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External GPU – Best external GPUs for laptops and all you need to know

External GPU – Best external GPUs for laptops and all you need to know in 2022. If you’re not getting enough gaming performance out of your laptop, you can try an external graphics card. But are they worth it? Are your PC specs not good enough to play high-end graphic displays? Are you unable to watch 4K videos?

External graphics processing units (eGPUs) sound great. You can get desktop-quality graphics on a laptop, which means you only need one computer for portability and high-level gaming. (Similar post: Best Graphic Cards To Buy For Every Option In 2022)

But do they stand up against internal GPUs? Is it worth dropping a few hundred bucks on a dock? How much performance can you really expect? Unfortunately, expectations and realities may differ with external GPUs. (Similar post: How To Fix A Graphic Card Not Detected Error On Your Laptop)

Probably you are running short of a good graphics processor. Don’t worry, and you might not have to change your PC entirely. Just adding up an external graphics card could do the job for you. The best External Graphics Card/External GPU provides an upgrade to the graphic configuration of your PC. It helps a lot for viewing high-resolution videos and playing games that need high-end graphics cards.

What Is an External GPU?

Modern laptops can pack an amazing amount of processing power into a small frame. One issue that laptops have though, is cooling. As much as you can try, it’s only possible to have so much cooling in such a small space. This is especially an issue for gamers, you can either choose between a thin and reasonably powerful laptop or a heavy and bulky but more powerful gaming laptop. External GPUs offer a third option to laptop gamers though.

An external GPU is generally contained in an enclosure that keeps it safe and contains everything needed to power and connect it to the laptop. Most connect through a Thunderbolt or USB Type-C connector, although some use proprietary connectors. The Thunderbolt connection is used because it includes PCIe lanes that are necessary for high-speed graphics operations. The USB Type-C connector can also be used because the Thunderbolt protocol is included in the Type-C standard. (Similar post: Best Nvidia GeForce Graphics Cards To Get Today)

When configured with an external graphics card, your computer offloads graphics processing to the external GPU. This can significantly help the laptop to remain cool even while under a heavy gaming load, as the main heat source is now outside the laptop chassis.

5 Things You Need to Know About External GPUs

1. How Do External GPUs Work?

In most cases, you’ll see an external GPU hooked up to a dock. An external GPU dock has a PCIe port for the graphics card and usually either a Thunderbolt or USB-C cable to connect to your computer.

Using a dock is as simple as installing the card, installing the drivers, rebooting, and installing any custom software. (Of course, your experience will vary depending on your hardware.)

Once you have it set up, your computer routes graphics requests to the external GPU instead of the default one supplied with your computer. In theory, this process will get you better graphics performance as, by and large, laptops don’t have much graphical processing power. (Bear in mind that you can use an external GPU for your desktop, but they are much more common for laptops.)

Using the bigger, more powerful card gives you better graphical performance. Maybe even enough to play some graphically intense games. Sounds great, right?

2. External Performance Doesn’t Stack Up

Unfortunately, using an external GPU doesn’t give you the same performance as it would if you had the same GPU mounted internally. How much performance do you lose, then? Estimates put the loss at around 10 to 15 percent. That isn’t a big deal, especially considering the monstrous capacity of the latest high-end graphics cards you can buy today.

However, the loss is something worth knowing about. If you’re hoping to play the latest AAA titles on ultra-high settings, an external laptop GPU setup might not do it for you. That’s not to say the external GPU won’t improve the graphical performance of your laptop; it definitely will. But the gains might not be as game-changing as you think.

Why not? Mostly because laptops just aren’t set up to handle that much power. And if they are, there’s a strong chance the laptop has an integrated GPU already, negating the need for an external GPU. Furthermore, while a PCIe port can transfer a lot of data very quickly, even the latest Thunderbolt and USB-C ports cannot match that data rate.

Now, the base laptop you use for your eGPU setup does have a big say in this. If you’re using an old laptop and hope that plugging in an RTX 3070 eGPU will magically make gaming incredible, you’re plum out of luck. But if you have a modern laptop with a decent CPU (say, from the last three years or so), there’s a good chance an eGPU will deliver an improved gaming experience. By extension, if you’re using an older eGPU with a newer laptop that only has integrated graphics, it could be time to consider upgrading your GPU.

3. External GPU Docks Are Expensive

Though an external GPU dock is basically just a small piece of motherboard with a PCIe port and a connector cord, you can end up shelling out a surprising amount. You’re looking at a couple hundred bucks or more. And that’s on top of the already expensive GPU to go in the dock. (Not forgetting the existing cost of your laptop, of course.)

Some docks are also only compatible with certain brands of laptops, which means you won’t be able to transfer them if you get a new one. That’s another cost to consider. On the flip side, many laptops that aren’t officially certified to work with a specific external GPU dock will, in fact, work just fine. You might have to do a little bit of tinkering to get them working.

4. eGPU Research Is Important

External GPU docks have a wide variety of compatibilities and features. For example:

  • The OWC Mercury Helios 3 will only take cards up to 75″.
  • The Akitio Node takes “half-length” cards.
  • Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier doesn’t have any USB or Thunderbolt ports; it uses a proprietary connector instead.
  • The HP Accelerator Omen has a SATA port for connecting an additional HDD or SSD.

In addition, each of the listed external GPUs comes with specific compatibility requirements that you may or may not need to consider. As previously mentioned, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier has a proprietary connector and will only work with Alienware laptops. The Razer Core external GPU dock only works with Thunderbolt 3. The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is unclear about which non-ASUS products it will work with.

Throw in the prospect of the latest Nvidia RTX 30-series and AMD Radeon RX 60-series GPUs (which are all behemoths), and you’re going to have to complete some serious research before taking the plunge.

In short, if you want an external GPU, you need to spend some time researching to make sure it’s going to work. Fortunately, there are a huge number of people interested in external GPUs, and they’ve already tested many combinations.

If you’re unsure where to start, check out Reddit’s /r/eGPU. It’s an active subreddit with a lot of people who might be able to help. Another excellent resource for external graphics cards for PCs is eGPU.io. You can search their extensive database for user builds and hardware combinations to figure out which external graphics card will work best with your laptop (or desktop).

5. Will You Get Better Graphics Performance From an eGPU?

Despite the drawbacks, external graphics cards do work. You will get better graphics performance out of your laptop, and they’ll enable you to play games or run apps that wouldn’t have worked before. (Which upgrades improve your PC performance the most overall?) Plenty of benchmarks show that external GPUs provide a huge boost in graphics power, but it’s not always clear cut with newer CPU/GPU combinations, as you’ll see in the following video.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much of a boost your external GPU will give or even how easy it’ll be to get everything up and running. However, if your laptop cannot run a particular game and you really want it to, an external graphics card is a viable solution. An external graphics card for a laptop can really make a difference!

Oh, and one word of warning for M1 Mac owners. Apple has removed eGPU functionality for its newest hardware, so don’t go thinking you’ll soup up your M1 Mac’s performance with an eGPU. They don’t play nicely!

Top 5 Best External Graphics Card For Laptops

Tool NameBest ForInterfacePrice
Razer Core X GPU EnclosureLaptopsThunderbolt 3$399.99
StarTech Graphics CardDual Monitor DisplayVGA$36.74
Razer Core X External Graphics CardGamingBluetooth$538.46
Akitio Node eGPUAMD CardsThunderbolt 3$299.75
PowerColor Gaming Station Graphic CardsHeavy GamingThunderbolt 3 USB-C$329.00

1. Razer Core X Aluminum External GPU Enclosure

The Razer Core X Aluminum External GPU Enclosure is one of the best laptops external graphics cards when it comes to performance. This product appears with a Thunderbolt 3 compatibility that is compatible with most laptops today. You can also get both Windows and Mac OS support for the best results.

PSU650 W
Weight14.29 Pounds
CompatibilityWindows & macOS
Processor Count4

2. StarTech.com External Video & Graphics Card

The StarTech.com External Video & Graphics Card is a decent choice if you are looking for an external video adaptor. Because of the USB to VGA cable, you’ll be able to use this product with a dual monitor display. Apart from this, the product has 1920×1200 resolution support that should be good enough for your video use.

PSU60 W
Weight3.36 ounces
CompatibilityWindows & macOS
Processor Count1

3. Razer Core X External Graphics Card Case With Thunderbolt 3 For Windows

The Razer Core X External Graphics Card Case is a great choice even if you are using this external GPU for a laptop. It has a Bluetooth interface, and thus getting connected to multiple devices will not be a problem. The option of having 16.8 million color pigmentation is an added advantage to the product.

PSU700 W
Weight15.4 pounds
CompatibilityWindows 10
Processor Count6

4. Akitio Node Thunderbolt3 eGPU For Windows

The Akitio Node Thunderbolt3 eGPU comes with Thunderbolt 3 support that can provide an amazing transfer speed. It comes with a transmission rate of 40 Gbps, which reduces any lag time while playing games. The product has both AMD on macOS High Sierra support.

PSU60 W
Weight14.67 pounds
CompatibilityWindows
Processor Count1

5. PowerColor Gaming Station Graphic Cards Thunderbolt EGPU

The Max Gen3 x4 speed is based on the AMD XConnect Technology that provides great gaming support. This gaming station maintains an ultimate performance that is great for playing games. The Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port support provides a great connectivity option for both your gaming console and laptop.

PSU87 W
Weight14.67 pounds
CompatibilityWindows & MacOS
Processor Count4

Frequently Asked Questions on External GPU

Is external GPU as good as internal?

However, this has its disadvantages; An external graphics card will not give you the same performance as if it was installed inside your equipment, and you will lose up to 15% performance compared to the internal ones. The reason why this happens is that you are not connected directly to the motherboard.

Can you have an external graphics card?

The concept of having an external GPU or eGPU is relatively new in the market. However, it is an amazing device that helps to achieve desktop quality graphics on any compatible PC.

External graphic cards do come with a compatible hardware interface that is easy to set up and use. You may require watching 4K videos or playing games that require high graphics. The eGPU will get the job done.

Is an external GPU worth it?

Answer: The main objective of having an external GPU is to enhance the graphic performance of your PC or laptop. You may not have the right specifications for every computer device that you are using. The external GPU provides the additional graphic support you need. It works quite similar to what every gaming laptop would offer. In short, yes- an external GPU is always worth it.

Can I install an external graphics card on my laptop?

The external graphics card is manufactured to be working with your laptop. It gets connected to your laptop by using a compatible hardware interface. It allows you to get a powerful graphics display. Most laptops are now compatible with an external graphics card with the help of multiple ports. It can either be Bluetooth, VGA, or even Thunderbolt 3 port. So installing the external graphics card for the laptop is not a problem.

Why are eGPU enclosures so expensive?

The cost of any eGPU solely depends on two factors- the compatibility mode and the performance it delivers. The eGPU is designed to deliver the same graphics performance as a professional gaming laptop. Since the eGPU comes with high graphic processors and PCIe support, it is expensive as well.

Can I use eGPU without Thunderbolt?

It is not mandatory that you need to have Thunderbolt 3 input every time you use an eGPU. If your laptop does not support such a hardware interface, you can try to go for an eGPU that supports USB-C.

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