At CES, Zotac will join the small (opens in new tab) but growing troupe of companies selling external graphics docks. We think. In a teaser announcement, Zotac mentioned the unimaginatively named “Zotac External Graphics Dock” (we assume the name will change), and some of the details are light; further, the description in the press release leaves us with several key questions.
That is to say, it feels like this external graphics dock is presently more of a concept than a finished product.
This theory is further borne out by the included images, which show an enclosure that looks a little too empty, and the language of the press release:
The external graphics dock enables any device equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports to take full advantage of the transfer speed and bandwidth, potentially becoming exponentially more powerful.
Not just “any device” with “Thunderbolt 3 ports” (presumably that means Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C) can work with an external graphics dock, or at least that’s what we’ve been told on multiple occasions by multiple companies. There’s just more to it than that on the PC side. You likely aren’t going to be able to connect just any laptop with TB3 over USB Type-C and expect magic to happen.
Zotac knows this; we chalk that language up to the idea that the dock is not final yet, so the company didn’t use specific language. However, one could take that comment to mean that Zotac intends for its dock to be widely compatible--as opposed to the more exclusive Razer Core or Asus XG Station 2, for example--which could be a boon for people who are dying to bolster their current laptops with such a device.
Zotac did offer a few specifications. The dock will have a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, three USB 3.0 ports, a Quick Charge USB 3.0 port, and the aforementioned TB3-carrying USB Type-C connector. The company said that it will support Nvidia and AMD GPUs up to 13 inches long and 2.5-slot width. We don't know more about the enclosure’s dimensions, but we do know that there’s a 400W PSU inside that will charge a connected laptop or mini PC.
Zbox C Series Mini PC
Yes, a mini PC with power requirements low enough to be powered by a USB Type-C cable, such as (presumably) the Zbox C Series Mini PC (CI549 Nano) that Zotac announced on the same piece of digital paper as the External Graphics Dock.
Again, being more of a pre-announcement than an announcement, full specs elude us, but it will rock an Intel 7th generation (Kaby Lake) CPU and it will be passively cooled. In addition to Thunderbolt 3, it will also have Intel’s vPro, UNITE, and AMT technology.
Although Zotac was quite vague about the GPU--stating only that “Intel Kaby Lake processors and GeForce GTX graphics are paired for the first time”--clearly there’s an Nvidia GPU involved.
GTX 1080 Mini
If we had to venture a guess, it would be that the Nvidia GPU in question is the Zotac GTX 1080 Mini. If so, that’s quite a bit of graphical firepower in one little box. (And it seems that one would not therefore need to plug in an external graphics dock.)
The GTX 1080 Mini features 2,560 CUDA Cores, base/boost clocks of 1,620/1,759MHz (respectively), and 8GB GDDR5X (10GHz, 256-bit). Zotac claimed it’s the “world’s smallest” GTX 1080 card.
There’s currently no word on pricing or availability for the above, but we expect to learn more at CES next week.
Update, 12/30/16, 9:15am PT: Zotac confirmed that the External Graphics Dock supports both Nvidia and AMD graphics cards up to 13 inches long and 2.5-slot width. The original article copy has been updated.