More Thunderbolt GPUs coming soon


Back in January 2018, Lenovo was the first to release an external GPU unit with a Thunderbolt connection at CES 2018. Now, more Thunderbolt eGPU enclosures and solutions are coming from other manufacturers.

Lenovo Thunderbolt GPU

Lenovo was first to debut a Thunderbolt GPU at CES 2018 in January.

What is a GPU?

A GPU is a graphics processing unit, usually found in a full-size desktop computer. They are a separate piece of hardware that plugs in to a computer's motherboard, and provide additional graphics processing power to the main computer.

Popular brands of GPU are Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon.

GPUs can be used inside computers to increase the graphics processing power of a system, for games, VR, math calculations, CAD functions, 3D rendering, and other visually-intensive software programmes.

GPUs have been used more recently to mine cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, due to the math processing required to produce the cryptography-based coins.

What is an eGPU?

An eGPU is an external GPU. It is the same as the GPU described above, but instead of being plugged in tot he inside of a desktop computer, it can be plugged in to a card or enclosure separate from a PC, and communicate with the PC over PCI Express, USB, Thunderbolt, or another high-bandwidth connection.

PCI Express, USB, or higher?

Most eGPUs come with enclosures, a separate box that sits next to the computer. A standard internal GPU is inside the enclosure, along with a power supply, a daughterboard, and a cable connection. This connection is made via PCI Express, USB, Thunderbolt, or another method.

PCI Express

PCI Express was originally an internal PC system connector used to connect motherboards and daughterboards. Faster than PCI, PCI Express introduced a higher-bandwidth connection and two types of connector: a full-size connector and a smaller connector, with a varying number of lanes, either 1, 4, 8, or 16.

Although PCI Express was designed for internal use inside a computer, it has been adapted to become capable of being an external connector in some instances, with a PCI Express plug mounted on a rail at the rear of a PC, and a cable plugging in to it.

USB

An alternative to external PCI Express cables is USB. Similar to the USB cables that connect your printer, mobile phone, or keyboard to your computer, using an eGPU enclosure connected to a computer with a USB cable is an easy way to add GPU power to a laptop or small computer that may not have space for an internal GPU card.

USB is limited by speed and bandwidth, making it an unpopular choice for gamers.

USB has been used successfully by Bitcoin miners, who often connect five or more eGPUs to one computer motherboard to mine Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Thunderbolt

Co-developed by Intel and Apple, Thunderbolt is a high-speed multi-lane connection using high quality copper cabling to connect computer devices over short distances at high speed.

Thunderbolt is a new method of connecting an eGPU to a computer or laptop. While Thunderbolt has been available on Apple devices for several years now, Windows PCs are only now adopting Thunderbolt.

Lenovo was the first to offer a Thunderbolt-connected eGPU, debuting in January 2018 at CES, where it showed a Lenovo laptop connected to a desktop eGPU via Thunderbolt for the first time.

Thunderbolt has advantages including high bandwidth, power delivery, daisy-chaining, and low latency.

Read more about Thunderbolt here.

Internal Graphics / Integrated Graphics

Laptops often use internal integrated graphics to drive video and graphics functions within the tight internal space of a laptop. These are usually co-located with the CPU, or may be a separate chip on the motherboard that has lanes connected to the CPU.

These are typically less powerful than the full-size graphics cards we were talking about at the top of this article.

Intel and AMD offer internal integrated graphics options on the CPU chips and boards.

More recently, Intel and AMD have been working together to integrate more high-powered AMD graphics into Intel CPUs, and these designs have begun appearing on 2018 laptops with Windows.

Apple tends to use Intel's own integrated graphics within the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 chips in MacBooks and iMacs, but has been offering dedicated AMD graphics in MacBook Pro systems.

Back to External Graphics

External GPU enclosures and cards have become more and more popular in 2017 and 2018 as more gamers and graphic designers switch from large expensive desktop PCs to portable laptops that can connect to a desk-based enclosure for more graphics power when required.

More Windows PCs and laptops will begin adopting Thunderbolt in 2018 and 2019, following Apple's lead in to a Thunderbolt-only connector environment for new laptops, and phasing out older ports on desktop and all-in-one PCs in favour of Thunderbolt as well.

As the trend for eGPUs adopting Thunderbolt, and the trend for PCs and laptops migrating to Thunderbolt, merge, we have the perfect opportunity to have a high-speed Thunderbolt connection from our next laptop or desktop PC to a Thunderbolt enabled enclosure.

Thunderbolt-only

Soon, we'll see the GPUs used in eGPU enclosure drop the PCI Express slot connector, HDMI, and DisplayPort, and go directly to a Thunderbolt-out connection.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas

XYZtech

XYZ Media Group

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