Are eGPUs Worth It for Low-End Graphics Cards?

As the market for external GPU enclosures for laptops expands, it has become easier to see the appeal of extending the power of your ultraportable laptop. It is also more tempting to enter directly and buy your first cabinet.

However, with the current inflated prices for GPUs, it might be worth asking: Is it worth a cabinet when you're using a budget-oriented graphics card?

And if your laptop is also at the lower end of the price level, you should also worry about the bandwidth of the USB port type C.

Theoretically, all you need to connect an external GPU is a Type-C USB connection enabled for Thunderbolt. But not all Thunderbolt ports enabled have the same bandwidth.

For example, take a look at the
Dell XPS 13 9360 2017. Hidden in the specifications is an important detail: It has only two lanes on PCI Express Gen 3 Type C (with a theoretical bandwidth of 16 Gbps), compared to what is normally expected from a Thunderbolt connector (40 Gbps).


Ports (PRTS)
2 USB 3.0 – 1 w / PowerShare
1 SD card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
1 headphone jack
1 slot Noble lock
1 Thunderbolt 3 (2 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3) supports on / load, PowerShare, Thunderbolt 3 (40 Gbps bidirectional), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps), VGA HDMI, Ethernet and USB-A to via Dell Adapter (sold separately)

So, is it worth it?

The test

The Dell XPS 13 is capable [19659008] of many games given the correct settings and settings . Popular titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive achieve an average frame rate of 56 fps at 720p, and Far Cry 5 has almost 30 fps in absolutely lower settings and resolution. (link here to Far Cry 5 unpublished)

However, less flexible titles like Assassin & # 39; s Creed Origins and Final Fantasy XV are completely impossible for Intel HD graphics. [19659022] 2 ” width=”670″ height=”377″>
I started by connecting a GT 1030 to the external graphics base AkiTio and connecting to the XPS 13. The GT 1030 is the entry-level GPU of the current Nvidia lineup, a sub- $ 100 graphics card aimed at basic productivity or games. It is not technically compatible with GPU cabinets, but in practice it works without too many problems.

Access to GT 1030 dramatically expanded the capabilities of XPS 13. Counter-Strike: The Global Offensive now has an average of 146 fps, and Far Cry 5 has an average of 36 fps at 720p (and is perfectly capable of maintaining a 30 fps lock).

Titles previously impossible to execute, such as Assassin's Creed Origins and Final Fantasy XV now average more than 30 fps at 720p.

How much are we losing due to bandwidth limitations? I connected exactly the same GT 1030 to a Ryzen 3 desktop PC and ran the same reference points to discover it.

GT 1030 Counter-Strike: Overall Offensive (Average Fps) Far Cry 5 (Average Fps) Assassin & # 39; s Creed: Origins (Average Fps) Final Fantasy XV ( Benchmark Score)
USB Type-C 146 36 32 3419
Complete PCIe [19659041] 170 48 43 3694

The performance of the GT 1030 seemed to be between 10 and 25 percent of its full capabilities.

Out of curiosity, I repeated the same experiment with a GTX 1050 midtier. The effect was, predictably, more noticeable. For example, Assassin's Creed Origins reached an average of 60 fps in the same configuration when fully used, but the bandwidth limitations of the port meant that the XPS 13 saw an average of only 45 fps.

GT 1030 Counter-Strike: Overall Offensive (Average Fps) Far Cry 5 (Average Fps) Assassin & # 39; s Creed: Origins (Average Fps) Final Fantasy XV ( Benchmark Score) [19659035] USB Type-C 179.21 55 46 5531
Complete PCIe 227.57 81 60 6239

So, is it worth it to use an inexpensive GPU on a laptop, even if the bandwidth of the machine is limited?

I would say yes. While there is a definite impact on performance even in the modest GT 1030, the presence of the GPU allowed the XPS 13 to reach a solid average of 30 fps at 720p in two games that this machine could not play before. Even a 1030 GT with limited bandwidth can severely expand the range of playable games on a laptop that only has access to modern Intel HD graphics.

Credit: Shaun Lucas / Laptop Mag

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