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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JDG1980 - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkThis is assuming you care about compatibility with OS X.
zanon - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkOh, that's different (and also a little hysterical). I do Mac development and Apple does not "make your life very difficult," unless by that you mean "not becoming some of the select who actually get support for their stuff integrated directly into the OS" which isn't that common anyway. As long as you're handling is all yourself you can do whatever.
At any rate, that's not a special Thunderbolt thing, it'd apply the same way if you wanted to make any special driver for OS X. As far as TB adoption in general goes the ball is still clearly entirely in Intel's court, and their court alone.
Sm0kes - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkThis will never see the light of day. It seems like every year these enclosures show up at CES with the sole purpose of generating buzz and coverage.
Intel is completely against thunderbolt being leveraged for eGPU purposes. The only reasonably priced adapter to actually hit the market (which had a PWRGD delay switch) was the BHPlus TH05. It quickly suffered the wrath of Intel and they had their license revoked in a matter of weeks.
This is exactly the type of use that would differentiate Thunderbolt from USB3 and drive adoption and Intel doesn't seem to care.
SleepyFE - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkUSB 3.1 is going to be as fast as TB so we just have to wait for a universal type C connector and they can make a GPU case with it. One you can even plug into your phone (man would that be awesome).
DanNeely - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkUSB3 may be able to rival the througput of a TB1 slot; but the USB overhead would kill it for gaming. To keep good FPS your GPU needs very consistent low latency IO; USB is neither of these things because to keep costs down its controllers are stupid and need the host CPU to do all the hard work. TB gives a direct PCIe connection to external devices, so you get something that has the performance of a card plugged directly into an equivalently wide slot on the mobo.
SleepyFE - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkCouldn't you fix that with a driver? You just send a PCIe signal to the USB port connected to the external GPU. You might not be using the USB 3.1 specification as is, but it shlould at least work.
Khenglish - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkYeah it's a real shame the TH05 was pulled. It was the only device to really make plugging in a GPU over thunderbolt economically practical. When you throw in the unnecessary large casing and the lackluster PSU even though you already had your own to use, the price just gets too high to choose an adapter over either a high end laptop, or a desktop and a laptop.
Penti - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkDrivers and UEFI-issues, as well as how the operating system handles graphics is the problem here. Technology is there to make it happen, on like a single product but OS's don't really like the idea of a hotplug video-card, but with integrated graphics it should work reasonably well if they work for it. On OS X then at least Nvidia or AMD needs to be up for it. But graphics drivers outside of Apples software updates are unusual there but has been seen. That really holds true on Windows too though. On GNU/Linux there is no reasonable open drivers for Nvidia to begin with so.
Seraphimcaduto - Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - linkThat ML07 case sure looks like the Alienware X51 case. Actually looks almost dead on to my case after I modded it to allow for better heat removal around the gpu.
Aikouka - Thursday, January 16, 2014 - linkI wish you would have gone into a little more detail on the NUC cases. My biggest question was whether any of the Haswell-supporting NUC cases are fanless, but after checking the original image, I see that none of them are. That's rather disappointing as the only retailer that I can find that's selling fanless Haswell NUC cases (Tranquil PC in the UK) only has units that don't support 2.5" drives and the costs become ludicrous after shipping + currency conversion ($200!).