Until recently, desktop gaming was considered the gold standard for high-performance gaming. Powerful desktop GPUs blew all mobile graphics processors out of the water. Anyone looking to game seriously would need a desktop set-up and laptops were pushed to the side.
However, advancements in technology have made it more feasible than ever to play graphically-intensive games on a laptop. While mobile GPUs still can’t compare to desktop cards, another option has emerged: eGPU enclosures.
With the advancement of connection standards, it has become possible to connect a desktop GPU to a laptop to bolster its performance. This is where eGPU enclosures come in. eGPU enclosures are external machines that hold a desktop graphics card and provide power to it. They connect to your laptop and give it the juice it needs to run more demanding games. Some even have the option to fit an HDD or an SSD, giving you additional space to store games.
In this guide, we will cover the best external graphics card enclosures currently on the market. Then we’ll go over everything you need to know to make the best eGPU purchase for your situation.
Best eGPU Enclosures of 2020 & 2021
Aggressive RGB-heavy design
Supports a wide range of GPUs
Sleek design with RGB lighting
Clean and simple design
Compatible with a wide range of GPUs
The Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box is an affordable option that comes in multiple models with varying wattages. If your GPU is not too power-hungry, then purchasing the 550W model won’t break the bank.
The exterior of the enclosure is rather simple, with a clean design featuring the company logo lit by LED’s.
Moving to the interior, it is relatively spacious and will fit and support various full-size GeForce, Quadro, and Radeon cards. We appreciate that, despite its large interior, it still comes in relatively light, giving you the ability to transport it easily.
For connectivity, this eGPU offers just one Thunderbolt 3, which is fine for the price.
Great price point
Lacking in performance
Things To Consider
What To Look For In An EGPU Enclosure
Simply put, an eGPU enclosure allows one to get all the horsepower and graphical capabilities of a powerful desktop PC while using a light and sleek laptop. eGPUs are a relatively new tech to hit the market but are quickly becoming more common, especially now that Thunderbolt 3.0 USB-C is becoming a more standard connection interface on laptops.
Typically, eGPUs are best for tech enthusiasts who are already familiar with configuring their own computers and want a way to play the latest games on their laptops. eGPUs are also very useful for professionals who work in graphic design and need to get around frequently. An eGPU is a great choice for graphic designers who need something graphically powerful but do not want to shell out all of the money for an expensive desktop.
If you are serious about gaming on a laptop, then finding the best external video card enclosure for your personal needs is a great idea. Before buying, take into consideration the following features to find the best eGPU enclosure.
First and foremost, you have to make sure you buy an eGPU enclosure that your GPU will fit in. Desktop GPUs tend to be larger and heavier than dedicated laptop GPUs, so an eGPU case for a desktop GPU will be larger. Most available eGPU cases can fit a standard double-width GPU with no problem, but some cases run smaller than others.
The size of the enclosure also determines where you can put it on your desk. Most of these cases come in at around a foot long so make sure to mark out a dedicated space on your desk to place it while in use.
Also, pick your brain to see if you want a more portable eGPU casing. Some cases have a handle for carrying but most of them are designed to stay put and not be moved around too much.
eGPUs work by providing an external rig to do the heavy work required to run a desktop GPU. They then transmit graphical data to the computer. In other words, an eGPU “offshores” the graphical processing aspect of computing which can let even a modest laptop take advantage of a powerful GPU. To do this effectively, the computer needs the right kind of interface that has a high bandwidth that can handle large packets of graphical data.
The most common interface in these eGPU cases is the Thunderbolt 3.0 connection interface which can communicate up to a whopping 40 Gbps. Thunderbolt 3.0 interfaces tend to be found on high-end laptops. USB 3.0 offers only 5 Gbps. This is nowhere near enough to transmit the required data.
Certain eGPU enclosures have proprietary connectors, like the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, making the pool of compatible devices smaller. So it is a good idea to check and make sure that the enclosure you want can communicate with your laptop fast enough to take full advantage of your powerful desktop GPU.
Some eGPU cases also double as external mounts for HDD or SSD devices. Adding an external SSD can turn an eGPU case into an almost functional rig, only requiring the laptop’s processor to run games and other apps.
It is also worth mentioning that many current models of eGPU enclosures are tailored to Windows devices and have trouble running on Macs, especially older models. Luckily, more and more manufacturers are starting to make eGPU cases that can work with Macs just fine.
You also should check product reviews to make sure the eGPU power supply is strong enough to fully use the graphics card inside. If the power supply unit on your eGPU enclosure is not up to snuff, then it won’t be strong enough to use the full power of your graphics card. Typically, for a good eGPU enclosure, you should aim for a power supply wattage between 300-500W. Higher wattages in general offer better performance, but at the cost of eating up more energy.
Ask yourself what you will mainly be using the eGPU for. If you just want a decent rig that can play games well, then you might be better off just building your own desktop PC. That will be cheaper than buying an eGPU, a laptop with the right interface, and a separate graphics card.
eGPUs are best suited for tech enthusiasts who need a flexible set up that can potentially be moved around. As a general rule of thumb, an eGPU is about 10% less efficient than it would be if you used the card on a regular PC. Be sure to weigh your options carefully and figure out what equipment best suits your needs. As we said, you may find your best option to be just building a desktop from the ground up.