External notebook graphics solutions aren't foreign to us—we've seen several prototypes over the years, and some have even made it to market. They usually involve a desktop-class GPU, an enclosure, and an external PCIe connection to the host notebook. MSI is showing off the latest such contraption at CES this year, and its solution might spur wider adoption. The company's secret? Thunderbolt.
Hooked up to the MacBook Pro pictured above is MSI's GUS II prototype. The GUS II is playing host to a Radeon HD 5770, which is rendering the Unigine Heaven demo and driving an external display. MSI says the GUS II enclosure supports double-wide PCI Express x16 graphics cards with power envelopes as large as 150W—the maximum amount of power available from the PCIe slot plus one six-pin power connector. The final product should be "similar" to the one pictured above, MSI tells us.
Pricing and availability are being kept under wraps for now. That might cast doubt over the GUS II's prospects, especially since Thunderbolt is almost exclusively offered on Apple notebooks right now. However, a little birdie tells us next-gen notebooks based on Intel's 22-nm Ivy Bridge processors could pull Thunderbolt into the mainstream. If that happens, many notebooks could suddenly gain support for external graphics, which might make the technology more mainstream.