• Justin-Rey

Review: eGPU with the Razer Core X Chroma + Late 2019 Razer Blade Stealth


The Late 2019 Blade Stealth is a great ultrabook on its own. It’s super portable, has great battery life, and you can game on it. However, some owners may desire more performance when gaming, and may want to game at higher resolutions. Enter eGPU or “external GPU”. With this setup, a desktop GPU can be installed into an ITX-sized enclosure and plugged into a laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) connector.


Due to limitations in the technology, the full power of the desktop GPU can’t be unleashed when in this configuration BUT it can still boost graphical performance and may help extend the lifespan of a laptop with a good CPU.


Something that's unique with this laptop vs other laptops is the CPU architecture (Ice Lake). Unlike other 10th gen processors (Comet Lake), this one has the Thunderbolt Controller built into the CPU which can result in MORE PERFORMANCE for eGPU configurations over other current 10th gen processors and also previous generation CPU's like the 8750H. This is all while having lower clock speeds as well.


In this review, we’ll see how much performance an eGPU can add when gaming with the Late 2019 Blade Stealth and the Ice Lake CPU architecture.


*Update*

Click HERE for an eGPU comparison vs a MSI GS65 with an 8750H.


Equipment

Laptop - Late 2019 Razer Blade Stealth – Click HERE for the review

OS - Windows 10 Pro 1903

Nvidia Driver - 441.20

eGPU Enclosure - Razer Core X Chroma

GPU - MSI Gaming X 1080 Ti

1080P Monitor - LG 34UC89G-B

4K TV – TCL 55R615


Technical stuff

For a low-level explanation of how eGPU’s work and why there’s a performance penalty, Click HERE


For the TLDR, Thunderbolt 3 is used to connect the desktop GPU and the laptop. The interconnect is limited in data bandwidth which is why the desktop GPU can’t perform at its peak.


Why did you choose a 1080 Ti? Why not an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti?

Simply put, I had access to a 1080 Ti and I didn’t want to purchase a new GPU just for this test. The 1080 Ti will be a good GPU to use because performance is SIMILAR to an RTX 2080, minus Ray Tracing and is still a BEAST of a GPU at 1080P and 4K.


Do you have a comparison against older CPUs? Can you compare it against your MSI G65 with an 8750H?

Click HERE for a comparison to the 8750H. I'll update this blog to include Comet Lake when that laptop arrives.


Setting up eGPU

Razer and other companies say that eGPU is “plug and play” but that was never the case for me. Below is the process I went through to get eGPU to work flawlessly and without breaking Optimus:

  1. Download the latest driver from Nvidia HERE. It doesn’t matter if the laptop GPU is a GTX and the desktop GPU is an RTX, it’ll install the same. Just choose either 64-bit/32-bit and standard/DCH drivers.

  2. Download Display Driver Uninstall Utility from Guru3D.com HERE

  3. Download CCleaner Free HERE

  4. Download NVSlimmer HERE

  5. Go into airplane mode. This ensures drivers are not downloaded and installed by windows update once the old drivers are uninstalled

  6. Uninstall your Nvidia driver in “Apps and Programs”. Do NOT reboot.

  7. Run DDU in Safe Mode (Now you will have to restart in Safe Mode). Uninstall the Nvidia Driver again. *You don’t HAVE to do the Apps and Programs uninstall when you run DDU in Safe Mode, but I do it anyway just to “be safe”*

  8. Run Custom Clean and Registry in CCleaner until there is no progress in cleaning. You don’t have to do this either, but I like removing any remnants of the old driver.

  9. Plug in the eGPU. Open “Thunderbolt Control Center” and approve your device.

  10. Once approved, it’ll be recognized for use. Install drivers with the Driver Slimmer to remove any unnecessary pieces in the driver package. Check everything in “Core Fuctionality” and forget about the rest unless you really need the other parts. See above picture for details.

  11. Get out of airplane mode and install "Nvidia Control Panel" in the Microsoft Store (if using DCH drivers).

I know, I go through a lot of steps and some can be redundant. This is what I do to perfectly install drivers and extract maximum performance from my machines.


Something I observed is that I cannot turn on the laptop when the eGPU is plugged in. I always froze. Once I logged in, I could plug in the eGPU and everything worked perfectly. As it turns out, there's a reason for this weird issue which is being discussed HERE. TLDR, The system does this to reduce the chance of a security attack through the Thunderbolt 3 port.


Performance

As you can see, performance has increased in all games when using a 1080Ti with the laptop when compared to just the laptop itself. The biggest increases were ALWAYS at the highest quality settings. Lowering quality settings will yield even HIGHER frame rates, but the entire system can become CPU-limited and the performance gap will be less between laptop vs eGPU. I got additional benchmark numbers for multiplayer games so competitive players can see what kind of performance improvement they’d get when going for the highest FPS possible with eGPU. Performance is also very good for almost all games at 4K resolutions. The only exceptions are Assassins Creed and Control, those games are just really tough to run at 4K.


Something I observed in my review of the Blade Stealth is that the CPU will power throttle down to 15w when the dGPU (“discrete GPU” AKA 1650 Max-Q) is active. Unfortunately, it power throttles when the eGPU is active even though the dGPU is inactive. Due to this limitation, the CPU is running as low as 2GHz at 15w instead of a possible 3GHz at 25w. That 1GHz bump can improve performance in CPU-intensive games and applications, especially at 1080P. There is a way to remove this limitation through a modified BIOS but I couldn’t perform this mod since my Blade Stealth is a review unit and I didn’t want to risk bricking the system.


If you're interested in flashing a modified BIOS, click HERE. Please note that there is a RISK of bricking your system.


Keep in mind that there is another Blade Stealth with the same CPU but doesn’t have the GTX GPU and is spec’d to run at 25w consistently. I don’t see why this version can’t run consistently at 25w when an eGPU is used though.


Razer needs to FIX THIS.


Seriously Razer, update the firmware to allow this model to run at 25w when an eGPU is used. There’s really no excuse to NOT run at 25w.


Temps for the laptop go down since the heatsink only has to worry about a single component. The CPU gets to enjoy 2 fans to itself and reached a maximum of 72c with AutoFan. The entire system was whisper quiet during my testing.


Who is this for?

This setup is for someone that wants the most portable laptop possible, that can also play games, but also wants the full desktop experience at home. With the Blade Stealth and the Core X, you can have both.


You can take the laptop with you ANYWHERE for general computing and casual gaming since it’s ultra-portable with high battery life and low weight. Once you get home, you can plug in a SINGLE CABLE to charge, connect the eGPU, and use all your peripherals.


ONE CABLE TO CONNECT THEM ALL!


But there is a price to pay when using this setup.

  1. The desktop GPU won’t run at 100% of its capability due to the Thunderbolt 3 limitations in bandwidth. This limitation diminishes a bit when the resolution is raised but is not fully gone.

  2. The overall cost is VERY STEEP. Let’s break down each component:

a. Late 2019 Blade Stealth w/GTX 1650 Max-Q – Starting at $1800

b. Razer Core X - $400

c. 1080 Ti – Starting at $650 used, $850 new


Overall starting cost with my setup used is $2850. With that amount of cash, you can build a VERY POWERFUL DESKTOP, or purchase a slightly less portable but more powerful laptop (MSI GS65/Blade Advanced 15). IMO, you NEED to buy a GTX 1070/RTX 2070 or higher to truly appreciate this setup.


Is it worth it?

That’s a hard question to answer because it depends on the person.

In my opinion, it’s worth it if you…

  • fall into the “who is it for?” above.

  • love the Blade Stealth but want more FPS in most games at 1080P.

  • love the Blade Stealth but want to play games in 4K.

  • want a truly mobile machine that can dock for a desktop-like solution.

  • think the CPU will last a while and want the ability to upgrade the GPU down the line.

As an FYI, I used to have a similar setup in 2017 with the MSI GS43 (7700HQ CPU) and the same 1080 Ti on a 3440x1440p monitor. At the time, an eGPU setup was worth it despite the performance penalty and cost because it gave me significantly higher FPS than the laptop alone and I could play games at a 1440p ultrawide resolution.


Now that I’m committed to high FPS 1080P gaming, I personally don’t think a setup like this is worth it because I can purchase a slightly larger, slightly heavier laptop (like the GS65) and get SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER performance for the same price as the laptop + eGPU solution.


BUT…


The 4K gaming experience was actually really good with this setup. I may revive my eGPU setup once new GPUs (like the RTX 3000 series) launch in a couple years. We’ll see…


Conclusion

Just like the Blade Stealth, this setup isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive and the overall performance is much less than a similarly priced and spec'd laptop and desktop.

Despite these drawbacks, there are some positives.

  • Portability: With this setup, you can take the laptop everywhere you go. You can literally work and play with the same device.

  • Ease of use: Once you get home, you plug in a single cable for charging, peripherals, and eGPU use for better control and more GPU performance. You don’t have to plug in multiple things to get the desktop experience.

  • Flexibility: You can add on an eGPU when you want more performance and upgrade it whenever you wish. You don’t have to purchase a whole new laptop just to get a better GPU, just buy a new desktop card whenever performance isn’t meeting your requirements.


Of all the eGPU devices I tried, this is honestly the best one.

  1. It’s a single cable solution. The eGPU enclosure charges the laptop at 100w, has 4 USB ports, and an Ethernet port so you can plug in all your peripherals into the enclosure.

  2. Icelake integrated the Thunderbolt controller into the CPU which results in less lag and better performance vs older generation CPU architectures.


Even though I don’t think eGPU is truly worth it (yet), this is the kind of setup I do recommend if you find it valuable.


Hope this helps, and Have fun!

-The Everyday Enthusiast


Disclaimer – The laptop is a review unit that I requested from HIDevolution. I am not being compensated in any way and I am not obligated to speak positively about the Blade Stealth. All thoughts are my own.

The eGPU enclosure was purchased by me and the 1080Ti is borrowed from one of my buddies.

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