Asus is introducing a new Thunderbolt 3 external graphics dock that lets you use a desktop graphics card with your PC when you need it and unplug it when you don’t.
It’s a way to turn just about any laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 port into a gaming machine or to add big graphics power to a tiny Intel NUC-sized computer.
The new dock is called the Asus XG Station Pro, and it’ll be available in the first quarter of 2018 for $329.
This isn’t the first external graphics dock. We’ve seen a bunch over the past few years. But it’s a pretty nice looking model with an aluminum chassis, dual 120mm fans that Asus says operate silently, and a 330 watt power supply.
The XG Station Pro has room for a 2.5 slot PCI Express graphics card, and Asus says it supports NVIDIA GeForce GTX 900 series or 10 series or AMD Radeon R9 or later graphics cards.
The whole thing measures 14.7″ x 8.1″ x 4.2″ and weighs about 6.5 pounds. In other words, it’s bigger than some desktop computers. Obviously it’s meant to sit on your desk not fit into the same bag as your laptop.
The rarity of Thunderbolt 3 (essentially Thunderbolt on the USB-C connector) on today’s machines is a travesty born from the loins of greedy Marketing/Lawyer types at both Intel and the USB Implementers Forum (ISB-IF).
In 2014 Intel Engineers hit the ball out of the park by marrying a lower power consumption fast 40 Gbit/s rate connection that supports PCIe 3.0 & HDMI 2.0 (2x4K/60Hz or 1x4K/120Hz displays) to the USB-C connector which brings power delivery and commonality. This is (arguably) something the USB-IF should have done even earlier (more on the USB-IF below).
In 2015 Intel’s Skylark parts were the first to support Thunderbolt 3 natively, but even today OEM systems that hve the capability remain far from common. Unfortunately, driven by low adoption rates it took until mid-2017 until the Greed-Heads at Intel got out of the way, and Thunderbolt 3 was released as a royalty-free standard to manufacturers.
The USB-IF is to blame by not embracing the Thunderbolt 3 marriage with USB-C. I argue that by embracing Thunderbolt 3, the USB-IF would be shooting itself in the foot by leap-frogging many USB generational releases in one big step. The USB-IF makes its money by releasing changes in baby-steps slowly over time while charging the manufacturers licensing royalties all through the process. Manufacturers tolerate the greedy step-by-step business model of the USB-IF monopoly/cartel because the USB-IF mandates non-backwards compatible physical interface changes that force users to perpetually replace their hardware and/or pay for additional adapters and cables; something the manufacturers love.
Then there are the issues of consumer CHOICE and PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE: A generic third-party Thunderbolt 3 connected display adapter dock is a Nightmare to a greedy OEM Marketing Goon. It reduces device churn by not locking you down to the machine’s (often crippled and/or outdated) internal video hardware. It also gives YOU the user Choice, a much hated thing by OEM’s these days.
What a mess. We’re at a possible turning point though. Adopters of Thunderbolt 3 connected display docks are going to be slow in coming at today’s high prices. This is because of a lack of up-front trust that the standard will remain supported (risk carrys cost). If only the Marketing Jerks would get out of the way and let this technology blossom naturally. Everyone will benefit handsomely in the end.
Let’s hope it isn’t too late. If in twelve months we look back and still see only expensive hard to find Thunderbolt 3 display docks like we have today, it’ll all be over for this promising technology.
Now, if only you could slot your ASUS laptop beside it like the Nintendo Switch.
I’d prefer a neat and tidy solution to this, so that your 4c/8t laptop gets all the power, airflow it needs when its also getting that graphical boost. Maybe they can make it modular too, so the box can house a BluRay drive for reading/writing discs… and also a 3.5in HDD so you can have a separate drive for your work (laptop) and play (eGPU).
We need an expensive version to pave the way. Then cheaper alternatives can pop up.
You can always have a dock that has an 8tb external HDD and BR writer attached to it. Then when you want to game, you just connect the dock and eGPU to your laptop and you’re set.
The challenge is to find an OEM who isn’t lazy or greedy, but willing enough to design and sell the product I mentioned. Imagine coming home from college, getting comfy in the living room, getting your Ultrabook out of your bag, and slipping it into The Dock. And within a minute you’re accessing entertainment content, at the highest quality, like it was tool-designed for the purpose.
So basically you could transform a 13inch 360-rotating Ultrabook with the performance of a throttling 2.0GHz Intel Core i5-8250U, a 900MHz Iris Pro/UHD 620, with 32GB DDR4-2133, and a 1TB WD Blue3D M.2 drive….
…upto an Assisted-Cooling and overclocked performance of a 4.0GHz Intel CPU (4c/8t), improved 32GB DDR4-2800 memory, the same SSD for speedy OS/Apps, an extra 4TB of 7,200rpm HDD, and a BluRay writer. And not to mention the eGPU, to something like a 2,000MHz Nvidia GTX 1070.
Where most people spend $1,500 on a laptop with an MX150 GPU, then a separate $100 on a portable HDD, and $50 on a portable DVD drive. Then another $500 on a home console, which leaves a subpar experience on the go and at home, and a total of $2,100 spent…..
…..Whereas the proposed solution with The Dock would hopefully cost around $1,000 for the laptop, $100 for the HDD, $150 for the BluRay drive, $200 for the box, and $350 for the GPU. The end experience should be just as good on the go, and much better at home, with a smaller asking total of $1,800.
And it allows you to upgrade your laptop and graphics solutions independent of each other, much smarter than the previous methods. It also means you won’t have limitations in terms of backwards compatibility, and content creation is not compromised. Not to mention, it also means a more elegant solution than a fat Desktop PC hogging all the space around your TV. Overall, going with the Nintendo Switch idea for x86 is a very tempting solution which no OEM has tried implementing honestly.
I support device convergence, which is the idea of taking a device and plugging it into something to turn it into something different, when such a conversion is reasonable and the execution is done well. However, there are two problems with your specific idea:
1. The user interface that is appropriate for phones and tablets is not appropriate for living room televisions, and neither is the desktop PC user interface. Future versions of Windows 10 that make the UI adapt to the form factor of the device it is running on, such as the so-called ‘Andromeda’ OS (not to be confused with the so-called and rumored ‘Andromeda’ Surface Phone), as well as the already-existing “Continuum” may solve this problem, however, if they make the UI able to change to a TV-friendly UI when the device is plugged into a TV.
2. When changing from a desktop PC setup to a living room TV setup, the method of user input changes. Desktop and laptop PCs, and some tablets, use a physical keyboard, and other tablets, along with most smartphones, use a virtual keyboard. Living room consoles, however, use a controller (some of those controllers are hand-held, and others are cameras that sit on top of your TV and track motion–RIP Kinect). Personally, I’d tolerate a keyboard in my living room, but some people might consider a full-size keyboard ugly when in a living room. Now that I think about it, my point #2 is a sub-point of #1, in that the user interface of a convergence device would have to work with many forms of user input: mouse and keyboard, touch-screen, game console controller, voice-control, and possibly even motion control (again, RIP Kinect).
3. My points about the UI needing to be flexible apply not only to the operating system, but also to the software that the user intends to run on the device. Imagine trying from a living room couch to navigate, on your TV, a Win32 app that was designed only for mouse and keyboard input. Or conversely, imagine running an Xbox 360 game in a virtual machine on a tablet with only touch- and virtual-keyboard-input. Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform solves this problem, but only when UWP apps are designed for ALL of the form factors that the user in question intends to use. Several apps target only PCs, a few apps target only Windows phones, and a few target only Xbox One.
Microsoft has made and continues to make a great deal of progress towards solving these problems, but they are not yet fully solved.
I have a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard-trackpad that works well from a living room and dining room. Windows 10 has good support for a TV interface (basically Metro UI).
All the new Mobile Apps scale well on the TV and tablet, and work decently on a laptop/desktop. However, its ONLY the legacy Win32 executables that don’t scale well.
The solution is to not use Win32 apps. Make a clean break. This means OS X will have more Apps than Windows, so be it, its pointless to argue trivial things. Just enjoy what is available. And only use the legacy apps as something to fall back on, and not rely on them full-time.
The problem isn’t the software, or the specifications…. it’s the physical hardware.
There’s no-one creating and selling a “The Dock” despite the fact that it will be a great solution. Even Microsoft themselves don’t want to do it, because firstly Microsoft is a large, slow and lazy corporation. Secondly, they are greedy and do not want to pass on control of the ecosystem to consumers… who can upgrade things gradually as necessary, which breaks the chain of control from OEMs.
It would be analogous to Apple letting people Side-Load Apps on their iPhones, or to Sony allowing people to upgrade the GPU on their PlayStation… they don’t benefit from this in any major way, and it takes control away from the OEM.
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