How to turn an ultrabook into a gaming system: review of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box

Imagine this situation: all day you go about your business with a compact and light ultrabook, and in the evening calmly play any computer games on the same device. Is it possible in 2018? We find out on the example of the external docking station GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box.


Box, which is installed a productive graphics adapter, now no one is surprised. Now in modern laptops and motherboards the Thunderbolt 3 standard is applied, which gave a big push in the development of this type of devices due to the greatly increased bandwidth – from 20 to 40 Gbit / s.

GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box – one of many options for a new generation of these boxes, whose task is to significantly increase the level of graphics performance of any computer. Unlike many others, the Taiwanese company produces exclusively ready-made sets with a pre-installed video card.
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Technical characteristics and equipment

Detailed specifications of the box are shown in the table below. The device turned out to be small – and this is its main feature. So, the volume of GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is only 3.3 liters. For example, the recently tested LUNA Design DNK-PRIME case has a volume of 7.8 liters. Many famous external boxes for video cards (Sapphire GearBox, HP Omen Accelerator, Razer Core v2) look simply gigantic on the background of the device under consideration – and this is the undoubted merit of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box. The device is ultra-compact, and therefore will not attract unnecessary attention and take up a lot of space on the table.

GIGABYTE RX 580 GAMING BOX (GV-RX580IXEB-8GD)
Graphics Accelerator AMD Radeon RX 580
Graphics chip frequency 1340 MHz – Gaming Mode 1355 MHz – OC Mode
Video memory 8 GB GDDR5, 2000 (8000) MHz
Weight and dimensions 2.4 kg | 212 × 96 × 162 mm
Interfaces 4 × USB 3.0 Type-А
1 × Thunderbolt 3
1 × HDMI
3 × DisplayPort
Power Supply 450 W
Warranty No data

In addition to the variant with the “mothballed” Radeon RX 580, you will find the Gaming Box versions with pre-installed GeForce GTX 1070 (GV-N1070IXEB-8GD) and GeForce GTX 1080 (GV-N1080IXEB-8GD). It turns out, the GV-RX580IXEB-8GD is the slowest among the available “boxes”. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing this box was not on sale.

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The kit comes with a rag-bag. The device weighs a little more than two kilograms, so it’s really easy to transport it – it’s by the way, if, for example, you want to play at the cottage. Or go to a friend on a LAN party. Also included are a power cable, a 50-centimeter cable Thunderbolt 3, a CD with software and a paper user manual.

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Appearance and design features

“Box” at GIGABYTE came out seemingly inconspicuous, but the device still makes you draw attention to itself because of the RGB-tape attached along the PCI Express x16 slot. Customize the type of glow and color you can with the program RGB Fusion.

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The whole body is made of steel, which is painted with black matte paint. The material is practical, but dust GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box attracts – be healthy. The system uses four fans, which means that it emits a lot of dusty air through itself. The side walls are equipped with a mesh grating. Through them, cool air is taken up by a graphics card and a 450W power supply. The graphic accelerator is equipped with a large, 130-mm impeller – such superchargers are not typical to see in the design of coolers of video cards. Another three 35-mm “carlson”, working on blowing, help not to overheat the power supply unit and are responsible for the outlet of heated air outside the enclosure.

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The photos clearly show that there are no controls for the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box. The device turns on when connected through a Thunderbolt 3 cable to a computer or laptop. At the same time, the lighting of the box is activated. When the box is not connected to the PC, but powered from the mains, only one fan rotates – the one that is located on the rear wall and belongs to the power supply.

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All ports are located here. Immediately, I note that the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box can significantly increase the functionality of many ultrabooks. Using an external box will significantly expand the capabilities of the laptop: with three DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI 2.0, you can connect multiple monitors to the laptop, and four peripherals (such as a gamepad and keyboard) and external storage devices with four USB 3.0 A-types. One of the USB ports, highlighted in orange, supports the Quick Charge 3.0 feature.

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A close acquaintance with the device for several days gives me every right to say that the device will have to be constantly cleaned of dust – every six months, for sure. Fortunately, the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is quite easy to understand. To do this, unscrew the six screws located at the back and sides, and then gently move the outer cover.

In the box there is a power supply unit of the form factor Flex1U with a power of 450 W. The manufacturer claims that the efficiency of the device exceeds 90% and that it is close to the standard 80 PLUS Gold. Enhance ENP-7145B1 is installed in the box. According to the technical specifications, on the 12-volt line can be transmitted up to 444 W, that is 99% of the declared capacity. We conclude: the power supply unit has “honest” watts. In this case, the PSU has only two connectors: a 24-pin for powering the motherboard and an 8-pin connector for powering the graphics card.

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For communication of the external docking station with a laptop or computer, the Intel DSL6540 controller is responsible. According to the technical specifications, it provides bandwidth up to 40 Gb / s – as it should be according to the specifications of Thunderbolt 3.0. Controllers On Semiconductor NCP81239 and Texas Instruments TPS65983BA are responsible for USB connectors, and GENESYS GL3523 – including for supporting the fast charging function. Finally, the Holtek HT32F52342 chip monitors the performance of the main components of the external box.

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As you know, GIGABYTE has compact versions of GeForce GTX 1070 and GeForce GTX 1080 – models GV-N1080IX-8GD and GV-N1070IXOC-8GD. They are used in docking stations based on NVIDIA graphics. However, there is no compact version of Radeon RX 580 from GIGABYTE. Therefore, in the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is, apparently, an OEM-version of the video card. This is also evidenced by the fact that the accelerator does not have an external plastic casing. The cooling system of the video card consists of a cooler with four copper heat pipes of different length and diameter, as well as a 130 mm fan. With enough compact, as the board itself – and as a result, the length of the video card is only 170 mm. At the same time, the radiator’s sole touches not only with the GPU, but also with memory chips and elements of the power subsystem.


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Сonnection and work under load

In theory (and in most cases – and in practice) working with the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is very simple: you need to connect the power cable and connect the Thunderbolt cable to the docking station and the computer. The standard utility will quickly determine the device and will offer to connect to it. In the Approve Thunderbolt Devices menu I recommend that you select the Always Connect mode at once – in this case, every time you connect the box, it will turn on automatically.

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The system requirements say that to use the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box you need a computer with the pre-installed Windows 10 operating system (the desired assembly is at least 16299). When you connect, the docking station is determined by itself, after a couple of minutes the Microsoft system installs the driver itself 17.8.1 – the same version of the software is available on the official GIGABYTE website. Without any reboots, the AMD XConnect feature is activated.
It is important that the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box should be connected to a laptop or a desktop PC equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 port. In all other cases (the Thunderbolt 3 has exactly the same connector as the USB Type-C), the system does not detect an external video card. Initially, I wanted to test the docking station with the MSI GE73VR 7RF Raider laptop, which is equipped with a USB 3.1 Type-C port, but it did not work out.
The second important point – Thunderbolt 3 is different. The fastest version of the interface has a bandwidth of 40 Gbit / s, but some devices can use controllers with reduced performance. More details (and with illustrative examples) about this I will discuss further.

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Officially GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box can work in two modes. By default, Gaming Mode is used, at which the GPU frequency is 1340 MHz. OC Mode mode is activated in the AORUS Graphics Engine program, with which the GPU clock frequency is increased by “incredible” 15 MHz. Why does the manufacturer implement such, in my opinion, useless from the point of view of overclocking modes – an interesting question.

In Gaming Mode, the device in games runs at a stable frequency of 1340 MHz without any hesitation. Video memory is not overclocked – its effective frequency corresponds to 8000 MHz. After a two-hour session in “The Witcher-3: Wild Hunt”, the GPU heats up to 76 degrees Celsius. At the same time, the video card fan rotated in the range of 600-700 rpm. From a distance of ~ 30 cm, the measuring device recorded a noise of 38.8 dB – quite a comfortable indicator, I think. At the same time, the hull fans are louder than all, and not the video card impeller. The noise level of the video card is only 36.4 dB. Information just in case for those who for some reason will be ready to remove the graphics adapter from the box: because of the large fan it is not placed in all PCI Express connectors of motherboards.
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The video card is really seriously heated. If you install it on the motherboard and just run for a couple of hours of the Witcher, the graphics card’s power subsystem will warm up to almost 100 degrees Celsius – and this is on an open test bench! Obviously, in a miniature body with a volume of 3.3 liters the accelerator has a hard time. It is also obvious that the cooling system of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is very effective.

If the Thunderbolt 3 cable is not connected to a laptop or motherboard, the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box consumes 8 watts of power from the outlet. When connected, the docking station starts consuming 20 watts, and under load in games – 144 watts.

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Testing Methodology

Installed in the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box video card does not break performance records, so it was decided to test the device in Full HD resolution with different settings for graphics quality in games. A complete list of applications is listed in the table below. Exactly the same technique is used for testing gaming laptops of primary and secondary classes.

Graphics settings in games
  API Quality Full-screen anti-aliasing
1920 × 1080
1 “The Witcher-3: Wild Hunt”, Novigrad and surroundings DirectX 11 Max. quality AA
High
2 Far Cry 5, built-in benchmark Max. quality SMAA + FXAA
High Fast anti-aliasing
3 GTA V, built-in benchmark Max. quality 4 × MSAA + FXAA
Without anti-aliasing
4 Rise of the Tomb Raider, Soviet base Max. quality SMAA
High Without anti-aliasing
5 Watch Dogs 2, city and surroundings Ultra, HBAO+ Temporary anti-aliasing 2 × MSAA
High Without anti-aliasing
6 Fallout 4, Commonwealth Max. quality, high-resolution textures, splinters from bullets off. TAA
High Without anti-aliasing
7 Assassin’s Creed: Origins, built-in benchmark Max. quality High
High Without anti-aliasing
8 Total War: WARHAMMER II, built-in benchmark DirectX 12 Max. quality 4 × MSAA
High Without anti-aliasing
9 Battlefield 1, the mission “Or win …” Ultra TAA
High
10 Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, complex “Utulek” Max. quality 2 × MSAA
High Without anti-aliasing

Performance in games was determined using the well-known program FRAPS. With its help, we get the rendering time of each frame. Then, using the FRAFS Bench Viewer utility, not only the average FPS, but also the 99th percentile is calculated. The use of the 99th percentile instead of the minimum frames per second is due to the desire to clear the results of random bursts of performance that were caused not by the causes directly related to the operation of the main components of the platform.The manufacturer himself claims that the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is designed to make laptops faster mostly. Therefore, it was decided to test the device directly on two systems. In the first case, the docking station worked together with the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook, in the second case – together with the system based on the 6-core Core i7-8700K processor. The motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty Z370 Gaming-ITX / ac is equipped with a Thunderbolt 3. And we compared these two systems with three laptops, which can be called gaming. The main characteristics of all participants in the testing are presented in the table below. In the case of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box, a graphics driver 18.3.4 was used.


Participants in testing
Model Screen CPU RAM Graphic Storage
ASUS FX570UD 15,6”, 3840 × 2160, IPS Intel Core i7-8550U,4/8 core / threads, 1.8 (4.0) GHz, 15 w 16 GB, DDR4-2400, two channels NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, 4 GB GDDR5 HDD, 500 GB, 5400 rpm + SSD, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gb / s
ASUS ROG Strix GL502VM 15,6”, 1920 × 1080, IPS Intel Core i7-7700HQ, 4/8 core / threads, 2.8 (3.8) GHz, 45 w 12 GB, DDR4-2400, two channels NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, 6 GB GDDR5 HDD, 1 TB, 5400 rpm + SSD, 128 GB, SATA 6 Gb / s
ASUS ROG Strix GL702ZC 17,3”, 1920 × 1080, IPS AMD Ryzen 5 1600, 6/12 cores / streams, 3.2 (3.6) GHz, 65 w 16 GB, DDR4-2400, two channels AMD Radeon RX 580, 4 GB GDDR5 SSHD, 1 TB, SATA 6 Gb / s
Dell XPS 13 + GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box 13,3”, 3840 × 2160, IPS Intel Core i7-8550U, 4/8 core / threads, 1.8 (4.0) GHz, 15 w 16 GB, DDR3-2133, two channels HD Graphics 620 + AMD Radeon RX 580, 8 GB SSD, 512GB, PCI Express x4 3.0
PC + GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box 27”, 3840 × 2160, IPS Intel Core i7-8700K, 6/12 cores / threads, 3.7 (4.7) GHz, 95 w 16 GB, DDR4-2666, two channels HD Graphics 630 + AMD Radeon RX 580, 8GB SSD, 1 TB, SATA 6 Gb / s

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Test results

Let’s start with the result in the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. The points obtained in this program show a very interesting picture – it turns out that the difference between the system with the Radeon RX 580 installed in it and exactly the same system, but with the connected box, is only 12%. Agree, such results give a certain hope. In this case, the duo GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box + Dell XPS 13 also does not look like a whipping boy with its 3808 points. Congratulations, we turned the ultrabook into a gaming system!
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In the first part of the article, I noted that several monitors can be connected to the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box. So, if you use an ultrabook to display an image on a separate screen, then the Dell XPS 13 + dock will work faster by 3%. If the monitor is connected to an external box, and not to the video output of the ASRock motherboard, then the bundle in 3DMark Time Spy will work slower by 13%. This pattern is also observed in games.

The results obtained in 3DMark Time Spy clearly show that benchmarks are just benchmarks. In real conditions (read – in games) GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is not as good as we would like gamers.

Especially weakly the docking station looks together with Core i7-8700K and ASRock Fatal1ty Z370 Gaming-ITX / ac. Initially, such a system was assembled to determine the amount of transmission over the Thunderbolt cable will affect the performance of games in the worst way. However, the ASRock motherboard uses an Intel JHL6240 controller with two lines of PCI Express 3.0. I think the results clearly show that this solution for games does not fit very well.

But Dell XPS 13 uses a full-fledged Intel DSL6540 controller, providing the very same 40 Gb / s. This bandwidth, however, also does not always suffice. However, depending on the game, the results may vary greatly. For example, in “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”, if you compare “stand + Radeon RX 580” with “Dell XPS 13 + docking station”, the difference in performance with the maximum quality of graphics is 52% not in favor of the second tandem. In Fallout 4 under the same conditions, the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box, connected to an ultrabook, is only 30% behind the PC. This is, in my opinion, a good result. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins the situation is very bad.

Let’s take another look at the results of the bundle of Dell XPS 13 + GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box. At the maximum quality settings for graphics, a relatively comfortable FPS (with drawdowns of at least 25 frames per second) is observed in three games out of ten. Agree, the result, to put it mildly, so-so. If you reduce the quality of the graphics to the “High” and disable the smoothing in some cases, you can play in seven games out of ten without noticeable lags. The result is decent, although the usual discrete Radeon RX 580 is capable of more.

Consider one more thing: the Dell XPS 13 uses a quad-core Core i7-8550U, which supports Hyper-Threading technology. Since we are dealing with a low-voltage CPU, then under load (including in games) it operates at a low frequency – 1.8 GHz when all four cores are loaded. Even with the connection of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box via the Thunderbolt 3 interface, we sometimes encounter a processor-dependency effect, when the number of frames per second “rests” on the CPU.

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Personal impressions of the device

Unfortunately, during the testing of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box, there were always problems associated with the unstable operation of the AMD XConnect technology. First, updating the driver to version 18.3.4 caused that after the reboot the laptop and the stand no longer found the video card, although the task manager and the Thunderbolt driver always determined the device. I had to reboot several times and constantly turn on / off the docking station.

Secondly, communication with AMD XConnect can terminate at any time, although in the settings of Approve Thunderbolt Devices is selected mode Always Connect. If this problem occurs, simply pull out and reinsert the Thunderbolt cable.
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Thirdly, when working with the docking station, there were amusing artifacts – like those shown in the screenshot above. The treatment was simple: reboot or reconnect the device to the system.

Finally, in a mode where a monitor was connected to the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box, and the docking station itself was connected to the ASRock motherboard, it was uncomfortable to play not only because of the low FPS, but also because of the permanent ruptures of the image (they are struggling with this NVIDIA G-SYNC and AMD FreeSync technologies), as well as due to the periodic retardation of the picture. There was a feeling that you are not playing in a one-shot shooter, but in an MMO with a ping far beyond 200 ms.


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Outcomes

GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box – a controversial piece, and definitely not suitable for all laptops and motherboards. See for yourself: in the test I used the ASRock motherboard, in which the Thunderbolt 3 controller only works with two lines of PCI Express 3.0. The graphs above clearly demonstrate that such a bandwidth is not enough for a Radeon RX 580 video card. Unfortunately, I did not have another motherboard (with a normal Thunderbolt 3) at hand.
So it turns out that GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box is best used with ultrabooks that do not have game graphics but are equipped with full-fledged Thunderbolt 3. In that case, you can actually play modern games at high and medium graphics quality settings in Full HD resolution . Still, the very idea – to have an ultra-compact laptop that you use all day at work, and in the evening on it (for example, using a gamepad) play your favorite games – has the right to life. If you need a purely gaming, yet compact and light system, then it’s better to look for laptops with GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and GeForce GTX 1060 graphics. For the truth, among 13- and 14-inch laptops weighing less than 1, 5 kg I do not know such.
Although the manufacturer and positions the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box as a gaming device, but this box can be useful to those who want to make calculations using GPU Polaris. In this case, connecting the docking station to the Thunderbolt 3 cable will not affect the performance level.
To the device itself, I have almost no complaints. Of the drawbacks, I note only the strong heating of the components of the video card, but it does not lead, for example, to trotting the GPU or unstable work of the box. Otherwise, we have a fairly compact docking station, which, unlike competitors, is quite adequate by today’s standards. At the same box under load works quite quietly, and it is easy to operate. Also, GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box will significantly increase the functionality of any ultrabook, because with this device you can connect multiple monitors, as well as peripherals. Of the shortcomings – there are claims to the technology AMD XConnect, which is not always comfortable to use. I hope that with the release of new drivers these problems will be solved.

source: 3dnews

How to turn an ultrabook into a gaming system: review of the GIGABYTE RX 580 Gaming Box
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Post Author: Thomas Braven

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