The lines between desktop and notebook computers are getting thinner and thinner. Intel has announced plans to bring its enterprise-class Xeon processors to notebooks, and offer unlocked, overclockable K series processors for notebooks later this year.

Want even more power in your notebook? How about an external graphics card?

Intel says notebooks that feature Thunderbolt 3 ports will be able to connect to external graphics docks. This lets you use a high-power graphics card with your notebook while powering up to two 4K displays (in addition to your laptop display).

thunderbolt 3 graphics

Thunderbolt 3 uses a USB Type-C reversible connector. That one tiny Thunderbolt 3 port can be used to connect a docking station that lets you output video to multiple displays, connect an external hard drive, keyboard, mouse, headphones and Ethernet cable. And since Thunderbolt 3 can handle up to 100 watts of power, you can also charge your laptop through its Thunderbolt port at the same time.

Intel is showing off a sample graphics dock with an AMD Radeon R9 M385 graphics card at IDF in San Francisco. But we could eventually see third-party graphics docks that let you add your own graphics card.

This could let you buy high-performance graphics cards designed for desktop computers and use them with your notebook. And it could also let you upgrade in the future when you’re no longer happy with that card’s performance.

While there are already some notebooks on the market with discrete graphics chips from NVIDIA or AMD, they tend to be less powerful than their desktop counterparts, and they’re not designed to be upgraded… ever.

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11 replies on “Intel says Thunderbolt 3 will bring external graphics to laptops”

  1. 3rd parties have been teasing prototype eGPU cases for a long time, since original TB, but Intel was either apathetic or too greedy for licensing fees to push this forward. Since they’re now announcing it as a focus, that may change… but let’s see how it works out.

    Wonder if the TB3 eGPU’s will be hot-swappable… Current implementations are not, and it is one of the points keeping at least me from getting an eGPU system.

    1. Well, no one uses it because there are so few solutions for it, and all are almost as expensive as just building a desktop. So if this does create inexpensive products for it, I do see promise.

  2. mehI don’t see the use case. Especially if the dock itself isn’t dirt cheap. There is a big performance difference between desktop and laptop CPUs and things which require graphics power can also require processing power.

    1. It’s for those who don’t want to have two separate systems and don’t mind paying a premium for a compromise…

      While the performance difference isn’t so large these days, especially with docks because a docked mobile processor can be unlocked to higher performance when the dock provides both dedicated AC power and additional cooling… Newer processors, especially, can scale quite a bit now… enough, at least, to make this type of setup appealing to at least certain users…

  3. I expect that the first Thunderbolt 3 product will be a new Apple product, be it a Mac Pro, Macbook Pro, etc. Macs have always had the luxury of fantastic Thunderbolt docking stations, but this would make things even sweeter if a GPU boost was included in the mix.

    Intel states they expect to ship the initial products before the end of the year, ramping things up in 2016. Will one of these products be a new Macbook Pro? Fingers crossed.

    1. Lenovo already announced Thunderbolt 3 devices with the P50 and P70.

      1. I stand corrected. The P series is also one of the first mobile Xenon laptops. Crazy.

  4. I believe some of the high end Alienware laptops already support the use of an external graphics card.

    1. They do (it’s called the Graphics Amplifier), but it’s connected via a special port unique to the Alienware laptop line. What the Amplifier lacks in portability it gains back in performance (Full 16 lane PCI Express slot compared to Thunderbolt’s 4 lanes).

    2. MSI also launched their GS30 Shadow with Gaming Dock this year.

      It too uses a proprietary port I believe (just drop it onto the dock), but also is PCIe x16 based.

      While it’s still got some kinks to work out, $1.6k is not bad at all for the laptop/dock combo.

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