An eGPU stands for “external graphics card” and has been the dream of most laptop users who currently have a laptop but no dedicated GPU (graphics card).
With eGPUs now, laptop owners with business laptops, Macbooks and ultrabooks can transform their integrated graphics machine to a desktop level machine capable of playing the latest AAA games, editing videos in 4K or 8K, modeling characters in 3D, AR/VR applications and do other graphics-intensive tasks with their laptops.
What is an eGPU?
An eGPU is a new technology that enables you to connect an external graphics card to your laptop which enables you to do graphics-intensive tasks like playing the latest games, edit videos in Premiere Pro, perform some animation tasks in After Effects or character design in Unity 3D and so on.
How does an eGPU work?
Before you get excited and start ordering eGPUs, you need to know how it works and more importantly if it can work for your laptop.
Using an eGPU for your laptop isn’t as simple as you think, your laptop needs to have a Thunderbolt 3 port which is the primary port for input/output of an external graphics card.
Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) is a hardware interface port developed by Intel that can transfer data and reach the speed of 40 Gbit/s unlike the USB 3.0 which is maxed out at 5 Gbit/s.
Most eGPUs use thunderbolt 3 connection to interface with laptops, if your laptop doesn’t have a thunderbolt 3 port, you can still use an eGPU with a thunderbolt 2 connection but a thunderbolt 3 connection is always recommended because it’s faster, more flexible and secured.
Using a Thunderbolt 2 connection for your eGPU is very possible and there are Thunderbolt 2 eGPUs you can buy right now, for those with TB2 ports on their laptops.
Why do you need an eGPU (External Graphics Card)?
There are so many reasons why you would need an external graphics card and we’ll discuss the most common reasons below.
Remember, only some laptops work with eGPUs. The laptop should have these 3 key features;
- A quad-core processor or higher ULV processor
- A 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes over Thunderbolt 3 port or connection
- An OPI 4GT/s high-performance mode enabled
1. You have a Business Laptop or Ultrabook
So many people have business laptops, ultrabooks like the Lenovo Thinkpad, Razer Blade Stealth, Macbook Pro, HP Spectre, Dell XPS 13.
These laptops were purchased initially to perform your day to day needs like business meetings, presentations, blogging, some 1080p video editing. They are business laptops and the only form of entertainment they provide is watching movies and some can play some old games at really low settings.
Personally, I’ve found out the hard way that too much work without a way to relax, have fun or let out steam is bad.
For like minds, that want a little bit of fun or have hobbies like playing video games whether online or offline. You’ll absolutely need to get an eGPU which would help you play the latest AAA titles on the highest settings on your business laptop.
2. You have a Travel Laptop
Frequent travelers or businessmen mostly purchase travel laptops for their portability, speed, aesthetics and long battery hours. This is particularly true for those that travel for business or work.
As a frequent traveler, you may have a workstation at home where you do your intensive projects but you can’t quite seem to carry that powerhouse with you as you travel.
With an external graphics card, you can easily carry your workstation everywhere you go and you can work on intensive projects and use high demand computer programs to get the job done while on the go.
3. You don't want to Build a Gaming PC
Some people on the internet believe – Why to get an eGPU when you can build a Gaming PC.
I’ve some answers to that;
- Not everyone can afford a Gaming PC.
- If you already had a high-end laptop, you can simply buy an eGPU and enjoy all the benefits of a gaming PC without getting another computer in the house.
- Macbook users.
- An eGPU is a graphics card on demand.
4. You may not always need a Graphics Card (Graphics Card on Demand)
There are so many jobs and professionals out there that don’t need a graphics card to function. A high-end laptop with integrated graphics already gets the job done for them but what if they want more? But not always.
It’s a good feeling to have something on “Demand” just as we watch movies and TV shows on-demand, we can also have a graphics card, workstation, gaming on demand also.
Simply, plug and play the external graphics card and remove it when you are done.
Misconceptions about eGPU
eGPU is not the solution for most laptops especially old laptops without thunderbolt connection ports. So, don’t think you can get an external graphics card, plug it into your laptop and you are set.
No, it won’t work because your laptop doesn’t have the 3 necessary features needed for an external graphics card to work. Your laptops need to have a quad-core or more ULV processor, support Thunderbolt 3 connection over a 4 PCIe 3.0 lane and lastly, an OPI 4GT/s high-performance mode enabled on your laptop.
What makes up an eGPU (External Graphics Card)?
An external graphics card or eGPU should have these five components;
Graphics Card (GPU)
The first component of any external graphics card is the graphics card because the GPU is the most important piece of any eGPU.
It’s the powerhouse, it supplies the raw processing power that transforms your laptop to a desktop equivalent gaming machine which can also be used as a workstation to complete serious high demanding tasks.
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Another very important component every external graphics card should have is power supply. Your eGPU cannot function without having a power supply, that’s why everyone has it’s own internal power supply unit (PSU).
This power supply unit or PSU helps supply power to your graphics card and also regulates the power so your GPU can perform optimally. They also help with quieter and less noisy operations.
Thunderbolt 3 Controller (TB3)
Every eGPU has a thunderbolt 3 controller which serves as the primary connection between your laptop and external graphics card.
These connection transfers data at the speed of 40 Gbit per second which is exactly what’s needed for optimal communication and transfer of data from your laptop to the eGPU.
USB-C controller paired with the thunderbolt 3 controller provides maximum compatibility with the laptop and it also helps to regulate power effectively.
eGPU Enclosure or Case
Using the best eGPU enclosure case can prevent graphics card overheating and would help with the overall flow of air in and out of your eGPU. It’s something you should consider when buying or building an eGPU.
Benefits of Using an eGPU for your Laptop
There are so many reasons or benefits of using external graphics for your laptop. Some are obvious like gaming, workstation while others are more practical, useful and life-saving features like having more ports available. We’ll talk about all that below.
1. Turn your Laptop to a Desktop-Level Gaming Machine
Using eGPU for your laptop would automatically transform your Ultrabook or MacBook to a desktop-level gaming machine that can play all the latest AAA games on the high settings possible.
You don’t need to upgrade your outdated graphics card or put a strain on your integrated graphics, simply just an external graphics card but make sure your laptop is compatible before purchase.
You can now finally play games like Call of Duty Warzone, Fortnite, Apex Legends on ultra-settings without any lag or frame drops.
2. Transform your Laptop to a Powerful World class Workstation
Finally, you can now edit videos in 4K or 8K resolution, you can use Premiere Pro without the lags, render times are faster. After Effects works better and you’re able to complete workstation level jobs right from your laptop.
You didn’t have to go to the office or move to another room, you can put your feet up and do the heavy work from your laptop with the help of your trusted eGPU.
3. More USB 3.0 Ports
Most eGPUs come with expansion I/O which is a wide range of extra connections and ports you can make use of when you are short of ports and frankly tired of using dongles and adapters.
4. More Power
eGPUs provide more power to your laptop which can be used to charge your laptop and power the connection ports. 100W for charging of thunderbolt 3 or USB type C laptops and 15W for the bus drivers which power your connection ports like USB 3.0 and ethernet.
How to know if your Laptop can work with an External Graphics Card (eGPU)?
There is more to a laptop and eGPU compatibility than having a Thunderbolt 3 connection port. So, let’s talk about what exactly your laptop needs to have to ensure it can work with an external graphics card.
1. Quad-Core Processors (CPU)
Most laptops with Intel 6th Generation, both U, and H processors have thunderbolt 3 connection but you need to pair a very fast CPU with a GPU to get optimal performance and prevent bottlenecks.
What is recommended is an Intel 8th Generation which is an eight-core processor on your laptop, or a newer CPU will bring minimize performance loss.
How to find out what processor your laptop is using
- Press Windows key or go to Control Panel
- Type “Device Manager”
- Locate “Processors”
- Count how many processors you have listed (Mine is 4 as shown in the image above)
2. x4 PCIe 3.0 Lane
This is something most people won’t know but I’ll show you how you can find out if your laptop has x4 PCIe 3.0 connection over Thunderbolt 3 which is the best combination for providing optimal bandwidth transfers between devices.
How to find out what PCIe Slot your laptop has
- Press Windows key or go to Control Panel
- Type “Device Manager”
- Locate “System devices”
- Look for x4 PCI-E (If you don’t see any, your laptop doesn’t have x4 PCIe)
3. Thunderbolt 3 Connection Port
Your laptop should have a physical thunderbolt 3 port located either on the left or right side. This thunderbolt 3 port is where your eGPU cable will get plugged in, it’s the port that connects your laptop to the external graphics card.
4. Operating System
There are 3 main operating systems and depending on the one running on your laptop, using an eGPU can either be a walk in the park or serious homework.
Windows has the most stable external graphics support and most windows laptops with thunderbolt 3 require no hard setup. Once you plug in the eGPU, Windows automatically detects the new device and downloads the appropriate drivers needed for the external graphics card.
On the Apple side of things, there has been some success running external graphics on a Macbook but that is done strictly by following existing eGPU builds and running boot camp on Mac OS.
Linux operating system has support for thunderbolt 3 but there are still some issues with driver installation and screen output settings.
We can safely say that eGPUs are here to stay. What started as an extreme hobby by tech enthusiasts can now be used easily by anybody that wants the power of an external graphics card attached to their laptop.
I hope this article answered your question: What is an eGPU and as well provided information on everything there’s to know about the external graphics card.