Operating System

What’s The Deal With External Graphics Docks?

What is an External Graphics Dock?

Not everyone who likes to play video games has the time, money, or know-how to build their own gaming PC. These people will more often than not opt to get a gaming laptop instead, which with their high cost and TDP/wattage-limited graphics solutions prove unsatisfactory for high intensity gaming. If not a gaming laptop, then they do what they can with their thin & light notebook with integrated graphics that, while great for portability, can not run games very well at all. Using an external graphics dock you can get the best of both worlds! There is minimal assembly required, and you can have your thin and light laptop to bring to class or to work, then when you get home plug into your external graphics dock and have all the gaming horsepower and display outputs you need.

Sounds Great! How Do These External Graphics Docs Work, Then?

The most basic eGPU dock

The basic concept of an external graphics dock is this: take a regular desktop Graphics Card, plug it into a PCIe slot in a dock, get power to the dock and the Graphics card, then plug that dock into your laptop. After installing the right drivers and performing two or three restarts, hark! High frame rates at high settings are coming your way. The internal GPU is completely bypassed and data is sent from the laptop to the GPU to an external display, and in some cases back to the laptop to power its own internal display. The graphics card will have to be purchased separately, and to see a sizable difference in performance over a dedicated laptop GPU you will be looking at around $200 for that card on top of the cost of the dock. Each commercially available dock has their own benefits and drawbacks, but all of them share some basic properties. They can all accept any single or dual-slot GPU from AMD or Nvidia (cooler size permitting), and have at least two 6+2-pin power connectors to power the graphics card. Along with the GPU support, docks usually also add at least four USB ports to connect peripherals similar to the laptop docks of olde.

So What Are The Performance Numbers Really Like?

In general, performance loss over using that same GPU in a real desktop is 10-15%. This can be due to a reduced bandwidth over the connection to the laptop, or due to bottlenecking from less powerful laptop CPUs. However, even over a dedicated laptop GPU the increase in performance when using an external one is roughly double. Here’s a few benchmarks of recent AAA titles, courtesy of TechSpot. Listed from bottom to top, each graph has performance of the internal GPU, the Graphics Amplifier with a desktop GPU, and that same GPU in a regular desktop PC.

aga bench 1aga bench 3 aga bench 2


Let’s Take A Look At What is Available Today:

Alienware Graphics Amplifier (MSRP $199):

Pros – Relatively inexpensive, High bandwidth interface, Good airflow, PSU is user upgradeable
Cons – Only works for Alienware machines (R2 & up), Uses proprietary cable, Requires shutdown to connect / disconnect

Razer Core (MSRP $499):
Pros – Universal Thunderbolt 3 interface, Adds ethernet jack, Sturdy aluminum construction, Small size
Cons – High cost, Compatibility list with non-Razer computers is short

MSI GS30 Shadow:

Pros: User upgradeable PSU, Includes support for internal 3.5″ drive, Has integrated speakers
Cons: Only works for one machine, Huge footprint, Dock cannot be purchased separately

Final Thoughts

After seeing all the facts, does using an eGPU sound like the solution for you? If none of the options available sound perfect right now, don’t fret. As the popularity of eGPUs grows, more companies will inevitably put their hats into the ring and make their own solutions. Prices, form factors, and supported laptops will continue changing and improving as time goes on.

Operating System

AT&T Joins the Online Video Streaming Game

With the increasing popularity of online video streaming and the vast decline of tradition TV packages, it’s no wonder why AT&T wants to get in on that market share. Like most companies trying to break into a new market, AT&T is starting with very low prices. If you sign up now or shortly after the service starts, you’ll be getting 100 channels for $35 a month. Any time after that, and $35 a month will only grant you access to 60 channels in total. At 5x the monthly cost of Netflix, you’d hope to be getting some more value out of this new service, and from the channel lineup it looks like you do. Signing up for 3 months of service at the start will get you a free Apple TV and Siri remote, while signing up for one month will instead get you a free Amazon Fire Stick. Premium channels like MTV, Oxygen, NHL Network, FXM, GOLF, and NBA TV are all included in the 100 channel package. If you want to keep up on Game of Thrones on HBO, you can do that too, but you’ll be adding an extra $5 to your monthly cost. One of the big draws to this service is that they offer “100-plus premium channels … [not] the junk that nobody wants” says AT&T director Randall Stephenson. This claim is bolstered by the addition of more channels provided with their recent acquisition of another major cable company, Time Warner. While this all seems well and good, there are a few downsides to AT&T’s new service. Like any streaming service, there is a limit to the amount of people who can watch, and the limit here is pitifully low at only two concurrent users. This would prove difficult for a four person family if each member wanted to watch their own shows. There are also some vague issues with availability for local channels and regional live sports channels. No set top box is needed for the connection, and all you need is a broadband internet connection to get started, so this is an attractive offering for college students.

Hardware Operating System

Bluetooth Headphones: Are you ready to go wireless?

The time has finally come, and Apple has removed the 3.5mm jack from it’s newest line of iPhones entirely. While this will lead to a new generation of lighting connector based headphones, it will also considerably increase the popularity of bluetooth headphones. Like the electric car and alternative forms of energy, bluetooth headphones are something that everyone’s going to have to accept eventually, but that’s not such a bad thing. Over the past few years bluetooth headphones have gotten cheaper, better sounding, and all around more feasible for the average consumer. With the advent of Bluetooth 4.2, the capacity is there for high-fidelity audio streaming. Think about it: as college students we spent a lot of our time walking around (especially on our 1,463 acre campus). Nothing is more annoying than having your headphone cable caught on clothing, creating cable noise, or getting disconnected all together. There are many different form factors of bluetooth headphones to fit any lifestyle and price point. Here are a few choices for a variety of users.

Are you an athlete? Consider the Jaybird Bluebuds X

bluThese around-the-neck IEMs provide incredibly sound quality, and have supports to stay in your ears wether you’re biking, running, or working out. Workout getting too intense and you’re worried about your headphones? Don’t sweat it! The Bluebuds are totally water-proof, with a lifetime warranty if anything does happen.

Looking for portable Bluetooth on a budget? The Photive BTH3 is for you

photiveWell reviewed online, these $45 headphones provide a comfortable fit and a surprising sound signature. It’s tough to find good wired headphones for that price, yet the BTH3s sound great with the added bonus of wireless connectivity and handsfree calling. When you’re not using them, they can fold flat and fit into an included hard case to be put into your bag safely.

.High performance import at a middle of the road price.
s700Full disclosure: These are my headphone of choice. At double the price of the previous option and around 1/4th the price of the Beats Studio wireless, we find these over-ear bluetooth headphones from the makers of the famous ATH-M50. With a light build, comfortable ear cups and amazing sound quality, these headphones take the cake for price-performance in the ~$100 range.

Have more money than you know what to do with? Have I got an option for you.

vmoda What you see here are the V-MODA Crossfade Wireless headphones, and they come in at a wallet squeezing $300 MSRP. With the beautiful industrial design and military-grade materials, it’s an easy choice over the more popular Apple wireless headphone offerings. Like other headphones in the V-MODA line, these headphones are bass-oriented, but the overall sound signature is great for on the go listening.