Over the past week AKiTiO has formally introduced its new external graphics enclosure using a Thunderbolt 3 connection. As with other external graphics enclosures, the AKiTiO Node allows a user to easily upgrade the graphics sub-system of notebook, AIO or SFF PCs that have a Thunderbolt 3 port by using a discrete graphics card. One of the key elements to eGFX is price and look, and AKiTiO has placed the Node at $299, but itcan fit graphics cards with massive coolers.

Enthusiasts started to experiment with external graphics over Thunderbolt 2 interface several years ago after multiple attempts of companies like ATI/AMD, ASUS and some others to develop commercial external GPU technologies had failed. Back in 2014, plugging a video card to a MacBook Pro using Thunderbolt 2 was costly: users had to buy a chassis for up to $1000 (there were cheaper methods, but they did not look solid), a PSU and a graphics board. The homebrew method worked, but had a number of limitations when it came to bandwidth, hot-plugging (more importantly, unplugging), driver support and some others, not to mention the aesthetics of such eGFX setups. Given the trend towards miniaturization of mobile and desktop PCs, the idea of external graphics was far too alluring to skip, which is why Intel decided to support it with its Thunderbolt 3 technology introduced in 2014. While technically TB3 is PCIe 3.0 x4 over a cable, to properly enable operation of external GPUs, Intel and its allies had to ensure support of eGFX hardware though operating systems, GPU drivers, firmware and so on. Earlier this year all pieces of the puzzle finally came together and the first “official” TB3 eGFX chassis were introduced by Razer and PowerColor.

While both Razer Core and PowerColor Devil Box do the job and even feature a couple of extras, they are rather expensive as they add more than just GPU features - $499 and $379, respectively. This week, AKiTiO, which has been offering external Thunderbolt enclosures for years, introduced its eGFX box that costs $299.99.

AKiTiO Node (NODE-T3IA-AKTU) eGFX Chassis Specifications
Max Video Card Size Double-Wide, 12.2" Long
(312 × 170 × 44 mm)
Max Video Card Power 300 W (?)
Connectivity 1 × Thunderbolt 3 (>40 Gbps via active cable)
Chassis Size 5.71 × 16.85 × 8.94 inches
(145 × 428 × 227 mm)
Internal PSU 400 W SFX
System Requirements Thunderbolt 3 eGFX Certified PC
Thunderbolt 3 w/Active Cable (included)
Windows 10
Shipping Date December 2016
Price $299

The AKiTiO Node is a 42.8 × 14.5 × 22.7 cm (16.85 × 5.71 × 8.94 inches) box made of stainless steel that is compatible with a variety of double-wide full-length/full-height AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards (see the list here). The Node comes with an integrated 400 W SFX PSU (which means that it can be upgraded) as well as one 120 mm fan. As for dimensions, the Node seems to be a little more spacious inside than its rivals, which is good for cooling and compatibility with custom video cards (such as those from ASUS or EVGA). Despite this, GPUs with hybrid cooling (integrated liquid cooling) are not supported, such as AMD Radeon R9 Fury X.

Comparison of Thunderbolt 3 eGFX Chassis
    AKiTiO
Node
BizonTech
BizonBox 3
PowerColor
Devil Box
Razer
Core
Chassis Dimensions Length 42.8 cm
16.85 in
36 cm
14.17 in
40 cm
15.748 in
34 cm
13.38 in
Height 22.7 cm
8.94 in
20.5 cm
8.07 in
24.2 cm
9.52 in
21.84 cm
8.6 in
Width 14.5 cm
5.71 in
8 cm
3.5 in
17.2 cm
6.77 in
10.5 cm
4.13 in
Max Dimension of Compatible Graphics Card Length 31.2 cm
12.2 in
Height
(PCB+Cables)
17 cm
6.7 in
over 14"
over 5.51"
14 cm
5.51 in
15.2 cm
5.98 in
Width 4.4 cm
1.73 in
5
1.96 in
4.4 cm
1.73 in
Maximum GPU Power 300 W (?) 375 W
PSU Wattage 400 W 200W/400W 500 W
Form-Factor SFX external internal proprietary
Cooling Fans 1 × 120 mm 2 × 60 mm unknown 3 × 80 mm
Connectivity Thunderbolt 1 × TB3 2 × TB3 1 × TB3
Ethernet     1 × GbE
USB - 4 × USB 3.0
SATA - 1×SATA 6Gb/s -
DisplayPort - 1 × DP 1.2 -
Availability December 2016 October 2016 April 2016
Price $299 $649 $379 $499

Unlike competing products, the AKiTiO Node is a pure external GPU box and nothing more. It does not have extra USB 3.0 ports (to connect a VR headset, for example), a GbE controller nor a SATA connector. This naturally cuts down its costs and allows Akito to sell the eGFX enclosure at $299 price-point, but additional USB ports will be greatly missed by owners of ultra-thin laptops as well as SFF PCs.

AKiTiO plans to start selling the Node (NODE-T3IA-AKTU) in December.

Source: AKiTiO

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  • 1_rick - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    Indeed. I can run a pair of Server 2012 R2 VMs with SQL Server and Visual Studio on the host OS at the same time. The one place it's a weak machine is the integrated graphics. Reply
  • Nunyabz - Friday, December 2, 2016 - link

    Yah Broman, there is a loss of performance when using an external gpu adapter as opposed to a direct to the motherboard connection of the gpu, in the case of the node it is 6-7%. But as far as mediocre laptop performance with an external gpu, you are wrong, if it was not better they would not make them. Not only that, i have a egpu on my skull canyon (which is basically a laptop without a screen), and i can tell you the performance is way better. Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    Nobody has to carry a desktop around anymore. It's the 21st century, we don't sync our Palm pilots, we don't run local exchange servers, and we don't need to have horse power on us at all times, you simply need to use Windows to go and continuum if you want a fast environment available remotely, Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    "we don't run local exchange servers," - A lot of companies do as they'd prefer NOT to pay the monthly charge and be ripped off. Reply
  • 1_rick - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    I don't want a fast environment available remotely, though. With a good keyboard and monitor both at home and at work, the NUC sets up and tears down as fast as a laptop. I get a significantly more powerful workstation at the office than my company would pay for, and at home I can do any gaming that doesn't <i>require</i> a high-end GPU, although an external one would take care of that, and, even if it's not as fast as it would be over an x16 link, it would probably still handily beat the Iris Pro 580. Reply
  • Nunyabz - Friday, December 2, 2016 - link

    The external adapter you probably saw was a Bplus pe4c, I currently use one of these on my skull canyon with a gtx 960. It uses a dell da-2 psu. Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    The concept of eGPU is still good, it just needs to get down to portable levels. I don't need a top of the line GPU, I just want something that's significantly faster (and a little more robust) than Intel integrated. I don't need a 300W GPU. A small external box with a built-in (possibly mobile) GPU would be great for that, something that's small enough to transport and doesn't cost an arm and a leg just for infrastructure. Reply
  • cwolf78 - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    This. When an *enclosure* costs as much as a game console or a mainstream graphics card there is a BIG problem. Going through what a ballpark of the BOM is in my head and even factoring in R&D and a substantial profit margin, it just doesn't add up. I guess they figure most people with TB3 are Mac users who are easily parted with their money. Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    > Going through what a ballpark of the BOM is in my head and even factoring in R&D and a substantial profit margin, it just doesn't add up.

    Care to share those numbers and how you came up with them?
    Reply
  • 1_rick - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    FWIW, the dock I saw that I can no longer find, was basically a laptop-style power brick (albeit much larger than modern-day laptop bricks--it's a Dell model that I think was used for desktops, but I don't remember the model, and a simple PCB with the PCIe slot, and the appropriate power connectors. IIRC the power supply was sold separately and the two components totaled around $130. Reply

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