Dell claims its external graphics card tech beats Thunderbolt 3 options

The Alienware Graphics Amplifier will deliver better performance and bandwidth than Thunderbolt 3 external graphics adapters, Dell says

If you want to get cutting-edge graphics on your older PC, hook up an external graphics card.

Hardware to plug external graphics cards into Thunderbolt 3 PC ports is becoming available. Other external graphics options are available, most notably from Dell, which believes its proprietary Alienware Graphics Amplifier is superior to Thunderbolt 3 options.

The idea of external graphics cards has existed for years, but only in recent years has it become viable. Graphics require a lot of bandwidth, and recent technologies like Thunderbolt 3 and Alienware Graphics Amplifier provide the throughput needed.

AMD's Xconnect technology allows desktop graphics cards to be hooked up to Thunderbolt 3 ports on PCs. One product based on that technology is the US$499 Razer Core, which works with some Razer laptops and an Intel mini-desktop called Skull Canyon.

Dell's Alienware Graphics Amplifier is similar. The latest desktop GPU can be installed in the Amplifier dock, which connects to a specialized port on a PC. The Amplifier uses proprietary technology to talk with PCs. However, it works only with some Alienware PCs, limiting its use to only those loyal to the brand.

But Alienware's Graphics Amplifier has advantages. It will support Nvidia's latest GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 GPUs, based on the Pascal architecture, something the Thunderbolt 3 external graphics amplifiers can't boast right now, said Frank Azor, general manager of Alienware and XPS PC lines at Dell.

In addition, the internal bandwidth on the Graphics Amplifier cables are dedicated to graphics, Azor said. That's different from Thunderbolt 3, in which bandwidth is broken up among external monitors, storage, and other peripherals daisy-chained to a single port. That division may take away much-needed bandwidth from external graphics cards, Azor said.

The Alienware Graphics Amplifier sells for $199, a drop from the $299 price tag when it was introduced in 2014. The goal at the time was to provide technology where the graphics cards could be easily upgraded without buying a new PC.

Alienware's technology is based on PCI-Express 3.0 technology, and it will be easy to tweak the wires to support PCI-Express 4.0 whenever it is released, Azor said.

It's unclear when PCI-Express 4.0 will be released. However, a server called Zaius being designed by Google and Rackspace, using IBM's Power9 chip, has the PCI-Express 4.0 interconnect.

There's a growing desire for good external graphics cards among users who want to play high-definition games on older laptops, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Computer owners have experimented with external GPUs since the advent of notebooks. Laptops in older days used to have PCI and ISA slots where external GPUs could be plugged in, but as laptops got smaller, the slots and external GPUs went away.

With Thunderbolt 3 and Alienware's Graphics Amplifier, external graphics technologies can effectively be blended with portability and performance.

But until a common solution or a universal standard is developed, the market will remain fragmented, McCarron said.

The external graphics card market needs the equivalent of the ubiquitous USB technology, McCarron said.

It's hard to determine whether Thunderbolt 3 or Alienware technology is superior as each has different hardware technologies and a software stack. But over time, as a common industry standard evolves, proprietary technology will likely go away, McCarron said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags DellgpuThunderbolt

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?