Perhaps you’ve settled on a gaming laptop instead of a desktop for some easy portability. However, while gaming laptops have become incredibly versatile and powerful, they don’t quite perform the same way as desktop PCs. That’s why many people opt for an external GPU for laptops to get the best of both worlds.
What is an external GPU, and which one is the best for you? Let’s find out.
What Is an External GPU (eGPU)?
If you’ve been a long-time PC gamer, you’re probably already familiar with many PC components required for gaming. You’ve already asked, “What does a graphics card do?” and have heard the answer multiple times over. However, even for experienced desktop PC gamers, an external GPU (eGPU) might be completely foreign. Just what is it, and how does it work?
Simply put, an external GPU for laptop devices is a “plug-and-play” external graphics card. You plug it into your laptop, and it should carry the burden of your laptop’s graphical workloads. eGPUs are ideal if you have a weak laptop graphics card that limits you from running games. Moreover, it’s equally useful for powerful gaming laptops that still don’t quite live up to a desktop-class performance.
While using an external graphics card for laptop devices, gamers can theoretically have the best of both worlds. You can go out and about with your portable laptop and play anytime, anywhere. You can enjoy more robust graphics when you get home and plug in your eGPU for added power. It’s a win-win situation.
8 Best External GPUs for Laptops That Gamers Will Love
Deciding to buy an eGPU is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to know which one to buy. So, which is the best gaming card to pick in 2021? Here are our top eight picks just for you.
- Beautiful design
- Absent USB hub
- 2.5-slot width cards only
- Somewhat pricey
At first glance, you might not even notice that the Akitio Node Titan is an external GPU for laptop devices. That’s because it doesn’t look like a device built for gamers — not with its sleek and subtle design language. It looks simple, clean, and elegant, making it seem like a regular PC case if you don’t know any better.
However, like other eGPUs, the Akitio Node Titan is a competent performer that’s sure to boost your gaming experience. Granted, it’s not as powerful as other alternatives because it only supports a 2.5-slot graphics card. In addition, it only has a standard Thunderbolt 3 port, a 650W power supply unit (PSU), and not much else.
Nonetheless, the Akitio Node Titan should be good enough if you want something competent to carry your graphics workloads. Moreover, it’s the ideal PC GPU if you want to emphasize portability. It’s lightweight and even has a convenient handle that makes the Node easy to carry around.
- Able to power your laptop
- Multiple ports to expand laptop connectivity
- RGB support
- Can accommodate full-sized graphic cards
- Outlandish design
- No three-slot card support
Another wonderful external GPU for laptop devices is the Asus ROG XG Station 2. This is a solid device and a great step up from its predecessor, thanks to the upgraded power supply.
It provides extensive versatility in multiple ways. For example, with just a single USB-C connection, you can provide your laptop with a hub of several external ports. Moreover, you can also power your laptop right through the eGPU without using a separate power brick. Apart from this, the Asus ROG XG Station 2 also supports RGB colors and can fit in full-sized graphic cards.
However, like other eGPUs, it has its setbacks that might deter you from hitting that purchase button. Perhaps the biggest deal-breaker here is that it only supports 2.5-slot graphics cards. Hence, it’s not the best choice if you’re looking to use high-end cards.
Additionally, it’s also large, heavy, and outlandish, so the design could be off-putting for someone who wants something more subtle. Lastly, it’s somewhat expensive, so not everyone can afford it. Regardless, it’s a solid choice if you have the money, don’t mind the card compatibility issue, and love the aesthetic.
- Supports full-length graphics cards
- Additional hard drive bay
- Multiple ports
- A laptop holder comes with it
- Bulky and heavy
The Cooler Master MasterCase EG200 is an excellent external GPU for laptops for folks who are all about power. This is because it can fit full-sized desktop-class graphics cards so that it won’t limit you in terms of gaming. With it, even a boring office laptop can turn into a proper gaming rig without much effort.
Moreover, it’s also a powerhouse with tons of bonus features that you can’t find in many other alternatives. These include an extra hard drive bay, all the ports you could want, and even a laptop holder.
Unfortunately, the plethora of features in the Cooler Master MasterCase EG200 comes with a few trade-offs. For example, the case needs to be extra bulky to use full-sized graphics cards. Hence, it’s not the most portable option in the world. Moreover, it’s not budget-friendly and demands a large investment from those who seek to reap its benefits.
- Relatively accessible price
- Hub of ports
- Compatible with powerful GPUs
- Not as portable
Another good GPU you can opt for is the Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box. It comes in multiple iterations from Gigabyte, ranging from lower-end AMD graphics cards to high-end RTX 3080s. As such, it can be both incredibly powerful and versatile, depending on the model you choose to buy.
In addition, the AORUS comes with tons of ports already built-in. Thus, you can convert your regular laptop into a beast of a gaming PC with just a single plug. It’s also decently sized, although there’s no easy way to carry it because of the lack of handles. Nonetheless, it’s a great deal and one heck of an external GPU for laptop devices.
- Great for powerful cards with overclocking capacity
- Compatible with liquid cooling graphics cards
- Reasonable price
- Beautiful design
- Poor quality cables and other components
Some say it can be hard to strike a balance between features and price for eGPUs. However, the Mantiz MZ-03 Saturn Pro II can certainly prove those nay-sayers wrong. That’s because it not only has excellent features, but it also comes at a reasonable price point. With it, even your MacBook can turn into a capable gaming device after just one connection.
Among these great features include the 750-watt power supply that the MZ-03 Saturn Pro II has. Through it, you can pretty much throw anything at the eGPU without it having any problems whatsoever. Moreover, its power capacity isn’t wasted because it’s also compatible with powerful high-end cards that can handle heavy overclocking. You can even choose to swap out the fans with liquid cooling to push the graphics performance.
In addition, the MZ-03 is also elegantly designed enough to fit into any desk setup. It’s also surprisingly affordable despite being such a powerhouse. However, some users have claimed that the components (e.g., cables) aren’t the most durable, so keep that in mind.
- Compatible with powerful graphics cards
- RGB lighting
- Not portable
Razer has to be one of the biggest brand names in gaming to date — and we understand why. The brand is nearly synonymous with gaming, after all, and its eGPUs continue that wonderful legacy. That’s why we can easily recommend the Razer Core X Chroma as one of the best in the business.
Through this external GPU for laptop devices, you can satisfy all your gaming needs and live the dream. That’s because it’s compatible with incredibly powerful cards, including RTX cards from NVIDIA and Radeon XII GPU cards from AMD. Moreover, it has enough power to be future-proof and even support high-end cards of the future. You can even overclock those cards if you want a bit of an extra boost.
Unfortunately, the downside to the Chroma is that it isn’t as portable as other eGPUs. Moreover, it’s pretty expensive, so not everyone can afford it. Nonetheless, if you want amazing performance in an external GPU for laptop devices, the Chroma is a solid choice.
- Comes in both RGB and non-RGB
- High wattage
- Support for three graphics cards
- No Thunderbolt 3 USB port
- Bulky and heavy
Another great Razer-branded external GPU for gaming is the Razer Core X eGPU Enclosure. With it, you’ll have all your basic needs met in terms of both power and compatibility. Moreover, it can even support three graphics cards in each PCIe slot. It’s also incredibly affordable for what it does, so it’s certainly one of our top picks.
However, it does have some downsides that we’re not a fan of. Most notably, it doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3 port, so you’re missing out on a lot of potential for connectivity. In addition, the Core X is also pretty heavy and bulky, so it isn’t ideal for travel. Regardless, it’s not a bad option if you’re willing to work with that trade-off for the cheaper price tag.
- Ample wattage
- Thunderbolt 3 port
- Not the best for high-end cards
Lastly, we have the competent Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to buy GPU enclosures without spending too much. Of course, it’s not going to be the most powerful external GPU for laptop devices out there. However, for less than $250, it’s more than justifiable.
With the Sonnet, you get 550 watts of power and a Thunderbolt 3 connection right out of the box. Moreover, it’s also compatible with Windows and Mac and provides each with different advantages. Windows users will benefit a lot from eGPU acceleration using the Sonnet. On the other hand, Mac users benefit from being able to run two Breakaway boxes on one laptop.
How to Choose an External GPU for a Gaming Laptop
Choosing an external GPU for laptop devices can be a tricky thing nowadays. There are tons to choose from on the market, and it’s often very confusing to pick between two models. That’s why you always have to note down the factors to consider before you make a purchase. What are those? Let’s find out.
Pre-Installed vs. Swappable eGPUs
Desktop graphics are hard to come by when you’re simply using your laptop GPU. That’s why people opt for an external GPU for laptop devices to compensate for what their laptop lacks. However, merely buying any eGPU off the shelf isn’t going to be a good plan of action. That’s especially true if you’re particular about games running well on high settings.
With that said, there are two types of eGPUs you can choose from: swappable or pre-installed. Pre-installed products come with a graphics card already built-in. On the other hand, swappable eGPUs can come with or without the card, depending on the product. Usually, these come with a list of compatible cards that you can purchase and install separately.
Of course, there are benefits to either version, and it will all depend on your needs. If you can’t be bothered installing a separate GPU, you can opt for a pre-installed one to make things easy. On the other hand, a swappable eGPU will provide you with more control overall. However, these do tend to come with a wattage limit on how much it can give your card. Thus, you must weigh the pros and cons of either version (and each model) before you land on a decision.
An external GPU for laptop devices can come with tons of bells and whistles that might lure you their way. However, if the power supply isn’t enough, all of those things can be negated and neglected in the end. Why is that, you might ask? It’s because graphics cards have power requirements, which will ultimately determine what your eGPU can handle.
Powerful graphics cards will require tons of wattage to power the GPU. Hence, something like a 700-watt eGPU is ideal if you want to buy a higher-end graphics card. On the other hand, the minimum requirement should be around 300-400 watts if you’re on a budget. This should be enough to run low to mid-range GPUs without too much trouble.
We all know that gaming PCs get noisy when they work hard on providing you with the best gaming experience. However, while some noise is expected from eGPUs, things can get incredibly noisy depending on the unit.
Of course, this is something that’s down to personal preference. If an eGPU makes a lot of noise and doesn’t bother you, then that’s certainly fine. After all, you probably use headphones most of the time while you’re gaming on your PC.
On the other hand, an external GPU for laptop devices can become annoying for others when they get too loud. If that’s the case for you, we recommend getting an eGPU with robust heating solutions. Some tell-tale signs of this include multiple fans or even the provision for liquid cooling.
An external GPU enclosure’s build and design might not be the top priority for most eGPU buyers. However, it’s still essential to think about when purchasing your first eGPU. That’s because some eGPUs, while powerful, can look incredibly gaudy and outlandish for some. Not everyone likes the RGB aesthetic — although it could be a plus depending on your perspective.
On the other hand, you should also consider the practicality of an external GPU’s design for laptop devices. Some are heavy and bulky, making them difficult to carry but great for raw power. Others are smaller and lighter, making them more portable and great for travel. In fact, some even have a built-in handle that allows for easy transport.
Of course, these factors will vary per model and manufacturer, and not everyone prioritizes the same things. If you want an eGPU for home use, something bulky and heavy shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you need something portable for vacations or travel, compromising the power for portability might be worth considering.
Many laptops nowadays come with minimal ports thanks to the trend that Apple started in its MacBook line. That’s why many people turn to USB hubs to satisfy their need for multiple ports. Moreover, it’s also why having tons of ports on an eGPU is such a big bonus.
If your eGPU can boost your graphics and simultaneously act as a hub, what have you got to lose? Certainly, no one would complain if it already comes with four USB ports, HDMI, and Gigabit Ethernet. This could eliminate additional costs and even make your setup more powerful and versatile.
Of course, not everyone might have this as their priority. All you might want is a simple graphics solution to convert your laptop into a gaming PC — and that’s fine. It all depends on your use case and what you might want from an eGPU.
However, we do recommend getting an eGPU with at least a Thunderbolt 3 port (if supported by your laptop), regardless. This is to make sure you can utilize as much power and speed as you can.
Lastly, the price is one of the most significant considerations in purchasing an external GPU for laptop devices. This one is a deal-breaker for most people (unless you’re rolling in cash), so it’s always important to consider. What is your budget, and how much are you willing to spend on an eGPU?
Decent eGPUs come at many different prices. Mid-ranged options cost somewhere from $200 to $300, depending on the manufacturer. For higher-end models, you should prepare to spend something like $400 to $500, at least. With that said, consider your budget and what you cannot go without in an eGPU. Then you can make your choice.
Why Use an External GPU for Laptop?
There are tons of benefits to using an external GPU for laptop devices. For instance, it’s a good compromise if you want a gaming laptop’s portability with the power of a desktop PC. Moreover, it’s a great way to have an “upgradeable” system because enclosures like these sometimes have swappable graphics cards. With an eGPU, you can buy graphics cards and periodically enhance your laptop’s graphics performance without switching laptops.
On the other hand, an eGPU also allows you to forego buying gaming laptops from now on. Now, you might be thinking we’re crazy for suggesting such a thing. However, it’s not something that you should wholly dismiss. That’s because some people like the aesthetic, portability, and practicality of regular laptops like the MacBook or Dell XPS. However, they also want to play games as a hobby while at home. What’s the compromise? An eGPU.
In addition, an eGPU is great for saving space. If you’ve been a PC-building enthusiast for quite some time, then you’ll know how much space it can eat up. Saving space without sacrificing quality through an eGPU is a practical choice and one that’s completely valid.
Lastly, an eGPU is great for some added power if you’re in the creative industry. Yes, that’s right. eGPUs aren’t just for gamers but for professionals as well. If you need something powerful that can render 3D graphics, create smooth animations, or add effects, it’s something to consider. With it, you can buy graphic cards and improve your workflow without caving in and buying a desktop.
Buying an external GPU for laptop devices is a big investment — but one that’s worth it for many people. That’s because building a full-fledged gaming PC isn’t always practical (or possible). Moreover, if you already have a laptop, it’s a great way to convert your current device into a powerhouse. Just make sure to know what your needs are and choose the right one before you buy anything.