Alienware 13 Graphics Amp Unboxing

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Mar 30, 2006
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Hey everyone, some of you may or may not be interested but I received my external GPU exclosure for my yet-to-be-delivered Alienware 13. I've always been a huge fan of the DIY eGPU solutions out there and it sucks this is proprietary. (Intel slammed the door on Thunderbolt eGPUs).

Anyways, this should be pretty cool. I'm hoping to test this out once I receive my GTX 970 just to see how bad the ULV CPU bottlenecks. Maybe it won't be too bad.

(Sorry for it being out of order, imgur is being stupid), here is the link to the full album: Alienware 13 Graphics Amp - Imgur
































 

AthlonXP

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Nice to see they offer a core i7 cpu now for this model laptop.
 

StryderxX

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So how exactly does this work?? Can you connect all your peripherals to this box and just dock the laptop when you want to play games?
 
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So how exactly does this work?? Can you connect all your peripherals to this box and just dock the laptop when you want to play games?

Yep -- it's an external PCIe cable that connects to the box to the laptop. Just plug it in to get access to the full desktop GPU.
 

StryderxX

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Yep -- it's an external PCIe cable that connects to the box to the laptop. Just plug it in to get access to the full desktop GPU.

How about external monitors, kb/mouse etc. Can you connect all that to the box or do you have to connect those devices directly to the actual laptop itself?
 

doug_7506

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This is really nice. A much better implementation than the Sony VAIO 2 that I had a year or two ago. (.66 thick with a full size "m" processor. HD66XX was a joke though)

One thing that worries me is going to be driver support. I could not use any new drivers for my sony vaio 2 which effectively turned my eGPU into a paper weight. If this can use normal drivers it would be a huge success.

Also, why not stick a full size "m" in these laptops?

Very excited about more picture/video/bench once setup!
 
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FrEaKy

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I would like to see this as well. Very interesting. I am more worried about response times having an affect on the overall average FPS.
 

kuhla

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One thing that worries me is going to be driver support.

If it's just physically routing some PCI-E lanes through that cable then as far as software is concerned it'll transparent; no driver will have to be specially made or modified for it. See quote below.

source - http://www.anandtech.com/show/8653/alienware-graphics-amplifier
Alienware notes that the interface is actually a PCIe + USB interface – apparently carrying USB over from the host rather than using PCIe to power a separate controller – and in the meantime we’re still working to determine just how many PCIe lanes the interface is carrying. Even if it’s not a full 8 lanes (the Haswell U series CPUs don’t support 16 lanes), given the severe bandwidth limitations of ExpressCard and Thunderbolt, even a 4 lane setup would represent a significant improvement in bandwidth. Like Thunderbolt however this interface does appear to use active cabling (it would be very difficult to carry that much bandwidth externally without it), in which case the cable is going to be an expensive part of the entire setup.
 
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If it's just physically routing some PCI-E lanes through that cable then as far as software is concerned it'll transparent; no driver will have to be specially made or modified for it. See quote below.

source - http://www.anandtech.com/show/8653/alienware-graphics-amplifier

This from an AW/Dell Employee on my thread on Reddit:
http://www.reddit.com/r/Alienware/comments/2o314j/alienware_13_graphics_amp_unboxing

"So to address why we had to go proprietary; we needed the bandwidth. Each channel on at PCI lane needs ~10Gbits of bandwidth. Because we support PCI x4 cards, we needed enough pins to carry ~40Gbits of data. Thunderbolt caps out ~10Gbits. Thunderbolt 2 is spec'ed for 20Gbits. We also needed enough pins in the connector to carry that much data. I think we have a 60pin connector to support PCI x4. To achieve PCI X8 we need 120 pins. PCI X16 requires 180 pins. Without these direct lanes, performance would suffer.
Also, we have a direct lane on the motherboard to the bridge. So we don't have to go through any other chips to get right to the board."

"The long and the short of the Intel/Thunderbird is that they decided they did not want to pursue it. I believe they mentioned something about bandwidth as well, but I was not part of the discussion as I stick to making our software."
 

StryderxX

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So this external enclosure only supports PCI-E x4. Isn't that going to severely hamper performance on high end GPUs?
 

limitedaccess

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Just to address some points brought up -

i7 ULVs are still dual cores.

Haswell ULVs are limited to x4 PCIe 2.0

From what is currently known Intel does not allow external graphics applications using Thunderbolt.

So this external enclosure only supports PCI-E x4. Isn't that going to severely hamper performance on high end GPUs?

http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/NVIDIA/GTX_980_PCI-Express_Scaling/21.html

But keep in mind a GTX 980m is also slower than a GTX 970 and would only be available in much larger laptops.
 

doug_7506

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Just to address some points brought up -

i7 ULVs are still dual cores.

Haswell ULVs are limited to x4 PCIe 2.0

From what is currently known Intel does not allow external graphics applications using Thunderbolt.



http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/NVIDIA/GTX_980_PCI-Express_Scaling/21.html

But keep in mind a GTX 980m is also slower than a GTX 970 and would only be available in much larger laptops.

Thanks for hitting those points.

I really don't get why they are using ULV processors in this laptop since it is almost 1" thick. My Vaio Z2 was .66" thick and only 2.57lbs with a M size processor in it. Would love to see a full size "m" in it.

If this is a success, I would hope they add that connector so some of their ultrabooks. Would be sweet to have an ultrabook for work that could plus in to a gtx 980! Might finally get rid of my desktop.

Lastly, (correct me if i'm wrong) im pretty sure my Vaio Z2 used thunderbolt. It was just in the form of a USB connection.
Users can plug the Vaio Z into a Thunderbolt-driven media dock to gain a multi-purpose optical drive (including Blu-ray), and a big graphics boost — because they crammed a Radeon HD 6650M into it, which also adds its own 1GB of DDR3 VRAM.
But as mentioned above, there is still a bandwidth problem.
 
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