Silverstone CES Visit: Thunderbolt GPUs, Cases, NUC, and Moreby Jarred Walton on January 15, 2014 4:01 PM EST
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- Trade Shows
- CES 2014
Silverstone had a ton of stuff to show in their CES booth, and while we might know them best for their cases and PSUs, perhaps the most interesting item is one that may not ever see retail: the external Thunderbolt GPU box. Right now, this is more of a proof of concept, but the difficulty with Thunderbolt is that you have to get approval from both Apple and Intel before you can actually sell a device – if either company isn’t happy with the product, you’re just not going to get the support and/or licensing you need. The first step is of course getting a device to work and fixing any bugs. Routing PCI Express over Thunderbolt should be easy enough in theory, but laptops and other Thunderbolt enabled devices may need driver/firmware updates to use an external GPU.
Silverstone has partnered with ASUS to build an external GPU box that connects over Thunderbolt, the XG2 Station, which has already been demoed prior to CES. To be clear, while the concept works, the unit on display at CES was apparently damaged during shipping and so I couldn’t test it in any way. Regardless, external Thunderbolt GPUs are an idea that many are clamoring for, so hopefully all the testing and licensing issues can get worked out. Cost is also likely to be pretty high – not just for the R&D efforts and licensing, but you also have to pay for the high quality case, power, and cooling for the case. How much is an external GPU worth? For some, paying $300 or more for the XG2 Station might be reasonable, while for others that’s half-way to the purchase of a new desktop system.
Moving to the other cases, the SD380 is a mini-ITX system with a focus on storage. It supports up to eight 3.5” externally accessible drives and four 2.5” internal drives. The Grandia GD09 and GD10 meanwhile are recently launched “mainstream HTPC” enclosures, using the same core chassis but with a lockable front door on the GD10. They support full-size ATX motherboards and Silverstone said they’ve seen quite a lot of interest in larger HTPC enclosures. The latest revisions of the Raven and Fortress lines, RV05 and FT05, were also being shown, with the core chassis again being the same while the exteriors differ to cater to different types of user.
Shifting to some prototype systems, the RVZ01 and ML07 again use the same core chassis with different exteriors. The RVZ01 is basically a smaller variant of the Raven, with more of an emphasis on aesthetics that stand out. It has a plastic fascia and sides with ventilation slots and basically caters more towards the gaming market, while the ML07 goes for a minimalistic aesthetic. The cases support mini-ITX motherboards, with the big feature being a high-quality PCIe x16 riser board and supporting shell that allows the use of full-size GPUs. The benefit of this particular design is that it allows Silverstone to compartmentalize the elements of the system, with the GPU getting its own cooling that should hopefully help everything work better overall. Silverstone also showed their new thin 120mm fans with these cases, which help provide cooling without the need to make the case substantially thicker.
Wrapping up the visit, Silverstone had plenty of other items on display, including a selection of PSUs, USB adapters, NUC boxes, cables, audio boxes, laptop coolers, and more. Most of these don’t require too much discussion – you can see photos in the gallery below. Perhaps the one noteworthy item is a prototype PSU where Silverstone is looking for a use for 5.25” drive bays. They had a 400W PSU that will fit in a standard drive bay that could potentially be used to power a mini-ITX system, or maybe help power a GPU in a larger case. There are also a few cases that can support a secondary mini-ITX system alongside a full-size ATX build in a single enclosure, with the one problem being finding a way to power the mini-ITX build; the Drive Bay PSU might just solve that dilemma.
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invinciblegod - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkEven if not economically viable, would Apple licensing really be required to sell a thunderbolt device that only officially worked on Windows? Because if so, I can see that no normal pc vendor would ever get behind needing apple approval for accessories for their devices.
JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkConsidering 99% of devices with Thunderbolt right now are Apple laptops and PCs, so if you decide you don't need to work with Apple, there goes your market. (Okay, I made up the 99% number, but you get the idea -- I don't think I have a single Thunderbolt motherboard/laptop in my home for example.)
REALfreaky - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkIt's more of a chicken and egg problem. If I saw that this external thunderbolt GPU was slated to be out on the market soon, I know that I would be sure that my next laptop has thunderbolt ports available.
lilkwarrior - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkUntil Thunderbolt 3 hits PCIExpress 3 speeds; I don't see a huge market for an external GPU using Thunderbolt.
Now with PCI Express 4 devices and Sata Express set to release on consumer-level devices between the end of this year and Q2 2015, including the bandwidth capabilities of Display Port 1.3, Thunderbolt 3 HAS to reach at least PCIe3 speeds for it to be worthwhile connecting an external GPU. .
protomech - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - link"Now with PCI Express 4 devices ... Thunderbolt 3 HAS to reach at least PCIe3 speeds for it to be worthwhile connecting an external GPU."
Thunderbolt 2 offers 2 GB/s host => GPU.
PCI Express 1.0 16x is 2 GB/s host => GPU.
PCI Express 2.0 16x is 4 GB/s host => GPU.
PCI Express 3.0 16x is 8 GB/s host => GPU.
IIRC PCIE 1 => 2 (16x both) offered little performance benefit with contemporary GPUs, and PCIE 2 => 3 (16x both) offered little performance benefit with contemporary GPUs.
There may be a small impact with higher-end GPUs, but either way there's a huge performance gain over graphics that can fit in a moderately-sized laptop's thermal capacity.
DanNeely - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkYou're off by a factor of 2 on PCIe bandwidth, for 16x slots it's 4/8/16 GB/s, so you're looking at 4x 2.0 slot equivalent; which happens to be what the TB controller has to connect to upstream.
MojaMonkey - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkIm seeing max about 20% penalty using a gtx 680 in an external thunderbolt chassis. However its like being cpu limited in a game. You just turn up the quality settings until you are gpu limited again.
DanNeely - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkThunderbolt 2 offers the same performance as a 2x 3.0 slote like what Ryan tested last year with the 7970; most games he tested didn't mind much but DiRT3 took a 28% hit to average FPS and a 39% hit to minimum FPS. When Toms Hardware used to run similar tests MS Flight Simulator was a second title that got hammered. Thunderbolt 3 and another speed doubling will be a nice boost for title consistency; but TB2 is good enough to make the product's performance feasible for most gamers.
winterspan - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkWhile there will be some performance penalty, something to note is that that test you linked specifically lowered the resolution to a ridiculous level for a 7970 (in order to boost the frame rates) which exacerbates the PCIe bandwidth limitation. I'd like to see it run at 1080P at a minimum and see how it does.
MojaMonkey - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkExactly, in practice im always gpu limited in games using my external thunderbolt gtx 680 so bandwidth limitations barely register. Hardcore gamers will care but for someone semi serious bandwidth isnt a major issue. The major issue is the price of external thunderbolt gpu box.