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The Best External GPU For Your Laptop

Editor's Choice

Razer Core X

/5
Runner Up

The AKiTiO Node

/5
Best Value

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box

/5

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We all have laptops, we all love laptops – but what happens if (for example) you bought yourself a gaming laptop, loved it, and a few years down the line are finding yourself incapable of playing the latest releases because of outdated hardware. You’re out of luck right?

Wrong. It turns out that it is totally possible for you to still rely on your older gaming laptop and still enjoy modern games with modern graphics cards. How? Through an external GPU.

But, what is an external GPU, how do I use one, and what are the best external GPUs on the market today? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered – just read on for all this information and more.

What Is An External GPU?

So, if you’re still confused as to what an external GPU actually is, then its best described as an external laptop upgrade that acts as a plug-in graphics card for your laptop. They come in a variety of forms and versions, but the bottom line is that these devices operate externally to your laptop to provide further graphical processing power, effectively replacing your internal GPU as your laptops primary graphics card.

Handy stuff, but what do I mean when I say that they come in a variety of versions? Well, they can be narrowed down to two distinct categories really: Those that come with a fixed GPU, and those that don’t.

External GPUs that come with a fixed graphics card are generally more expensive than ones that don’t – but you don’t have to worry about the combined cost of both the external GPU unit and the graphics card combined, so it has that going for it. Plus, you don’t need to worry about compatibility between your graphics card and the external GPU itself, which can save a headache and a half down the line.

Alternatively, there are external GPUs that are literally just a housing unit for a GPU to be plugged into, and then connected to your PC. These are great because you get to choose exactly what GPU you want running through your laptop, get to scale your choice based on a budget and most importantly you can use whatever GPU you have plugged into your external GPU in a future PC build if you want to – saving you money in the future. All good stuff. But how does it work?

How Do I Use An External GPU?

Whilst the specifics are going to differ from one external GPU to the next, the basics are pretty consistent when it comes to how to use an external GPU with a laptop.

The first thing you need to make sure of is that your laptop is capable of supporting a Thunderbolt 3 cable connection. You can tell if your USB port has a little lightning symbol next to it, or if you just google your laptops model number and check out the specs – you can find out there whether or not your laptop is capable of running an external GPU.

You are also going to need to be aware that your external GPU is most likely going to need its own power supply. I’m not talking the same kind you find inside a PC, but rather a cable connecting it to a power outlet – I’m letting you know now just so that any hopes you had of dangling a graphics card out the side of your laptop like an external hard drive as you go traveling are shot down early. Managing expectations.

Instead, what you can expect to be running is a rather large housing unit, plugged into a wall that is going to perform best if ran through your laptops monitor rather than an external monitor your laptop is hooked into. You can of course use your laptop as an ad-hoc PC tower for gaming, but you will see noticeable framerate drops if you decide to run through an external monitor.

And once you have swallowed all of that information, you know all the general information that you need to know about running your external GPU – obviously, check with your external GPUs instructions regarding its actual install and setup process, but those are the general ideas.

Now, the question remains: What are the best external GPUs you can buy right now?

Our Recommended The Best External GPU For Your Laptop

Editor's Choice

Razer Core X

/5
Runner Up

The AKiTiO Node

/5
Best Value

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box

/5

Asus ROG XG Station 2

/5

Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box

/5
Our Recommended

The Best External GPU For Your Laptop

adthrive

Editor's Choice

Razer Core X

The Razer Core X is out top pick for an external GPU, with a roomy interior that can support nearly any desktop GPU on the market today on Microsoft and Apple laptops.

Pros

  • Can fit a wide variety of desktop GPUs
  • Can work with both Microsoft and Apple Products
  • Cool look and RGB

Cons

  • Not as many connectivity options on the list

Razer Core X

It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone even vaguely informed when it comes to PC gaming to see the name Razer on this list, and that’s because they have been a mainstay within the PC gaming scene since 1998.

But, they have always looked for ways to expand their brand whilst at the same time offering potential PC gamers the most easily accessible ways into the scene without compromising on their performance standards in their products, and that philosophy applies to the Razer Core X.

The Core X is their latest addition to the line of external GPUs that Razer have offered in the past, with the Core X being the most current version. You will find that thanks to its larger build size (and heavier overall weight) that the Razer Core X is the perfect external GPU for larger and bulkier graphics cards – basically, the more powerful cards that offer the best performance.

As far as dimensions go, it weighs in at around 6.5kg and is 14.7 x 9.1 x 6.6 inches – not small at all, meaning that you will have to use it on a desktop – but that shouldn’t be held against it. In fact, thanks to the sleek minimalist design you find on the Core X coupled with the fact that it really isn’t meant to be toted around alongside your laptop every day means that it’s a pretty good looking addition to any desktop – especially if you are a fan of the included RGB lighting (standard stuff for any gamer).

Remember when I said that you are going to need a Thunderbolt 3 ready connection on your laptop in order to take advantage of an external GPU? That’s the case here, with the only connection port available being the Thunderbolt 3 port on the rear of the case – but that’s not a bad thing when you consider how and why you are looking to buy this external GPU.

That Thunderbolt 3 cable isn’t tied to just PCs though – oh no. Instead, you can expect this external GPU to work with Macbooks as well, making it incredibly versatile and pretty ground-breaking in terms of gaming – a lot of Apple fans just raised their heads at the potential of a graphics card in their machines – pretty much unheard of in the Apple camp.

In terms of graphics card compatibility, you are going to be spoiled for choice. Whether you want the latest AMD Radeon or NVIDIA GeForce card in your external GPU, the Razer Core X can provide – and it can provide it pretty simple to. All you have to do in order to start using your Core X is hook the Thunderbolt 3 cable to your laptop, and you are good to go – just make sure to update any drivers you need and boost your in-game settings for best results.

Now, we have to talk about longevity and upgrade paths. The Core X has its own internal cooling so that your graphics card is going to enjoy a healthy long life if you choose to leave it in the Core X for sustained periods of time – coupled with the vents built into the actual casing, it’s a pretty good cooling system with easy access to fresh airflow.

Plus, Razer has made it very simple for users to upgrade their graphics card at any time, with a plug in / plug out methodology in their build which makes it a strong purchase for ears to come if you are focussed on using your gaming laptop in the long run.

All in all the Razer Core X is a great, versatile external graphics card that offers good compatibility with both its card and its connected laptops, with a high grade of build quality and a long life cycle ahead of it.

Runner Up

The AKiTiO Node

If you are looking for an external GPU and the Razer Core X doesn’t take your fancy, then this is a perfect option that offers a surprisingly high level of support for its price.

Pros

  • Lots of room to fit a range of modern desktop GPUs
  • Great connectivity and compatibility options

Cons

  • Not great looking
  • Bulky

The AKiTiO Node

When it comes to external graphics cards, there are plenty of options out there that do the job well – but some stand out. The Node is one of those standout examples, and I’m saying that because of its simplicity; and features both accounting for that simplicity.

So, let’s start with the design. The Node is notable in that its design is remarkably stripped back when compared to other ‘gaming’ orientated hardware – why there isn’t an RBG light to be seen. But that isn’t a bad thing, when done well a minimalist approach is defiantly a viable one, and it can satisfy those out there who want a decent way to enjoy games on their laptop without having their room lit up like a Christmas tree hopped up on monster energy drinks.

Plus, the integrated mesh in the metal allows for a decent airflow, and the large size of the external GPU means two things: a well-cooled GPU, and room enough for that to be any GPU you want in the case. With its included 400W power supply, you don’t have to worry about having enough juice to run whichever GPU you want, and yes, that includes Nvidia’s latest GeForce GTX and AMD’s latest Radeon offerings. So, when it comes to compatibility with Graphics cards, you don’t have to worry.

However, the Node does have a drawback in that it has a port for Thunderbolt 3 connectivity only – no additional USB slots, making this a great external graphics card for gaming on your laptop, but not really a viable option for a VR setup if that is what you are going for.

Overall this is a solid external graphics card that does exactly what it needs to without any major bells and whistles crammed in there. If you are looking for a reliable external GPU to sit on your desk and be there when you need it, this could well be the one for you – you definitely don’t want to be lugging it around though; despite its ,it is quite weighty – even without a GPU plugged in.

Best Value

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box

If you need an external GPU and want to keep your costs low, then this is the perfect option – its even got a high level of compatibility and cable support that are surprising for its low price.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • High level of support for modern GPUs
  • Can work with some Apple products

Cons

  • Not great looking
  • Power supply isn't as versatile as some others on this list

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box

If you are looking for an external graphics card option that won’t break the bank then the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway box is probably going to be your best bet.

Let’s talk about how it looks before anything else, and get that out of the way – and the short answer is…stock. If you had no idea that the eGFX Breakaway Box was in fact an external GPU, then you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a regular workstation PC or another bit of boring hardware rather than a gaming-specific bit of kit.

Still, that’s not to say it looks bad – it’s inoffensive. And is that really a bad thing? If you are running the eGFX Breakaway Box for enhanced graphics in a PC game, and keep getting distracted because of how the actual external GPU looks, then I suggest you might not be playing the most engrossing of games.   

So let’s talk about games. It connects to your machine via the Thunderbolt 3 cable (no surprise there) to deliver fast and reliable performance from whatever graphics cards you decide to load into the unit itself. And once again, you are going to see a surprisingly high number of supported GPUs in this external GPU unit – including the use of mainline desktop GPUs, such as the (you guessed it) AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce GTX series cards. Great stuff, and brilliantly versatile for the price its marked at.

You’re going to find that the systems this card supports are varied as well, with all Windows 10 units supported provided that they are fitted with a Thunderbolt 3 capable port, and an eGFX-enabled PC. A pretty short list of requirements, but what’s more surprising is that this box can also support Mac devices, provided you are willing to load in an AMD GPU, and that your specific Mac unit is up to the Breakaway Box’s list of requirements.

Throw that in with built-in cooling and power supply systems, and what you have is a very solid little external GPU that is capable of running some stellar gameplay externally to your laptop – not bad at all for the price it retails at. Plus, there are a couple of different models in the actual Breakaway Box line, so if you know for certain that you aren’t going to need a high power supply for your own graphics card, you could possibly save yourself even more money by scaling down which version of the Breakaway Box you go for.

Ultimately, if you don’t mind sacrificing some additional connectivity features and making some allowances for a less than stellar hardware design, then you can do a lot worse than the eGFX Breakaway Box as a budget external GPU.

Asus ROG XG Station 2

If price is no matter to you, then the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is a brilliant external GPU to choose, with a host of additional features and capable of supporting 4K and VR as well.

Pros

  • VR support
  • 4K support
  • Looks very cool
  • Can run any modern desktop GOU through your laptop

Cons

  • Costly
  • A little bulky

Asus ROG XG Station 2

So, if you have no concern about the amount of money you are going to be putting down in exchange for your external graphics card, then the Asus ROG XG Station 2 is the one you should be reaching into your pocket for, as it offers stellar performance that’s tied to a heftier price tag.

Let’s start by looking at the actual external GPU and talking about the way the Asus ROG XG Station 2 actually looks. In short: It looks great – like an asset from Cyberpunk 2077 came to life, plonked itself down on your ,and started feeding enhanced graphics to your laptop. Its got internal RGB to match up with whatever graphics card you buy, so you can impress your friends when they swing by with your co-ordinated RGB display. Even more impressively its got a red plasma tube on the front of it, giving the whole external GPU a very electric feel with its red tesla effect.

Of course, this is matched up with a well-designed casing that has a nice pattern on both sides, and an overall pleasant design that features a split opening, that gives you easy access to the GPU within. Sure, it’s a little bigger, and weighs in at 2.35kgs, but because it’s designed to sit on your desk alongside a laptop rather than being dragged everywhere with it, you really can’t complain. Plus it looks great sitting on a desk, it’s a well-designed bit of kit.

Let’s talk more about its compatibility though, and what this external GPU can do. You can expect to see one of those Thunderbolt 3 cable ports I mentioned earlier on the rear of this unit, as well as four USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.0 type B ,and an ethernet connection. Basically, as well as being able to connect this to your laptop, you are going to be able to connect other peripherals to the Asus ROG XG Station 2 so that you can have a seamless input time – or even enjoy VR gaming (if you load in a GPU that can handle that kind of workload).

Speaking of GPUs, you can expect the Asus ROG XG to deliver stellar performance on the mainstays of the desktop graphics card world – those being the Nvidia GeForce GTX series and the AMD Radeon series – basically the larger size of this external GPU is great for loading in bigger graphics cards that you wouldn’t expect to see working with a laptop in everyday settings.

Remember that USB type B connection I mentioned before? That’s used alongside the Thunderbolt 3 connection to deliver faster random read and write speeds than a Thunderbolt 3 connection on its own can provide. Impressive stuff, and even more impressive if you are running an Asus ROG gaming laptop already, as (obviously) their hardware works even better with their own products.

However, that isn’t a be-all, end-all, and the ROG XG Station 2 works brilliantly with a myriad of other laptop options, helping deliver insanely upgraded graphical performance to laptop systems that otherwise wouldn’t be capable of delivering. A great external GPU if money is no matter.

Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box

If you are looking for an external GPU that comes with a graphics card included, then this is the one to go for. This particular model has a 2080 Ti in it, which is obviously amazing.

Pros

  • Has inbuilt GPU
  • Can handle 4K gaming
  • 2080 Ti running on a laptop

Cons

  • Non replaceable GPU
  • Depending on the model they can be pricey

Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box

The Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box is exactly what it says it is, a compact box designed for one thing only – gaming. This is definitely the external GPU to go for if you are looking for a unit that doesn’t just provide reliability and upgraded gameplay, but also saves you money by actually functioning as a GPU on is own, then look no further than the AORUS Gaming Box.

Let’s answer your first question first: It has a mini ITX version of a GeForce GTX 1070 GPU inside it, which makes this external GPU completely capable of running VR games and even displaying gameplay in (up to) 4K resolutions. Not bad at all.

Impressive stuff, especially if you are looking for a great way of enjoying the games you love with better graphics, but how does it fare as an external GPU? The answer is pretty well, with a couple of trade-offs. For one, the minimized size of this GPU means that its overclocking potential is a little more limited than the desktop-sized version of the card, and it can run a little warmer than its desktop counterpart too – but that isn’t a big issue.

You will notice why when you check out the casing for the AORUS Gaming Box – it is a meshy metal box that allows for a decent airflow, with built-in cooling as well to help take care of any excess heat. Another thing for you to consider regarding the design? Its size. Out of all the external GPU’s in this list, I would argue that this is definitely the most ‘portable’ (its definitely the easiest one to shift around). So, at the expense of being able to choose your own GPU to go into this smaller form factor unit, you are getting more portability out of it – not a bad thing if you want to take your laptop about with you for some on the go gaming, or LAN parties at a friends house (remember those?).

It looks pretty good too, with the requisite RGB in place to make sure that the other gamer boys and girls don’t bully you when they see this thing. It even has a litany of connection options on its rear, including 3 USB 3.0 ports, video outputs, and the standard Thunderbolt 3 connection. So, you can expect quick graphical performance alongside boosted compatibility for VR integration or just lagless input.

It also supports quick charge and power delivery – if your laptop allows for that sort of thing, but it will require a mains input, so like the other external GPUs on this list it is going to have to sit on your desk, but thanks to its smaller size it’s not going to be nearly as much of a space-taker as some of the other entries on this list.

So, in summation, if you are looking for plug-and-play ready external graphics card you can just connect to your PC and get going with – this is it. Sure, you cant switch out the hardware inside, but that comes with the trade-off of a smaller form factor and reliable, ready to go architecture.

You can even get an updated one with a 2080Ti crammed in…thats pretty cool. 

So, in conclusion: Go for the Razer Core X if you are looking for the best external graphics card, the Asus ROG XG Station 2 if you want an external graphics card and price isn’t an issue, the AKiTiO Node for the second-best external graphics card on the market, the eGFX Breakaway Box for the best budget external graphics card or the Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box if you want the best external graphics card with a GPU included. 

 

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Our Verdict

Razer Core X

/5

Razer Core X

/5

Razer Core X

/5

So, in conclusion: Go for the Razer Core X if you are looking for the best external graphics card, the Asus ROG XG Station 2 if you want an external graphics card and price isn’t an issue, the AKiTiO Node for the second-best external graphics card on the market, the eGFX Breakaway Box for the best budget external graphics card or the Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box if you want the best external graphics card with a GPU included. 

Otherwise, if you have any questions, suggestions, or additions to our list you would like us to consider, then just drop a comment below – we will always read through and add any relevant additions that need to be added!

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