computing life down into one device that does it all. I ALSO bet that some people wouldn’t mind giving up an mITX LAN rig if their notebook had the potential to serve that role with gusto.
External GPUs are the answer. External GPUs with standardized connectors, cables, drivers, plug’n’play, OS support, etc.
More info very soon. :)
I for one believe that the market of external GPU solutions aren’t limited to middle-aged gamers only, as students will most probably find an external GPU to be very useful. Imagine this scenario: going out to class with the notebook, doing a presentation with the built-in iGPU, not a problem. Going to the library for a discussion with group members and using the notebook to quickly search for information. Everything easily handled by any current iGPU, all while saving the power needed to feed a dedicated mobile GPU. More battery life on the go is always a good thing. The student goes home, decides to play The Witcher 3 for a while. Connects the notebook to a external GPU solution and bam, more graphics processing power.
A recent laptop that brought this feature is the MSI GS30 Phantom, where the laptop itself sports a rather high performance Iris 5200 iGPU. However even the fast iGPU fades in comparison to any high end GPU you can toss into the Gaming Dock, which is connected via a proprietary PCIe x16 interface. However based on reviews online, the GS30 doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot with noisy CPU cooling and poor battery life away from the plug, which means that it will not be able to fulfill the scenarios mentioned. Another minor issue that you will have to purchase a monitor too, as the laptop’s built-in display will be disabled.
Alienware also came out with a similar solution, naming it the Alienware Graphics Amplifier. Instead of working only with a single model like MSI’s Gaming Dock, the Graphics Amplifier supports the Alienware 13, 15 and 17 R2, as long as it comes with the proprietary port. Speaking of the port, it only supports PCIe x4 data rates, which is a far cry from the PCIe x16 speeds that MSI touts with their solution. In practice, the difference in data rates doesn’t affect performance much at all, but future GPUs may be able to saturate the link and result in a bottleneck.
Razer’s solution is more modern: instead of proprietary ports and connectors, it relies on the fancy new USB Type-C port and the crazy-fast Thunderbolt 3 standard to relay data back and forth to its external graphics enclosure, named the Razer Core. It will support 40 Gbps of data throughput, which should be plenty. The 4K display of the Razer Blade Stealth is also a very competent panel with up to 95% AdobeRGB coverage and 98% sRGB coverage. Considering that Robert Hallock actually used an image of the AMD R9 Nano inside the Razer Core, I do believe that the Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C standards are the way forward.
Pokdepinion: I am rarely this supportive of AMD’s initiatives, but I truly believe that a standardized external GPU connection standard will bring gamers on notebooks a step closer to be on par with their desktop counterparts.