- The Razer Core X eGPU is the best external graphics processor you can buy.
- But if you need an eGPU at all, you may have purchased the wrong computer.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
The Razer Core X is the best eGPU you can buy.
It has everything you want out of an eGPU: It’s affordable, compact, and quiet. It can handle graphics cards from NVIDIA or AMD, and it can work on Windows and even Mac – it worked great with my 2018 Mac Mini.
But the fact that you need an eGPU at all says a lot about your computer purchase – and having weighed the pros and cons, I would not recommend owning an eGPU if you can help it.
What is an eGPU?
An eGPU is basically a box that can store and process an external graphics processor, which connects to your main computer to power its graphics.
eGPUs are designed for computers that don’t have a dedicated GPU, or for computers with underpowered graphics cards. Maybe you have an old laptop, or a small desktop computer, but you want to do advanced video editing or play computer games without having your computer explode into flames. The eGPU connects to your computer to help it handle graphics.
With an eGPU, you buy the enclosure one time, and you can buy (almost) any graphics card and slot it in. What’s nice here is that you can upgrade your graphics card whenever you’d like, so if your GPU isn’t powerful enough a few years down the line, you can buy a new one and throw it into your eGPU. Easy as that.
What the Core X gets right
Razer was kind enough to send me the Core X eGPU to test with my 2018 Mac Mini, which does not have a discrete GPU.
The Core X, in my opinion, is the ideal eGPU.
- It’s $US300. This might sound expensive, but believe it or not this is actually on the low end for eGPU prices. Keep in mind, you still need to buy a graphics card separately for the enclosure, and those can be very expensive – as in, hundreds of dollars, and sometimes close to $US1,000.
- It’s relatively small. It’s not “tiny” by any means, but it’s just big enough to store your graphics card and power it. It’s about a foot long, half a foot tall, and only a few inches wide.
- It’s pretty quiet. You can still hear the fan when it’s powered on, but to me it sounds like white noise. I was never distracted or irritated by the sound.
That said, the Core X suffers from some of the same issues all eGPUs suffer.
Why having an eGPU is symptomatic of a larger problem
I originally thought having an eGPU would be a great idea. I could buy a less expensive computer, and have an external device for power when I need it. Since eGPUs are upgradeable, this would also be a flexible solution in case I ever have greater graphics needs in the future. Win-win, right?
Unfortunately, there are a handful of things I really grew to hate about owning an eGPU:
- It’s not really cheaper than buying a bigger or more powerful computer. Yes, the Core X is only $US300, but if you want a halfway-decent graphics card, good luck spending any less than $US600 or $US700 for it. That means by the time you’ve set up your eGPU, you’ve easily spent about $US1,000. Keep in mind, this is on top of your computer purchase!
- The eGPU takes up valuable space. Graphics cards aren’t as small as you think – and same goes for the enclosures that power them. The Core X is one of the smallest eGPUs out there, but I was still annoyed by how much space it took up on my desk.
- The eGPU needs to be in close proximity to your computer due to the USB-C cable. The eGPU couldn’t be far from my Mac Mini, since the USB-C cord that connects the two is ridiculously short – only a few inches long. You can buy a longer USB-C cable to attach your computer to the eGPU, but those are costly – easily $US50 or more per cable. (Specifically, you need an active USB-C cable with Thunderbolt 3, which can support up to 40 Gbps. Traditional “passive” USB-C cables, like ones you probably own, are only capable of 5 Gbps, and will simply not work.)
- Shopping for a graphics card is a major pain.Razer was kind enough to send me two different graphics cards to test with the Core X – including an AMD Radeon 570, and a significantly more powerful Radeon RX Vega 64 from Gigabyte – but I spent some time shopping for graphics cards to learn about how difficult it is to buy one. Mind you, I’m in Toronto, Canada, but I had a very difficult time finding a graphics card that fit my needs and budget. Jeff Benjamin from 9to5Mac recommended I look on Amazon for eGPUs, but I had little luck finding anything that would fit my needs for under $US700 or $US800. eBay had some good deals, but I was wary of buying graphics cards from strangers.
In other words, you need to make a ton of little sacrifices just to get your eGPU up and running.
- You have to sacrifice a USB-C port on your main computer at all times, since that’s how the eGPU stays connected.
- You have to sacrifice room on your desk to make room for the eGPU, which can’t sit far from your main computer.
- You have to spend time and money to invest in a graphics card – and given their low availability and high prices, the market feels like the Wild West.
- You have to sacrifice a power outlet to run the eGPU in the first place.
I was happy with some of the performance gains afforded by the Core X – it made game streaming possible on a Mac Mini, for example – but it wasn’t a night-and-day difference, and it didn’t outweigh all of the negatives of simply owning an eGPU in the first place.
When I took a step back and examined this new setup, I realised something: People who need an eGPU to get what they want out of their computer probably bought the wrong computer.
If I could turn back time
At first, I was happy to add an eGPU to my computer setup.I love owning Apple’s new Mac Mini, so giving that computer the ability to handle graphics for video-editing or games was exciting to me.
Unfortunately, once everything was set up, I grew to hate – and I mean hate – my work space.
The eGPU made my home office too busy, and too messy. It was difficult dealing with the awkward placement of the Core X, which had to sit on my desk close enough to my computer to work. I didn’t like dealing with all of the extra cords. It felt like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, in computer form.
Once I unplugged the Core X and returned my home office to a single-computer setup, I instantly became much happier.
No, my Mac Mini can’t handle graphics on its own like it can with the eGPU. But I still prefer my workspace to be clean, and therein lies my greatest realisation through this whole experience: If I wanted powerful graphics in my computer, I should have purchased a computer that had all of that functionality built in, instead of going the “external” route.
If you are dead-set on your current computer, and you really need graphics for whatever you’re doing, the Core X is the cream of the crop among eGPUs. It’s smaller than most other offerings, quiet, and most importantly, affordable. But since the Core X plus the price of a graphics card is equal to about $US1,000, you might as well put that money toward buying a computer that can handle graphics by itself.
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