The Razer Core X Chroma is the best external GPU you can buy

razer core x chroma best external gpu

External GPUs have ambition. Plug it in with a single cord, and you’ll transform your laptop into a top-tier gaming rig. In theory.

Razer has made these enclosures for years now, but its newest entry blends the best of its previous attempts into one sleek package. The Core X Chroma has the larger size and wattage capability of the X model, but reintroduces RGB lighting and USB ports. Taking the place of the Core V2, this new external GPU is the best of the breed.

Light it up

The Razer Core X Chroma looks identical to the previous Core X. Its black, machined aluminum and sturdy panels are designed with a fit and finish befitting Razer laptops.

It’s the same size, as well. About a foot long and a half a foot tall, it’s not unlike a small desktop tower sitting flat on your desk. Last year’s Core V2 was considerably smaller, but the Core X has a slightly larger 400-watt power supply, opposite the stock 120mm fan. The tray still easily slides out using the handle on the back. From there you have easy access to the PCIe slot. It’s a smart, simple design — as long as you don’t mistake the latch as a handle and accidentally lift it right out of the enclosure.

A Razer product without RGB just never felt quite right, but that’s been rectified.  You’ll find Chroma lights, meaning they can be customized and programmed with Razer’s Synapse software. It’s the same lighting we saw on the Razer Core V2, and really shows of your GPU. Some light leaks under the bottom of the front panel, providing a nice, subtle, simple glow.

razer core x chroma best external gpu 2

RGB lights might be the headline feature, but the more important update to the Core X Chroma is the extra USB ports on the back. Along the Thunderbolt 3 port used for connecting to your system, there are now two USB-A 3.2 ports, as well as HDMI and an additional USB-C. This matches what you get on the Core V2 and is a big step up over the original Core X, which only has a USB-C port.

These ports turn the Core X into a USB hub. You can have your monitor, mouse, keyboard, and external SSD all plugged into the Core X. You’re just one Thunderbolt 3 port away from accessing all these peripherals. It makes for a clean desk setup, and connecting is wonderfully simple.

But how does it perform?

The Razer Core X — and all external GPUs — face hurdles in performance. You can’t expect the same power you’d get from your RTX 2080 Ti when it’s plugged directly into a motherboard. There’s a significant percentage drop in performance, which should always be accounted for when considering an external GPU.

We tested the Core X Chroma in a couple of different scenarios. First, we slotted in an RTX 2080 Ti and hooked it up to a Razer Blade 15 gaming laptop. In that scenario, we saw a 31% decrease in performance compared to a desktop setup, both in 3DMark benchmarks and in gameplay. You can expect a similar drop no matter what card you choose. Games like World of Warcraft or Civilization VI, which tax the CPU a bit more than the GPU, see that difference cut down a bit.

In the case of our RTX 2080 Ti, the performance in the Core X Chroma was more comparable to an RTX 2080 Max-Q mobile card, though it depends on the game or benchmark. It’s 27% better in 3DMark’s TimeSpy benchmark than an RTX-powered laptop, while it’s actually beaten slightly by that same laptop in the older Fire Strike benchmark.

We also tried the Core X Chroma with a much smaller laptop, the Razer Blade Stealth. It turned a system that could barely get by in Fortnite into a monster gaming rig. The Stealth saw a 8% decrease in performance behind the Razer Blade, most notably because of the slower U-series processor. Even so, we dropped into Battlefield V and easily pushed 80 FPS (frames per second) on Ultra detail at 4K resolution.

None of this is any different than previous versions of the Core, though. The basic technology hasn’t changed. Still, playing Battlefield V in 4K on a tiny laptop feels amazing. Any laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 port will work, as will just about any graphics card you might have laying around, including brand new RTX 20-series cards or AMD’s Radeon VII.

One thing Razer did improve was stability. Plug-and-play was one of the big innovations of Thunderbolt 3 and the first crop of external GPUs. Since then, it’s only improved. The second I plugged in the USB-C, the fans whirled up, the RGB lights began to glow, and Windows 10 instantly recognized the card. After downloading some drivers and doing a quick restart, everything felt smooth. I could unplug and reconnect the Core X at will.

Proceed with caution

You’ll pay $400 for the Razer Core X Chroma, while the standard Core X is $300. That’s more expensive than a lot of options, especially those that include a graphics card inside. The Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box, for example, includes a powerful RTX 2070 inside for just $649, while the Blackmagic eGPU is $699 and includes a weaker Radeon Pro 580.

razer core x chroma best external gpu 3

The Razer Core X Chroma doesn’t fix any of the inherent issues with external graphics cards. They tack on an extra premium that makes the value slide compared to a traditional desktop gaming rig. The expense of modern GPUs only makes that premium more painful. The Core X Chroma’s $400 price is on top of a video card that’s going to set you back $300, $600, perhaps even $1,200 — if you opt for Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti.

What do you get for the premium? A dream. PC gamers have long wanted a do-it-all solution that combines excellent portability with desktop-like power. The Core X Chroma, and its siblings, finally deliver that, especially if you ever already got a Thunderbolt 3-powered laptop. You’ll feel a tingle of awe when you plug in your XPS 13 and play Battlefield V at 4K. It’s pure magic.


Powerful upgrades turn 4th-gen Raspberry Pi into a more capable $35 desktop

The Raspberry Pi 4 is the most powerful Raspberry Pi incarnation to date, making it an even more capable alternative to your desktop PC. Equipped with a more powerful processor, this desktop could be yours starting at $35.

From hot rods to budget sleepers, our favorite desktops can handle anything

Are laptops overrated? Experience the power offered by the best desktop computers on the market today, whether you're in need of a budget solution or a fire-breathing, $5,000 premium system for video editing and gaming.

Our favorite gaming desktops make the latest consoles look pathetic

PC gaming doesn't always come cheap, but it doesn't have to be extortionate either. In this guide we've put together a list of the best gaming PCs you can buy, with everything from the big and flashy, to the super compact.

Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Gaming desktops are powerful, but they tie you down to your desk. For those who prefer a more mobile experience, here are the best gaming laptops on the market, ranging from budget machines to the most powerful notebooks in the world.

In 2019, laptops are better than ever. Here are the best of the best

The best laptop should be one that checks all the boxes: Great battery life, beautiful design, and top-notch performance. Our picks for the best laptops you can buy do all that — and throw in some extra features while they're at it.

The MacOS Catalina public beta is live. Here’s how to download it

Apple's latest MacOS update, known as Catalina, is finally available for developer preview, which means if you're willing to pay a little for the privilege, you can be one of the first to try it out.

Apple has a plan to save Mac gaming, but it’s not the one you want

The Mac isn’t known for being a game-friendly platform, but Apple hopes to change that in the coming months and years. The thing is, its plan may not be quite what you were hoping for if you’re a Mac gamer.

MacOS Catalina has arrived. Here are the 5 best features you can use right now

As of Monday, June 24, Apple has released the public beta of its newest MacOS, Catalina. Here are the five best features to expect from MacOS Catalina, including the trio of apps expected to replace iTunes.

Apple iPad with Wi-Fi and cellular gets $80 price cut on Amazon ahead of Prime Day

Apple iPads are getting a piece of the Amazon Prime Day action in the weeks leading up to July 15. Now on Amazon ahead of Prime Day, score your 32GB Apple iPad (Wi-Fi + cellular) for just $379, down from $459.

Amazon’s back-to-college store drops deals on refurbished items before Prime Day

Buying refurbished is a great way to save money, and Amazon has a ton of deals right now. While there's hundreds of Amazon refurbished items on the site, we've found 20 items that we think both college students and parents might be…

The Dell G5587 Nvidia GTX 1060 gaming laptop just dropped to $799 at Walmart

Gone are the days when you had to spend a grand or more to get a great gaming laptop. PC makers like Dell are cranking out some excellent and affordable machines today like the Dell G5587, which is on sale right now for just $799.

The Surface Centaurus might run Android apps, but is that a good idea?

A new leak hints that Microsoft's rumored Project Centaurus is a dual-screen device that will run Android apps. Is this what Microsoft needs to save its desperately-ignored Windows tablet mode?

Create apocalyptic A.I. world with this camera app that removes people from pics

What would the shots in your camera roll look like without any people? Bye Bye Camera is a new iOS app that uses artificial intelligence to remove all people from the photo., but it's not designed for practical applications.

A dual-screen device from Microsoft is in the works. Here's what we know so far

Would you be interested in a dual-screen Surface computer? The Surface Centaurus is a Microsoft project working on just that -- and Microsoft already has a prototype. Here's all the important information on Centaurus!