On-the-go gamers waiting for details on how they can use the upcoming Razer Core system to add desktop-level graphics to a non-gaming laptop now have two important questions answered. The Core box is shipping in April, and it will cost $499 in the US, with $100 off if purchased along with a Razer Blade Stealth laptop. Of course, you also have to factor in the cost of a standalone desktop graphics card, which can run $500 or more.
When PC and peripherals maker Razer showed off that Razer Blade Stealth laptop at CES 2016, it easily became the most talked-about portable PC of the show. That's not because the Stealth was a sharply designed slim laptop with plenty of power and a throbbing multicolor keyboard (although the Stealth by itself is certainly an excellent laptop). It was because the Stealth was shown off paired with an external box called the Razer Core.
This box, best described as a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics enclosure, fills a major gap in computers -- it gives a slim, portable laptop a chance to play PC games at the same level as a powerful gaming desktop. That's because the Core is essentially a powered enclosure for a single desktop-level graphics card (which you have to provide). Slide the Core box open (it has a tool-free design), insert a compatible full-size graphics card --both Nvidia and AMD cards will work -- into the PCI-Express x16 slot, and connect the entire thing to a compatible laptop, and the PC can access the power of the GPU for gaming or video editing.
The Core is designed specifically for Razer laptops, including the Stealth and the new 14-inch Razer Blade, but the implementation is open enough to work on other laptops. That list may be small, however, as the connection is via Thunderbolt 3, using a USB-C connection, which rules out many current laptops. If used with a Razer Blade Stealth laptop, the Core also supplies power to the computer, which is important, as the USB-C connection is also how the Stealth connects to its power supply.
One of the big reasons one might want to add desktop graphics to a laptop is for virtual reality. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets will only work with desktop graphics cards, not the mobile chips found in gaming laptops. We won't know for sure how well VR headsets will work with the Razer Core, as they still require a desktop CPU as well. But, there's at least a chance some VR apps will work fine with the combination of a desktop graphics and laptop processors.
The video cards supported include most recent Nvidia and AMD cards. AMD versions will offer better plug-and-play capabilities, at least initially, which means you're more likely to be able to connect and disconnect the Core without needing to reboot the system or restart programs. The Core has a 500-watt power supply, which should be more than enough for any single graphics card.
The Razer Core is available to preorder now, and units start shipping in April. The Core costs $499 on its own, or $399 with the purchase of a Razer laptop, including the new Razer Blade Stealth, which starts at $999 (previous Stealth purchasers are also eligible for the discounted price). Razer sells products internationally, including in the UK and Australia, but neither the Stealth nor Core are available in those markets yet.
The supported graphics cards for the Razer Core include:
- AMD Radeon R9 Fury
- AMD Radeon R9 Nano
- AMD Radeon R9 300 Series
- AMD Radeon R9 290X
- AMD Radeon R9 290
- AMD Radeon R9 280
- Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 980
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 950
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 750