External GPUs: Good Idea or the Next Big Flop?

For the vast majority of people, if you want power, you need a PC. Gaming and video editing on devices like laptops can be a cumbersome process due to the meager amount of graphical processing power that their hardware provides. It’s almost cruel. Because laptop manufacturers must implement as much hardware they can into as small a space as possible, there are certain constraints that do not allow them to include something mammoth like the kind of graphics equipment that usually runs on “big-rig” desktop computers.

However, some companies are not letting that stop them and are offering external GPU hardware interfaces that work much like how external hard drives do. It’s probably time to stop and think about whether this is actually a veritable market with tangible demand or a bunch of hot air that very few people will ever part with their money for.

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An external graphics card provides the ability for people who use their laptops as home computers to “juice them up” without having to buy or build a gaming rig. This eliminates the expense of getting a whole new motherboard and processor. It also reduces the amount of electricity used by a person’s time on the computer, since laptops often beat power-munching PCs in this department. The average gaming computer can be expected to net around 830 kW per year if the user actively runs games for roughly five hours per day.

Because of the advent of the Thunderbolt connector and other inputs that allow for high-speed data transfer on laptops, enormous amounts of graphical information can be sent to the card directly to be processed and sent back from the card to the display. This dynamic allows for the flexibility that laptops with only USB 2.0 connectors can’t provide.

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It’s difficult to imagine why your average gamer, who presumably already has a gaming rig, would want to shell out the extra cash to buy another GPU so that he or she can have one more thing to carry around. If the goal is mobility, this isn’t the solution. You’re adding weight and girth to an object that was meant to subtract all of that. Ultra-thin laptops with high-speed data ports are coveted for their portability, a factor that is completely eliminated when you add a clunky box into the mix.

Putting that problem aside, there’s also the issue that people who aren’t very much into gaming will not be a good target market for an external GPU which will require an investment of hundreds of dollars. They will not pour so much capital into something that doesn’t present even the most marginal utility to them, and they won’t suddenly be enticed by the idea of playing graphically-intense games.

While it’s difficult to think of a mainstream market that would be open to this idea, I can see how some hardcore gamers (which already compose a small segment of the overall gaming population) may consider the flexibility of being able to take their games with them as a net positive.

Would you get an external GPU for your laptop? Tell us your thoughts in a comment!

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