Here's The Box That Can Turn A Puny Laptop Into A Graphical Powerhouse

Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse

USB Type-C is shaping up to be the holy grail of ports. It can charge your laptop, deliver 4K video, and transfer loads of USB data all over a single cable — all at the same time. What could be better? You're looking at the answer.

What you see in these pictures is a hub that uses Intel's Thunderbolt 3, a supercharged version of USB-C with double the bandwidth. What does that actually mean in practice? It's fast enough that you can actually augment the power of a relatively weak laptop with an external graphics card ... yes, while still charging the laptop ... driving two 4K monitors ... and powering your USB devices all at the same time. Here's what that looks like:

Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse

That's right: with just a single cable plugged into the side of this super thin, super light laptop we spotted at IDF 2015, you get three USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI ports, two DisplayPorts, external audio, and ethernet all at the same time. Plus an extra USB Type-C port for — in this case — attaching a ridiculously-fast external solid state drive.

Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse
Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse
Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse

The best part isn't the plethora of ports, though: it's the fact that this sleek box has an external graphics chip inside. In this case, an AMD Radeon R9 M385. Hello, games!

What if you need even more graphical muscle? Say, if you want to plug your thin and light laptop in at night and play some Grand Theft Auto V? Thunderbolt 3 can handle a way bigger external graphics card dock, too. Here's what it looks like with a full-size AMD R9 200 series graphics card, delivering a respectable frame-rate in the Unigine Heaven benchmark.

Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse
Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse
Here's The Box That Can Turn a Puny Laptop Into a Graphical Powerhouse

Sadly, all of these Thunderbolt 3 boxes — and the laptop — are just Inventec reference designs, not commercial products yet. Plus, Intel won't say what they might cost or when they might arrive, though the first real Thunderbolt 3 products will allegedly start hitting the market by the end of the year.

Will manufacturers actually build external graphics solutions with Thunderbolt 3? "Watch this space," says Navin Shenoy, an Intel executive.

This story originally appeared on Gizmodo Australia


Comments

    So if I understand this correctly, you won't automatically be able to use devices like this on arbitrary machines with USB type-C ports.

    It is similar to DisplayPort over type-C: while the new USB standard allows the endpoints to negotiate to speak a different protocol over the cable, you'd still need the laptop's display hardware wired up to send a DP signal to the USB port in order to plug in a monitor.

    Similarly here, the USB port would need to be wired up to a Thunderbolt controller chip in order to enable a device like this. If the laptop does support this though, you'd essentially be speaking PCIe over the USB cable. At that point, external graphics cards like this probably share more in common with the ExpressCard graphics docks that were available a while back (although this probably gives more bandwidth).

    So the real question is how widely will Thunderbolt 3 be deployed? It'll need to break out of it's current niche where it is perceived as an Apple specific expansion port (even though Intel owns the IP).

      Get out of here with your IT wizardry babble!

      ...

      No but seriously, you sound like you know what you're talking about and I will take your word. I want this to be widely adopted!

        Perhaps it will be. It sounds like Intel's Skylake microarchitecture will include Thunderbolt 3 in the chipset:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylake_%28microarchitecture%29

        So if laptop and motherboard manufacturers get Thunderbolt for free when they hook up the USB ports, then it might be available on the majority of new systems in 6 months or so.

      I am guessing that this still may stay a niche for a few more years until it becomes widely wanted as the demand for things like this will grow. So i would expect the custom building companies will be the only ones wanting to touch this tech atm.

      From what I hear, Thunderbolt 3 and USB3 Type-c are interchangeable cables with no incompatibilities other than one having better output than the other.

        The cables are compatible because Thunderbolt is using the USB type-C cable standard.

        My point is that having type-C ports is not sufficient to use a Thunderbolt 3 device though: the USB controller chips at both ends need to be hooked up to Thunderbolt controllers. If your computer is missing that, then it won't be able to talk to one of these devices.

    Sounds like it has potential, here's hoping it won't end up being a good idea gone to waste like the ASUS XG Station

    I believe that phrase is "Shut up and take my money!".

    Coming from someone who has a laptop that can barely run Skyrim, YES PLEASE.

    This has been possible since Thunderbolt 1. Lookup "DIY eGPU" and you'll find dozens of results.

    What is the external SSD case? I need it

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