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Graphics Apple Hardware

External Thunderbolt Graphics Card On Its Way 207

Posted by timothy
from the hook-to-the-big-monitor-on-the-wall dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Last week, as the result of a straw poll on Facebook, Village Instruments agreed to begin development of an external Thunderbolt-connected graphics card enclosure. Village Instruments already has experience with its ExpressCard-connected ViDock graphics card chassis, which provides extra GPU juice for Windows and Mac laptops, and the Thunderbolt version is expected to be the same kind of thing — but faster. The only problem is, Thunderbolt is only 4x PCIe 2.0, so you won't be using this to connect modern, desktop-class GPUs to your laptop — and more importantly you need to carry around a second monitor to actually use a ViDock. So why not just buy a proper gaming laptop?"
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External Thunderbolt Graphics Card On Its Way

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  • HP dv7 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @04:42AM (#37030570)

    So why not just buy a proper gaming laptop?

    It's not exactly a gaming laptop... but it does have a Core i7 2ghz CPU, Radeon HD 6770M 1GB, 8GB of RAM, and a 17.3" LCD... Oh and when I get bored of gaming it also came with a BD-ROM.

    Costco has them for $999 and I bought two :)

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      You were ripped off.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Hell for the games most folks want to play on the go I've found my customers are quite happy with the $450- $500 AMD netbooks and laptops. What i got my oldest is typical of that price point, dual core 2GHz, 4Gb of RAM, 300Gb HDD (I think, it may be a 500Gb) and a Radeon 4xxx IGP (I think its an HD4550, I can't really remember off the top of my head) and frankly that little 15 inch is great for the games he plays.

        He and his college buddies sit around after class in the commons and have LAN parties (my idea,

  • And machine with Thunderbolt already has a modern GPU, because it's integrated with the display port. Or they've added a Thunderbolt card to an old machine, but if they can add expansion cards then they can add a new GPU.

    The new MacBook Pro already supports chaining two displays from the port, and I doubt this will be a very unusual feature for devices with Thunderbolt. I suppose this might be useful for adding a third one, but then you're really pushing the available bandwidth.

    • Woosh! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CountBrass (590228)

      You've completely missed the point. Don't think MacBook Pro, think the new Thunderbolt equipped MacBook Airs that lack a decent built in graphics card.

      And to answer the summary's closing question: because it means I can carry an ultra-portable (MacBook Air) when I travel and plug it in at home to give it a much needed graphics boost for use at home.

      • Re:Woosh! (Score:4, Informative)

        by bemymonkey (1244086) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @05:31AM (#37030694)

        "And to answer the summary's closing question: because it means I can carry an ultra-portable (MacBook Air) when I travel and plug it in at home to give it a much needed graphics boost for use at home."

        Sure, that would be great - but Apple crippled the MBA with a downsized Thunderbolt port. http://www.slashgear.com/macbook-air-gets-half-power-thunderbolt-29168292/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+slashgear+(SlashGear) [slashgear.com]

        If the thing can't even handle two external screens, I doubt it'll handle an external screen and an external graphics card...

        • I'm not really sure how you manage to get from "[it] can't even handle two external screens" to "It [won't] handle ... an external graphics card".

          I don't believe the former could you lead you to conclude the latter,

          • Hmmm, I suppose you're right. Just saying, with Apple's track record: It wouldn't surprise me if there was some magical compatibility issue...

        • by Kjella (173770)

          That doesn't seem to be directly related. The main issue is that a 16x PCIe 2.1 slot - what you'll find on most motherboards - can transfer 8 GB/s (64 Gbit/s). Thunderbird can do 10 Gbit/s, and that probably includes the 8/10b encoding so the comparable number is 8 Gbit/s. Any real high-end graphics card will probably starve. As for the outputs, wouldn't you then naturally use the additional outputs on the card? I don't see much sense in sending anything but the laptop screen - if in use at all - back to th

          • by jpapon (1877296)

            Any real high-end graphics card will probably starve.

            Actually, afaik GPUs are very rarely limited by the bandwidth of a 4x PCIe slot, nevermind 8x or 16x. You have to be doing some very specific things to actually take advantage of a 16x PCIe slot.

            You very rarely need to transfer data on the order of 8GB/s to/from the GPU... most of what goes across the PCIe bus is just commands, not data. That's why your DVI/HDMI/Displayport is on the back of the graphics card, and not on mainboard; your CPU doesn't need to know much about the results of the GPU calculatio

          • "As for the outputs, wouldn't you then naturally use the additional outputs on the card? I don't see much sense in sending anything but the laptop screen - if in use at all - back to the laptop."

            True, there's not much sense in it - but that's a good question for someone in the know: Do outputs on an external Thunderbolt graphics card require any additional bandwidth on the "root" Thunderbolt port?

            • by jpapon (1877296)

              Do outputs on an external Thunderbolt graphics card require any additional bandwidth on the "root" Thunderbolt port?

              That's kind of an odd question. If you didn't put the outputs on the external card then you would have to send your data for display back over the "root" port, which would consume a huge amount of bandwidth. So compared to that, using external ports consumes far less bandwidth.

              Are you asking does it use more of the ports bandwidth than an external graphics card which has no external outputs and doesn't send output back to the host (ie it has no output)? In that case... presumably yes, external ports woul

        • by itsdapead (734413)

          If the thing can't even handle two external screens, I doubt it'll handle an external screen and an external graphics card...

          The "lite" thunderbolt chip on the Airs has zero practical consequences: The limitation on external screens ultimately comes from the on-CPU Intel HD Graphics which only support one DisplayPort and a maximum of two displays (including the built-in screen). The 13" MB Pro has the same limitation for the same reason.

          The full-fat Thunderbolt chip supports a second physical Thunderbolt port (but only the iMac actually uses this) and can carry a second DisplayPort signal (only useful on the machines with Radeo

          • "The limitation on external screens ultimately comes from the on-CPU Intel HD Graphics which only support one DisplayPort and a maximum of two displays (including the built-in screen)."

            Do you have a source for this? Even Intel's 4500MHD (back from the last Core2Duo mobile generation) was already capable of pushing two screens of 1080p, or possibly even one at 2560x1600 and another at 1080p at the same time (need to get my hands on one of the bigger screens to find out). I doubt that the latest gen is incapa

            • by itsdapead (734413)

              I doubt that the latest gen is incapable of driving two external displays

              Intel HD graphics can support a maximum of two simultaneous displays total (http://www.intel.com/support/graphics/sb/CS-031040.htm#11). One internal laptop display + one external display = two displays.

              Maybe Apple could have designed the MacBook so that it could blank the internal display and drive two external monitors (but also bear in mind that the number of monitors which support displayport daisy-chaining can be counted on the fingers of a boxing glove).

          • by drsmithy (35869)

            The "lite" thunderbolt chip on the Airs has zero practical consequences: The limitation on external screens ultimately comes from the on-CPU Intel HD Graphics which only support one DisplayPort and a maximum of two displays (including the built-in screen). The 13" MB Pro has the same limitation for the same reason.

            Given Intel integrated GPUs in laptops were capable of driving a couple of 27" LCDs over displayport 2-3 years ago, I find that difficult to believe.

            • by itsdapead (734413)

              Given Intel integrated GPUs in laptops were capable of driving a couple of 27" LCDs over displayport 2-3 years ago, I find that difficult to believe.

              I think the "one display port" may have been a brainfart on my part, but the bottom line is that the chipset can only support two simultaneous displays.

      • I'm thinking this will be very handy for film crews. there are already external PCI-E video card boxes for film crews to render and compress video on site.. Was reading some blogs from a film crew using the RED camera's, talking about their process..

    • by beelsebob (529313)

      Modern, yes. Fast, not necessarily. the 13" MacBook Pro uses only the intel integrated graphics, which... while much improved in sandy bridge, don't hold a candle to a real graphics card.

      For me, a laptop that's thin, light, portable, but can be used to play games on and/or to do graphics work when I get home would be perfect. This dock (combined with a MacBook Pro 13 or MacBook Air) seems to fit the bill dead on.

      • by tepples (727027)

        For me, a laptop that's thin, light, portable, but can be used to play games on

        If it's games you want, any laptop will run an NES emulator, even an Atom netbook.

    • by AJH16 (940784)

      Also think the cheaper new Mac Mini's that are running Intel graphics. This could be used at least for more video outputs if not better graphics performance.

  • by macklin01 (760841) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @05:09AM (#37030652) Homepage

    So why not just buy a proper gaming laptop?"

    For docking stations and such. Plenty of us plop our laptop onto a docking station or a USB hub + monitor + speakers + keyboard + mouse anyway.

    It beats the hell out of hauling an overpriced 10-pound beast to the same office desk every day, when you can just keep better equipment (with better ergonomics) neatly arranged and haul a lighter machine to/from work.

    • This is a little bit off-topic, but does anybody know if there's a Thunderbolt docking station in the pipeline, from any manufacturer?

      The MacBook Air + Thunderbolt Display combination has piqued my interest, because it provides a relatively full array of ports when plugged in. But I don't need an external monitor, just the docking station, and I've got no desire to splash £899 on a monitor that I don't want or need.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Still. Why bother? This box is intended to do something other than what your so-called portable machine can manage. At that point, why bother with having the other box be a dumb peripheral. Just let it be an entirely separate machine. Clearly it doesn't need to be portable. So it can be anything. It doesn't need to be tied to any particular flawed way of doing things.

      In truth, a discarded Windows laptop with "no resale value" makes more sense for the typical home use case being described here.

      So would any r

    • For docking stations and such.

      This. I'm interested because I have had a number of occasions where I needed a PCIe bus and chassis to test something in the field.

      Now if someone came out with a general purpose I/O board based on something similar to a Virtex-5 FPGA that can communicate using thunderbolt (and USB 2.0/3.0) then I would most definitely purchase one.

  • by EdZ (755139) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @05:44AM (#37030730)

    Thunderbolt is only 4x PCIe 2.0, so you won't be using this to connect modern, desktop-class GPUs to your laptop

    For multi-GPU systems in current desktops at least, there's little to no performance penalty going from 16x to 4x [googleusercontent.com].

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Will be great for a Mac mini. Energy use is low when working in OS X, then enjoy a Windows game at okish fps for a while in bootcamp.
    • Intel says the PCIe part of Thunderbolt is 10gbits/sec which would make it 2x PCIe 2.0. PCIe 2.0 is 500MB/sec per lane, using 8b/10b encoding so 5gbits/sec raw data rate.

      It has a 4x connection to the chipset, but that doesn't mean it has 4x worth of bandwidth out.

      2x is going to hamstring high end graphics cards some.

      I'm not saying it is unworkable, but there are limits to the performance you'll get because of the interface, particularly considering graphics cards are only going to use more and more bandwidt

  • I remember it (for the really early Macs), Wikipedia mentions it (no footnote), and I have an old SCSI spec' for it (and SCSI Ethernet) around somewhere.

    Sounds like more of the same. Connect a general-purpose interface to a box with some limited resource (no I/O slots in the original Mac, and only a few dedicated mass storage slots in most current portables) and there will be someone to use the GP interface to run a display.

    Not a bad idea, just not terribly original.

  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao&hotmail,com> on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @06:17AM (#37030844) Homepage

    I just don't understand the purpose of a high end gaming laptop. It's always quite more expensive than the equivalent desktop; and ultimately you're playing with a small screen, a cramped keyboard, and an imprecise pointing device, in a far less comfortable way... unless you plug the laptop to an external screen, keyboard, and mouse, so what was the point of a portable anyway?

    • by myspys (204685) *

      Most of the time my laptop moves between the office and my home. Once in a while, I want to play a game (or two) and for quite obvious reasons, I don't want a gaming rig (ugliness and space).

      I'd rather have a small device I connect between my laptop and my screen (external screen both at home and at work) for when I need to play.

      Point of a portable? Being able to use it as a portable computer MOST of the time.

    • A laptop is much more convenient to take to a LAN party than a desktop.

    • by ledow (319597) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @06:56AM (#37030950) Homepage

      I used to think this. Then, by chance, my workplace bought me one. I'd specified nothing more than "Must have Intel chip, more than one core, and an nVidia graphics card" - for convenience, compatibility with my existing disk images, etc. and to suit all the tasks I do during the average work day.

      I ended up with an MSI gaming laptop - my workplace didn't even realise that the rucksack and mouse it came with were anything more than "freebies" even though the mouse was one of those stupidly expensive ones that has multiple DPI modes, weights for balance and all sorts of other shite (but, hell, it's a very good mouse).

      They didn't even care that the WASD keys were highlighted or that it had all sorts of gaming features like a touch-button to overclock both processor and graphics (2 year warranty not applicable...). Apparently it was a super-cheap deal and even now I can't get the same laptop or any equivalent for even half the price they paid for it.

      I have to say - it's been wonderful. I've always had a dedicated "games" machine in the past and never had the money for this sort of laptop and probably would never have bought it for myself. I threw 300 Steam games at it and it laughed at every single one (I've always played the defaults that games offer but now I can actually ramp up to maximum easily).

      It has a huge screen that, even as up close as being laptop-range, you can really appreciate every pixel. It does HD video like I was asking it to add 2+2. The processor laughs at my Eclipse platform and compiles take no time at all. I've never NEEDED to press the overclock button for any reason, ever, at all. It has all the usual gadgets (webcam, bluetooth, wifi, even an "eco" button) and some more unusual (e.g. an external wifi antenna port!).

      It has a huge (full) keyboard that's ideal for typing AND gaming. It has a solid aluminium construction that has so far suffered more and survived better than any other laptop I've ever seen in my life (and has a custom-designed backpack to carry it in that holds more weight that I ever thought a backpack like that could). The sound is amazing and the first full 7.1 setup I've ever owned (hell, I've never bothered to have anything but stereo before - and this is WITHOUT having to plug any speakers in) and it's the LOUDEST laptop I've ever heard (you can easily watch a DVD on a crowded noisy airplane, or in a room with the TV on, and hear every word - and the positional audio does still work in those circumstances.

      I would never have touched this laptop in a million years, much preferring two or three more ordinary ones instead. But now I'm trying to find this EXACT laptop again for myself at a decent price. It's really changed the way I used my computer and I use the laptop exclusively now. There's nothing better than having a machine that you can use all day at work for menial tasks and then have that same machine at home to play anything you throw at it, and take the same machine with you on holiday and have it do everything you need/want while you're away too.

      Plus, gaming laptops have huge advantages in terms of some basic specifications - big GPU's that you just don't get on business laptops, great for video encoding - large amounts of RAM, big screens, every port imaginable, full keyboards that you can get to every key easily, and a lot of money spent on making it feel "right" and solid. I can type on this laptop all day long, go home and type on it for hours, and then take it on the road and type on it for even longer and not fatigue. Even the mouse is the most comfortable that I've ever used.

      I would never pay what I see as the gaming premium (similar to the wedding premium - a £5 cake suddenly costs £50) but a single gaming laptop changed it for me. It's not like this is even a model that *pretends* to be gaming while actually being general purpose - the WASD are marked and everything about it says "gaming laptop". But it laughs at everything you throw at it because, compared to a to

      • by IICV (652597)

        So what model laptop is it? It's kinda funny you spent the whole post raving about the thing, without ever mentioning anything more than the make.

    • I just don't understand the purpose of a high end gaming laptop.

      I can see two reasons. For one thing, unlike a desktop PC, a laptop can play video games while on an airplane or a Greyhound bus. For another, Chris Mattern mentioned LAN parties. (These wouldn't be quite as necessary if more PC games supported split-screen co-op, but that's a discussion for a different day.)

      and ultimately you're playing with a small screen

      It's far bigger than both screens of a Nintendo DS put together, or even a 3DS.

    • by gilesjuk (604902)

      People who are fanatical gamers but also have a job where they are on the road a lot?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Indeed. If you want to play games on a laptop, stick to old games. You don't need a massive battery draining testicle frying battery for old games. And they're still just as much fun as they were 10 years ago.

      • by Creepy (93888)

        Actually, many newer, more portable gaming laptops come with power saving features that will shut down cores and either run the GPU in a low power mode or run a separate low power GPU (like an integrated one). My brother's small Alienware (an older version of the M14x - not sure if the model is the same) gets about 5-6 hours of battery life. He also owns a behemoth M17x that gets about an hour, though - and yes, he has more money than he knows what to do with because he isn't even a gamer - he mainly likes

  • They are bloody heavy and expensive. And when you drop it in an airport... :sob: (x-Alienware laptop owner).

    This seams like an interesting idea, get a mid-range laptop (£500 will get you an i5 with a smallish screen) and then add this and a nice big monitor for home use. That way I can get a the odd game of TF2 and about and get my work done while out and about, but get home and play something a little more taxing.

  • The only problem is, Thunderbolt is only 4x PCIe 2.0, so you won't be using this to connect modern, desktop-class GPUs to your laptop

    My recent interest is hardware mpeg decoding to low resolutions like 1080 HDTV (I haven't owned a computer monitor smaller than 1600x1200 since the 90s, so HDTV does seem low res to me, both absolute res and especially by DPI).

    I'm curious if "something like this" would have enough horsepower to be a mythtv frontend. My gut level guess is, "probably yeah". I love my mythtv system...

    • I'm curious if "something like this" would have enough horsepower to be a mythtv frontend. My gut level guess is, "probably yeah". I love my mythtv system...

      Well the mythtv wiki seems to think that the Intel HD 2000 and 3000 on the new Core iSeries is sufficient [mythtv.org] for it. That is without VAAPI support which is scheduled right now for 0.25.

  • Apple hasn't marketed as such, as least not in this neck of the woods, but Thunderbolt is clearly a Docking port. The first one ever on a MacBook!! (That I know of)

    Take a look at their new Thunderbolt display. With one cable connection, your MacBook gets network, sound, firewire, USB and power(!), all via your external Display. No need to attach a second cable.

    Considering that Thunderbolt already is a DisplayPort connection, I don't see the benefit of connection a second graphics card over the PCI-e con
    • With one cable connection, your MacBook gets network, sound, firewire, USB and power(!), all via your external Display. No need to attach a second cable.

      No power. That is supplied through, eh, a second cable.

    • I don't see the benefit of connection a second graphics card over the PCI-e connection.

      If you've ever tried to game on an Intel "Graphics My Ass", you would.

  • Ahh, all this talk of external PCIE reminds me of the ASUS XG Station, I had so much hope for that: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/ces-asus-xg-station,4679.html [tomshardware.com] Too bad :(
    • by Creepy (93888)

      yeah - me too - unfortunately from what was reported, the Vista/Windows 7 driver model killed it (my guess is the hardware GUI code that was added doesn't allow graphics to be directed along the USB2 bus, but I don't think Thunderbolt will have that issue because it interconnects with the same bus that graphics cards use).

    • by citizenr (871508)

      ViDock has been selling XG clone product for almost 5 years now.

  • I don't know if it can be fitted with an NVIDIA GPU board or not, but if it can...

    CUDA.

    Imagine a BitCoin mining rig with a few of these, and there's your application.

  • The problem (that is oh-so-common in the anti-Apple crowd) is that the world doesn't revolve around PC gaming. Many need to get past the belief that the only thing people care about is how many frames per second they can get in a game - and how small that part of the market really is.

    This isn't about games, it's about getting real work done. And that is something that an external Thunderbolt GPU would be good for - when you're at the office, you plug in the GPU, and do your video editing and encoding using

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