eGPUs - Thoughts? - Skull Canyon NUC with Thunder3 PCIe Box.

Runamok81

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Intel recently released their new Skull Canyon NUC. It's impossibly small, and powerful.



Of note is Thunderbolt 3 enabled USB-3 port on the back. That port enables this PC to be paired with an external GPU (eGPU) chassis to become on nasty NUC. We are seeing a few commercial Thunderbolt 3 eGPU chassis coming to market. The Razer Core being a pricey early entrant. Gigabyte is also readying their GP-T3GFx. Another manufacturer AKiTiO also has several external PCIe chassis. Releasing this August 2016 is the
Thunder3 PCIe Box.



Unlike the Core, this product is much smaller, and intended for HALF length double slot cards. Does this mean we could potentially pair a Mini GTX 1070 with the Skull Canyon NUC?

Update: Nope, the bump of the Gigabyte GTX 1070 prevents it from fitting. Tried it, images here. A Zotac GTX 1060 does fit, but power supply remain external. Benjaminslr has a working prototype later in thread.

Internally the AKiTiO enclosure only supplies 25W of power, but perhaps one of our enterprising forum members could imbue it with some HD PLEX 250W power and net a modular, 3.5L, "Nasty NUC" ? What do you guys think?
 
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Kmpkt

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Definitely a cool idea, but I've got to be honest I've yet to really understand the motivation to have a NuC like the Skull Canyon with an eGPU configuration. It makes sense with a laptop as the laptop can be used for lower demand PC gaming when mobile as well as productivity, but with the augmentation provided with the core can provide a desktop grade gaming experience. The NuC + Core or in this case the AKiTiO doesn't really convey much of an advantage over something like a Dan A4 or NFC S4 mini. Additionally, the Core has hot-pluggable functionality meaning you don't have to restart the computer to use the eGPU enclosure which I'm not sure this unit has.
 
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Runamok81

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Don't all Thunderbolt 3 eGPUs have hot swabability? The advantage it conveys is smaller size and NOT having to permanently integrate the GPU into your case and CPU. Free it, and have seperate upgrades parhs. The reason an eGPU makes sense with a desktop is that there is a performance penalty when using an eGPU with a laptops internal monitor, up to 20%. So, you'll need an external monitor anyways, at that point that laptop isn't doing you any good. And, if your a professional, you're almost always better equipped and more productive with a good desktop setup: full keyboard, good mouse, RGB 144Hz monitor. Laptops have comprimises for the sake of portability. A NUC and eGPU would be smaller and more powerful than any of the other solutions you mentioned, yes?
 

Phuncz

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We have a thread on the Skull Canyon NUC and from Anandtech's review, it became clear it wasn't as magical a NUC it was expected of it to be. Almost everything, including storage and Thunderbolt, run off of a shared PCIe 3.0 x4 connection. So it might not be a good idea to even use the NUC for this kind of solution.

mini-STX seems to be the next best thing, bridging the gap between full-bore desktop processors and the limited NUC mobile processors.
 

BirdofPrey

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I honestly wouldn't bother with an NUC if you wanted a discrete graphics solution. Not only does the external GPU box eat up all the saved space (and more), it can be a pain in the ass to work with.
You're probably better off getting something like a Gigabyte BRIX or one of the Zotac miniPCs with MXM boards in them, and if you want to build a custom solution with a desktop GPU, check out @QinX's thin mini-ITX project.
 
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Runamok81

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We have a thread on the Skull Canyon NUC and from Anandtech's review, it became clear it wasn't as magical a NUC it was expected of it to be. Almost everything, including storage and Thunderbolt, run off of a shared PCIe 3.0 x4 connection. So it might not be a good idea to even use the NUC for this kind of solution.

mini-STX seems to be the next best thing, bridging the gap between full-bore desktop processors and the limited NUC mobile processors.

Mini-STX has no PCIe x16 slot, and there is no indication that intel will licesnse TB3 to Mini-STX manufacturers to enable eGPUs. For gaming rigs, what does Mini-STX offer in the way of discrete GPUs?

I've read the Anandtech reviews and our thread, and I agree. Thermally, acoustically, the Skully NUC is running at the limits of it's case. From the PC World review

some thermal throttling does occur, but the stock clock speeds barely drop—maybe by about 0.1 to 0.2GHz...
About the only downsides to the NUC6i7KYK are its power consumption and how loud it is, and they’re not even that bad. Compared to the similar complaints I had about the Broadwell Core i7 NUC, the peak power draw of 72.1W under load seems more reasonable, especially given how much performance this Skull Canyon NUC delivers. And the fans are quieter than the Broadwell NUC’s—they’re on par with a slightly noisier laptop.
A larger case and fans could correct those issues. But, saying it's engineered inefficiently is a bit harsh on the intel. It's quite the opposite really. The Skully NUC CPU is running right at the thermal limits of its cooling solution. Something many SFF enthusiasts can relate with. The shared PCIe lanes could be an issue, but let's wait on the eGPU to be tested, shall we? Until their is evidence that the shared lanes are gimping the eGPU, it's a bit premature to toss the Skully NUC into the bin of "too many compromises."


I honestly wouldn't bother with an NUC if you wanted a discrete graphics solution. Not only does the external GPU box eat up all the saved space (and more), it can be a pain in the ass to work with.
You're probably better off getting something like a Gigabyte BRIX or one of the Zotac miniPCs with MXM boards in them, and if you want to build a custom solution with a desktop GPU, check out @QinX's thin mini-ITX project.

Total volume of the AKiTiO and NUC would be 3.7Ls. Seems very competitive. As for a TB3 eGPU difficulties, what are they? Admitedly, I've never used one, but it's a plug-and-play USB-C connection. A vast improvement over the previous generations DIY eGPU solutions using converted M.2 connections.
 

Runamok81

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USB-C ... That's what I was searching for. No wonder I wasn't finding PCIe to Thunderbolt adapter. Now I can find the perfect companion in case Thin ITX and iGPU aren't enough.

Thank you !

Guille, I was curious about your question and I did some research... The only TB3 to PCIe card I could find is this $280 InXtron Thunderbolt 3 Hardware Developer Kit, below.



And that led to an interesting discovery. Looking at the back of the AKiTiO, it's got the exact same port layout of the InXtron. Two TB3's and a DP spaced about the same.



There's good odds that InXtron board is driving the AKiTiO chassis. InXTron reports their board is good for atleast 252W. Upgrade that chassis with an HDPlex / PicoPSU and you'd have a NICE mini ITX eGPU Chassis. You could even tap the unused fan header for extra cooling.

I'd REALLY like to tackle this, but I just had my first baby girl and wife is not having any more modding projects. Is anyone else here even the least bit curious? Seems like an opportunity to create the first Mini-ITX eGPU chassis.
 
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Phuncz

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Yep. I'm amazed these kind of adapters still stay PCIe 2.0 specced, while 3.0 has been around for many years.
But since this is merely a passive adapter, might it still work at PCIe 3.0 speeds ?
 

GuilleAcoustic

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Guille, I was curious about your question and I did some research... The only TB3 to PCIe card I could find is this $280 InXtron Thunderbolt 3 Hardware Developer Kit, below.



And that led to an interesting discovery. Looking at the back of the AKiTiO, it's got the exact same port layout of the InXtron. Two TB3's and a DP spaced about the same.



There's good odds that InXtron board is driving the AKiTiO chassis. InXTron reports their board is good for atleast 252W. Upgrade that chassis with an HDPlex / PicoPSU and you'd have a NICE mini ITX eGPU Chassis. You could even tap the unused fan header for extra cooling.

I'd REALLY like to tackle this, but I just had my first baby girl and wife is not having any more modding projects. Is anyone else here even the least bit curious? Seems like an opportunity to create the first Mini-ITX eGPU chassis.

I found those controllers at my etailer of choice. Like this Asus PCIe to USB 3.1 type C:

 
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BirdofPrey

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Total volume of the AKiTiO and NUC would be 3.7Ls. Seems very competitive. As for a TB3 eGPU difficulties, what are they? Admitedly, I've never used one, but it's a plug-and-play USB-C connection. A vast improvement over the previous generations DIY eGPU solutions using converted M.2 connections.
Well, it's 2 separate boxes with 2 separate power bricks for a lot of clutter, and you're paying something of a price premium for the opportunity, so it's not really worth it for a fixed installation.

It might make sense if you plan to take the computer itself with you and leave the GPU where it is, but in that case, you might as well get a laptop and have a screen to go with it.

Also, as I understand it, Windows doesn't always like hot plugging GPUs
 

Kmpkt

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So then theoretically if you use a board like the AsRock with x4 3.0 then the adapter is a non-issue? Out of curiosity which board are you planning on using?
 

Aibohphobia

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So then theoretically if you use a board like the AsRock with x4 3.0 then the adapter is a non-issue? Out of curiosity which board are you planning on using?

In theory. I have that adapter already, I'm just waiting to finish my review of the ASRock DeskMini 110W before messing with it. I'll be using that board for my project so it's the H110M-STX.