This is what you need to know about an external GPU

Your laptop is handy, because it's a small device that you can drag anywhere. Unfortunately, most laptops have an internal graphics card that is not fast enough for the more demanding graphics applications such as video editing or graphics-intensive games. A solution is to connect an external GPU to your PC. In this article we tell you how this works.

Tip 01: Why external?

Your laptop probably has a light GPU (graphics processing unit, also called a graphics card or video card), which does not produce too much heat and has enough to display videos, play games and perform all daily tasks. But if you use heavy programs, often work with video editing software, or occasionally connect multiple large monitors to your system, you will find that your fans are constantly on and your system feels slower. All signs that the internal GPU is overloaded. In such a case, you can upgrade the internal GPU of your system in your desktop PC, but that is usually not possible with laptops. After all, in a desktop PC you can just put a second graphics card by plugging it into a PCI Express slot, but with a laptop this is not possible. It is possible to equip your laptop (or desktop) with an external GPU. It can disable the internal GPU or share the load. In most cases, an external GPU makes sense if you use a laptop as the base system.

In most cases, an external video card makes sense if you use a laptop as the base system

Tip 02: Functioning external gpu

The principle of an external gpu is very simple, you take a separate video card, build it in a housing and connect the device to your laptop. A few years ago it was only reserved for daredevils who screwed separate graphics cards into housings and soldered controllers themselves, but nowadays there are separate housings for sale, you will find specialized websites and forums where you can read all about the best gpus for external use and you can even buy ready-made solutions. You can place a maximum of one video card in almost all housings for external GPUs. There are housings for multiple GPUs, but these cost a lot of money. If you need more video cards, it is probably smarter to buy two housings, because they both have their own power supply. External video cards consume a lot of power and need powerful fans to maintain the temperature.

eGPU vs eGFX

These two terms are often confused. Often the same products are referred to, but eGFX stands for external graphics and is used for an external device that can perform graphics processes. eGPU stands for external graphics processing unit and it can only refer to a physical graphics card. So you can correctly say that there is an eGPU in an eGFX.

Tip 03: Applications

For whom is an external video card actually useful? If your gaming experiences end with Minesweeping or a game of Solitaire, you don't need more graphical computing power. But if you play games that demand a lot from your GPU – think of Far Cry, Final Fantasy or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a simple video card is no longer sufficient. For a game like Far Cry: New Dawn, a GPU with at least 4 GB of RAM is recommended. In an average laptop with integrated GPU, this often cannot be freed up by the system. The game will play on most laptops, but you have to tweak your system to get the most out of the internal GPU, and you will occasionally experience stuttering in the image. Also, you have to set the settings of the game itself to the minimum load and this means that you cannot enjoy the beautiful visuals of the game.

Another reason to get an external GPU is to work with video editing software. Rendering is much faster with a separate external video card than with the internal video card, because the external GPU is much more powerful. Controlling multiple monitors also puts a strain on the graphics card. If you want to be able to connect two external 4K monitors to a laptop, this is virtually impossible with most internal GPUs. In addition, an external GPU often has more connections to connect monitors. The use of 4K monitors can also be a reason for an external gpu, if your laptop does not support it.

Another reason to get an external gpu is to work with video editing software

Internal GPU

Two terms often come up with an internal GPU of a laptop: integrated (integrated) GPU or stand-alone (dedicated) GPU. An integrated GPU is part of the regular CPU (processor) and is much less efficient and powerful than a standalone GPU. An integrated GPU dynamically eats memory from the total internal memory in your laptop. An independent GPU (or separate video card) has its own internal memory and is therefore not part of the CPU. A disadvantage of a separate GPU in your laptop is that the battery does not last as long.

Tip 04: Thunderbolt

You connect an external GPU to your laptop (or PC) via Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is an ultra-fast connection that can theoretically reach speeds of 40 Gbit/s. Thunderbolt 3 is the name of the technology, by the way, the connection that is used for it is USB-C. So your computer must have a USB-C port that supports Thunderbolt technology. Some older USB-C ports don't do this, so check this before purchasing an external GPU.

It is also important to know exactly which external video card will work with your system. On the website you will find a lot of information about all kinds of housings, which GPUs work with which motherboards and computers and how you can assemble an external GPU yourself. Mac computers only work with AMD GPUs, keep this in mind if you have an Apple product. On the software side, you should be running at least macOS 10.13.4. There are also a few Thunderbolt2 cases on the market, but we recommend going for the newer Thunderbolt3 option. You can also connect an external GPU to a laptop via other technologies (such as mini-pci-express, ExpressCard or older versions of thunderbolt), but these are almost only suitable for DIY projects.

Tip 05: Power consumption

There are two ways to get an external gpu (three if we also include a do-it-yourself option). The easiest way is to choose a ready-made solution, but the cheapest is to buy an enclosure yourself and install a separate graphics card in it. Before you buy a housing, it is smart to verify on the aforementioned website that this housing works well with your laptop model. It is important when purchasing a housing that the power supply is powerful enough to control a GPU without any problems. In the specifications of a GPU you will usually find the number of watts that a graphics card needs, but this is based on use in a desktop PC. If you use an external housing, these minimum requirements are no longer correct. It is advisable to check the website of the housing manufacturer to see which GPUs it supports. Many manufacturers have several models of the same housing and often the difference is in the power of the internal power supply. Some housings also have extra ports on board, useful if you want to connect peripherals, for example. Also look at the width of a case: some cases are not big enough for the thickest graphics cards.

With multiple models of the same housing, the difference is often in the power of the internal power supply

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