First Look: Razer’s Core X Chroma eGPU Gets a Threefold Boost – PCMag
First Look: Razer’s Core X Chroma eGPU Gets a Threefold Boost
The gaming-gear giant’s Core X external graphics card box gains a bunch of upgrades that turn it into a color-changing graphics powerhouse—and a peripherals hub—for your laptop gaming world.
In mid-2018, Razer stripped down its Core X external graphics card (eGPU) box to its essentials, and just its primary job: direct-connected, raw graphics acceleration for laptops with lesser graphics. Given the $299 price, that was fine and all, but the state of Thunderbolt 3 connectivity at the time made it a product for early adopters, and the lack of ports apart from the ones on your graphics card meant it couldn’t serve as a hub or dock for a gaming setup. It was a simple speed-up box for games.
Razer changes that up today with its upticked 2019 model, the Core X Chroma. This eGPU, at $100 more, doesn’t replace the minimalist Core X, but it pumps it up with features in three key areas. Razer adds, first, its signature, programmable Chroma lighting; second, a host of physical connectivity that goes beyond the pure display aspects; and third, a higher-wattage power supply to accommodate the latest video cards.
We got to ogle the Core X Chroma for a little while before its release. (It goes on sale today.) Let’s take a look!
Meet the Razer Core X Chroma eGPU
The Core X product line is not new to Razer, but each new model shows a different spin on the company’s eGPU box: full-featured, blinged-out, or boiled down for budget-minded buyers. And, as Thunderbolt 3 matures, the Core X line becomes usable on more and more platforms beyond Razer’s machines.
The primary Windows-based eGPU competitor on the market, Alienware’s Graphics Accelerator, has been on the market longer than Razer’s Core X, but it continues to use a proprietary graphics connector that limits its use to certain Alienware laptops. The Thunderbolt 3 connection on the Core X Chroma gives it much wider compatibility.
Your eGPU, All Aglow
One of the key changes with the Core X Chroma is right in the name: the addition of Razer’s lighting scheme to the chassis proper. Going well beyond simple mood lighting, Chroma can be synced up with other Chroma-compatible gear to effect a light show that ripples, say, through keyboard, mouse, headset, laptop proper, and now desktop eGPU box.
As you can see here, the primary lighting areas are the bottom front (for a sort of automotive-style “ground effect”) and inside the grille on the left side.
Accelerating Macs and PCs Alike
You’ll note that the Core X Chroma here is attached to one of Razer’s Windows 10 laptops. But it doesn’t work
with Razer machines. You’ll need to confirm support from the laptop maker for eGPU acceleration, as well as the key prerequisite: a Thunderbolt 3 port. (The only possible interface between system and eGPU here is Thunderbolt 3, via a USB Type-C connector.) Assuming both Thunderbolt 3 and eGPU support are present, you’ll want to make sure the laptop BIOS and the Thunderbolt driver software are up-to-the-moment, as well.
On the Apple side of the fence, a late-model, Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later should work with the Core X Chroma, with a couple of caveats. First, the Synapse software required to tweak the lighting isn’t macOS-compatible. Second, graphics-card support on macOS is limited to certain recent AMD Radeon RX and Radeon Pro models only. (You’ll want to check Razer’s documentation for the Core X Chroma before diving in.) Nvidia GeForce GTX, GeForce RTX, and Quadro cards, as well as AMD cards such as the Radeon R9 series, are not an option under macOS.
Razer in the Rear View
Around back, you’ll notice a significant difference between the Core X Chroma and the straight-up Core X, if you’re familiar with the 2018 model: a hub’s worth of ports.
If you plan to play all your games on the built-in display on your laptop, using the Core X as a graphics accelerator for that screen alone, that’s all well and good. But if you are looking to make your laptop the center of a more evolved gaming setup, the Core X Chroma can anchor that world. You’d connect any external monitors to the display outputs on the video card (here, the ports on the vertical silver backplane you see at the right).
A Closeup of the Connections
On the 2018 Core X, all you get, in terms of physical connectivity, is what’s on the video card proper, and the single Thunderbolt 3 connection that runs between the laptop and the eGPU box. What’s here, though, is what makes the Core X Chroma a much more attractive option than the Core X.
With four USB 3.1 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet jack, you can connect all of your gaming peripherals directly to the eGPU box, as well as a hardwired Ethernet line from your router or modem. This way, attaching or detaching the Core X Chroma’s Thunderbolt 3 cable to or from your laptop engages or disengages your whole desktop setup—mouse, keyboard, game controllers, wired networking, and monitor or monitors—in one motion. That’s a lot easier and more elegant than running cables to various ports around the edges of your laptop.
Pulling Out the Core of the Core X
As you can see above, a handle swivels out from the rear panel, and that lets you pull out the inner chassis. Here, Razer’s reps have pre-installed a relatively modest, two-fan AMD Radeon RX 580 card, but the chassis can take cards
beefier than this. In terms of thickness, the chassis is built to accommodate cards up to three slots (and 2.36 inches) wide. The card body proper can be up to 12.99 inches long and up to 6.29 inches high.
Installation is easy; you simply snap the card into the PCI Express x16 slot in the mainboard on the bottom of the chassis, then fasten it down with a thumbscrew. You don’t need any tools. The power supply has the usual eight- and six-pin GPU connectors that you insert in the edge of your card as required.
Appealing to a Higher Power (Supply)
Here’s the Core X Chroma chassis with the innards extended, viewed from above. Behind the video card, you can see the power-supply block, which is responsible for a significant portion of the box’s volume. The wattage has been increased from the 650 watts on the $299 Core X to 700 watts on this model. This is to accommodate late-model, high-power-draw GPUs like the
. (Razer notes that cards with a board power rating of up to 500 watts are supported.)
On the left side of the chassis, your card’s fans will be visible through the panel grille, and the card proper will be lit up by the Chroma LEDs inside. Note: If your video card has its own nonprogrammable mood lighting on the card itself, it may conflict with the Chroma LEDs in the chassis.
Also note: Unless your card has a “blower”-style cooler that vents out the back panel, expect to leave some clearance on both sides of the Core X Chroma chassis for free-as-possible airflow.
Ventilation Is Key
Indeed, you should plan on giving the box room to breathe regardless of the card inside. The power supply also needs cooling, and you can see the intake for an additional fan (for the chassis as a whole) through the right-side panel here.
Razer’s Best-Outfitted eGPU Yet
We’re looking forward to putting the Core X Chroma through its paces. In previous models of eGPU (not just Razer’s) we’ve seen variable results in terms of ease of setup, as well as how efficiently the box leverages the power of the video card. (At times, the CPU in play on the host system can be a bottleneck.) Stay tuned for a full review.
About the Author
John is PCMag’s executive editor for hardware. A veteran of the popular tech site and magazine Computer Shopper from 1993 to 2017, he has covered just about every kind of computer gear—from the 386SX to 18-core processors—in his long tenure as an editor, a writer, and an advice columnist. He served as Computer Shopper’s editor in chief from 2008 to… See Full Bio