Gigabyte turns a shrink ray on the GTX 1070
The GeForce GTX 1070 inside the Gaming Box is a mini-marvel. The conventional wisdom about Mini-ITX graphics cards is that one gives up a lot of performance and quiet manners when building short boards like this one, but the power efficiency of the Pascal architecture is such that Nvidia's board partners can now put the same chip into a wide range of desktop-friendly form factors without harming performance much, if at all.
Don't tell anybody I said so, but oversized graphics coolers on Nvidia cards these days (short of those for the GTX 1080 Ti) are often more about making a statement than they are about the actual cooling needs of the chips beneath. Sawed-off coolers like the one Gigabyte employs here can still let the card beneath extract plenty of performance from the GP104 GPU.
Although most won't take apart the Gaming Box like we have, it's worth touring the graphics card inside to appreciate how Gigabyte has pulled off this tiny terror. To make a full-fat GTX 1070 this short, Gigabyte actually moved most of the card's power-delivery circuitry to the back of the board and covered it with an aluminum backplate for potentially better heat transfer.
The cooler itself relies on a blow-down-style fan. Three large copper heat pipes run over the GP104 GPU into a dense aluminum fin stack. Despite the sawed-off cooler, Gigabyte still specs this card for 1531 MHz base and 1721 MHz boost speeds—a minor increase over Nvidia's reference clocks, but an increase nonetheless. The Pascal architecture's GPU Boost 3.0 feature means those on-paper specs don't mean much in practice.
In my testing, the card settled in around 1860 MHz and a maximum temperature of 70° C in operation. Those aren't the highest clock speeds we've ever seen from a GP104 graphics card, but they're still plenty good for one this compact. You can even overclock this thing if you want, given that all of its knobs and dials are unlocked in the Aorus Graphics Engine software. I tried, and it works.
Even better, my entire notebook-and-Gaming-Box setup doesn't produce more than 36 dBA at one meter—a figure that most will barely notice even in shared spaces. If nothing else, Gigabyte deserves kudos for putting such a high-performance graphics card into a footprint this compact without compromising performance or acoustics.
The only unfortunate thing about the GTX 1070 Gigabyte puts in the Gaming Box is its complement of display outputs. Gigabyte includes two DVI-D connectors, a single DisplayPort 1.4 connector, and a single HDMI 2.0b connector on this card. That's a strict downgrade, we think, compared to the trio of DisplayPort connectors and single HDMI output that grace the GTX 1070 Founders Edition, among other such cards. Folks looking to daisy-chain Thunderbolt displays off the Gaming Box will be disappointed by its single TB3 connector, too.
So who's this for?
Figuring out just who needs an external graphics enclosure set off one of the most heated debates around the TR water cooler that we've ever had, and the discussion wasn't conclusive by any stretch of the imagination. We're generally a desk-bound lot, and that inclines us toward compact PCs with full-fat desktop hardware inside if space is a concern. A lot of folks can't live without mobile systems, though, and we figure that anybody shopping for one of these external graphics boxes is trying to maximize the portability and battery life of the laptop portion of the pairing. That approach points toward an ultrabook-type system without a discrete graphics card.
The folks at Ultrabook Review have assembled a nice compendium of thin-and-light systems with Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the sweet spot for such a system appears to be about $1000. If one builds a docking station for that notebook around the Gaming Box and an external monitor—and as we'll see, an external monitor is mandatory for the best performance from a setup like this—they could easily flirt with $1800 to $2000 or more in total. Those dollar figures will doubtless cause the many system builders in the TR audience to lament just how powerful a gaming desktop one could build for the same money, but that misses the point of a mobile system: convenience.
For many, there would seem to be a lot of value in being able to unplug their laptop from an external graphics box and take it on the go. A dorm dweller might find it a lot easier to unplug their laptop on the way to class in the morning and plug it into the Gaming Box upon returning in the evening. That same dorm-dweller might find it a lot easier to pack up an external monitor and the Gaming Box at the end of the semester than a separate desktop PC, too. Mobile folks who call small apartments home base might appreciate the floor or desk space saved by not having even a Mini-ITX PC to go with their laptops. There's also something to be said for not having to care and feed an entire separate PC with its own files and Windows license, period. The Gaming Box might not be ideal for everybody, but it certainly has a niche it might fill.