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Razer Core V2 review: This box turned my laptop into a gaming monster

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One of the (very few) differences between the original Razer Core and the v2 model: a second Intel controller chip so USB devices don't impact GPU performance or vice versa.

Josh Miller/CNET

And even if your machine does support it, you may need to update drivers and even your laptop's BIOS before it'll run.

Thankfully, my own personal Dell XPS 15 is one of those computers that merely required some updates, so I was able to run some apples-to-apples comparisons against Razer's own quad-core Blade Stealth. It worked pretty well:

Laptop vs. laptop: Average frames per second


Stealth + GTX 1070 XPS 15 + GTX 1070 Stealth + Titan Xp XPS 15 + Titan Xp
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High) 83 73 108 106
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) 72 62 99 95
Rise of the Tomb Raider (4K High) 37 35 65 61
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High) 102 115 103 122
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High) 93 95 97 112
Grand Theft Auto V (4K High) 64 60 94 93

As you can see in the benchmarks, your choice of laptop can also determine how effective the Razer Core might be.

On the one hand, the Dell XPS 15's 2.8GHz Core i7-7700HQ is slightly more capable than the Razer Blade Stealth's 1.8GHz Core i7-8550U chip, which sometimes made it faster in Grand Theft Auto V ($8.00 at Amazon), a game that heavily taxes the CPU. Laptops with less capable CPUs, including Razer's own dual-core version of the Blade Stealth, might take a hit. 

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Also know the Core provides 60 watts of power, max -- enough for thinner laptops, but not to game and charge a Dell XPS 15 at the same time. I had to plug in the power adapter too. 

Josh Miller/CNET

On the other hand, the XPS 15 only has two lanes of PCI-Express bandwidth over Thunderbolt 3 instead of the usual 4, which might explain why the Stealth pulls ahead when playing

Razer Core frame rates with and without external monitor


Stealth + GTX 1070, external monitor Stealth + GTX 1070, laptop screen Performance loss
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High) 83 72 13%
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) 72 52 28%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High) 102 91 11%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High) 93 82 12%





Stealth + RX580, external monitor Stealth + RX580, laptop screen Performance loss
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High) 64 61 5%
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) 56 45 20%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High) 78 73 6%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High) 71 66 7%

Sound confusing? No kidding -- that's why eGPUs aren't ready to be a mass-market product yet.

And no matter how capable your laptop, you won't get the same performance from your GPU as you would just popping it into a desktop PC.

Desktop vs. eGPU average frames per second

Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) Desktop (i5-6600K, PCIe x16) Core + Stealth (i7-8550U, PCIe x4) Performance loss
AMD RX 580 73 56 23%
Nvidia GTX 1070 98 72 27%
Nvidia Titan Xp 149 99 34%




Rise of the Tomb Raider (4K High) Desktop (i5-6600K, PCIe x16) Core + Stealth (i7-8550U, PCIe x4) Performance loss
AMD RX 580 35 30 14%
Nvidia GTX 1070 43 37 14%
Nvidia Titan Xp 77 65 16%




Grand Theft Auto V (4K High) Desktop (i5-6600K, PCIe x16) Core + Stealth (i7-8550U, PCIe x4) Performance loss
AMD RX 580 56 43 23%
Nvidia GTX 1070 79 64 19%
Nvidia Titan Xp 123 94 24%

Which means if your laptop already has a reasonably powerful GPU inside, like the GTX 1050 inside my Dell XPS 15, you'll need a far more powerful desktop GPU to see a worthwhile performance gain. As you can see, the AMD RX 580 doesn't always cut it:

XPS 15 performance: Average frames per second

Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High)
48
63
73
106
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High)
40
54
62
95
Rise of the Tomb Raider (4K High)
15
30
35
61
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High)
90
79
115
122
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High)
67
66
95
112
Grand Theft Auto V (4K High)
26
43
60
93

Legend:

Onboard GTX 1050
RX 580
GTX 1070
Titan Xp

Note:

Higher numbers are better. 60+ FPS is optimal.

You should know there's also a penalty for using your laptop's built-in screen, too. To get the best performance, you'll want to game on an external monitor connected directly to the Core's GPU.

Razer Core frame rates with and without external monitor


Stealth + GTX 1070, external monitor Stealth + GTX 1070, laptop screen Performance loss
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High) 83 72 13%
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) 72 52 28%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High) 102 91 11%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High) 93 82 12%





Stealth + RX580, external monitor Stealth + RX580, laptop screen Performance loss
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p High) 64 61 5%
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p Very High) 56 45 20%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p High) 78 73 6%
Grand Theft Auto V (1080p Very High) 71 66 7%

I should also mention that while generally, the Core worked without a hitch -- it never failed a benchmark or booted me out in the middle of a game or task -- there were times it failed to keep the GPU connected when I first plugged it in after a long day at work. I'm not sure why, Razer's not sure why, and we're still investigating.

Tomorrow, not today

I can't recommend the Razer Core for most people, or even most PC gamers. Not yet. But that's mostly not Razer's fault.

The company built a high-quality box that does what it promises -- it's awesome -- but the world just hasn't fully embraced Intel's Thunderbolt 3 standard, and there's no guarantee it will. Thunderbolt 3 is proprietary, and requires that manufacturers buy special controller chips from Intel. Not all PC makers want to foot that bill.

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Connecting to an external monitor helps bring out the improvements made with the Core.

Josh Miller/CNET

So what looks like a futureproof computer today might not be, if your next laptop doesn't have the Thunderbolt 3 port you need to use the Core. And without that certainty, $500 is a lot to ask for the box alone.

Besides, if Thunderbolt 3 does spread further, you can probably expect external GPU enclosures to get more affordable. Even if you added the cost of my homebuilt desktop PC's very nice Lian-Li aluminum case, power supply and motherboard, it didn't add up to $500, and neither do some of the competing eGPU enclosures available today. You're paying for Razer's R&D, design and brand.

But Thunderbolt 3 or no, the Razer Core has proven to me that eGPUs could be a force for change. I wonder if they might even come to video game consoles some day. After all, what is an Xbox One X or a PS4 Pro but an existing console with a newer, more powerful GPU?

Today, I don't believe the Core is a must-have, though it's definitely an awesome option if you can afford the whole set. But at this rate, I'll be surprised if I ever build a desktop PC again.

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