External modules for video cards have appeared for a long time, but only recently they were able to switch from proprietary connections to the universal and high-speed interface Thunderbolt 3 with Type C port. The external video card significantly increases the gaming performance of a laptop or mini-PC. In December, we tested ASUS Transformer 3 Pro, turning it into a gaming system. In the article we test ASUS ROG XG Station 2 performance, noise level, power consumption and temperatures.
But in December we noted that it’s still problematic to turn ASUS Transformer 3 Pro into a gaming station using ASUS ROG XG Station 2, since the hardware of the convertible laptop is aimed at efficiency, it’s too slow for games. We were able to increase the graphics performance, but the choice of video card should be treated with caution. High-end NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 or AMD Radeon R9 Fury X will simply become a waste of money due to the limited CPU performance of the U-class processor.
And in the December tests, we were faced with problems related to the limitations of the ultrabook: the clock frequencies “floated”, as well as the performance of the processor. But the project was successful anyway. In combination with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or even GeForce GTX 1060 we were able to get a smooth frame rate in all modern games.
Below we will again test ASUS ROG XG Station 2, but now with a more efficient HQ processor. What is the performance gain we get in comparison with the integrated graphics core of the laptop? What happens if you load Thunderbolt 3 throughput through USB 3.1 and Gigabit Ethernet? Will the service of a discrete video card stop? Which video card is most advantageous for such a system? How convenient is this configuration, is it correct for the external module to work with laptops from other manufacturers? It’s time to clarify.
The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 module was one of the first solutions on the market with support for Thunderbolt 3. We previously tested the Alienware Graphics Amplifier module, but it used a proprietary interface, the choice of compatible laptops was very limited. Thanks to the USB Type C connector and the Thunderbolt 3 protocol, compatibility is much better – at least in theory. The module connects directly to the laptop, thanks to additional USB interfaces it can also serve as a dock for various peripherals, including hard drives, printers or a simple keyboard and mouse. Integrated into the module and network interface, as a result, the laptop can be connected by one cable through the module to the home network and the Internet. According to ASUS, the new XG Station 2 module supports plug & play, even during operation.
Before we proceed to the tests, let me consider the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 in more detail.
If you want to increase the graphics performance of a laptop or mini-PC with an integrated Intel HD Graphics core, then it is not always easy or even impossible to do this. Replacing components from laptops or mini-PCs is not an easy task. Therefore, the idea to use a discrete graphics card for upgrading a laptop appeared a few years ago. But due to the limited bandwidth of the interfaces, the solutions have not become popular, the more manufacturers had to use proprietary connections, which reduced flexibility. But thanks to USB Type C and Thunderbolt 3, everything has changed – at least in theory.
At first glance, ASUS ROG XG Station 2 does not have anything special: a retail video card with PCI Express interface is installed in a simple case, power should be connected to the module. The empty module weighs about 5.1 kg, dimensions are 456 x 158 x 278 mm, so ASUS clearly provided for the stationary operation of the ROG XG Station 2.
The module belongs to the famous line of ASUS “Republic of Gamers”, so ROG XG Station 2 has the usual black and red color. Complete the picture of numerous holes and grooves. From the front, the manufacturer added RGB-backlight.
All interfaces are on the back panel. Here you can note the Thunderbolt 3 interface with the Type C socket, through which the module connects to the laptop. To increase the bandwidth, ASUS added one more USB interface. But it’s not necessary to connect it. There are also four USB 3.1 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet connector. Like the power socket. The power supply is built-in.
On the right is the logo “Republic of Gamers”, because the module belongs to this line.
Design ASUS ROG XG Station 2 can be called futuristic, especially when open. Both sides of the body are deflected to the sides, just like the wings of the X-Wing fighters in Star Wars. Unfortunately, the case will have to be opened not only for installing a 3D accelerator, but also for a new connection. The reason is simple: there is no power button in front or on the I / O panel, it is located on the board next to the video card. And if you do not want XG Station 2 to go into standby mode, and prefer to completely turn off the power, then the button will have to be pressed each time.
For the operation of high-end high-end graphics cards with a maximum power consumption of 250 watts, not only a suitable power supply unit is required, but also a cooling system. To help remove heat from the video card, ASUS installed additional fans above the video card, between the two sides of the chassis.
The power supply is separated from the video card by the wall, it works in its own cooling segment, which has a positive effect on the cooling of the video card. Also on the wall you can see several RGB LED lights Aura.
ASUS ROG XG Station 2 theoretically supports any video card with a thickness of up to 2.5 slots. However, there are limitations on the power consumption, length and height of the PCB. In our tests, we were able to install third-party video cards, including different models of TwinFrozr from MSI, video cards with coolers ACX and iCX from EVGA. In the case of large PCBs with an alternative design and a strengthened power subsystem, they fit just barely. On the power supply side, there are two 6 + 2-pin PCI Express connectors.
Of course, in addition to the power supply and connectors in the module requires a certain intelligence. The slot for the video card on the motherboard usually works in x16 mode, but in this case we electrically receive only four lines, which already reduces the graphics performance compared to the desktop computer.
The ASUS power supply was separated from the segment of the video card. It provides a power of 600 watts, but of these 100 watts are allocated for charging through Thunderbolt 3. This approach allows you to charge laptops, for example, the same ASUS Transformer 3 Pro.
For our tests, we chose a laptop ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM, which recently visited our test lab. The list of components is shown in the table below.
In January 2017, we already tested the ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM, which we will use to test the graphics module. The 17-inch notebook is equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 16 GB of DDR4 memory and 256 GB of SSD. There is also a 2.5 “hard drive with a capacity of 1 TB, since we have a gaming laptop of the ROG line, then there is a discrete video card: the laptop is equipped with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB GDDR5 – excellent for comparative tests with the ASUS ROG module XG Station 2.
The display has a native resolution of 1.920 x 1.080 pixels, offers support for G-Sync and is characterized by high brightness – as we noted in the test. The laptop has modern interfaces, an excellent and high-quality aluminum and plastic casing, a good keyboard and a touchpad. But it is necessary to pay decently. The laptop will cost from 1.699 euros in Europe or from 100 thousand rubles in Russia. To the price of the laptop will have to add about 530 euros or 34 thousand rubles for the module ASUS ROG XG Station 2, as well as the price of the video card. Pleasure is not cheap.
ASUS ROG XG Station 2 does not need to be installed or configured. When you first connect via Thunderbird 3 to the ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM laptop, the ASUS ROG XG Station 2 module would be correctly recognized, but the discrete graphics card did not connect. We received an error message – a 17-inch laptop does not support an external graphics adapter. After consulting with ASUS, we received an update for the Thunderbird 3 interface of the ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM laptop, after which we successfully connected a discrete graphics card. Then we were able to install the usual video card drivers.
But the first tests showed no performance gain, despite the more powerful graphics card in the module. The reason is simple: despite the connection of a discrete video card through Thunderbolt 3, the laptop has always turned to the standard solution, namely the built-in NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card. We ran into an underwater stone: ASUS ROG XG Station 2 Work only if you are not using a laptop display, but an external monitor connected directly to the XG Station 2 graphics card (with the notebook’s display turned off). If the display of the laptop is active, even if the picture is simply cloned, the system always uses the video card of the laptop. And XG Station 2 remains idle.
This feature leads to other consequences. If you use an external module, you have to turn off the laptop screen. But if then you need to use the laptop on the way, then you have to fight with the “black screen” after the start of Windows, only after restarting the laptop’s display is activated. All this is somewhat annoying and does not fit into the concept of plug & play.
Although ASUS claims to support only its own notebooks, ASUS ROG XG Station 2 can be connected to laptops of other manufacturers with a Thunderbolt 3 port. However, on the Schenker Technologies or MSI models that were in our test lab, the module did not work. Worse: the XG Station 2 module was detected and activated, but after installing the graphics card driver, Windows 10 issued a “blue screen”. After the reboot the monitor was no longer activated – the operating system did not start, it was required to reinstall or reset the settings. We faced this error twice.
So with the connection of ASUS ROG XG Station 2 will have to suffer. Experienced users and enthusiasts will certainly cope, but beginners may have problems.
As you might expect, we were able to significantly improve the performance of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 in the ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM notebook due to the high-end desktop video card. Along with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, the notebook easily passed tests even in 4K, although in some places we had to reduce the level of detail. If compared with the same video card installed in the laptop, then ASUS ROG XG Station 2results are very similar. Sometimes a discrete graphics card comes forward, sometimes GPU Pascal is faster. The reason is clear: all video cards in XG Station Station 2 work on four lines of PCI Express, which significantly reduces performance. But a discrete graphics card usually keeps the Boost frequency longer, which allows it to work at higher clock speeds in games.
The performance of the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti is inferior to the integrated video card of the notebook, in the case of the GeForce GTX 1080, we get a noticeable performance gain. The top AMD video card showed itself well in comparison with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070.
ASUS ROG XG Station 2 connects to the laptop through the Thunderbolt 3 interface. It provides a theoretical transfer rate of up to 40 Gb / s, the useful bandwidth is about 32 Gb / s. A video card with four lines of PCI Express just takes about 33 Gbit / s, completely using the capabilities of the interface. But the external module has four additional USB ports and a network port. Each of the USB slots theoretically can provide up to 5 Gb / s, and the LAN port – up to 1 Gbit / s. To solve the potential bandwidth shortage problem, ASUS added one more USB interface to XG Station 2, which provides an additional 5 Gb / s.
We took the video card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, after which we conducted tests with connection only through Thunderbolt 3 and with an additional USB connection to the test laptop. Performance changes slightly, but the difference is small. But it became tangible when we started the transfer of data from NAS through the LAN, and also connected an external SSD to XG Station 2 and started copying several gigabytes of data. The performance in games was reduced, although the frame rate remained at an acceptable level. But the minimum fps decreased significantly, so in games we got more noticeable jerks and twitches.
There were no problems with the temperatures. ASUS ROG XG Station 2 module was able to sufficiently cool all test video cards – down to NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 and AMD Radeon R9 Fury X. The built-in video card temperatures were noticeably lower due to the cramped case. But the XG Station 2 module proved to be quite noisy. Even in idle mode, the noise level of the module reached about 37 dB (A). And the reason is not in the cooler of the video card, as the fans turn off until the temperature of the GPU reaches a certain level. The fan of the power supply is quite loud, even in idle mode. At the laptop the fans are barely noticeable.
Under load, the noise level increases to 45.6 dB (A), depending on the video card. Quite a bit, but still less than the ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM with its own graphics card, where we get a noise level of 48.7 dB (A). For power consumption, we got a level from 124.3 to 265.3 watts, depending on the video card. The most “gluttonous” was the high-end graphics card AMD, and the video card of the laptop worked quite economically.
ASUS ROG XG Station 2 copes with its work. Our notebook was equipped with a fairly powerful video game card, but graphics performance could still be increased with a high-end video card like NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 or AMD Radeon R9 Fury X. After connecting the module, you could even play in 4K resolution. So we have a very worthy option for increasing the notebook’s performance in the future.
Thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and Type C, connecting an external module is very simple: just install the graphics card, connect the module to the computer, install the drivers – and that’s it! But in practice we had to face “pitfalls”. Therefore, buyers should make sure that they have installed the latest versions of firmware and patches. If the laptop display supports G-Sync, you will have to go to an external monitor and turn off the laptop display completely. Not the most convenient step, which deprives some of the comfort. So ASUS is still worth working on in order to eliminate the existing shortcomings.
In addition, ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is quite noisy. Under the usual Windows desktop, the video card stops the fans and is cooled passively, but because of the extra fans, the external module worked much louder than the laptop itself. The reason lies in the module’s power supply, the fan of which worked noisily even in idle mode. Under load, the video card fans came to the fore, we got a noise level slightly less than 49 dB (A). So ASUS does not stop adding a fan controller. Note the backlight Aura LED, which can be customized.
Pleasure will not be cheap. The external model ASUS ROG XG Station 2 on sale costs from 530 euros, you have to buy a discrete video card, because the module is delivered empty. For the case with a 600-watt power supply, control board, cooling system and LED price is very decent.