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Gigabyte Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box Review

Today we’re reviewing something really cool. The Gigabyte Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box is an external graphics card that promises to bring genuine gaming capabilities to portable devices that lack a discrete GPU. It’s a lofty goal, which has traditionally not been particularly easy to implement due to connection bottlenecks. With the advent of Thunderbolt 3 and its 40GB/s interconnect, we have a mainstream option that allows a high bandwidth device like this to function properly.

External graphics cards have been something of a holy grail that PC manufacturers have been showing off for years in prototype from, but have yet to realize their potential in the market. This is slowly changing with devices like the Razer Core also in the market. Also the capabilities of Thunderbolt 3 brings a new level of interconnect performance to the desktop.

Gaming laptops have come a long way. No longer are they restricted to 3 or 4 or 5 Kg+ monsters, but they still run relatively hot and consume a lot of power, which restricts them to users who game as their priority. Contrast this with the many notebook users prefer portability and long battery life. Obviously this creates a conundrum for a potential buyer. Do you want a powerful gaming capable beast? They can get quite expensive, or weight a lot, get hot or noisy and power hungry and have poor battery life.  Alternatively, do you prefer a ultra portable machine that will last all day on a full charge? Then you’ll have to sacrifice performance and forget about genuine high resolution, high detail gaming. Which way do you go?

This is where a device like the Aorus Gaming Box comes in, offering the best of both worlds. You can take your ultrabook to work or study, carry it around on the train or on flights without needing a wheelbarrow to lug it around. You can get a full day’s productivity in without a recharge, then you can bring it home at night, plug it into your external graphics card and game with genuine desktop performance.

It’s always been an amazing concept and may well be indicative of a larger trend in the PC market, one where you’ll have a single portable communications device, that you’ll connect to another device for a specific purpose, such as gaming, a UHDTV or monitor, storage, home automation or even to drive your car. We digress though..

Unboxing and Overview

The Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box comes with a pretty standard looking box. There are some marketing dot points and performance declarations on the side. The unit itself comes securely packed inside an inner box, which itself contains a padded carry bag that further protects the unit from damage and careless couriers. We’re pretty sure your Gaming Box will arrive undamaged.

With all of our talk about carrying around your ultrabook, what happens if you want to take your Gaming Box with you too? Well, the Aorus Gaming Box ships inside this awesome carry bag which would sell for more than a few dollars by itself. It’s got pockets for the Thunderbolt cable and power adapter and it feels really well made. Given the compact size of the Gaming Box, you could easily put this in your luggage, then plug it into a hotel’s HDTV and game while away on a trip. Sweet!

Here is the unit itself. At 212 x 96 x 162, it is smaller than you’d expect when you see it in the flesh. It’s about the size of a typical external hard drive, just a bit wider. It’s quite light at 2.4Kg as well, remember this includes a case, graphics card and power supply. The entire unit is made of metal and of course you can see the mesh sides which allow the unit to breathe.

Don’t forget, this is 2017, and that means RGB lighting is onboard too!

Here we can see all the ports found on the unit. Firstly there are the GTX 1070 ports. They consist of a Display Port 1.4, HDMI 2.0b and dual DVI-D. These are the latest specification ports, so if you’re wanting to drive 4K displays at 60Hz, you are covered. Note that the DVI-D ports means no analogue support.

There’s a small cooling fan, AC power in and you can see the Thunderbolt 3 port at the bottom left.

There are four USB 3.0 ports. The red one supports Quick Charge 3. These ports will come in extremely handy, depending on the laptop you are pairing with it. It can function as a docking station where you can connect a keyboard and mouse, or external hard drive or any other peripheral. Then you can just unplug the Thunderbolt cable, take your laptop and leave it all behind.

Here are the full specifications of the Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box. Gigabyte have not used some cheap and nasty components here. They are using the OC version of their Mini ITX GTX 1070, along with a 80Plus Gold rated power supply with a 450w capability. This is more than enough to power the GPU and peripherals.

 

Setup

Setting up the Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box was ridiculously simple. Plug it in, turn it on. The Lenovo X1 Carbon we used to test automatically detected the device, and configured itself.

Test Setup and Benchmarks

For testing, we used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon that we recently reviewed. It features a i5-7200U processor and 8Gb of RAM, which is really at the low end of what should be used to pair with a GTX 1070. To test this theory, we also tested with a MSI GS63VR, which has a much more powerful i7-7700HQ quad core processor. Though of course it is a gaming laptop with a GTX 1060 onboard, and would not be a logical pairing with the Gaming Box, it does give an indication that you ideally should be using a powerful processor to match with the Gaming Box.

All testing was done on an external monitor with the laptop display disabled.

As we’ll see though, pairing the unit with a quad core CPU goes a long way to maximizing the performance of the GTX 1070, so you should think carefully about the specification of the laptop you are planning to pair it with. As our article goes live, we are allowed to mention the upcoming 8th generation core processors which include U series quad core models with the same TDP levels as the current dual cores. These new processors should be a much better match. Modern games are increasingly being coded to take advantage of quad cores and the 8th gen processors will perform much better in many games compared to current Kaby Lake U series processors. Keep an eye out for 8x00U equipped models in the coming weeks.

 

As we see, some of the games have only a small performance difference, while others take a huge whack and are limited by the dual core CPU. This kind of bottleneck will become increasingly apparent if you play a lot of online games and maps with many players.

Its obvious though that a device like the 1070 Gaming box will elevate your game play from barely playable integrated graphics to properly playable with high settings, even at 1440p.

We must note that we came across a few issues in our testing. Hitman showed some graphical glitching at times, as did GTA5, though with much less frequency. This is probably due to a bit of immaturity with the Nvidia driver. Perhaps it is not quite optimized for this kind of device. As more like it come on sale, obviously the Nvidia driver team will devote more resources to what is now, still a relatively niche device.

We also think that Thunderbolt 3 (with its equivalent PCIe 3.0 x4 connection) is still not 100% ready for a high bandwidth device like an external graphics card. Perhaps there is some more development to be had on the software side to maximize performance and stability to the best possible levels.

Below is a temperature test. The mesh design of the GTX 1070 Gaming Box means that airflow will not be a problem. It’s akin to having an open case. As you can see, the temperature never hit 70c and the boost clock stayed at a constant level, just below 1900Mhz. This is a great result for the Gigabyte GTX 1070 Mini and its obviously a very good, fast and capable card despite its diminutive form factor.

Conclusion

The Gigabyte Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming Box is a seriously lovely piece of kit. The ability to transform your graphics limited laptop into a genuinely capable gaming machine that can play all modern titles with high settings at 1080p and higher is a very attractive proposition to a lot of users. It is a seriously untapped market. Consider that you can carry around your ultra portable, and do all of your work or study tasks with a battery that can last all day, and be unencumbered by a power sucking GPU. Then you can bring it home at night and plug it into your Gaming Box and  play until the wee hours. What a great concept!

The package and unit is top notch. Its well designed, looks good and keeps the unit cool. We never saw the unit go higher than 70c which keeps the Nvidia GPU boost at its maximum for longer.

If you’re a serious gamer, you’ll still want to go with a dedicated gaming laptop. You’ll get better performance, and probably a polished experience. This may change though as more devices of this nature become available and there is some serious development into the driver and Thunderbolt ecosystem.

The Gigabyte Aorus GTX 1070 Gaming box can be found for about $930 SGD. Given that premium GTX 1070’s are getting towards $800, this makes the GTX 1070 Gaming Box very good value and an easy way to transform your Thunderbolt 3 equipped laptop into a seriously capable gaming machine.

 

 

Pros:

Its an external GPU!

Well built, attractive design

Excellent carry bag

Plug and play easy setup

 

Cons:

Ideally you need a powerful CPU to match – Quad Core

A longer Thunderbolt cable would be nice

Something is not allowing it to perform to its maximum

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