Sapphire GearBox TB3 enclosure powers up laptop graphics

Having a desktop PC in your office ensures you can easily delve into high-performance computing. In today's mobile world, though, some folks' primary machines may be laptops without the discrete graphics power needed to run demanding games or visualization apps. For those who want the best of both worlds, Sapphire's GearBox Thunderbolt 3 eGFX enclosure could prove an interesting new option.

As the name reveals, the GearBox is an external graphics card enclosure that hooks up to a host machine by way of a Thunderbolt 3 connection. Sapphire says that graphics cards with power draw up to 300 W can go in the chassis' PCIe x16 slot, juiced up by an integrated 500-W power supply. Said cards can be of the dual-slot, full-length variety, too. That covers the vast majority of graphics cards out there right now.

Besides the internal slot for the graphics card, the GearBox provides a Gigabit Ethernet port and two USB 3.0 connectors. The Thunderbolt 3 port can provide 60 W of power for charging an attached device, too. Although Sapphire doesn't specify build materials, the press photos appear to show an aluminum construction. The company notes that the GearBox is "officially recommended" by none other than Apple itself, too.

The Sapphire GearBox Thunderbolt 3 eGFX enclosure should be available right now for $339, though we spotted it at Amazon for just $259. Bundles should be available with select Sapphire graphics cards. A pack with a Nitro+ Radeon RX 580 4 GB will set buyers back $538, and a bundle with the 8 GB version of that card will go for $578. Meanwhile, a set with a Pulse Radeon RX 580 8 GB sits happily in the middle at $558. If the retail price of the box alone is any indication, those figures will likely be much lower once the bundles pop up at e-tailers.

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    • qmacpoint
    • 1 year ago

    It would be brilliant if they would add a Sound Card + Ethernet ports with these types of boxes. With that, these could be proper dock replacements, and they would be excellent at that!

    • thedosbox
    • 1 year ago

    I think we all know what demographic this is aimed at – cats who live with laptop users. They’re going to love a nice warm box to sit next to/on top of.

      • Pbryanw
      • 1 year ago

      It’d be just purrfect for this πŸ™‚

    • NTMBK
    • 1 year ago

    This thing is about the same size as an NCase M1, which fits an entire PC inside. Madness.

      • Spunjji
      • 1 year ago

      I thought it couldn’t be *that* similar, so I looked them up:

      300mm x 138mm x 204mm (Sapphire GearBox)
      vs
      338mm x 160mm x 250mm (NCase M1)

      Close indeed o.O
      The NCase M1 is $200 all by itself, though – so the comparison does still end up reasonable for this box.

        • Voldenuit
        • 1 year ago

        The [url=https://www.louqe.com/<]Loque Ghost S1[/url<] is only: 322mm x 140mm x 188mm (without optional tophat for radiator). Several youtubers have run 8700K + 1080Ti on air in them without throtttling, although it seems going to a 9900K calls for a 240 mm rad (in tophat extension) for controllable temps if overclocking. EDIT: Spelling. EDIT2: Added [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG6PtOHH2sA<]Optimumtech's cooling review (with and without tophats) for Ghost S1[/url<].

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    Every time I see these, I feel sorry for people who think they’re a good idea. It’s the size and cost that sucks. You need to be pretty desperate about having only one system if you’re willing to pay $500+ to add a $150 midrange card to an downclocked 15-25W laptop processor and hamper its latency and bandwidth in the process for even worse performance tha

    Meanwhile, plenty of outlets are bundling more capable processors (i5 or Ryzen5, an mITX board and 8GB) for $350 or so, add yourself that same $150 RX 580 and you’re almost there. Another $150 should get you the rest of what you need for a gaming system that will be the same size as this but perform better. If you really don’t want to use a desktop just stream the game via Steam to your laptop like any other stubborn masochist.

      • Voldenuit
      • 1 year ago

      And because of Thunderbolt lane and latency limits, every graphics card you run from the dock performs about as slow as an internal card one tier lower.

      eGPU is a lot of empty promises and hot air, sometimes literally.

      • End User
      • 1 year ago

      [quote<]You need to be pretty desperate[/quote<] The primary target market is Mac users. We are starved for GPU power in most product categories. πŸ™‚ This is a really awesome product category as far I am concerned (wearing my Mac hat).

        • Chrispy_
        • 1 year ago

        Haven’t Apple pulled the rug out with OpenGL being left to stagnate on OSX though?

        It looks like Apple are actively trying to sabotage eGPU usefulness – so even if this sort of thing works for now, at great expense for the GPU power provided, it’s not necessarily a solution you want to invest in, unless you want to gamble.

          • End User
          • 1 year ago

          Are you from the past? Apple bailed on OpenGL ages ago to focus on Metal. Metal was so long ago we now have [url=https://developer.apple.com/metal/<]Metal 2[/url<].

            • Chrispy_
            • 1 year ago

            Ages ago?

            Now you’ve accused me of being woefully out of date I searched and your definition of “ages ago” appears to be June 6th 2018.

            • End User
            • 1 year ago

            Metal has been available since June 2, 2014 on iOS devices and since June 8, 2015 on Macs.

            • End User
            • 1 year ago

            Apple checked out on OpenGL/OpenCL way before 2014. The version of OpenGL that ships with macOS is OpenGL 4.1 (2010) and the version of OpenCL is 1.2 (2011).

      • Krogoth
      • 1 year ago

      This is an niche product for LAN party goers who want to bring a laptop but want more graphical power then what iGPU can muster.

        • Voldenuit
        • 1 year ago

        I don’t think even that use case makes sense.

        eGPU performance is abysmal with internal display, so if you’re taking it to LAN, you’ll want an external monitor, which means you’re carrying laptop + eGPU box + monitor, which isn’t better than bringing an ITX box along.

        On top of that, you’re paying ~+$200-300 for the eGPU box and ~+$200-400 for the GPU, for a combined premium of +$400-$700, at which point you could have upgraded from a wimpy laptop with an intel IGP/MX150 to a gaming laptop with a 1060 or better.

        • End User
        • 1 year ago

        Almost everything TR posts about is niche.

        EMBRACE THE NICHE!

      • bandannaman
      • 1 year ago

      I think these are for people whose primary/only machine is a laptop. Many of these folks would love a big monitor and a snazzy graphics card, but don’t want to deal with “Which machine is that file on? I don’t want to sync my files to the cloud, whatever that is. Which machine has that software license? I don’t want to buy two licenses” etc.

      • Spunjji
      • 1 year ago

      The cost and performance suck harder if you make the box smaller, though – so the size is a compromise you need to make for the proposition to make any sense to anyone at all.

      I’ll admit it’s a niche in a niche, but for that niche this looks like a solid product.

    • demani
    • 1 year ago

    The one thing I wish every other company would do: put on an Ethernet port. Of all things that are as stationary, static, and most useful at a desk, ethernet is the biggest. It makes this pretty much a regular dock.

      • Phr3dly
      • 1 year ago

      Yeah, I think these would be more compelling if they were a full-on TB3 dock. A half dozen usb ports, GPU, ethernet, and maybe even storage. Oh, and of course an SD card slot.

      That would make today’s laptops with impoverished connectivity much more interesting to me.

        • demani
        • 1 year ago

        The issue there is starting to pick away at the bandwidth for the GPU-for lower performance needs that would be fantastic, but for higher performing ones not quite. I have a Sonnet dock that has storage, optical, and all the ports, and it is honestly great. If it (and my machine) were TB3 I would be down to one cable. But I can deal with two.

        But these are also good for people who want to drive more than one monitor, or who have other multi screen needs. I work with a lot of video editors, and while they like their laptops for moving around and working, when they sit down to do a big edit, they want two or three big screens. IGP can sorta do it, but getting the playback accelleration and all that from the GPU is a huge boost.

          • Voldenuit
          • 1 year ago

          [quote<]But these are also good for people who want to drive more than one monitor, or who have other multi screen needs. I work with a lot of video editors, and while they like their laptops for moving around and working, when they sit down to do a big edit, they want two or three big screens. IGP can sorta do it, but getting the playback accelleration and all that from the GPU is a huge boost.[/quote<] Why are your video editors using consumer ultrabooks with IGPs to edit video? Any respectable business laptop with a half-decent GPU and a dedicated dock would be able to connect to multiple monitors, Gigabit ethernet, thunderbolt storage (on newer models), and GPU acceleration, and the price premium associated would be comparable or cheaper than starting with a consumer ultrabook and then adding a $300 dock and $200 GPU, with the added reliability, IT support, security, build quality advantages of the business laptops.

            • demani
            • 1 year ago

            Some will edit on the go on a MBP 13in (particularly on the train in/out of the city), and then switch to a dock when they get to the office/home. The standalone machine works for doing rough cuts, laying in titles, etc. Even the GPUs in the MBP 15in aren’t fantastic, but using external GFX makes a big deal (Resolve likes it a lot) so it makes sense even for those.

            • Voldenuit
            • 1 year ago

            I guess if they’re adamant about macOS in their workflow, then you have fewer options (esp since the MBP 13 has no GPU).

            I can’t help but think that the Thinkpad X1 Extreme or Dell XPS 15* would be a better choices for video editing, especially since Resolve is available on both macOS and Windows, but those are both 15″ machines, which brings the MBP 15 (with Radeon GPU) into the mix.

            *EDIT: Or a Gigabyte Aero 15X, which can be had with up to a GTX 1070 and a factory-color-calibrated 4K display. Come to think of it, all 3 Windows options have 4K screen options, which none of the MBPs do.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 1 year ago

    What is the best GPU that one could put in a box like this and not end up wasting a bunch of money?

    EDIT: I should have been more clear. This is an ideal scenario where you have a good mobile CPU, 4-lane TB, and a VRR monitor being driven by the eGPU. Mama Bear has a Specter X360 which has a decent CPU (i7-8550u) and a 4-lane TB implementation. The question is what GPU could I cram in this thing and not hit the limits of the i8 CPU and TB implementation?

    EDIT2: I also really like this thing. This price is decent for having charging, NIC, and a USB hub.

      • Kretschmer
      • 1 year ago

      That depends on your definition of “wasting money,”

      If your laptop has some anemic ULV chip, you should figure out what maximum performance will be and not buy a card above that.

      Even if your laptop CPU is beefy, you should check the number of PCIe lanes supporting its TB3 port (2 or 4). Many laptops do not run the TB3 port at the spec’s maximum bandwidth, bottlenecking the best GPUs. Also, even if you’re getting 4 lanes of PCIe, they may not be connected directly to the CPU. Like all things laptop, do your homework on that little port.

      Finally, there is a performance hit to using a TB3 eGPU enclosure over plugging it into a PC. That hit varies by game, enclosure, and use case. Looking at a recent TR review suggests that a eGPU 1070 performs like a mobile 1060:
      [url<]https://techreport.com/review/32914/gigabyte-aorus-gtx-1070-gaming-box-external-graphics-card-reviewed/15[/url<] Is that a waste? Maybe, if you price-compare a 1070 eGPU solution vs just building or buying a dedicated 1060/Ryzen2 rig. On the other hand, there is value to having your files and settings all on one device. So do a lot of research and set expectations appropriately.

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      Based on your edit, you can go as high as you want – just be aware that whatever graphics card you pay for is going to lose around 25% of its potential.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 1 year ago

      If you want to drive the internal display of your TB3-equipped laptop, I think the ceiling is really low. You lose tons of performance by sending the image back up the TB3 cable.

      If you want to drive an external display for a NUC, Mac Mini, or even a laptop (but not display on the built-in screen), then it’s just a matter of how high you want to go.

      This will give you an idea of the performance you’re giving up by driving the internal display. It can be summed up in one word: oof.

      [url<]https://techreport.com/review/32914/gigabyte-aorus-gtx-1070-gaming-box-external-graphics-card-reviewed[/url<]

      • Voldenuit
      • 1 year ago

      [quote<] EDIT: I should have been more clear. This is an ideal scenario where you have a good mobile CPU, 4-lane TB, and a VRR monitor being driven by the eGPU. Mama Bear has a Specter X360 which has a decent CPU and a 4-lane TB implementation. The question is what GPU could I cram in this thing and not hit the limits of the i8 CPU and TB implementation?[/quote<] [url=https://us.hardware.info/reviews/8395/6/gigabyte-aorus-gtx-1070-en-rx-580-gaming-box-review-transform-your-light-laptop-to-gaming-system-benchmarks-gaming-aorus-gtx-1070-gaming-box-versus-rx-580-gaming-box<]RX 580[/url<].

      • jihadjoe
      • 1 year ago

      TPU did some PCIe scaling tests.

      1080 @ PCIe 3.0 x4 is about 96% of full x16 performance:
      [url<]https://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/NVIDIA/GeForce_GTX_1080_PCI_Express_Scaling/24.html[/url<] Whereas a 2080ti @ PCIe 3.0x4 drops down to about 92% of full x16: [url<]https://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/NVIDIA/GeForce_RTX_2080_Ti_PCI-Express_Scaling/6.html[/url<]

        • Voldenuit
        • 1 year ago

        Bear in mind, that the performance drop in Thunderbolt eGPUs isn’t just in getting fewer lanes, but also in the added latency and switching cost of having to pass through the Tunderbolt controller.

        While laptops with 4x PCIE lanes do better than other models with only 2x lanes, you’re still looking at roughly 20-25% drop overall from using an eGPU.

          • Chrispy_
          • 1 year ago

          Yep, real world testing ranges from 10% slower (a best case scenario is 4K gaming in a CPU-bound game) to over 50% slower (high-fps low-resolution gaming with a lot of eye-candy turned up in a game that offloads more than just rendering to the GPU)

          Those are extremes though. Expect 20-30% reduction for the vast majority of current games.

    • jihadjoe
    • 1 year ago

    Takes up the same space as en entire ITX rig…

      • End User
      • 1 year ago

      …running Windoze – that makes no sense to me either.

      I’d like to pair something like this with my TB3 equipped Mac mini

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        Why not just get the Sonnet box that’s advertised for Macs? That’s been around for a long time and costs the same.

          • End User
          • 1 year ago

          The Sonnet box does qualify as “something like this”. πŸ™‚

            • derFunkenstein
            • 1 year ago

            I thought you meant an enormous box with a bright blue light, not the svelte, quiet Sonnet box. πŸ˜†

            • End User
            • 1 year ago

            I’m not sure what we are talking about now.

          • tipoo
          • 1 year ago

          Performs worse, it’s mostly for pros who favor silence. Otherwise even with the same GPU the Razer and others do better for the better thermals.

          [url<]https://9to5mac.com/2018/08/02/2018-macbook-pro-amd-vega-64-egpu-video/[/url<]

      • Krogoth
      • 1 year ago

      But, an ITX chassis is unable to handle something like a 2080Ti/Vega 64.

        • Waco
        • 1 year ago

        They’re perfectly capable with a little thought (or just buy a blower-style cooler).

          • Krogoth
          • 1 year ago

          It is only viable with water-cooling with an external reservoir which defeats the point of dealing with an ITX chassis.

          An ITX chassis does not have the internal air volume/wind tunnel to handle 200W+ of thermal dissipation. Vega 64/2080Ti are going to be throttling hard when loaded after 15-30 minutes of running.

          ITX chassis aren’t build like an 1U chassis which have dedicated wind tunnels.

          FYI, I have a Vega 64 on hand and it does throw a crap ton of heat under a load and an mid-tower ATX chassis barely has enough air volume to contain it on top of a high-end CPU and GPU fan is running at 70% utilization. OTOH, an ITX chassis lacks this unless you do not mind throttling/100% GPU fan noise.

          Frankly, putting a high-end performance GPU inside an ITX chassis is an exercise of stupidity.

            • Waco
            • 1 year ago

            There’s almost nothing here I agree with. I’ve built many high end ITX builds without resorting to water loops.

            • mudcore
            • 1 year ago

            Take a Silverstone SG13. Puts the PCIe slot right next to a very large ventilation area. A Vega 64 is going to draw fresh air to itself and expel it out the rear. This is likely a superior scenario to the standard ATX mid tower that doesn’t have an opening directly by the GPU.

            Most mITX cases are closer to air tunnels than their larger mATX or ATX cousins to be honest. But it also usually just doesn’t matter for the GPU because any mITX that was designed for long video cards puts a large vent right next to the GPU.

            • Krogoth
            • 1 year ago

            It doesn’t help heat dissipation on the backplate of the performance GPU which is what slowly warms up the internal temperature of the chassis. There’s just not enough breathing space when the CPU cooler and PSU are next each other on the backside of the GPU card.

            ITX form factor was never designed to handle 200W+ of thermal dissipation (CPU, GPU and PSU) without resorting to water-cooling and exotic solutions. High-end CPU (Ryzen 7/Coffee Lake SKUs) and GPU (Vega 64/2080Ti) throttling under air-cooling is merely inevitable. You’ll end-up wishing that you have gone with a micro-ATX chassis or a lesser GPU/CPU combo.

            • Voldenuit
            • 1 year ago

            There are plenty of gaming-focused ITX cases that get around this problem by having separate compartments for CPU and GPU (and/or PSU). The Riotoro, Dancase A4, Raven RVZ03, Kolink Rocket, Phantekx Evolv Shift, and I’m barely scratching the surface.

            Of course, the real problem is that the Vega 64 is a power and thermal hog even in mid-size and larger cases, and even regular ITX cases that don’t have separate compartments are perfectly fine running a 1080 or 1080Ti if you’re not hard-headed enough to insist on a Vega 64.

            • jihadjoe
            • 1 year ago

            Heat buildup is actually less likely to happen in a very small case because there are no dead spots for any vortices to form and trap hot air. The 120/140mm front intake fan covers the entire front, and any hot air will be forced out the sides or exhausted by the PSU.

            Edit: See this dude, running a 9900k and 1080ti in an SG13
            [url<]https://pcpartpicker.com/b/CrXPxr[/url<] IMO the sucky cases are the ones that only take mATX boards and yet are large enough volumetrically that you could have had a proper tower instead. There have been a few of those in TR's guides and it's super frustrating to see them recommended when a full tower takes up about the same footprint and would be much easier to work in.

            • house
            • 1 year ago

            Any ITX forum will show multiple builds with 9900K + 2080Ti hitting 5 ghz on air. Small form factor has advanced considerably in the last 10 years. E.g. The Dark Rock TF cooler in my NCase has a 220W TDP, other popular SFF coolers like the Noctua C14S and U9S easily handle 140W TDP while dead silent. Blower cards and most open air coolers do not throttle at all in a well designed ITX case.

            • Spunjji
            • 1 year ago

            It’s not “only” viable that way – but that way is also pretty manageable in a way that still makes sense.

            I put together a system in a PC-Q33B using a standard Asetek AIO loop with a 120mm radiator, mounted with a modified adaptor to a GTX 970 short-length board. It was overclocked past stock GTX 980 performance. The CPU was a 4690k lightly overclocked to 4.5Ghz on all cores and cooled by a lightweight 92mm tower, which exhausted directly into the 120mm exhaust vent where the AIO was mounted.

            The fans only spun up during gaming, and were a pleasant whoosh. The whole thing performed extremely well for when it was built (2 years ago) and it was small enough that I transported it to India with me for 6 months in a suitcase. The radiator was mounted outside on the back. It was sufficient to cool the GPU to 65C under load with only a single fan mounted inside for push-through airflow, but I mounted an extra pull fan on the back because honestly it looked like some sort of nerdy hot-rod.

            Point is, it’s pretty worthwhile if that sort of thing floats your boat.

        • TheRazorsEdge
        • 1 year ago

        You will see zero problems in a decent case.

        I’ve run 200W+ cards in an NCASE M1 and a Dan A4. No throttling issues, air cooling only.

        I’m sure there a ton of mITX cases with shitty cooling out there, but those are only a problem for idiots with poor planning.

        The Dan case recommends a GPU with a blower… but it doesn’t really need it, and the NCASE is good either way.

      • Laykun
      • 1 year ago

      Can you lap an ITX rig?

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