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External Graphics Over PCIe 3.0? Netstor's NA255A, Reviewed

Test System And Benchmarks

Our test system is built around Intel's X79 Express chipset, with 8 GT/s transfer rates to each 16-lane PCI Express graphics slot. We're going to measure the performance of native connectivity and the TurboBox using one, two, and three GPUs in each solution. This should tell us whether there's any penalty for externalizing graphics, or for interfacing with the enclosure over a single third-gen PCI Express x16 slot. Part of our testing also involves comparisons between PCIe 2.0 and 3.0, quantifying the benefits of modern technology versus what came before.

As mentioned, we're using three Radeon HD 7970s cards for testing, all of which are set to AMD's reference core and memory clock rates.

A number of games should help us flesh out 3D performance, while LuxMark and GUIMiner stand in as OpenCL-accelerated benchmarks. Although we know that the TurboBox isn't a gaming-oriented product, a few tests at 1920x1080 and 5760x1080 should shed some light on its performance potential.

Test System
CPUIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E), 3.3 GHz @ 4.25 GHz , Six Cores, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3 Cache, Hyper-Threading enabled.
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme9 (LGA 2011) Chipset: Intel X79 Express
NetworkingOn-Board Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryCorsair Vengeance LP PC3-16000, 4 x 4 GB, 1600 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-24-2T
Graphics3 x Radeon HD 7970
Hard DriveSamsung 470-series 256 GB (SSD)
PowerePower EP-1200E10-T2 1200 W ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8
DirectXDirectX 11.1
Graphics DriversNvidia 310.70 beta
  • ohyouknow
    Interesting
    Reply
  • MasterMace
    This is a nice article. I wonder if Tom's can do a multi-cpu article as well.
    Reply
  • dagamer34
    Now if only we could get external GPUs via Thunderbolt (or it's future iterations) so that laptops wouldn't be forever gimped, we'd be in business!
    Reply
  • Whooo whoo, if i had the money to burn, i would get this NA255A, remove the PSU bundle, replace it with a Seasonic 1000 Platinum, slap four GTX Titans, add a custom water-cooling loop, connect it to my main PC and have (if it works) three more NA255A's for each of the PCIe for the main PC with a grand total of 16 GTX Titans for massive GPU computation. All for a grand total of $13,800. Massive electric bill, here i come!
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    PCIE signals scale poorly to long wires. So it is a technical achievement to have these signals travel over a meter of wire.
    Reply
  • A Bad Day
    dagamer34Now if only we could get external GPUs via Thunderbolt (or it's future iterations) so that laptops wouldn't be forever gimped, we'd be in business!
    There are some external GPU cases.

    The only issue is that the cheapest is somewhere slightly less than $400.

    Please explain to me how an aluminum box, a micro-PSU, and a Thunderbolt-to-PCIE adapter adds up to even $200...
    Reply
  • A Bad Day
    EDIT: And when I meant the cheapest, I meant the ones that are only sufficient for a 7750. Want to pair a 7970 with a ultrabook?

    $400-$500 for a slightly longer box with a slightly more capable PSU.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    An expensive solution to inferior Mac hardware...
    Reply
  • Vatharian
    Good X79 workstation mobo with 7 PCI-e slots, and 4 K20x-s on each of them. That's a TON of computing power, and if you don't want to deal with high-speed networking multiple boxes, that's nice. Of course only if this thing can actuallty work in pairs or more and in some way circumvent the 15 gpu limit in bios memory mapping. Can this thing be turned on with working machine?
    Reply
  • adgjlsfhk
    But what about someone working on a Mac Pro? Apple's more limited ecosystem means there is no such thing as a three- or four-way graphics array. This could be one of the only options for enabling multiple GPUs. If massive compute potential is important, you might need to swallow hard and consider Netstor's solution the cost of doing business in Apple's world.
    Or you could use the $2000 to ditch your mac pro that is years out of date and use the money to buy a pc that is better in pretty much every way.
    Reply