LAS VEGAS, NV -- CES 2018 saw the continuation of the Thunderbolt 3 external graphics dock paradigm, with vendors such as Asus, Gigabyte, Lenovo, and Powercolor showcasing new or recently released eGPU devices at the Las Vegas event. These docks ranged from small and compact with built in GPUs, to large and feature-rich enclosures meant to accommodate your own choice of graphics card. Here's what we saw.
Asus unveiled a new, professional-looking version of its XG-series eGPU dock, the XG Station Pro. Although the name implies compatibility with professional-grade GPUs (such as AMD FirePro or Nvidia Quadro cards), Asus did not explicitly claim support for workstation-class hardware. The new iteration is mostly an aesthetic downgrade, trading in the edgy and flashy windowed chassis of the XG Station 2 for a toned-down In Win case with smooth panels and no windows to speak of. However, a major improvement to the design came in the form of an external power supply (AC adapter), which results in a considerably reduced size compared to the previously available version.
Gigabyte debuted a new version of its Thunderbolt-3 powered Aorus Gaming Box, upgrading the GPU to a GeForce GTX 1080 (the previous version sports a GTX 1070). The Box remains mostly unchanged from its previous iteration, featuring a 450W power supply, three USB 3.0 ports (and one red charging-only port), and shipping with the graphics card already inside. (Gigabyte does not offer the dock sans GPU).
However, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 inside is a custom card with a large fan (we eyed it at about 120mm) over some heavy heatsinks, indicating Gigabyte took thermal performance into account when it stuffed an even more-powerful GPU inside its impressively small Gaming Box. The new version will hit stores for $600, and the company hinted an even-larger GTX 1080 Ti version of the eGPU dock is also inbound.
Lenovo entered the eGPU dock fray with a pint-sized Thunderbolt 3 device with a built-in GTX 1050 MXM graphics card. Lenovo claimed that the device can provide adequate 1080p gaming performance and that it supports Windows Mixed Reality (WMR). We're enticed by the idea of smaller MXM GPU-powered Thunderbolt 3 docks that can add some serious gaming horsepower to an ultra thin and light devices, but Lenovo stopped short of a high-end VR-ready (GTX 1060) GPU with a design and power ceiling (170W AC adapter) that clearly targets the mainstream market. Measuring in at only 5.12 x 9.76 x 0.89 inches, the new Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock is certainly one of the smallest eGPU devices we've seen.
PowerColor showcased a new eGPU device called the Gaming Station, a second entry in the company's graphics dock lineup that appears to be an aesthetically toned-down (yet internally beefed-up) evolution of PowerColor's first TB3 enclosure, the Devil Box.
The new Gaming Station features a sleek chassis that sports ample USB 3.0 connectivity and a 550W 80 Plus Gold-certified SFX power supply that can feed up to 375W of juice to Nvidia's most-powerful GeForce and Quadro graphics cards. It can also house AMD Radeon GPUs ranging from the R9 285 to the RX 500 series. We were disappointed to see RX Vega left off the official compatibility list (especially with a power ceiling seemingly designed for it), but the PowerColor Gaming Station could be a compelling choice in the growing graphics dock market if the price (which is currently unknown) is right.
We were already aware Zotac would be showcasing its production-ready Amp Box and Amp Box Mini graphics enclosures at CES 2018, but the company also brought back an updated version of its original eGPU dock prototype. The familiar white chassis is larger than the soon-to-be-released Amp Box (more in line with the original design) with room for graphics cards up to 12 inches in length and a beefier 550W internal power supply. Zotac said the unnamed Big Amp Box (there, we just named it) is designed for workstation environments, especially for Nvidia Quadro or Titan users.
The larger PSU also affords a higher GPU power ceiling (350W) than the other upcoming Zotac eGPU dock offerings. Full I/O specifications, availability, and pricing aren't finalized, but being that this is a larger dock aimed at professional-grade power users, it will likely feature plenty of USB connectivity and some internal storage options (such as M.2 or 2.5" SATA bays). Zotac appears to be playing the numbers game with a total of three external graphics dock options, something few (if any) other companies offer.
The e-GPU is a great development made possible by TB3. And that Gigabyte e-GPU can fit easily in a backpack. The idea that you need to drag your e-GPU everywhere to be worthwhile is nonsensical requirement. The fact that I can get a cheap 2-in-1 with TB3 like the 2.9lb Lenovo Yoga 720 13, that I got for $720, and be able to go about the day at work and then bring it home at night and be able to game on it is very valueable. And if I travel, I can bring the e-gpu with me and leave it the hotel room and then use it after work. I am playing stuff like Destiny 2, Overwatch, and Project Cars 2.