If you’re looking to buy an external graphics card/expansion enclosure, in this guide, we’re taken a look at seven of the best external GPU options currently available.
With the rise of USB-C and Intel’s Thunderbolt interface, external graphics card are now a legitimate option for users who need high-end GPU computing power in a compact and mobile form-factor.
However, there are a number of external GPU enclosures on the market and figuring out which one is the best option for your needs isn’t always an easy task. In this guide, we’ve listed seven different options you have if you are considering getting an eGPU. So, if you are looking at getting an external graphics card, one of the options below should meet your needs.
An eGPU (or, external GPU, or external graphics card) is, essentially, a graphics card that sits in an external chassis apart from the main computer (be it a laptop or a desktop.) It’s basically the same idea as an external storage device (like an external hard drive.) In the same way that, if you plug an external hard drive into your computer you’ll have access to the storage on that device, if you plug in an external GPU to your laptop or computer, you’ll gain the ability to use the external GPU rather than the GPU that your existing laptop or computer is using.
While external graphics cards can give users access to more GPU-computing power, they aren’t without their own drawbacks. Since eGPUs must be connected to your computer or laptop via a cable (USB-C Thunderbolt), there will be a loss in performance. A GTX 1070 inside of an external closure that is connected to a desktop computer won’t deliver as much performance as if that GTX 1070 were installed directly into the PCIe lane inside of the desktop.
So, really, an external GPU is only a viable option for laptop users that don’t have a strong GPU inside of their system. But, unfortunately, for the majority of people who could benefit from the use of an external GPU (users with older laptops), using one isn’t actually possible. That’s because external graphics cards currently rely on a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connection in order to work. And, most older laptops (or even slightly older budget-friendly laptops) won’t come with a USB-C port.
So, while an external GPU can be an legitimate option for some users, the types of users who could probably benefit from it the most are the types of users that won’t actually be able to use an external graphics card.
Still, though, there are use cases where an external graphics card makes sense. If you have a newer laptop that came with integrated graphics, you could upgrade your GPU-computing power by adding an external graphics card. And, the nice thing about some of the external GPU enclosures out there is that they are upgradeable. So, if you were to ever need an upgrade in the future, you won’t have to buy a completely new enclosure to do so. You’ll likely just have to swap out the graphics card inside of the external enclosure (and maybe the power supply, to.)
In any case, though, if an external graphics card is the right option for you, in this guide, we’ve covered seven of the best eGPUs currently available to help you find the right option for your needs.
For a quick look at our three favorite external GPUs, the table below showcases our pick for the best overall external graphics card, the best value option, and the best budget-friendly option.
*To read about the eGPUs listed above, click on the “Read Review »” link to skip down to our write-up on that option. For our Honorable Mention picks, keep scrolling down.
If you’re looking for the external GPU that will provide you with the best out-of-the-box performance, then the Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box is probably your best bet. Gigabyte’s Gaming Box is the one of the only options out there that comes with a video card pre-installed in it. At the moment, the Gaming Box comes in two different GPU options: an RX 580 or a GTX 1070.
The RX 580 comes in at a little under $400 and comes with a 400W power supply. And the GTX 1070 version comes in at a little under $550 and comes with a 450W power supply. Both options sport a PCIe (x16) slot.
The Gaming Box measures in at ~6″ x 4″ x 8″ and only weighs about 4.5-pounds. So, it is a fairly compact external GPU option and it should be pretty easy to move around.
Ultimately, if you don’t want to purchase your own graphics card to install inside of an external GPU enclosure, then the Gigabyte Gaming Box is probably your best option.
After the Gigabyte Gaming Box, none of the other options on this list come with a graphics card included. But, that’s the standard with external GPU enclosures. They give you the option to install the graphics card of your choice.
In our opinion, the Akitio Node is one of the better enclosure-only options. It comes with a built-in 400W power supply. If you’re familiar with desktop power supplies, a 400W power supply might now seem like enough power to run a modern high-end graphics card. However, it’s important to note that the power supplies that come in these external GPU enclosures won’t have to deliver power to other components like they would have to in a traditional desktop. They will mainly just have to provide power to the graphics card. So, with that in mind, a 400W power supply should be plenty for mid-range or higher GPU.
The Node also comes with a PCIe (x16) slot and has a price tag of just under ~$250. That means that, if you wanted to put an RX 580 inside of it, it would end up costing you over $400—which doesn’t make it as good of a deal as the Gigabyte Gaming Box in terms of price-to-performance.
The Node is also quite a bit bigger than the Gigabyte Gaming Box, measuring in at ~17″ x 6″ x 9″ and weighing in at ~2-pounds (without a graphics card installed.) However, its extra interior space will be able to accommodate full-size video cards, whereas, with the Gigabyte Gaming Box, you’ll be limited to using low-profile graphics cards.
And, the Node does come with a carrying handle as well, so, even though it is a bit larger than the Gigabyte Gaming Box, it should still be fairly easy to move around.
If you’re not looking to run a higher-end graphics card in your external GPU enclosure, perhaps Sonnet’s eGFX Breakway Box is the right option for you. At just under ~$200, the Breakway Box is one of the most affordable options currently available. (The only cheaper option is Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier—but that only works with select Alienware machines.)
The Breakaway Box comes with a 350W power supply built-in. It measures in at ~14″ x 8″ x 7″ and weighs about 7-pounds (without a graphics card installed.) So, while it is a bit smaller than the Akitio Node, it also quite a bit heavier.
But, the 350W power supply should be able to accommodate mid-range and budget-friendly graphics cards. And, if that’s not enough power for you, you can also opt for the 550W or 650W version of the Breakaway Box.
Ultimately, if you don’t have a large budget and you want an affordable option that will allow you to install a mid-range-level GPU inside of it, then the Breakaway Box is worth considering.
ASUS XG Station PRO is another option worth mentioned. However, it comes with a couple of downsides. For starters, at just under $330, the XG Station PRO is much more expensive than both the Akitio Node and the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box.
And, despite being ~$100 more expensive than the Node and ~$130 more expensive than the Breakaway Box, it only comes with a 330W power supply—which is less power than both of the two options listed above.
ASUS does have a higher-powered option in the ASUS ROG XG Station 2, which comes with a 600W internal power supply. The main downside of the XG Station 2, though, is the fact that it comes in at ~$550 and it doesn’t include a graphics card. So, if you were to pair the XG Station 2 with a higher-end GPU, you could be looking at a total of ~$900+ when all is said and done. And, at that point, you’d be much better off going with one of the options listed above.
So, while ASUS’ external GPUs are formidable options in terms of their construction, for the prices that they are currently going for, they really don’t make much sense over the competition.
Next up, we have the OWC Mercury Helios FX external expansion chassis. The OWC Mercury Helios FX comes with a 550W built-in power supply and costs just a little under $300.
That is easily one of the bigger power supplies in a sub-$300 external enclosure and so you’d think it would be a solid option for anyone that is looking to use a high-end GPU. However, the Mercury Helios FX has one downfall…
Rather than using a PCIe 3.0 (x16) slot, the Mercury Helios FX only comes with a PCIe 3.0 (x4) slot. This isn’t a terrible problem as the performance difference between an x4 slot and an x16 slot isn’t significant across a wide range of benchmarks. However, seeing as how an eGPU will lose some performance as it is through the Thunderbolt connection, adding another bottleneck into the process isn’t ideal.
Again, it won’t be a significant difference… but, considering that there are more affordable options that do come with an x16 slot, that’s the route I’d recommend instead.
Honorable Mention #3:
Razer Core V2
Razer’s Core V2 external graphics enclosure is another option that just doesn’t make too much sense due to the price it comes in at. It does come with a 500W built-in power supply and a PCIe (x16) slot. But, it doesn’t come with a graphics card despite it coming in at just under $500.
When you consider the high upfront cost of the Core V2 itself, you’re looking at a $1,000+ investment in order to get a high-end graphics card to go inside of it. And, seeing as how options like the Akitio Node will give you the same potential to accommodate a powerful GPU, but will cost a whole lot less—or when you look at the cost of the GTX 1070 version of the Gigabyte Gaming Box—it seems crazy to drop $500 on the Core V2.
Honorable Mention #4:
Alienware Graphics Amplifier
The final option on this list is actually the option that offers the best price-to-performance. At just under $170, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier is easily the most affordable external graphics enclosure option currently available.
And, with a 460W power supply built-into the enclosure, it can easily handle a higher-end video card. So, with all that being said, how is this not the best external GPU option on this list?
Well, the main problem with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier is the fact that it has a propietary connection that only works with certain Alienware computers and laptops. And, unfortunately, that fact alone pretty much eliminates the majority of the market from being able to use Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier.
Although, if you do have a compatible Alienware computer, then this will be by far your best option for an external graphics enclosure.
Which External GPU is the Best Option for You?
If you’re in the market for an external graphics card to help boost your existing system’s GPU-computing power, then you have a handful of options to choose from. And, really, of those options, there are only a few that stand out as offering a reasonable product at a fair price. In our opinion, your best options are either Gigabyte’s Gaming Box, Akitio’s Node, or Sonnet’s eGFX Breakaway Box. And, if you have a compatible Alienware computer, then Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier is a good option as well.
If an external GPU is not for you, check out the graphics card buyer’s guide listed below for some other potential options: