Remember when people said the PC was dead? Judging by the external graphics card enclosures out in force at CES 2016, not only is the PC very much alive – it’s evolving, and growing a few multi-coloured limbs in the process.
Alienware’s Amplifier and MSI’s GS30 Shadow felt like futuristic bolt-on power packs when they debuted this time last year, and this year’s follow-up docks only convince us further that boosting your machine’s power using a desktop-grade graphics card is an excellent idea.
The most recent crop of enclosures will work with more than just your laptop too, with all-in-one desktops and even palm-sized micro PCs getting in on the game. It’s as easy as A, B, Thunderbolt 3.
1. Razer Blade Stealth/Razer Core
Razer’s ultrabook has been both praised for its slim dimensions and panned for its lack of a discrete graphics card, though you could argue that its detractors are missing the point. The Razer Blade Stealth is designed to be a portable laptop that’s equally as thin and almost as light as Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. Unlike Apple’s machine, you can take it home and hook it up to an external GPU enclosure called The Razer Core for desktop-grade power.
Emitting an eerie glow that illuminates the graphics card housed inside, the Core looks like a seriously cool piece of kit that you wouldn’t mind sitting on your desk. Opening it up feels like “pulling the core out of a nuclear reactor,” according to techradar’s Associate Editor of Computing, Kevin Lee. If that’s not worth the cost of entry, it’s not clear what is.
2. MSI Gaming 27XT
If you’re looking to treat yourself to a gaming-focused all-in-one this year but can’t afford a wallet-intimidating behemoth like the Maingear Alpha 34, MSI’s 27XT might be for you. The 27-inch gaming machine lets you slot a graphics card into its rear-mounted trailer, and can be kitted out with anything up to Nvidia’s beefy Titan X GPU.
The ultimate all-in-one for neat freaks, it places all of the components – including Intel’s octa-core Core i7-5960X processor – behind the display. Speaking of which, the 27XT comes with the very welcome option of a 144Hz QHD display with a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel-resolution, providing a tempting middle ground between the entry-level 1080p screen and high-end 60Hz 4K display that’s also being offered.
3. Alienware 13/Alienware Amplifier
The original Alienware 13, which was introduced at CES 2014, has received a very interesting upgrade two years later. The latest iteration sports a gorgeous OLED display, which is a real rarity in the world of gaming laptops. Expect games to look absolutely stunning on it when displayed at the screen’s native 2,540 x 1,440 pixel-resolution.
Word on the ground is that the refreshed model sports the same specs as before, which includes an Intel Core i7-6500U with 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M with up to 4GB of video memory. Like before, it should also hook up to Alienware’s Amplifier, an external GPU enclosure that can house full-sized graphics cards including Nvidia’s Titan X.
4. Asus ROG XG Station 2
As the creator of the original XG Station external graphics dock, Asus is no stranger to the docking station party. Its follow-up enclosure, the XG Station 2, closely resembles its ROG G20 desktop thanks to its engraved black-and-red patterned design.
Its main panel is made of glass, allowing you to peer into the case to watch your graphics card doing its thing, if that’s what you’re into. Like other docking enclosures on our list, the ROG XG Station 2 uses a Thunderbolt-supported USB 3.0 connection, but it’s not yet known if the dock only supports Asus’ own laptops and graphics cards or ones from other manufacturers.
5. Intel ‘Skull Canyon’ NUC
Intel didn’t unveil anything new in terms of GPU docks at CES 2016, but it did set tongues wagging by announcing a gaming-focused NUC codenamed Skull’s Canyon. While likely that the upcoming barebones PC will be too small to squeeze in a full-sized discrete graphics card, the company confirmed that it will sport a Thunderbolt 3 port allowing it to be hooked up to an external graphics card enclosure.
If you like to tinker with swapping out PC components such as RAM, storage and graphics cards but don’t mind keeping the same processor for a few generations – and fancy yourself a portable NUC to play with – Intel’s upcoming micro PC might be what you need.
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