The Wolfe external graphics dock joins the eGPU hunt

External graphics docks have emerged as one of the more buzzworthy product categories in computer hardware this year. Gigabyte, Asus, and Razer have all showed off takes on the concept, though only Razer has shepherded the idea all the way to a shipping product so far. A group of Harvard students may be next in line, though. Under the banner of Wolfepack, Inc., these students are throwing their hat in the ring on Kickstarter with a Mac-friendly Thunderbolt graphics dock called the Wolfe.

At first glance, the Wolfe is similar in principle to the Razer Core. It's a simple plastic shell with Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 3 guts and an external 220W power supply for the graphics card inside. Wolfepack is trying to streamline the purchasing process versus the Core, however. Unlike Razer's dock, which only comes empty, the basic Wolfe will come with a GeForce GTX 950 pre-installed. A Wolfe Pro model bumps the graphics card inside to a GTX 970. The company acknowledges that the GTX 1060 is probably a better choice for the eventual Wolfe Pro, however, and it expects to offer Kickstarter backers the option of that Pascal card if the campaign reaches its funding goal.

Along with the pre-selected graphics cards inside, the Wolfe's other source of appeal may be its pricing. Though Wolfepack doesn't expect it'll offer empty Wolfes if it gets up and running, the company is offering us dirty PC enthusiasts a chance at an empty Wolfe through its Kickstarter for $269. That's way less money than the $499 Razer Core, though it's worth noting that Razer's dock is made out of sturdy aluminum and features an internal PSU. As for pre-loaded Wolfes, the basic GTX 950-powered Wolfe is $449 through Kickstarter, while the GTX 970 (or GTX 1060)-powered Wolfe Pro is $599.

All told, the kind of GPU power available from the Wolfe—and the Wolfe Pro, especially—could help to bridge the graphics-power gap between many Windows PCs and Macs. Wolfepack claims the Wolfe Pro is capable of making VR, well, a reality on Macs, and that's certainly possible given the specs at hand. This dock also gives Mac Boot Campers an easy hookup for gaming power in the Windows environment. That's a solid value proposition at a fairly reasonable price.

While we think the fundamentals of the Wolfe concept are solid, we also think the group's Kickstarter pitch could use some work. For example, modern CPU cores aren't at all comparable to GPU stream processors in their capabilities, and conflating the two seems like a well-intentioned but ultimately misleading move.

We're also left wondering how Wolfepack is providing graphics drivers for macOS, given Apple's notoriously narrow GPU support. The company says users will only need to install its software to make the dock work in macOS or Windows, but that still doesn't explain how it's achieving driver support for the graphics cards it's chosen under macOS. Greater clarity in this area would be welcome, especially for pros doing GPU-intensive work in the macOS environment.

Furthermore, we get where the group is coming from by claiming that the dock can run games at "the highest settings, without compromising performance," but that statement is far too vague. Though that claim may be true in certain cases, the company doesn't provide any info about the settings it used to demonstrate that boast on its Kickstarter page or on its website. Admittedly, the kind of graphics power available from the Wolfe may be foreign to many Mac owners, but making that sort of broad statement without the appropriate context may lead to disappointment if, for example, some unsuspecting 5K iMac owner tries to run a demanding game at the native resolution of their screen.

We usually approach Kickstarters with an ample measure of caution, and we'd apply that same general skepticism to this campaign. If you're OK with the risks involved with backing an untested, unproven product, however, the Wolfe Kickstarter will be live for 31 days from today, and it's already achieved nearly one-fifth of its $50,000 fundraising goal. Especially enthusiastic backers can get one of 100 Wolfes at cost for $399, or one of 100 Wolfe Pros for $549. The company expects to begin shipping its docks around February or March of next year.

Comments closed
    • TEAMSWITCHER
    • 6 years ago

    eGPU’s are all a bit on the goofy side. Better to take the eGPU money and build a gaming PC to complement your PC laptop or MacBook. Then, when the laptop is being used by your wife, there is still a functioning second computer. When you stop and think about it…the eGPU doesn’t make any sense.

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    Agreed on the pricing, just saying there’s a market. And yeah, it’s curious why AMD and Nvidia aren’t the ones at the forefront of pushing these! They both had drivers that made mention of them recently, perhaps something like that is coming. Much rather buy an official one from them than a kickstarter company.

    • Voldenuit
    • 6 years ago

    I’m sure there’s a use case (and pent-up market) for eGPUs.

    I just wish the prices were more, for a lack of a better word, sane. My i5 4670K system cost me $389 to build (sans GPU) 3 years ago, and has considerably more hardware than a dock with a PCIE slot and power supply.

    You’d think nvidia and amd would be first in line with ODM solutions for AIBs. Make it cheap, sell lots of GPUs. $129 is what I think they’re worth, but they’d have to be much larger volume products to sustain that price point, I suppose. As long as they remain niche products, the low volumes mean per unit margins have to be high enough make up for the development and manufacturing costs.

    • orik
    • 6 years ago

    is nobody going to mention macOS Sierra natively supports thunderbolt eGPU’s and you can use install it right now?

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    Do existing laptops with CPUs more than good enough for gaming just go away? I’m interested in this because my 4770HQ isn’t likely to bottleneck anything, while building a desktop would be a lot of redundant hardware. A GPU dock sounds like a great idea to me.

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    1) Boot camp
    2) Their old OpenGL implementation isn’t great, but you really think Premier, Blender, Mudbox, Final Cut Pro, practically every Adobe application, etc etc, aren’t GPU accelerated? Professionals relying on those tools would have flocked away.

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    Surprisingly little, considering the massive bandwidth gulf between TB2/3 and PCI-E. Iirc even over TB2 a card could output 85-90% of it’s native performance, but less for compute.

    [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/7987/running-an-nvidia-gtx-780-ti-over-thunderbolt-2[/url<] That was back when a 780TI was the high end though, don't know if it changed. Actually with compression new cards may do better?

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 6 years ago

    If that produce was for PC’s it would be really interesting. but given the dearth of graphics accelerated software on OSX courtesy of Mac’s negligence… its clear that this is a great way to burn money if your a mac fanboy.

    • Jeff Kampman
    • 6 years ago

    My understanding is that there is some bus overhead associated with Thunderbolt 3 that might increase latency, though whether that’s perceptible in games is an open question. At most, however, the external graphics card is only going to have four lanes of PCIe 3.0 to work with, which might matter with the most powerful current-gen graphics cards from Nvidia.

    • w76
    • 6 years ago

    Which works great for 3 weeks and then fries the $300 GPU you put in it 😉

    (Citation: all the ultra-cheap Chinese “hoverboard” knock-offs catching fire)

    • GrimDanfango
    • 6 years ago

    Out of interest, what are the drawbacks (if any) to using a thunderbolt GPU? Does it increase latency, have less bandwidth than the PCIe bus, etc?

    • GrimDanfango
    • 6 years ago

    Surely you mean a sheepe?

    • GrimDanfango
    • 6 years ago

    This made me howle.

    • Redocbew
    • 6 years ago

    When The Wolfe barks does it say “woofe”?

    • Amgal
    • 6 years ago

    “Shit negro, that’s all you had to say!”

    • kalelovil
    • 6 years ago

    I’ll wait for a $150 Chinese clone.

    • Dposcorp
    • 6 years ago

    I gotta be honest, this is the first thing I thought of:
    You sending THE WOLFE?
    [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzNvicZWZ_A[/url<]

    • chµck
    • 6 years ago

    or you could just get a laptop with a rx480/gtx1060 in it already?

    • cygnus1
    • 6 years ago

    I’m skeptical as well, but that really might not be their only funding. They might’ve just wanted to hedge bets and basically secure enough pre-orders to fund a first production run, and just the production run not R&D. They’re estimating a pretty quick delivery date only about 5 months after the Kickstarter closes. They’re either wildly optimistic on lots of fronts, they’ve already done a lot of R&D and design, or like you said they’re just re-branding someone else’s design.

    • OneShotOneKill
    • 6 years ago

    PCI riser out of the back of the case… problem solved. Put the GPU in the box it came in if you want.

    Ghetto eGPU

    • willmore
    • 6 years ago

    Yep, there’s no way you can tool the cases and design the PCB for this in that budget.

    • Neutronbeam
    • 6 years ago

    I think for now it’s a sheep in Wolfe’s clothing…don’t baaaather with it until it’s real.

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    I imagine most people for gaming will want to use Boot Camp anyways. I routinely find I lose 30, up to 50 percent of my native Mac app performance for native OpenGL 4.1 vs DX11, over Boot Camp, and boot camp is notoriously underoptimized so that really says something. Not a wrapper, native.

    Metal is something, but as a single low marketshare vendor API it seems the Mac side of it will only serve to assist iOS game ports. Really wish they’d adopt Vulkan as well.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 6 years ago

    Driver support isn’t a big deal with Nvidia graphics, although that more than likely explains why this is Maxwell-only right now. The Wolfe software is probably a re-pack of [url=https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/topic/7989-script-automating-the-installation-of-egpu-on-os-x-inc-display-output/<]this script[/url<] that detects the version of the operating system you're running and downloads/modifies/installs the specific drivers from Nvidia. The modifications are pretty straightforward. The default drivers don't support eGPUs but setting a flag in a .plist file is all it takes to turn that feature on.

    • the
    • 6 years ago

    el Capitan doesn’t support external Thunderbolt GPUs without some driver hacks. I’m not expecting much until macOS natively supports external GPUs.

    • tipoo
    • 6 years ago

    270 is definitely more in line with what I imagined for eGPU docks. The Macbook in the picture means it also supports TB2 I assume? Some of the TB3 ones left TB2 behind. Even if it only does 85% of the GPUs performance over TB2 I’m fine with that.

    Interesting, but underfunded right now.

    • divide_by_zero
    • 6 years ago

    There is an approximately 0 percent chance they bring this product to market with only $50,000 in funding. (Unless it’s just a re-branded existing design. And even then, I’m skeptical.)

    • tsk
    • 6 years ago

    Nice, this is the kind of eGPU dock I’ve been waiting for. However I remain skeptical about the software side of things here.

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