I’m so happy external GPUs are finally a thing

Laptops are an exercise in compromise. Faster processors, longer battery life, and quality materials usually mean sacrificing thermals, portability, and/or your bank account. Wanting a decent dedicated GPU will generally sacrifice all of these, and mainstream ultraportables avoid them like the plague.

That’s understandable, but it’s also a shame. Dedicated GPUs give users much more flexibility for gaming – their most obvious application – but also provide important horsepower for things like video editing, photography, graphic design, engineering software, neural networks, and mixed reality (VR/AR) experiences. They’re only going to become more useful in the years to come.

While Nvidia is working hard to make gaming computers more portable, I’m more happy to see laptop-makers are finally embracing the most practical and user-friendly solution: external GPUs.

External GPUs – also known as external graphics or eGPUs – enclose desktop-class graphics cards in an external housing which attaches to your computer through some kind of cable. Nowadays, that’s usually via Thunderbolt 3 – an incredibly versatile connector with 40 Gbps throughput – though occasionally a proprietary connector.

Almost any dedicated GPU will provide a significant performance over integrated graphics if you do anything graphically intensive. Use a high-end card and games you could only play at 720p in low settings can suddenly run at higher resolutions with settings near their max. Video projects render much more quickly, and your design apps will be less prone to stuttering. More importantly, you can upgrade your computer over time – an alien practice for the modern laptop owner.

This is not a new concept, mind you. Enthusiasts have been adding eGPUs to their computers for years – not to mention trying to convince manufacturers to embrace the idea. But over the last couple of years, something changed. Thanks to the increasing ubiquity of Thunderbolt 3, the ever-declining desktop sales, and the advent of VR, manufacturers have started to embrace external GPUs.