External GPUs: Good Idea or the Next Big Flop?

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!

5 comments

  1. Stupid. If one is going to actually do that kind of graphic work in the first place, they’ll be sitting in a room with the necessary PC and other hardware, instead of trying to stupid their way around a project that big with a pathetic laptop. Besides, it’d be just one more thing one would have to drag around with them *alongside* their laptop. Might as well just sling your PC on your back in a duffel bag and screw the laptop.

    Whoever comes up with these ideas shouldn’t quit their day job!

  2. I can think of some use cases, but it’d be a very tiny segment. Someone who only wants one computer, needs a laptop because they need to be able to do low intensity work away from home/the office, but needs to do large scale video work when they are in the office. I’ll admit, I’m not confident that that segment even exists. For what it’s worth, if a serious gamer wants portability, (s)he would get a desktop with a case that has some features in mind for portability. If you take gaming that seriously, you won’t be bothered by unconnecting and reconnecting your rig when you travel..

  3. I for one would love to have a 500 dollar laptop that is thin and portable. Then when I need the extra juice , two cables and a box turns my 500 dollar laptop into a 900 equivalent. Yea I could see paying an extra couple of hundred bucks for that. As for portability of the extra box we have cars. This isn’t a backpacking trip.

  4. People don’t think about the 5 million truck drivers (in the US alone). Most of them have laptops but have to relegate gaming to consoles. There’s your market.

  5. this could be a good thing but it depends on a lot of things. laptops are getting better every day, more power, better graphics etc…i myself have a toshiba laptop with an AMD guad core backed by 16 gigs of ram but the graphics are a bit on the “lame” side, dont get me wrong here but my laptop will handle both of my games with not much problem(power wise) but the graphics could be better, a good external graphics setup would be great. the 2 games i play daily are 1) secondlife and 2) guild wars 2…of the 2 secondlife is the resource hog and can/will impact your “rig” very hard…to the point of frying something….trust me on that one! lol…it took me some time to get a desktop that would laugh at secondlife and keep on going, gw2 is a piece of cake for my desktop beast, i was a bit concerned about my laptop being “killed” by secondlife(it takes at least a dual core to survive sl) and gw2 is a walk in the park for my laptop! bottom line: laptops just aren’t made for heavy graphic intense games…the 2 i play are not that bad graphics wise as there are worse games out there(meaning graphic intense)…i can see a place in the laptop world for an external graphics rig for laptops…yes, you lose a little on portability but gain a lot on graphics…yea, there could be a decent market for it…price will dictate how well it goes over though!

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