Alienware Graphics Amplifier or Thunderbolt 3? eGPU Comparison


External graphics card enclosures can be used
to increase the power of your laptop by connecting a desktop PC graphics card, but there are
different types available. In this video we’ll take a look at the differences between a standard
Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and Alienware’s graphics amplifier to find out which performs
better in games. For testing I’m going to be using the Alienware
M15 gaming laptop with i7-8750H CPU, Nvidia 1070 Max-Q graphics, and 16GB of memory running
in dual channel. As an Alienware laptop, it’s got a dedicated port on the back for the Alienware
graphics amplifier, however it’s also got a Thunderbolt 3 port, meaning we’ve got
two options here when it comes to external graphics enclosures. Aside from Alienware’s own graphics amplifier,
for the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure I’m using the Mantiz Venus which I’ve reviewed previously
on the channel. Let’s briefly go over the differences between
how these two work. At the core they’re both the same, in that you plug in a desktop
PC graphics card into the enclosure and connect a single cable from the enclosure to the laptop,
but that’s basically where the similarities end. Alienware’s graphics amplifier uses a proprietary
cable, so it can only be used with an Alienware laptop. A Thunderbolt 3 enclosure on the other
hand uses a standard USB Type-C Thunderbolt port, so it’s compatible with a lot more
laptops. As you may know though, Thunderbolt 3 is also used for a lot of other things,
including data transfer, display signal, and even as a power source, so it’s a lot more
versatile. As a result Thunderbolt 3 can be used for
more than just graphics. Take the Mantiz Venus enclosure I’ve got here for example, the
enclosure itself has an ethernet port, USB Type-A ports, and even space inside to mount
a 2.5” sata SSD or hard drive for extra storage, all of which becomes available by
simply plugging your laptop in with a single Thunderbolt cable. If your laptop charges
over USB C too, like the Razer Blade Stealth for instance, then you don’t even need to
use the power brick, it will just get powered by the enclosure. With the Thunderbolt 3 option
you’ve also got the option of not using an external monitor, and instead just using
the laptops screen, but this comes at a performance cost and is not recommended. With the Alienware solution you’d still
have to plug in your keyboard and mouse over USB, ethernet, and power brick in addition
to their custom cable, so overall Thunderbolt gives you more option. Using an external monitor
with the amplifier is also the only option as far as I’m aware. This flexibility comes at a cost though, the
simplest way to think about it is that these additional features use up more of the bandwidth
between the laptop and enclosure, meaning the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure won’t perform
quite as well in graphical intensive tasks such as gaming when compared to the graphics
amplifier, which is dedicated purely to graphics. Additionally some laptops only have 2 PCIe
lanes of Thunderbolt available while others have 4, so not only is the bandwidth shared
with other things it can also vary between laptop, whereas the graphics amplifier port
has four dedicated lanes of PCIe 3 just for graphics only. Let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks
to get an idea of what this differences actually looks like. I’ve tested a few games at all
setting levels with different resolutions using my Aorus 2080 Ti Far Cry 5 was tested with the built in benchmark,
and these are the results with a 1080p resolution. I’ll explain the graph a bit as there’s
quite a bit of data here. The four setting levels tested are on the left, low, normal,
high and ultra. At each setting level I’ve tested the Alienware M15 gaming laptop either
by itself, so with the 1070 Max-Q graphics shown in red, with the Mantiz Venus Thunderbolt
3 enclosure and 2080 Ti shown in blue, or with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier and
2080 Ti, shown in green. In this game, we can see that the graphics
amplifier, shown by the green bars, is ahead of the thunderbolt 3 enclosure in the blue
bars. At ultra settings, the graphics amplifier is scoring 4.4% higher average frame rates,
although both are a fair bit ahead of the laptop’s 1070 Max-Q graphics, with the Mantiz
Venus getting 24% higher average FPS and the graphics amplifier being 29% ahead. Unfortunately at 1440p I haven’t got results
from the laptop’s 1070 Max-Q, so at this resolution we’ll just be looking at the
differences purely between thunderbolt 3 and graphics amplifier. At ultra settings the
amplifier is now getting 18% higher average frame rates compared to the Thunderbolt 3
solution, and an 11% improvement to 1% low. Next up I’ve tested Fortnite using the replay
feature. At 1080p there was just a 2.7% improvement to average FPS with epic settings in use,
but we can see that at the lower setting levels the Thunderbolt 3 option was actually ahead,
and is ahead in all tests when it comes to 1% lows. In general we expect higher graphical
settings to get better results with the graphics amplifier, the more we can saturate that link
and utilize the graphics the bigger difference we should see. Fortnite seems to be an example
where it doesn’t really help much, but again both are performing a fair bit better compared
to the laptop’s 1070 Max-Q graphics. Again at ultra settings the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure
is getting 85% higher average frame rate than the laptop’s graphics, and a 90% higher
average frame rate with the amplifier. At 1440p again I don’t have 1070 Max-Q results,
however at this higher resolution we’re seeing a bigger difference between the two
enclosures. At epic settings the amplifier is now scoring 14% higher average FPS compared
to the Thunderbolt 3 option but this gap narrows at lower settings, again because lower setting
levels tend to be more CPU bound so there’s less difference. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested using
the built in benchmark. At 1080p we can see a huge difference between our three options.
At the lower setting levels the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure isn’t actually scoring much
better compared to the laptop’s 1070 Max-Q graphics, but then this grows further apart
at the higher setting levels which start to become more graphically intensive. With the
highest settings the amplifier was scoring 23% higher average frame rates over the Thunderbolt
3 enclosure, while the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure was still 28% ahead of the 1070 Max-Q. Stepping up to 1440p the amplifier is still
a fair bit ahead of the Thunderbolt 3 option. At highest settings it’s now almost reaching
18% higher in terms of average FPS, and then this is about the same with lowest settings
in use as well. PUBG was tested using the replay feature,
and in most cases the Thunderbolt 3 option was coming out ahead of the amplifier. In
particular, at 1080p with ultra settings in use the amplifier was 4% below the Thunderbolt3
enclosure but again like before both are a fair bit above what the laptop’s 1070 Max-Q
is providing. The amplifier was 24% ahead at ultra settings of the 1070 Max-Q, while
the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure was 30% ahead. At 1440p the tables are turned, with the amplifier
now ahead in all tests as the game is likely becoming more graphically demanding with the
higher resolution. At ultra settings the amplifier is scoring 8% higher average frame rates compared
to the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure, with a similar 7% improvement to 1% low. CS:GO was tested with the Ulletical benchmark,
and it’s a good example of a title that doesn’t really make a difference which we
pick, in fact with all settings maxed the amplifier was actually around 4% slower than
the thunderbolt 3 enclosure. Both external graphics options are way ahead of the laptop’s
1070 Max-Q though, the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure is getting 103% higher FPS with all settings
maxed out, while the amplifier is 95% ahead of the 1070 Max-Q. At 1440p there’s a larger difference between
the two, however interestingly the amplifier is getting worse in this game at this resolution,
perhaps as it seems to be a more CPU demanding game. With the settings at maximum the thunderbolt
3 enclosure was getting 16% higher average FPS compared to the amplifier. This graph shows how much better on average
the amplifier was performing compared to the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with the five games
tested at maximum settings. It was a bit of a mixed bag, with the Thunderbolt 3 option
coming out ahead in CS:GO and PUBG, while the amplifier was ahead in the rest, and way
ahead in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. At 1440p the differences are much larger,
this time the amplifier was winning in 4 of the 5 games tested, with double digit percentage
differences being far more common, though interestingly even worse performance in the
CS:GO test. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to test more games and looking back now
I regret not testing 4K, but I ran out of time before having to send the M15 back. Either
way I think this selection is enough to show that it really varies by game, setting, and
resolution, but in general we can say that the amplifier is performing better in more
GPU demanding tasks as expected. Whether or not that extra performance is worth
it compared to the other benefits of Thunderbolt 3 is something for you to decide when picking
an external graphics enclosure. Personally I like the idea of a Thunderbolt enclosure
as you’ve got the option of using it with future non Alienware laptops, and can also
use it for more than just graphics, but if I actually had an Alienware laptop and only
cared about boosting my game performance then the amplifier would make more sense. For up to date pricing check the links in
the description, as prices will change over time. At the time of recording, the Alienware
Graphics Amplifier goes for around $189 USD, while the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure I’m using,
the Mantiz Venus is around $340, but there are other cheaper Thunderbolt 3 enclosures
available at different price points with different features though. You’ve also got to take
into account the price of the graphics card, so the overall solution can get pretty expensive
making this a fairly niche solution when compared to just having a powerful PC and cheaper laptop
for travel. Let me know what you guys would pick if you
had or have an Alienware laptop, the graphics amplifier or some other Thunderbolt 3 enclosure
and why, and if you’re new here don’t forget to subscribe for future tech videos
like this one.

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