If you have a laptop that is not gaming, you can equip it with an eGPU, ie an external graphics card, to get the coveted 4K graphics performance. But are they worth it?
External graphics processing units (eGPUs) sound like a great solution. You can get quality graphics of a gaming desktop computer on a simple laptop, instead of having to buy a new expensive laptop. And provided of course that you need the portability of a laptop.
Since the eGPU is a fairly specialized electronic component, is it worth paying a few hundred euros for it? How much performance can you really expect? Unfortunately, your expectations and reality can be very different. But, there is a chance that they will prove to be useful for you. Let's look at them in a little more detail.
What is an eGPU?
The eGPU is an external graphics card. Why external and not internal? Because it is aimed at machines where the very good graphics card you want cannot be inserted. As in a laptop, where a graphics card specially made for games (gaming gpu) can not be installed inside the shell of a normal laptop.
Because these cards consume power and the connection to the laptop can not cope with the electrical demand, eGPUs also need their own power supply.
All this in order not to be "loose" on a table, are collected in a box (power supply, slot for the card and the card itself) called eGPU Box and usually sold in stores plain, without the gpu card in it, so you can buy whichever you want.
Alternatively on the internet you can find them separately, that is, an exterior eGPU dock which will have a PCIe port to lock the graphics card. You will need a "bulk" power supply and you are ready.
Such as this video where the base connects to the laptop via the NGFF port where it is occupied by the wi-fi board. It simply removes the wi-fi board (and the wi-fi feature) and plugs in the base of the graphics card. For those wondering: yes, the back cover can not be closed afterwards.
How do external GPUs work?
In most cases, if you open the box you will see a GPU connector board with a PCIe port for the graphics card, fans and a power supply. The box comes with either a cable Thunderbolt 3 or a USB-C cable to connect to your computer.
Using the base that connects the graphics card is as simple as installing the card on a desktop. Nothing changes as far as driver installation is concerned. Of course, it all depends on your experience and your material.
Once configured, your computer routers graphics requests to the external GPU instead of the default provided by your computer. Theoretically, this process will give you better graphics performance as, in general, ordinary laptops do not have much graphics processing power.
Using the larger, more powerful card gives you better graphics performance. Maybe even enough to play some games with high graphics, no flicker, lost frames and crashes.
You do not need an external monitor. The laptop screen remains in use. The only thing that changes is the graphics card used by the computer. But those who do not have a good quality screen can connect a second one to the eGPU box.
The yield is not the same
Unfortunately, using an external GPU does not give you the same performance as it would if you had the same GPU installed internally. Estimates raise the loss at about 10 to 15 percent. This is not a big deal, especially considering the monstrous capacity of the latest high-tech graphics cards you can buy today.
However, loss is something worth knowing. If you hope to play them more recent AAA titles at extremely high settings, an external GPU on a laptop may not do you any favors. This does not mean that the external GPU will not improve the graphics performance of your laptop. Sure it will but the win may not change the game as dramatically as you would like.
Why not? Mainly because normal laptops are not configured to handle so much power. And if it is, and you have a gaming laptop in your hands, there is a good chance that the laptop already has a very good GPU built in, eliminating the need for an external GPU. In addition, while a PCIe port can transfer data very quickly, even the latest Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports can not match this data rate.
The age of your laptop is also very important. If you're using an old laptop and hoping to connect an RTX 3080 eGPU will make gaming unbelievable, you're probably unlucky. But if you have a modern laptop with a decent CPU (for example, the last three years or so), chances are an eGPU will offer an enhanced gaming experience.
External GPU stands are expensive
Although an external GPU cradle is basically just a small piece of motherboard with a PCIe port and connection cable, you can end up spending a lot of money. A few hundred euros or more. And besides the box or the dock you have to buy an expensive GPU.
Some dockers are also only compatible with certain brands of laptops, which means you will not be able to transfer them to another laptop if you purchase a new one. On the other hand, many laptops that are not officially certified to work with a specific external GPU base will work with any base just fine.
If the base is a dock then it may not be connected via USB or Thunderbolt but with a port from the mini PCI-e, EXP card, NGFF, M.2. And not all laptops have the ability to connect all of these ports.
EGPU research is important
External GPUs have a wide variety of compatibility and features. For example the connection to the laptop, the slot port for the graphics card. In addition, each of the listed external GPUs comes with specific compatibility requirements that you may need to consider.
Take a close look at the latest Nvidia RTX 30 series GPUs and the AMD Radeon RX 68 series (which are all giants) and you should do some serious research before you start.
In short, if you want an external GPU, you need to spend some time researching to make sure it works. Fortunately, there are a huge number of people who are interested in external GPUs and have already tried many combinations.
If you're not sure where to start, take a look at /d / Reddit eGPU. It is an active subreddit with many people who may be able to help you. Another great source for external graphics cards for PC is eGPU.io. You can search their extensive database for user-selected choices, as well as hardware combinations, to figure out which external graphics card will work best with your laptop.
Will you get better graphics performance than an eGPU?
Despite the disadvantages, external graphics cards work. You will have better graphics performance than your laptop now have and they will allow you to play games or run applications that did not work before. Many benchmarks show that external GPUs provide a huge boost to graphics power, but it is not always clear with the latest CPU / GPU combinations, as you will see in the video below.
It's hard to say exactly how much boost your external GPU will give or even how easy it will be to get everything up and running. However, if your laptop can not run a particular game and you really want it, an external graphics card is a viable solution.
Those of you who happen to have a Mac, let us know that Apple has removed the eGPU feature for its latest hardware, so do not think that you will improve the performance of your M1 Mac with an eGPU.
External GPUs continue to improve
If you did an eGPU survey last year, you know that this year things are not the same. As games become more and more demanding, and technology is growing rapidly, today we are talking about eGPUs may have taken many steps forward.
The issue of Thunderbolt / USB-C connection bandwidth is not going to change but external GPUs continue to improve.
Everything is a matter of supply and demand, and if there is a demand for users to take advantage of their old laptops, then hardware manufacturers will continue to improve technology.
Is an external GPU worth it?
All this information should give you a good idea of what you will get if you want to invest in an external GPU. There are many issues to consider. For example, cost, connectivity, and collaboration between materials.
But as with most things in life, it all comes down to one thing: the budget. If your budget allows you to buy an eGPU, go ahead!