Connecting a graphics card externally to a notebook was until a few years ago something very “exotic”, which only worked with some self-made adapters.
Thanks to Thunderbolt 3 it is much easier to use an external graphics card on a notebook. Although there are some eGPU boxes, this solution has not yet spread widely.
Why? A good question!
In the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 test, let’s take a look at how well an eGPU case really works in practice and whether the solution can convince ASUS. Curious?
Many thanks to ASUS for providing the ROG XG Station 2.
The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 in the test
The ROG XG Station 2 is very much in the gamer look. ASUS relies on a very unusual and edgy design, which could easily come from Mass Effect or Star Gate.
The case is mostly made of a black plastic, with a small exception. The left side of the case has a glass window.
Through this you can on the one hand see the built-in graphics card, on the other hand, so are the LEDs in the housing visible.
Yes, ASUS did not miss the opportunity to line up the ROG XG Station 2 with some LEDs inside. The colors of the LEDs can be controlled via software. In addition, there is a “flash tube” in the front, which also looks extremely cool.
The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is without question the most eye-catching eGPU box on the market. In return, the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is also one of the larger speakers.
When it comes to high space efficiency, there are clearly better options. With a length of 45cm, a height of 28cm and a width of about 16cm, the XG Station 2 is already a chunk!
The basic build quality is okay, but not super massive. This, in combination with the high size makes the XG Station 2 really a purely stationary device.
What about the connections? Inside find exactly one PCIe slot, as well as two power connections.
On the back is the Thunderbolt 3 port, four times USB 3.0 and a Gbit LAN port. Also there is a USB 3.0 input.
This USB 3.0 input is not absolutely necessary for the operation, but can “relieve” the Thunderbolt 3 port.
You do not necessarily have to install an ASUS graphics card in the ASUS ROG XG Station 2. Basically every PCIe card should work. Inside there is enough space for every conceivable graphics card.
Pay attention only to the power connections! Here, the eGPU housing has two 6 + 2 connectors, which are extremely short!
If your graphics card is very long and the connections are at the end, it could be problematic. Here one would have to be given if looking for extensions.
Too bad, ASUS could have let a little more cable.
The inside of the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is basically very well made. Unlike the PowerColor and AKiTiO eGPU boxes, these are proprietary parts that seem to have been designed specifically for this box. For example, PowerColor uses a standard SFX power supply in its box.
ASUS, on the other hand, has developed a completely unique design. The power supply apparently uses a 40mm fan. In addition, the interior is also cooled by three 40mm fans on the top. The power supply has a completely separate air supply, which is good.
However, why 40mm fan? This seems to me like a very exotic decision, whereby the fundamental air flow within the box is to be described as good (down below, out).
Assembly and installation
Basically, the assembly consists only of inserting the graphics card. As already mentioned, you can basically use any graphics card here, but the interior looks a bit optimized on the ASUS Strix graphics cards.
If you do not have a suitable graphics card, such an ASUS model might be a good choice.
The opening of the box is via a screwless mechanism on the top. Just pull the “lever” and the box opens.
Insert the GPU, screw it shut and get started.
Simply connect your notebook via Thunderbolt 3 to the box. It should pop up a window asking you if the graphics card should be connected.
Here you should choose yes and that’s it. Just install the Nvidia / AMD drivers for your graphics card and everything should work.
Yes it is so easy! Special drivers for the eGPU Box are not needed, unless you want to price the s # LED.
Does the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 work with my notebook?
ASUS offers a compatibility list on its website, but only a few ASUS notebooks and Intel NUCs are available.
Are only these devices compatible? No!
These are only the devices with which ASUS guarantees compatibility. Basically every Thunderbolt 3 notebook should work. However, I have read synonymous of compatibility issues, with some older Thunderbolt 3 chipsets.
I have the Dell XPS 13 9370 on the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 (even if it spits out an error message) and can use the Razer Blade successfully!
The performance depends on three factors, the graphics card used, the CPU in your notebook and of course the Thunderbolt 3 connection.
Basically, I would recommend using an eGPU chassis with a 4 core CPU. Dual core CPUs, like the 7th Gen Intel U CPUs, can slow things down in modern games.
For my test, I use two graphics cards and two notebooks. For graphics cards, a GTX 1080 is used. On the side of the notebooks a Dell XPS 13 9370 with i7-8550U. In addition, I will add three comparison notebooks in all the tables, which were equipped with a GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 internally.
Let’s start with 3D Mark, which is the classic benchmark.
But what about real games?
Interestingly, in “real” games we see quite a major performance difference. Here, the Thunderbolt 3 connection seems to be slowing down a bit. On average, one can say that every graphics card gets a good one level worse. So a GTX 1080 is more on the level of a GTX 1070, etc.
Experience has shown, however, that the smaller the GPU, the smaller the difference. So a GTX 1080 TI is slowed down more than a GTX 1060. Therefore, the absolute high end GPUs in an eGPU box also make less sense. I would advise to a GTX 1060, 1070 or a maximum of 1080. In addition, you lose too much power due to the Thunderbolt interface.
Of course it is also possible that the Intel Core i7-8550U slows down a bit, but that should not be the case, with 4 cores and 2.9-4GHz.
Nevertheless, I would rate the results as very good! With a GTX 1080 in the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 you can play any current game to maximum quality and that even mostly in 4K.
Important these benchmarks were created when using an external monitor!
It is also possible to send the signal of the graphics card back to the display of the notebook. However, this eats another good piece of performance. The Thunderbolt 3 connection offers only a bandwidth of 40Gbit. This bandwidth should, if possible, be fully available to the video card. If you now pass the image signal through the cable, the bandwidth for the graphics card drops and the performance drops.
But how much does the performance decrease?
In everyday life and on / off behavior
Strangely, ASUS has moved the power switch for the ROG XG Station 2 inside. But this is only partially bad. You switch on the ROG XG Station 2 once and it remains in standby if no notebook was connected.
In standby only the flash tube in the front lights up. Only when you connect a notebook, the fans, the LEDs inside and the graphics card are active.
Even if you shut down the notebook, the graphics card and the LEDs are turned off. The power supply fan remains active at a low level.
Why? The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 can charge laptops up to 100W via USB C! A cable is enough to connect the graphics card, the USB ports and the LAN port and to charge the notebook.
Of course, this works only if the notebook also supports charging via USB C.
Does one have to restart his notebook somehow, if one connects the box?
No! Just connect the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 and it takes about 2-3 seconds while in operation to be switched. Programs should not even be affected (unless they are currently actively accessing the graphics card).
The same applies vice versa. Simply unplug the cable and the notebook is free. It also no “eject graphics card” or the like necessary.
You can also use the additional USB input in addition to the Thunderbolt 3 port. In this case, the connection of the USB devices via the USB interface is handled, which relieves the one Thunderbolt and on the other, according to ASUS, for a higher performance.
Is this correct?
Yes! For smaller file sizes, the transfer rate increases quite strongly due to the additional backlink.
However, I must confess to have had some problems here. It occasionally came to the sudden reconnection of all USB devices. Whether this was a bug in combination with the Dell XPS 13 or a general problem I can not say clearly.
Without this additional USB connection, the USB ports worked fine.
The biggest weakness of the ROG XG Station 2 is without question the volume or temperature. This is no surprise, why the hell uses ASUS 4x 40mm fan instead of two 120mm fans, which would certainly have found room in the case.
Under load, the volume of the ROG XG Station 2 is quite easy. Here is the volume of the built-in graphics card as well as the notebook to which you have connected the eGPU defined.
Although the fans in the ROG XG Station 2 turn up a bit high, especially the power supply, the whole is still quieter than any gaming notebook.
When idle, the volume of the fans in the chassis drops, but the volume does not drop to zero. There remains a slight background noise.
If you put a lot of emphasis on very quiet operation (noiseless at idle), the ROG XG Station 2 is rather suboptimal.
What about the temperatures? Again, of course, the temperatures depend primarily on the graphics card you have installed and what a fan this has.
The interior of the ROG station heats up quite a bit, the fans get the air rather moderately well drained, but the whole thing is still in a very uncritical frame.
The cooling could be better, but if your graphics card is not at home at the absolute temperature limit runs, I see no problems here.
The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 can convince in the test and in everyday life almost 100%. The basic system of the eGPU works incredibly well. Wait for 4 seconds to connect the cables and all monitors, USB devices and the LAN port are active.
In addition, even the notebook with up to 100W via the ROG XG Station 2 is loaded, if supported by the notebook.
This makes it easy to transform a compact ultrabook into a gaming station with a cable, provided it has enough CPU power.
If you want to take the notebook to work, school, UNI or garden, just unplug the cable and you’re done. There is no need to restart or similar.
The compatibility of the ASUS ROG Station 2 was unproblematic. On the one hand, of course, various ASUS notebooks are supported, but also the Dell XPS 13 9370 and Razer Blade late 2016 worked perfectly.
But I wrote that the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 was “almost 100% convincing”. Unfortunately, the ROG XG Station 2 has a small weakness that prevents the 100% rating of the fans.
Although the eGPU is not super loud, but not super silent. I would describe the whole thing as very bearable, especially when one compares the volume with a gaming notebook. Nevertheless, the volume is a bit unnecessary. ASUS could have just blocked a bit larger fans and the problem would be solved.
Of course, 98% of the performance depends on the graphics card you choose. Yes, there is a certain loss of performance. In my test in combination with an Intel i7-8550U you lose about one step. So, a GTX 1080 would deliver the performance of a 1070, a 1070 of a 1060, etc. The eGPU box does not have much of an impact on that.
Bonus points are there for the very cool lighting, which may be a little over the top. But this is a matter of taste.
The price is around 500 € for the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is naturally salted, especially if one sees the current graphics card prices. However, the ROG XG Station 2 does an excellent job.
The entire eGPU concept also works very well on the software side in everyday life.
So, if you’re thinking about turning your ultrabook into a gaming monster, the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is an excellent choice!