External graphics aren’t a bad idea on paper. Carry around one laptop that’s light, with great battery life, but a decent processor, and just plug in the GPU when you want to play games. One of the biggest sticking points is always how it actually works though. Proprietary options like the Alienware Graphics Amplifier are only compatible with one manufacturer’s systems, and often changing the configuration requires rebooting or tinkering with drivers.
But with AMD XConnect, attaching or unplugging an external graphics solution is as easy as using a USB flash drive. In fact, AMD includes a management interface in Crimson that shows which programs the GPU is power, with quick access to settings and an eject button.
Taking advantage of XConnect requires a few elements to line up correctly. Only the R9 300 and Fury cards are validated for use over Thunderbolt 3, and the cable has to support 40Gbps. The computer needs to have Radeon 16.2.2 or later, with Windows 10 Build 10586 or newer, and the manufacturer has to include BIOS ACPI extensions for external GPUs.
And as it turns out, there’s already a system on the market that checks all of those boxes. The Razer Blade Stealth. We reviewed the gaming brand’s Ultrabook and found a quick processor, beautiful screen, and solid construction, although the battery life left something to be desired.
Regardless, the upcoming Razer Core will be the first opportunity for AMD to show off the XConnect technology in action. AMD cards will support choice of external displays, or gaming on the Stealth’s screen, which is available in both 1440p and 4k.
That’s not all, either. Crimson 16.3 includes some impressive optimization updates for Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. The last title in that list has, in particular, come under fire for poor performance, even on high-end gaming systems. AMD claims the update will improve performance up to 60 percent on Fury X cards, and up to 44 percent on R9 380 cards over the previous version of Crimson.
XConnect is a result of months of effort by Radeon, Razer, and Thunderbolt to create a comprehensive solution for simple, seamless external graphics management, and now it’s starting to come to fruition. Whether this is actually a feature gamers want is another question entirely, but it’s one that we can’t answer until there’s a really solid offering out there. This might just be it.
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