Evaluated System Configurations

Before we got to evaluating the Gaming Station itself, we first opted to isolate the PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano in order to establish its baseline performance as an internal GPU prior to its usage as an eGPU. To this (and to ensure some hardware variety) we tested it inside a couple of systems, starting with a typical high-end desktop configuration from the 2015 time-frame - the sort of system for which consumers tend to upgrade the discrete GPU. Our Custom Haswell DIY build uses an Intel Core i7-4790 in an Asus Z97-PRO Wi-Fi ac ATX motherboard, with the other components outlined in the table below. Regular readers might remember that this system (without the dGPU) was used as a direct-attached storage testbed for Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 external storage devices in the 2014 - 2017 time-frame.

Custom Haswell DIY System
Motherboard Asus Z97-PRO Wi-Fi ac ATX
CPU Intel Core i7-4790
GPU PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano
Memory Corsair Vengeance Pro CMY32GX3M4A2133C11
32 GB (4x 8GB)
DDR3-2133 @ 11-11-11-27
OS Drive Seagate 600 Pro 400 GB
Optical Drive Asus BW-16D1HT 16x Blu-ray Write (w/ M-Disc Support)
Chassis Corsair Air 540
PSU Corsair AX760i 760 W
OS Windows 10 Enterprise 1809
Thanks to Asus and Corsair for the build components

We also wanted to get an idea of the card's performance with a relatively modern system. As an internal GPU, the card was also tested in the Shuttle XPC Gaming Cube SZ270R9. Regular readers might recognize this system as one of the comparison points in our second look at the gaming performance of the Hades Canyon NUC. The only difference is the replacement of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB EVGA Founders Edition with the PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano.

Shuttle XPC Gaming Cube SZ270R9
Motherboard Z270-based Shuttle Custom
CPU Intel Core i7-7700K
GPU PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano
Memory Kingston Technology HyperX FURY Black HX426C16FB2K2/16
16 GB (2x 8GB)
DDR4-2666 @ 16-18-18-39
OS Drive SanDisk X600 SD9SB8W-256G 256 GB
Chassis Shuttle XPC Gaming Cube
PSU 80 PLUS Silver 500 W (Custom)
OS Windows 10 Enterprise 1809
Thanks to Shuttle for the build components

A note of caution for consumers hoping to use the Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano in the XPC SZ270R9 - the PSU bundled with the Gaming Cube system (500W) can't reliably support the GPU, resulting in random reboots and shutdowns with certain workstation workloads. Using a second PSU to deliver power over one of the two power-pin connectors in the card resolved that issue.

eGFX enclosures complement ultrabooks - while the latter provides portability, the former can give it the extra power needed when GPU-intensive workloads (gaming, say) need to be processed. Most eGFX enclosures also support the power delivery profiles, and the PowerColor Gaming Station is no different. Promising up to 85W of charging capability, the enclosure has no issues keeping ultrabooks juiced up when connected. Our ultrabook platform of choice for the evaluation of the Gaming Station + Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano solution is the Razer Blade Stealth QHD model from 2016 using the Core i7-6500U processor.

Razer Blade Stealth (SKL) eGPU
Motherboard Razer Custom (SKL-U)
CPU Intel Core i7-6500U (15W TDP)
eGPU PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano
Memory 8 GB
OS Drive Samsung PM951 MZVLV128HCGR 128 GB
OS Windows 10 Enterprise 1809

eGFX enclosures are also an attractive choice for mini-PC owners. A number of mini-PCs with Thunderbolt 3 are already in the market. Limited upgrade options are often cited as a downside for these systems. The eGFX enclosures take away the GPU part from that equation. We consider two mini-PCs in our evaluation of the eGFX solution - the Zotac MI553 (using a 45W TDP Kaby Lake mobile CPU), and the Intel NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) NUC (using a 28W TDP Coffee Lake-U CPU).

Zotac MI553
Motherboard Zotac Custom (KBL-H)
CPU Intel Core i5-7300HQ (45W TDP)
GPU Intel HD Graphics 630
eGPU PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws F4-2133C15-8GRS DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
OS Drive Samsung SSD 950 PRO
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 40nm; MLC V-NAND)
OS Windows 10 Enterprise 1809
Thanks to Zotac for the review sample of the MI553, and G.Skill for the RAM

The Zotac MI553 above, as well as the Bean Canyon NUC below, were both also subject to the benchmarks with the integrated GPU activated. This gives readers an idea of the benefits of using a eGFX enclosure to complement their systems.

Intel NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) NUC
Motherboard Intel Custom (CFL-U)
CPU Intel Core i7-8559U (28W TDP)
GPU Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
eGPU PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws F4-3000C16-16GRS DDR4
18-18-18-43 @ 3000 MHz
2x16 GB
OS Drive WD Black 3D NVMe SSD (2018)
(1 TB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 64L BiCS 3D TLC NAND)
OS Windows 10 Enterprise 1809
Thanks to Intel for the review sample of the Bean Canyon NUC, G.Skill for the RAM, and WD for the SSD

Our choice of test systems allows readers to identify workloads that are CPU-limited. In particular, the eGPU configurations are tested with systems having 15W, 28W, and 45W TDP CPUs. These point to typical ultrabook, mini-PC, and notebook systems currently in the market.

Platform Analysis and Bandwidth Implications UL 3DMark and VRMark
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  • OolonCaluphid - Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - link

    As a Dan A4 owner, I'm absolutely crying at the size and emptyness of that box!! What an utter waste of space. You can get a whole PC in there, negating the need for an external GPU in the first place.

    (yeah yeah, I get it, it's for laptops... just build an SFF PC)
  • Reflex - Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - link

    I also have a Dan A4-SFX and that was exactly my first thought! And for about the same price no less!
  • hansmuff - Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - link

    I wonder if you could hook up a laptop to a gaming PC. Then, use Laptop keyboard, mouse and display as peripherals. I suppose the laptop would have to accept HDMI or DP as input, and I also suppose few if any do that?
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - link

    You're making it too complicated. No need for special hardware functions, when you could remote desktop/etc into a desktop from your laptop.
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, February 14, 2019 - link

    Remote Desktop has a bit of trouble with DirectX and though the latency is a lot lower than something like VNC, it isn't intended as a solution for pushing a game's graphics over a network. Steam in-home streaming is a much better option for a local situation like that and you can use it rather effectively with non-Steam games by just adding them to Steam manually. You can also toss in programs like Windows Explorer or the components of an office suite to do something productive via Steam as well. In the end though, I do agree that remote access to a gaming PC from another PC is a layer of complexity that isn't typically necessary although you can, at least in theory, run a headless gaming desktop that way.
  • WinterCharm - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Steam has a built in game streaming solution that works perfectly for this. You don't need Windows Remote Desktop. You just use Steam's game streaming.
  • 29a - Thursday, February 14, 2019 - link

    Steam does what you want.
  • JoeTheDestroyr - Thursday, February 14, 2019 - link

    I wanted such a thing and couldn't find it. I enjoy the laptop form-factor for playing games in my comfy chair in my living room (and no, for the last time, I don't want to use my tv, I use that for other things).

    In the end, I had to make it myself. Grabbed a dead laptop off ebay, ripped out the guts, and replaced it w/ a Chinese board off ebay that could drive laptop lcd panels from a DP connection. Made my own usb keyboard controller using a Teensy. Even added a class D amp + USB audio to drive the laptop speakers (which sounded like garbage until I used a calibration mic + Equalizer APO to clean it up).
  • JoeTheDestroyr - Thursday, February 14, 2019 - link

    Stupid no edit:

    ...enjoy the laptop form-factor for playing games in my comfy chair in my living room, but got tired of the ridiculous markup (and simultaneous lack of performance) on gaming laptops. And I don't care about portability, just "lap-ability" (moving it from a table to my lap, and back).
  • watersb - Friday, February 15, 2019 - link

    Dang. That sounds like my kind of game. :-)

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