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AMD/ATI aired a PR release several months ago on the potential of external GPU solutions -- now we're seeing the results with a Juniper GPU.  (Source: AMD)

Left to right -- the 5000 Mobility Radeon series running as an external GP: devices (left), eject option (middle), hardware properties panel (right).

Acer and AMD's new 5000 Mobility Radeon series external GPU solution is looking sweet.

Acer's Ferrari laptop with integrated graphics = bad; Acer's Ferrari laptop with external GPU = amazing.
Finally an external GPU solution may be approaching the U.S. laptop gaming market

For the last several years it has been the dream of more than one DailyTech editor/laptop gamer to see external GPU enclosures to come to the U.S. market.  Most laptop buyers are on a two year or more life cycle, and within a year of buying their laptop, their computer is too slow to perform well in the latest crop of games. That leaves the buyers in a year or more of gaming-related agony.  An external GPU enclosure could change all that, making your graphically stale laptop fresh again at a lower price.

Support for an external GPU seems very doable, given the PCI Express card and MiniPCI-e card slots that have been on many laptops for years -- so making a full PCI-e pinout (needed for a decent external GPU solution -- one lane ExpressCards aren't sufficient) seems possible.  Unfortunately, the push for the technology has inexplicably failed to gain direction since it was first proposed.  An NVIDIA-based design from ASUSTek floated around for a couple years, but never saw production.

The drought may finally be over, though.  DailyTech was live on hand at a CES 2010 AMD/ATI press event to witness a running demo of an external GPU case which was designed with the help of Acer.  According to sources at AMD, the case can run 4000 or 5000 Mobility Radeon products.  The demoed unit was running with a high end 5000 series Mobility reference card based on the AMD's brand new Juniper (5000 Mobility Radeon family) GPU.

The external GPU was attached via PCI Express 2.0 (8-lanes in the current form) to an Acer Ferrari laptop.  The laptop was the new model in the line that was just released last month.  Like the old Ferrari laptop from Acer, which featured an AMD Radeon X1270 card, the graphics built-in graphics proved underwhelming, only offering a slightly improved AMD 3200 HD.  That's not exactly what you'd expect from a piece of hardware branded with one of the premium names in racing.

Such worries, though, may soon be a thing of the past, though, if the demo was any indication.  Thanks to the external GPU, the Ferrari was boosted to muscle car status, running Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. on three screens.  The external GPU box features a DVI connection, three display port adapters, HDMI out, two USB ports and an external power connector with a 35W adapter.  The game ran silky smooth on a three monitor setup.  The inclusion of multi-monitor support via Eyefinity might help to justify the need to have a really power external GPU like the higher end of the 5000 Mobility Radeon series.

A similar design from Fujitsu-Siemens (the GraphicBooster product for the Amilo notebook line) was introduced in Europe last year, which contained an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 graphics card.

Ultimately, it'd be nice to see a solution that the user could upgrade, but that will likely be difficult to do, due to factors like changing power envelopes.  For now we'd take whatever external graphics solution we can get.  We're hoping that more than one OEM chooses 2010 for a U.S. launch of a Mobility external GPU solution; that would be truly great news for laptop gamers.

You can learn more about AMD's external GPU efforts, dubbed XGP, direct from the company on this page.

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By tviceman on 1/11/2010 3:30:30 PM , Rating: 1
" According to sources at AMD, the case can run 4000 or 5000 Mobility Radeon products."

If AMD is going to introduce external GPU's for laptops, why use a mobliity GPU? Why not use a fancy modified 5770 or anything more powerful than a mobile GPU???

RE: But...
By Regs on 1/11/10, Rating: -1
RE: But...
By mattclary on 1/11/2010 3:48:52 PM , Rating: 3
I'd be surprised if that was intended to run off the battery. Looks like a power cord sticking out of it.

RE: But...
By Souka on 1/11/2010 4:24:24 PM , Rating: 2
Not for "mobile"'ll need an AC source.

"The external GPU box features a DVI connection, three display port adapters, HDMI out, two USB ports and an external power connector with a 35W adapter ."

RE: But...
By TMV192 on 1/11/2010 4:55:58 PM , Rating: 1
the low power consumption is good, but a non-issue if it's plugged in anyway, if they were going for broke they would have done a desktop part but my guess would be that their mobile chipsets are only designed to use the mobility radeons, or at least work better/easier with them consider they have already designed laptops with switching gpus, this is very similar technology but just putting the second gpu on the outside

RE: But...
By omnicronx on 1/11/2010 5:01:57 PM , Rating: 4
How is it a non issue? Its an enclosed case, unlike your desktop GPU that has a large fan with the provided air circulation that you would find in a desktop case. If any temperature was the guiding force to using mobile variants. Furthermore as the technology progresses, you can most likely make the box smaller and smaller.

RE: But...
By PrinceGaz on 1/12/10, Rating: 0
RE: But...
By MikeMurphy on 1/12/2010 8:48:29 PM , Rating: 2
I can only picture this catching on through a standardized connection, exactly like the new Intel Light Peak.

RE: But...
By FITCamaro on 1/11/10, Rating: 0
RE: But...
By LeviBeckerson on 1/11/2010 4:07:08 PM , Rating: 4
Well, it says it's based on Juniper, which is a mobile line.

Don't the mobile lines run cooler with less power? I don't see any giganto cooling fans on the case, so that's a good argument for it being a mobile series.

Thing here is, if you have to plug it into an external monitor, it's suddenly a lot less useful. Or did I miss something where it can drive the laptop's actual display?

RE: But...
By Souka on 1/11/2010 4:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
It can't drive the laptop display... unless your laptop has a hdmi INPUT...which I don't believe is typical...

RE: But...
By Robear on 1/11/2010 4:32:11 PM , Rating: 2
The 5000-series desktop GPUs can run up to 300W, correct? If so, I can see a 300W power-supply being a burden with a "mobile" external GPU.

Then again, if you're anchored down to a monitor anyway, why not?

I wonder what the reasoning there is...

RE: But...
By hadifa on 1/11/2010 6:48:44 PM , Rating: 2
The top model (I think it's called 5870 mobile) is using 50W of power and from what I understand that black box includes the power supply.

RE: But...
By Souka on 1/11/2010 7:22:37 PM , Rating: 2
won't be that then... per the article:
"The external GPU box features a DVI connection, three display port adapters, HDMI out, two USB ports and an external power connector with a 35W adapter ."

RE: But...
By hadifa on 1/11/2010 6:52:06 PM , Rating: 2
That was the case when the first generation of external graphics came out about a year ago and I remember AMD saying at the time that for the next generation it will be able to drive the laptop display.

I don't know if that is accomplished with the new XGpus but I really hope so

RE: But...
By FITCamaro on 1/11/2010 4:31:40 PM , Rating: 1
The size of that box doesn't say mobile card to me. If it was a mobile card, why not just have an integrated chip and a dedicated gpu which is switchable. Which is already done.

RE: But...
By omnicronx on 1/11/2010 5:05:51 PM , Rating: 2
The size of that box doesn't say mobile card to me.
Perhaps not the size of the box, but why limit it to 35W? There isnt a high end desktop AMD GPU that fits into that category.

RE: But...
By LeviBeckerson on 1/11/2010 5:13:23 PM , Rating: 2
I can think of a couple simple reasons.

One, because cramming a performance chip into a laptop generates heat concerns. If they stick with an integrated but offer an external enhancement solution, they give the whole "burning your lap" thing a miss.

B, not everyone will want performance graphics in the laptops they are buying. Not that I have any clue what laptops market they will be targeting, but it could allow them to converge several sectors at once. Nice fast rig with simple MM capabilities for web stuff for home use, more than enough CPU, RAM and storage horsepower for business uses, but oh yeah, if you want to game or do hard 3D rendering at home without investing in another computer (desktop), here is a solution for you.

And there will also be the people that buy it just because they like toys. That's probably where'd I'd fit in if I could. Heh.

RE: But...
By hadifa on 1/11/2010 6:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
And of course being upgradable solution doesn't hurt. You can replace your laptop while keeping the Xgraphic card too.

Another reason is wieght loss specially due to lack of need for GPU cooling.

If it can run the laptop LCD and has a reasonable price, It will take off.

RE: But...
By Natfly on 1/11/2010 7:57:41 PM , Rating: 3
Juniper is NOT the mobile line. Juniper is the core used in both the desktop 57xx series and mobile 58xx series.

RE: But...
By mathew7 on 1/12/2010 10:16:24 AM , Rating: 2
But what I want is a solution that can use the laptop's LCD. Similar to today's "switchable graphics", except make the powerful graphics replaceable.

By jgs9455 on 1/11/2010 4:21:30 PM , Rating: 2
RE: ViDock2
By Souka on 1/11/2010 4:30:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, pretty much...but it seems you can upgrade/use just about any PCIe card in your ViDock2...

Well, not sure about a power hungry GTX295...but a 5000 ATI or GTX285, sure :)

RE: ViDock2
By davekozy on 1/11/2010 9:52:51 PM , Rating: 2
I read the specs and it only accepts cards up to 7" and 72 watts which currently limits you to a 4670 or 9800 gt low power edition. For another $400 I can just buy a laptop with switchable graphics and get nearly the same performance with less hassle. It looks like there are a lot of compatibility problems too. The only big advantage is being upgradable.

RE: ViDock2
By MonkeyPaw on 1/11/2010 5:33:48 PM , Rating: 2
I never knew this existed, but I'm glad to see it does. Many people have notebooks that rarely leave the desk, so to be able to upgrade to gaming class graphics while at home is a nice option.

RE: ViDock2
By Souka on 1/11/2010 7:24:19 PM , Rating: 2
You also need an ExpressCard 2.0 slot... which standard wasn't ratified until last March09 if I recall...

But... I have no idea what expresscard version laptops are these days...or of laptops 1 yr ago.

RE: ViDock2
By fic2 on 1/11/2010 6:00:55 PM , Rating: 2
Interesting product, but at $309 + video card pretty steep.

RE: ViDock2
By corduroygt on 1/11/2010 6:43:49 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, might as well spend an extra $100 and get a full second desktop at that price.

RE: ViDock2
By riottime on 1/12/2010 8:26:11 AM , Rating: 2
that's too expensive. i would love one. that way i can have a sff pc running cool without a huge discrete graphic card in the tiny case. awesome.

By bupkus on 1/11/2010 4:25:47 PM , Rating: 2
Do any laptops offer a port for an external video source?

By Souka on 1/11/2010 4:27:26 PM , Rating: 2
Best you'll likely find is a laptop with video capture ability, but even then I just don't see it working.

By TMV192 on 1/11/2010 4:51:22 PM , Rating: 2
well if you're designing a laptop to use an external graphics card, best design the monitor to be able to switch inputs, it wouldn't exactly the hardest part of the technology, it could be incorporated as additional pins to however the laptop connects itself to the docking station

my ideal laptop would be a CULV with a docking station that adds the GPU, blu-ray drive, better speakers, a subwoofer, and additional cooling

thats amazing
By thenoorer on 1/11/2010 4:19:10 PM , Rating: 2
now I can buy any laptop with integrated cheap 3100 or 4500, with a core 2 duo and wait for this box to come out, cant wait till its out, ATI rules as usual

RE: thats amazing
By LeviBeckerson on 1/11/2010 4:17:42 PM , Rating: 3
Not any laptop. It has to have the correct port.

Article Correct needed Jason!
By stmok on 1/13/2010 5:01:42 AM , Rating: 2
An NVIDIA-based design from ASUSTek floated around for a couple years, but never saw production.

Actually, that is NOT true.

The ASUS product did go into limited production and was available in Australia for 18 months. (From beginning of 2008 to mid-2009).

It was priced at approx AUD$375 (retail price including GST) and used a GeForce 8600GT with 256MB DDR3.

RE: Article Correct needed Jason!
By carage on 1/16/2010 11:13:10 PM , Rating: 2
I was going to post the same thing, Jason needs to check his facts.
Actually I was able to buy one in Shanghai last year, but compatibility was apparently hit or miss. I can't believe they came out with a product that was not fully compatible with VISTA in 2008. Yeah they had VISTA drivers but they didn't work and ASUS didn't bother to help me either . Even the review sites mentioned this incompatibility issue but I didn't listen. So I ended up with a $500 brick.
No wonder it was pulled off the shelf so quickly.

By unplug on 1/11/2010 3:31:11 PM , Rating: 3
ATI is killin' it!...killin' it! Jerry!

By Chinacat Rider on 1/12/2010 1:15:52 AM , Rating: 2
A lot of the comments posted here on the little Acer Ferrari notebook with the external graphics box & ATI's new high end mobile GPU are interesting.

Why a mobile GPU? Probably for power efficiency. A big desktop GPU or CrossFire type box would need a huge AC adapter. 200W AC adapter would be very big, expensive, heavy, bulky, etc. Also the system would need to be balanced given the specs of the rest of the notebook. It is a pretty tiny computer after all.

I think it would be cool if graphics card makers like XFX or Sapphire would produce external graphics boxes for machines like this. I guess there would need to be more than one Acer notebook to come out with this connector for a viable aftermarket for such things to become a reality.

The notebook looks cool. Maybe if this one takes off others will follow.


By MGSsancho on 1/12/2010 5:15:29 AM , Rating: 2
Would be great for presenters. Some people have fancy important stuff they keep on them they need to share to others. also it great to go into a conference room, hook up your display output and go. no need to load your auto-cad or what every you do on the supplied machine that probably doesn't have all the PowerPoint features you need. Maybe this isn't just for gaming.

What about a battery option
By tygrus on 1/12/2010 6:54:18 PM , Rating: 2
These are obviously more aimed at portable game/work stations that sit on the desk most of the time not for use while travelling. A battery in the range of 85WHr could provide 2.5hrs of extreme gaming or many more with light tasks. They still used the mobile variants of their GPU cards for size and compatibility reasons.

That must be cheap!
By akse on 1/14/2010 1:30:25 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah let's buy a gaming laptop for $2000-$3000, that external graphics card system who knows how much it costs $300? And 3 LCD's!!.

What a nice mobile gaming system we have there!

By MustangMike on 1/16/2010 4:52:34 PM , Rating: 2
At first I thought the idea of plugging into an external graphics box is great. I could use my laptop to play games again! But after reading this article again, I wondered if it will help people like me with defective 8400-8600 cards. I have an HP with 8600GS graphics that fried one year after purchase. HP won't replace it, and the next option is spending $300 on ebay for a graphics card that may not be 100% compatible with my laptop. So I had to disable the 8600GS graphics in device manager to get my laptop to work without freaking out. My laptop can't use aero's advanced features or even play solitaire thanks to software rendering. Not only am I limited on what the computer can render, but my HDMI and DSUB outs are no longer accessible. If this device requires you to plug into a DVI/DSUB/HDMI out on your laptop then this product has no use for me.

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