My DIY eGPU Project – Introduction

The PC that I use for work (and play) is a Toshiba Portégé R700-160 laptop. It is a delightfully sleek and portable device that packs a pretty decent  Intel Core i5-520M Processor into its tiny chassis. A (perhaps unavoidable) weakness of the machine is its graphics capability as it relies on the integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD GPU. It can just about manage Civilization V but anything more graphically intensive is a shuddering no-no. 

It is with great interest, therefore, that I stumbled across an enormous thread detailing how to roll your own eGPU (external Graphics Processing Unit). The headline features of such a project is that it would allow me to plug a desktop graphics card into the Expresscard slot on my laptop (via an adapter) and dramatically increase the graphical, and consequently gaming, capabilities of my trusty laptop.

There are of course drawbacks. 

One of these is that unsurprisingly the adapter setup does not have the bandwidth available to make the most of the graphics card. Depending on the precise setup and capabilities of the laptop’s chipset this can amount to as little as 1/16th of the full PCIe bandwidth. However, benchmarks suggest that I will still be able to achieve a tenfold increase in the video performance of my system.

Another drawback is that the setup is not exactly portable. What I should ideally end up with is an external enclosure that contains a full sized graphics card and an ATX power supply, along with a minor collection of wires and adapters; I won’t be throwing this in my bag every day for the commute, or taking it with me to project meetings and conferences. Even so, I think that regaining the ability to play high powered modern PC games in the comfort of my own home is sufficient justification for the project.

I have just ordered the key component, the PE4H ver2.4 with EC2C which costs $113 including postage from Taiwan. When it gets here I will be experimenting with some old PSUs and GPUs, that I have buried in the loft somewhere, to establish that it is going to work. Depending on my success I will try and cheaply acquire something like the Nvidia GTX 460 which the original thread mentions specifically as both a working solution and one that offers a high ‘bang for buck’ ratio.

I will post an update when the bits arrive to document my progress.

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