AMD Announces XConnect Technology for External Graphics

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 10, 2016 - 01:27 PM |
Tagged: XConnect, thunderbolt 3, radeon, graphics card, gpu, gaming laptop, external gpu, amd

AMD has announced their new external GPU technology called XConnect, which leverages support from the latest Radeon driver to support AMD graphics over Thunderbolt 3.

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The technology showcased by AMD is powered by Razer, who partnered with AMD to come up with an expandable solution that supports up to 375W GPUs, including R9 Fury, R9 Nano, and all R9 300 series GPUs up to the R9 390X (there is no liquid cooling support, and the R9 Fury X isn't listed as being compatible). The notebook in AMD's marketing material is the Razer Blade Stealth, which offers the Razer Core external GPU enclosure as an optional accessory. (More information about these products from Razer here.) XConnect is not tied to any vendor, however; this is "generic driver" support for GPUs over Thunderbolt 3.

AMD has posted this video with the head of Global Technical Marketing, Robert Hallock, to explain the new tech and show off the Razer hardware:

The exciting part has to be the promise of an industry standard for external graphics, something many have hoped for. Not everyone will produce a product exactly like Razer has, since there is no requirement to provide a future upgrade path in a larger enclosure like this, but the important thing is that Thunderbolt 3 support is built in to the newest Radeon Crimson drivers.

Here are the system requirements for AMD XConnect from AMD:

  • ​Radeon Software 16.2.2 driver (or later)
  • 1x Thunderbolt 3 port
  • 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable
  • Windows 10 build 10586 (or later)
  • BIOS support for external graphics over Thunderbolt 3 (check with system vendor for details)
  • Certified Thunderbolt 3 graphics enclosure configured with supported Radeon R9 Series GPU
  • Thunderbolt firmware (NVM) v.16

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The announcement introduces all sorts of possibilities. How awesome would it be to see a tiny solution with an R9 Nano powered by, say, an SFX power supply? Or what about a dual-GPU enclosure (possibly requiring 2 Thunderbolt 3 connections?), or an enclosure supporting liquid cooling (and the R9 Fury X)? The potential is certainly there, and with a standard in place we could see some really interesting products in the near future (or even DIY solutions). It's a promising time for mobile gaming!

Source: AMD

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March 10, 2016 | 02:16 PM - Posted by johnestan (not verified)

Very exciting! So any laptop with thunderbolt 3 will work with this driver? Assuming that the razor core, or another enclosure, is unlocked in a way that allows it to be used with other vendors machines.

March 10, 2016 | 02:55 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

As long as you can meet the requirements listed above, it should work with any TB 3 laptop, yeah.

March 10, 2016 | 03:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No it has to have other BIOS requirements and features certified by AMD/the devices OEM to work with XConnect and TB3, go to anandtech and read their writeup for more complete information! Being windows 10 only is a big bummer also, so maybe there will be some Linux Support from AMD, in addition to windows 7/8.1 support down the line. So that Not tied to any vendor Marketing half truth only covers laptop vendors/OEM, but what about OS vendor/s? Some users want this feature to be more cross OS platform also, and Nvidia has at the moment more/better Cross-OS platform support, as does Intel!

Hopfully AMD's NEW AMDGPU open source drivers will have some support for this feature also, so the Linux based gaming users have somthing to look forward to.

March 10, 2016 | 03:11 PM - Posted by funandjam

As long as the laptop vendor has their BIOS updated to support AMD's XConnect tech, then it should work.

March 10, 2016 | 02:25 PM - Posted by Searching4Sasquatch (not verified)

Does that guy work at Mens Warehouse?

March 10, 2016 | 03:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's Marketing, they all come from the same cookie cutter marketing schools with very little in the way of specific product knowledge! It could be laundry detergent for all the average marketing minion knows, they can't tell the difference between that and technology!

March 10, 2016 | 10:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I think you use too many exclamation points.

Is the '.' key on your keyboard broken?

March 11, 2016 | 05:36 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Blow! it! out! your! A$$! and F-off!

March 11, 2016 | 02:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nice try but completely inaccurate. Rob is a hardware guy from day 1, that is why he is in that position.

March 11, 2016 | 05:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Stop it with the Thin and Light laptops AMD! Stop trying to pawn of your unsold Ultrabook SKUs on users Intel! AMD thin and light destroyed your Carrizo offerings and thin and lights are ruining the laptop market!

AMD stop sucking up to M$ and get your CPUs/GPUs into some OEM based Linux OS running PCs/laptops, you and the OEMs need to send those crappy Thin and light Form Factor laptop cases to the dump! OEMs start making regular form factor laptops with sufficient cooling solutions and forget about following in Intel's failed Ultrabook fiasco footsteps!

People want laptops with regular cooling solutions and CPUs/SOCs that can be run at 35-45 watts and not be thermally throttled, if you want your laptops to use little power simply offer regular form factor laptops with user configurable power/thermal settings and let the device's owner choose what power setting profiles they want to use for longer battery life, but do not force users into a single usage profile and force users to lose the option of getting the fullest performance from their laptop's CPU/SOC. STOP the GIMPING of the laptop SKU!!!!!!!!

March 10, 2016 | 03:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Glad to see AMD's youtube channel output has gone from cringeworthy to surprisingly enjoyable.

March 10, 2016 | 06:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thin & Light laptop by day, graphics powerhouse by night!

I'm really liking this.

March 10, 2016 | 07:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

More like thin and light by day, and crappy for gaming at night or any other time of the day.

Most of the thin and light/ultrabook laptops are dual core Intel U series SKUs and they will not have the CPU power to feed a Desktop GPU in an external case. You need a good 35+ watt quad core laptop SKU to be able to feed that external GPU! Thin and light and gaming should never be mentioned in the same sentence, it's just a waste of money. A gaming laptop should have at least a 35 watt quad core, and Ultrabooks and thin and lights do not have the thermal headroom!

It's better to get a regular form factor real gaming laptop CPU SKU that can drive the external GPU and still not be thermally throttled in the process! This Apple style/Intel Apple envy/Ultrabook and thin and light obsession has no place in gaming unless flappy bird is you favorite game.

March 11, 2016 | 10:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Gaming on a 17" or even smaller screen is never going to be a good experience either, no matter how powerful your GPU is.

March 10, 2016 | 06:52 PM - Posted by Chucky (not verified)

Hemmm... Isn't the cpu in that laptop going to cause a bottleneck?

March 10, 2016 | 09:27 PM - Posted by ThatTechGuy

I think I'm missing something as most people seem to think this is an amazing technology. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad a standard now exists and I think it's cool, but I don't see it as a practical solution at all.

The person in the video said he carries two laptops, one that's thick and heavy with gaming horsepower but a pain to lug around, and a thin and light one without much power. Then he said this external GPU is the solution he's been looking for. That makes absolutely no sense to me. To get the power for the external GPU, wouldn't you need to lug around the external GPU enclosure, making it just as much if not more inconvenient than just carrying around a heavy laptop?

As I said, there's probably some use case scenario I'm missing as not every comment is to the effect of mine, but on the surface, this looks completely illogical.

March 11, 2016 | 01:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I think Robert could have done a better job of pointing out what set of people this eGPU will benefit most. It certainly won't be the people he talks about that need to game on the go, including himself, lol! that eGPU box is heavy and bulky, I completely agree.

Whether you lug around a heavng gaming notebook, or a laptop and the eGPUbox, either way you will still be tethered to an outlet for gaming. And yes, I do realize a gaming laptop can run off the battery, but it will be only for a short period of time and youmight as well be near an outlet anyway.

What I believe is really the best use case scenario is people that need productivity and possibly very light gaming on the go(like web based games) and do their heavy gaming when at home. I work with a few gamers and this scenario fits all of us, we just have too much going on away from home most of the time to even bother with gaming on the go. I think there are a lot of people out there that fits this situation that most people realize.

March 11, 2016 | 08:19 AM - Posted by Gunbuster

Once it works as a big bulky box at home I can see manufacturers packaging a power supply and GPU in a more portable format, sort of like they have USB power banks these days. Something you can stuff in your suitcase and plug in at your destination.

March 11, 2016 | 12:12 PM - Posted by funandjam

I totally see that happening, but it will take quite awhile.
Things like really SFF eGPU boxes that are designed to take cards the size of the R9 Nano or smaller.
That brings to mind that series of peripherals for Lenovo - stackables. An eGPU and powersupply baked into one unit you just add to the stack, something like that may not be upgradeable itself, but there is always another eGPU box you could get.

This totally brings to mind that if this really starts to take off, it might mean less desktop cpu sales, since more people might be attracted to getting a laptop for the portability and the eGPU for gaming. it would fit, CPU performance increase over recent few years has been very small increases. My 2600k at home is still more than enough to run games maxed out, and that is a 4+ year old chip.

March 11, 2016 | 10:24 PM - Posted by thomask (not verified)

dota 2 and cs global offence by day
and bf4 and battlefront by night

not complicated bro

March 10, 2016 | 10:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I doesn't seem like this is really that competitive with just building a low end system and adding a gaming video card.

March 11, 2016 | 02:01 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

True, but then you lose the mobility of the laptop when you need to take it with you to school/work/away from home/etc.

March 11, 2016 | 04:22 AM - Posted by nevzim (not verified)

Desktop CPU is suitable for gaming for years.
Great plot by Intel to sell underpowered mobile CPUs again and again.

March 11, 2016 | 10:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not really seeing the appeal of this over just having a desktop at home for gaming, and a cheap laptop for portability. The external GPU isn't exactly portable and certainly isn't mobile, so you may as well just get a full desktop instead.

March 11, 2016 | 12:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I could get behind this using a few m-stx boxes in my house with TB3 and just moving my video card where I need it. M-stx on the tv for media purposes and attach the video card when I want to game big-picture. Or have a friend come over and drop their video card on a box and LAN game.

March 11, 2016 | 01:32 PM - Posted by Ramon (not verified)

Windows 10 only? Not interested.

March 12, 2016 | 10:21 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)



enjoy watching the world of computing walk away from you

March 14, 2016 | 02:33 PM - Posted by The Party of Hell No! (not verified)

Forget the laptop. I want this for my desktops/laptops. Buy desktops with gpu on board, carry around this case with the graphics to game with, stream, or 4k display; plug it in to which device I want to play on, or want better graphics; disconnect and do again. I only have to buy one or two cards rather than four or six to have better graphics on every desktop? Heck yea, and I only have to update the mobile box rather than each desktop, or decide which desktop will be downgraded by moving obsolete video cards to older machines. Two problems, if it is up-gradable then people are going to do exactly what I hypothesis - buy only two cards rather than 4 or 6 - then the market for video cards is headed for a downturn. As is the PC market, because the one component upgraded most over the life of a PC is the video card. I would speculate it is the biggest reason for PC upgrades. If external GPU's can be upgraded and then just plugged in with full access and full use without degradation then why upgrade?

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