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The Best External Graphics Card

written by: Uelman Rubio•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 2/22/2011

Laptops lose their portability and battery life the moment you slap on a monster video card in them. Can an external graphics card solve this problem?

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    The graphic power–portability Dilemma

    Mobile gaming has always been a gamer’s dream. Although laptop technology has progressed to the point that it is possible to incorporate powerful graphics cards in laptops, the result is really more of a compromise. When you compromise portability and battery life for pure graphics power, what you end up with is a smaller desktop computer with an attached LCD screen and a built-in 30-minute UPS.

    People want to be able to carry their laptop around with ease and be able to play their favorite hardcore games. This is of course possible with a bulky $2000 gaming laptop, providing you have the money.

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    So what’s your point?

    The point is that we need a powerful graphics solution that will not make our laptop look like it’s been on steroids for the past decade. We want our laptop to stay slim and have batteries that can last, say, 3-5 hours. What we need is an external graphics solution so that we can keep the portability and battery life of our laptop, but have a way to play graphic intensive games when we want to.

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    What is the best external graphics card?

    Now we have reached the sad part. Thing is, I only found one that is available, which by law of defaults counts as the best, doesn’t it? But first let me give a brief history of the hopefuls that didn’t actually make it to market.

    In mid-2008, ASUS announced the XGStation External GPU, was released a few months later and soon discontinued. In 2009, AMD/ATI touted their XGP (eXternal Graphics Platform) technology that was going to see its 1st release as the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo which was debuted with a laptop of the same name but also did not see a release date. In the same year MSI had their contender that boasted an ATI Radeon HD 5670, which was called GUS. GUS was apparently on the same sinking ship as the other guys since it also did not make it out into the market. AMD then demoed an Acer Ferrari notebook with an XGP box at CES 2010 running Crysis but that has since disappeared as well.

    The reason external graphics cards did not take off is most likely because the technology is not yet mature enough; there are no standards that it can use to interface with current available laptops. The USB 2.0 port is way too slow for something like this, and even USB 3.0 is insufficient.

    That was really sad wasn’t it? Well fret not for we still have one hopeful. Read on.

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    What is that one available solution?

    ViDock with a NVIDIA 9800GT card That one solution is the ViDock line from a little known company called Village Instruments. The ViDock is comparable to an external hard disk enclosure, i.e. it is an external graphics card enclosure. You get to choose which desktop graphics card you can slap in there and do magic for you. The models are ViDock 3, 4, and 5. The increasing number denotes the capacity for the allowable card to be placed. The ViDock 3 is for smaller cards that do not need an external power source, ViDock 4 adds a 6-pin power connector for higher performing cards; while 5 has 2x 6-pin connectors for those monster cards. The performance gain is not exactly near what you can get from that card if you just placed it into a PCIe slot on a motherboard but it is definitely way better than your integrated graphics solution.

    You can only connect it to an external monitor or via the video ports of the graphics card you used with it. The whole thing is connected to your laptop via the ExpressCard slot and has its own power brick. So if your laptop does not have that slot, you are out of luck.

    By virtue of numbers, the ViDock external graphics solution is the best external graphics card out there and probably the only one you will find. If you know of any more, don’t hesitate to slap it on the comments right below.