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.