So, with the upcoming eGPU “era” (which should have been here long ago), I thought about doing a simple comparison of what kind of performance and value you can get by getting a laptop + eGPU vs a laptop with built-in GPU connected or soldered to the motherboard. If indeed eGPUs support from laptop manufacturers will be good, we’ll soon be able to get a laptop with TB3 for a rather low price and plug in some nice eGPU solution. Remember that once the laptop supports eGFX standard, you are good to go with any compatible eGPU solution, so expect to see some price competition and even lower prices than current ones.
Ofcourse, a laptop with a built-in GPU is a little nicer for those who want it all packed in a small cube or want it to be easy to carry from place to place, but for many many people, including heavy gamers, this is either not an issue or they actually prefer to have a small and slim laptop to carry + some eGPU to attach when it is needed. Moreover, such a solution allows you to use one GPU for many systems (not at once, though) – it is way more future proof and cost effective then replacing the whole laptop. Even laptops with MXM GPU are not as cost effective due to high MXM GPUs costs (no competition really) and the fact that these laptops usually cost quite a few backs.
So, let’s do a quick comparison. These are really rough numbers and guesstimates. The laptops pricing is based on current Dell refurbished laptops prices. The Dell e5550/e5450 are available for $400-$600 Refurbished/New with good specs, quite easily and loaded with 1080p display, SSD and 8GB RAM. Dell XPS 13 9350 and Dell XPS 15 9550 have a TB3 port and can be found for less than $700/$900 (13/15) new from time to time. The new Razer Stealth is available with a QHD display and 120GB SSD for $1000 with an I7-6500U (2C/4T) – not very cost efficient, but they do promise eGPU support. A good list of laptops with Thunderbolt 3 can be found here (Thanks Joao!)
Here is a comparison of some benchmarks of current desktop and mobile GPU:
And some guesstimated prices:
|Total 960M equivalent|
$900 and up for a new system
$600 and up for a refurbished system
|Total 970M equivalent|
$1000 and up for a new system
$700 and up for a refurbished system
Price estimation (New/Refurbished)
$600-$1000 New (Currently – Latitude E5570, XPS 13 9350 and some others), Razer Stealth
$400-$800 Refurbished (Dell Latitudes, Dell XPSs, others)
|GPU: GTX 960M equivalent+-|
GTX 750 Ti – ~$90-$110 (link)
Radeon 360: ~$100 (link)
|GPU: Between 960M and 970M|
GTX 950/960: ~$180-$220 (link)
Radeon 370: $130-$170 (link)
|GPU: GTX 970M equivalent+-|
[a little slower] GTX 960 2GB/4GB: ~$180-$220 (link)
The laptops verity is currently not that big, to say the least, but give it a year and it’ll be fine probably. The big question is the bios/firmware support. It’s pretty easy for a manufacturer to enable eGPUs, but we’ll see if indeed it will be widely available in $500-$600 laptops.
The simple table above shows that in total for a new system with an equivalent of a GTX 960M GPU is around $900 and a 970M equivalent is around $1000 (simply the difference in desktop GPU price). It gets better with refurbished systems and it gets better after a year or two, with upgrades.
Currently, laptops with GTX 960M GPU cost around $700-$900 mostly, so in sheer performance/price ratio, according to my rough numbers, the eGPU solution is not better, but remember two things:
- The desktop GPUs are usually considerably less limited (TDP, temps) and
- Longevity, upgradability and mobility you get from this solution. After one laptop you’ll replace or GPU you’ll replace, it will becomes way more cost effective, because you’ll have to invest less to get the same
Moreover, for $1000-$1100, it would be easily to get an eGPU solution with a Radeon 380X or GTX 960. I’d probably go with the Radeon 380X, but it depends on the game/application. It’s very probable that an eGPU solution with a GTX 970 will be available for such a price too – the difference between the 970 and 380X is only around $80-$100. At this point, it will be easily the most cost effective option as far as gaming performance / price goes with the GTX 970 vastly outperforming the 970M. And that’s only at first round.
eGPU solutions are an excellent options for many. You don’t have to commit to a big and heavy laptop or GPU to accompany your laptop, nor you have to replace a whole laptop (or an expensive MXM GPU) just to get a more updated 3D GPU, you can wait quietly for some discounts and deals on some good desktop GPU and upgrade and if there is any problem with the GPU or the laptop, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost it all, because only one of them will have to be replaced.
So, it’s quite obvious that’s a very good thing. Now it remains to sit and wait and see what’s going on with availability, pricing and standard adoption of eGPU solution (like AMD’s XConnect).