I've been living the two-computer life for too long. A relatively thin, portable laptop for work and a beefy gaming desktop at home. But it doesn't have to be that way.
For the past month, I've been using the Razer Core, a device that can transform a tiny laptop into a powerful gaming desktop PC. You know how Bruce Banner turns into The Incredible Hulk? It's nothing like that.
Here's what it's like: I go to work with an impressively thin laptop under my arm. And when I get home at night, I plug in a single cable which charges the laptop, fires up multiple monitors, adds a mouse and keyboard, connects to wired internet and -- get this -- harnesses the power of a big, badass desktop graphics card. One plug gives me all of that, all at the same time.
The result is the best of both worlds: a laptop that games like a desktop.
No exaggeration: I've wanted a system like this for years. And now I've tried it, it's hard for me to imagine a future where traditional gaming desktops still exist.
Say hello to the eGPU
The first thing to know about the Razer Core is it costs $500, £470 or AU$750 just for the box. No graphics card, no laptop. You provide those on your own.
But the second thing to know is that the Razer Core isn't alone. It's just one of a new wave of external graphics processing units (eGPUs), including the Asus ROG XG Station, the Aorus Gaming Box, the PowerColor Devil Box, the Sonnet Breakaway Box and the Akitio Node. They're all built on a common standard, which means prices are all but sure to come down.
Intel's port is that standard. It's the first computer cable designed to provide enough bandwidth (40 gigabits per second), electricity (over 100 watts) and I/O protocols (USB 3.1, DisplayPort, PCI-Express) to power external graphics, monitors, peripherals and your laptop all at the same time, in a plug-and-play design with no need to reboot.
Which means you can be gaming and multitasking across multiple monitors like a powerful desktop PC, then yank a single cord and walk away with a laptop -- something the many, many previous attempts at eGPUs have never really offered.
So that's just what I did.
I pulled the satisfyingly smooth aluminum handle to slide out the Razer Core's GPU tray, undid the thumbscrew, and snapped in a powerful $380+ (£379, AU$679+) Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card, PCIe power connectors and all.
I ripped out the cables connecting my mouse, keyboard, router and and twin monitors from my existing desktop PC, and inserted them straight into the Core.
Then, I placed a 13-inch, quad-corenotebook on top of the Core, plugged in the Thunderbolt 3 cable and waited as Nvidia drivers automatically installed themselves and the USB devices sprang to life. And that was it.
One-time setup complete, I took my new PC for a spin. And then, I realized something profound: I could barely tell the difference. A mere laptop felt as fast and capable as the desktop I painstakingly built for myself just a couple years back.
How much faster are we talking? Here's some before and after gaming tests:
If it's this powerful with a Titan, just imagine what it could do with tomorrow's graphics cards.
I even found the Core fast enough to power anfor virtual reality games -- though not an . The Rift needs a lot of low-latency USB ports to work properly, and the ones on the Razer Core aren't quite responsive enough. If you have three or four USB 3.0 ports on your laptop, it could work.
The limits of power
Before you run out and buy a Razer Core, there are a few things you should know. Chief among them that it doesn't work with just any ol' computer.
Not only does your laptop need a Thunderbolt 3 port, it needs one that specifically supports external graphics. Not all of them do, and manufacturers generally don't advertise that. There are a lot of laptops with USB-C ports that aren't necessarily Thunderbolt 3 ports -- -- and there are plenty of Thunderbolt 3 ports that don't support the Core either. Like the one on my homebuilt desktop's Gigabyte motherboard, for instance.