Just in time for CES 2017, Asus announced the full details and specifications on its external GPU dock, the XG Station 2.
The Issue Of Connectivity
We’ve seen the dock at tradeshows before, at CES 2016 and Computex this summer. One of the big decisions the company had to make concerned connectivity--a proprietary (and allegedly superior) PCIe connection, or USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3? Back at Computex, the decision was to implement both. Now that the final details are set, the verdict is in: USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 it is.
The issue, according to Asus, was that its own proprietary PCIe connection did not suffer from the encoding overhead that USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 does. Thunderbolt 3 over Type-C can handle up to 40Gbps, but you lose some of that bandwidth because of the encoding. Therefore, the PCIe connection delivered true 40Gbps performance.
The company has not abandoned that notion, though, even with the USB Type-C implementation. In a blog post, Asus stated that “XG Station 2 allows you to connect an additional USB Type-B cable to help compensate and push the performance further. The performance can then be pushed up to within 10% of the graphics card's maximum performance.”
In our opinion, this is the right move. Even if Asus built the XG Station 2 only for its own laptops, that would mean cramming in extra ports on those laptops that could be used for nothing else. With the USB Type-C solution, not only can you use that port for other peripherals or external storage when you’re mobile, it opens up the possibility that the XG Station 2 could be used for essentially any laptop with the correct port and software support.
For now, though, Asus wants you to pair the XG Station 2 with one of its own laptops. The company pointed to its ROG G701VT, GL502VM, and GL702VM gaming laptops; T303Ua and T305CA Transformer Books; and certain ZenBooks, although “the exact model list” is “to be updated.”
We’ve been told by other companies that unlocking one of these external GPU docks for use with any laptop is not a terribly difficult process. Indeed, AMD has tried to make it as easy as possible. We would not be surprised if Asus offered such widespread compatibility in the not-too-distant future.
Reading between the lines, it would seem that Asus is, at least for now, mostly worried about consumers connecting the XG Station 2 to underpowered devices that can’t make use of the extra GPU power. That could affect perception and result in angry customers returning the dock. In its materials, Asus said, “Ideally, it would be best to allow all laptops to be compatible with the XG Station 2, however, it would be a travesty to connect this to a single-core processor laptop with USB 3.0 for example. That's why ROG has chosen to only support selected ASUS laptops with enough processor power and Thunderbolt 3 so you get your money's worth in performance for years to come.”
Further, note that Asus’ dock requires just a single USB Type-C cable--although the aforementioned additional USB Type-B cable is apparently recommended to milk maximum performance. It will also power your laptop, up to 100W.
Note that the internal PSU offers up to 500W for the graphics card and sets aside up to 100W to charge a connected laptop. You can plug and unplug a laptop to and from the XG Station 2 without having to restart.
Asus would certainly very much like for us to note that the front of the GPU dock has a snazzy Plasma Tube. “Its ROG-inspired glow crackles with electricity, providing a stylish hint at the formidable gaming horsepower within,” reads the product page.
Asus did not specify a price for the XG Station 2. However, we can infer a general price range by looking at the competition, limited though it may be: Razer’s Core costs a beastly $500 ($400 with the purchase of a Razer notebook), and the Powercolor Devil Box runs $379. Dell is an outlier here, with a price tag of just $200 for its Alienware Graphics Amplifier (which, by the way, is currently on sale for $160). We expect the XG Station 2 to be priced more in line with the more expensive external GPUs, though, if for no other reason than if it was going to severely undercut them, Asus would certainly have trumpeted the victory.
Expect the XG Station 2 to launch early in the new year.
|Header Cell - Column 0||Asus XG Station 2|
|Connection||Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C|
|GPU Support||-Nvidia GeForce GTX 900 Series and later-AMD Radeon R9/RX and later|
|Internal Graphics Slot||Support for a single full length, 2.5 slot , PCI-Express x16 graphics card 1x PCI-Express x16 (electrical spec: x16)|
|Ethernet||Gigabit Lan 10/100/1000 Mbps|
|I/O||-4 x USB 3.0 ports-Additional USB 3.0 Type B for max performance|
|PSU||600W 80 Plus Gold Power Supply|
|Lighting||ASUS ROG AURA supported|
|Dimensions||45.6 x 15.8 x 27.8cm|
|Accessories||-1x USB 3.0 Type B cable -1x Thunderbolt 3 Type C cable -1x Power cord-Product information guides|
The USB and network connections don't impact performance. You only need a SINGLE USB-c cable for gameplay, so it's overkill. The second is there for POWER to allow playing and charging at the same time.
Tests show at worst 5% loss compared to PCIe direct and that's due to converting the signal, not due to USB or network losses.
While this could be useful, anyone who realllyyyyy needs it probably shouldn't be using a laptop for the task. Gpu heavy games are usually pretty cpu heavy.