Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

JT JT 20 April 2020
Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Aorus Gaming Box first water cooled graphics enclosure I’ve seen, so let’s test it out and see if it makes any difference to performance compared to a standard air cooled eGPU.

Briefly for those that don’t know, an external graphics enclosure like this connects to your laptop with Thunderbolt 3, allowing you to use the power of desktop graphics cards in your thin and light laptop which may not even have discrete graphics.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

There are various overheads associated, but essentially this does allow you to get some nice GPU power on a machine that doesn’t otherwise have any.

The Aorus RTX 2080 Ti Gaming Box comes ready to go out of the box, so the 2080 Ti graphics is included and inside. It’s even got a carrying case if you want to take it somewhere like a LAN party with your laptop.

It comes with a 50cm Thunderbolt cable and power cable. Setup is extremely simple, just connect the Gaming Box to your laptop with the included Type-C Thunderbolt cable and connect the box to power. At this point you might need to run Windows update if you don’t have the necessary Thunderbolt drivers installed, then simply open up the Thunderbolt Control Center and approve the device. From here Windows might start automatically grabbing an outdated Nvidia graphics driver, so get the latest from Nvidia and install that. From here you should be good to go, I’m testing with the Eluktronics MAX-17 gaming laptop.

We could play games with the laptop screen, however this will result in worse performance as there’s more overhead involved as the laptop needs to send data to the GPU over Thunderbolt, then the GPU needs to send the display signal back over Thunderbolt to the laptop. For this reason, I’ll be testing with an external monitor connected to the Gaming Box, as this will offer a performance improvement, and honestly, better experience.

The idea of an external graphics enclosure is that it sits at home on your desk, you can travel with a thinner and lighter laptop, come home and hook it up with one cable. For this reason, in a docking scenario I think it’s completely practical to also have a larger monitor on your desk connected to the gaming box. If not, just expect some performance loss using the laptop screen.

This sort of setup also works well because of the rest of the I/O available on the gaming box.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

It’s got ethernet and USB support too, so you can connect external storage, devices like mice and keyboard, and even gigabit network, all of which will become available just by connecting that single Thunderbolt cable to your laptop.

The 2080 Ti also has three DisplayPort outputs and HDMI. If your laptop supports charging over Type-C, the gaming box will also charge the laptop with up to 100 watts of power delivery, so it can really be a nice single cable docking solution.

Let’s take a closer look at the gaming box itself before diving into some benchmarks.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

It’s all matte black metal, and the size is on the smaller side compared to other eGPU enclosures I’ve used, owing to the fact that it’s been designed around their waterforce 2080 Ti, so it doesn’t have to be larger to cater to other options. The downsides of this are that I don’t think you’ll be able to upgrade the GPU down the line, as the back panel has predefined cutouts for the GPU I/O, but maybe you could still do it with the back panel off, it just wouldn’t be ideal.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

The left and right sides have holes and act as air intakes, and both sides have dust filters.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

On the right there’s a fan to aid airflow, the 450 watt power supply is down the bottom which offers two 8 pin power cables for the GPU, and we can just see the block and tubes on the GPU.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

The top is the air exhaust, and again just a bunch of holes.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Underneath here we can see the 240 radiator used as part of the AIO cooling solution, there are two 120mm fans underneath it which exhaust air up and out.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

On the bottom there are some rubber feet to reduce movement and vibration as well as some vents.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

The front has the Aorus logo in the middle and a third USB Type-A port towards the bottom, so easier access if you need to connect something. There’s also RGB lighting down the bottom of the front which should help boost FPS, and it can be controlled through the software that came on the CD, or downloading it through the Aorus product page is easier if you’re like me and haven’t had a disc drive for a decade.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

The software also lets you monitor the card and tweak it. You can manually adjust things like, fan speed, GPU and memory clock speed, however voltage appears locked. Rather than manually tweaking I’ve just used the scan button which took about 40 minutes to complete, basically it runs a bunch of tests and creates an overclock curve specific to your graphics card which should be stable.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Here’s a quick look at stock performance compared to the overclocked settings, so a little boost is possible with this. Given this is a watercooled card, we’re after optimal performance, so the rest of the game testing will be done like this.

That’s enough info, let’s see what sort of performance we’re actually looking at. I’ve tested with the Eluktronics MAX-17 laptop as this has Thunderbolt 3 support, which has an Intel i7-9750H CPU and 16gb of memory in dual channel. I’ve tested the watercooled Aorus gaming box, but also my Mantiz Venus enclosure with my air cooled 2080 Ti, which happens to also be an Aorus card, and to keep things fair I’ve also used the automated scan overclock setting for best results here too. First let’s start out with the temperature differences, as this should be one of the major advantages for the watercooled gaming box.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

At idle the air cooled card was 13 degrees warmer, when gaming with the fans on the default automatic speed it was 17 degrees warmer, and then with the fans at maximum speed there’s a much greater improvement to the watercooled card, which was now 26 degrees cooler - quite a difference, and this is with a game running at 4K ultra settings.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

As expected, the watercooled card was also hitting slightly higher clock speeds, which makes sense as better cooling allows GPU boost to do its thing, granted the difference wasn’t all that big.

Now let’s take a check the fan noise differences from both options. The watercooled gaming box was louder at idle, you can hear some of the pump noise along with the fans. When actually gaming with the fans at the default auto speeds, the watercooled gaming box was quieter, then when the fans are set to maximum, it was a little louder, but realistically I doubt many people are going to be running either solution at maximum fan speed as its quite loud, so under normal scenarios the gaming box was quieter than the air cooled card.

Now let’s take a look at the actual differences in gaming performance.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Call of Duty Modern Warfare was tested in campaign mode. The results were interesting and not what I expected. I’ve got the watercooled gaming box shown by the purple bars, and my air cooled card in the red bars, and the watercooled option was slightly behind, granted the gap closed at the higher resolutions.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested using the games built in benchmark. Once more my air cooled car was outperforming the watercooled gaming box, why? I’m not exactly sure, as we saw earlier the water cooled option was much cooler and able to reach higher clock speeds.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

Control was tested running through the same part of the game in both configurations. Yet again the air cooled option was coming out ahead, though the difference was basically nothing practical once we get all the way up to a 4K resolution.

Honestly the performance was a little disappointing, going in I assumed it would be a little ahead but that wasn’t the case in the games tested. That said, the water cooled gaming box was clearly running with much lower temperatures, and it was also quieter in these tests.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

The air cooled card seems to draw more power from the wall, and the GPU power reported by HWinfo was also higher there too.Watercooled Laptop eGPU? Aorus Gaming Box Review

This may explain the higher performance. It’s worth noting that for some reason increasing the voltage of the watercooled unit was locked in software, and while this could be done on my air cooled card, I didn’t do it here, but that could possibly widen the performance gap further with some manual overclocking.

Finally let’s look at pricing. If we look at the price differences, the Aorus RTX 2080 Ti Gaming Box goes for around $1560 USD on Amazon, or $2470 AUD here in Australia, which is actually a bit cheaper after converting currency.

The Mantiz Venus eGPU enclosure I’ve tested is $300 USD, while the Aorus 2080 Ti is $1300, but it actually ends up slightly more expensive, again, something I didn’t expect. I just figured the water cooled option would come at a premium, but apparently it’s less money than the alternative setup I’ve got and compared to. I think this watercooled eGPU has its place, but I feel its targeting a niche within a niche.

External graphics enclosures are already fairly niche, for most people you’ll still get plenty good performance just by using a gaming laptop with discrete graphics, and these can still be quite portable. If you want to play higher resolutions then the power of the eGPU could be worth it, but you’re probably going to spend the amount of money on that setup you could get a sweet gaming laptop for.

Anyway, they do have their place, it’s just a niche for people who really want one machine with extreme laptop portability when they travel and the option of more power at home, and a watercooled variant of that would be for a certain subset within that niche.

The gaming box is a cool idea, pun intended, but the possible lack of upgradeability compared to a traditional enclosure which outperforms it may be hard to justify. The place where the gaming box is undeniably ahead is in thermals, so I think it comes down to just how badly you want cooler temperatures. Let me know what you thought of the Aorus gaming box down in the comments, is an eGPU something you’d consider? 

Comments (2)

  1. Honestly, for that money, I'd keep my laptop for on the go and for that money I'd just build a desktop for when I'm home...

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