eGPU case built around AKiTiO Thunder 2

eGPU case built around AKiTiO Thunder 2

I decided to recreate a smaller version of the eGPU case I made in my previous setup. I combine an AKiTiO Thunder2 board and my old Sonnet Echo Express SE II to have a graphics card, SSD drive and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. There is room for an additional hard drive and PCI-e slot. The setup is cooled using two 200mm fans, one fan cooling the graphics cards, the other the laptop.

My eGPU setup with a 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro attached

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Parts

Check out my previous posts on the Sonnet Echo Express SE II and AKiTiO Thunder2. The only difference in parts is that I ditched the Sonnet power supply by powering the whole setup using a molex to barrel cable using this guide. You don’t need both boards, but since I have them both I integrated them both.

Build process

Building the case took two days of trial and error, but once I get the basic design below done the reset was just installing the boards from the Sonnet and AKiTiO and the top fan.

PSU, GPU and the side fan installed

To reduce the overall size of the setup I removed the boards from the Sonnet and AKiTiO. I used MakerBeam beams and screw standoffs to secure the boards to the case.

Using MakerBeam beams to secure the AKiTiO board

The case

The final case can be seen below. The laptop is a MacBook Pro retina 13 inch. The setup cannot get much smaller without reducing the size of the fans

eGPU case

Top

The top is designed to cool the connected laptop

The top is designed to hold and cool a laptop using the large 200mm fan. Several self adhesive rubber pads are placed to protect the laptop from scratches. The thunderbolt cable is used to connect the laptop to the setup.

Side - GPU fan

Side – GPU fan

A 200mm fan is used to assist cooling the graphics card. Running the fan at low speed the graphics card will almost never use its own fans.

Side - AKiTiO

Side – AKiTiO
  1. ATX power supply, mounted using OpenBeam L brackets
  2. Thunderbolt cable connecting the Sonnet Echo Express SE II on the other side of the case
  3. Thunderbolt cable for the laptop
  4. EVGA GeForce GTX 970 graphics card
  5. AKiTiO Thunder2 board mounted on the side. Notice that since I am using a powered PCI-e riser I do not need to connect the power supply unit to the DC jack
  6. Fan control for the two 200mm fans

Side - Sonnet

Side – Sonnet
  1. 200mm fan for cooling the graphics card
  2. EVGA GeForce GTX 970 graphics card
  3. DIY MOLEX to barrel converter
  4. Sonnet Echo Express SE II with a SATA / USB combo card. The last PCI-e slot is not used

Side - Power Supply

Side – Power supply

Nothing much here except the ATX and the SSD disk. A smaller and modular power supply is on my to-do list.

Bottom

Bottom
  1. SSD disk
  2. ATX PSU
  3. Sonnet Echo Express SE II board
  4. 200mm fan that cools the graphics card
  5. Protective rubber feet
  6. EVGA GeForce GTX 970 graphics card

Whats next?

  • Installing a smaller modular PSU to reduce the number of cables
  • Installing a power strip in the case so the power adapter for the MacBook can be installed in the case itself
  • A small cable reel for a 10m optical thunderbolt cable I have lying around to avoid cable clutter

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26 Comments

Si Brindley

That is nutty as hell but a really nice job fitting it all together, Tetris-style. I’m inspired to make something like this for my AKiTiO-based eGPU. Incidentally, I’m getting the feeling supplies of the AKiTiO Thunder2 PCIe are drying up everywhere… :/

Poul Serek

Hi Si

Thank you! I was missing eGPU specific enclosures so why not make it yourself I thought. I have modified it further so I now have embedded two laptop power supply units in the case, one for my retina macbook pro and one for my Lenovo t430s.

eGPU case with powercube mod

I fitted a PowerCube power strip (1) with some short cables to the ATX PSU (4), the macbook charger (2) and the Lenovo charger (3). The only power cable is the one connected to the PowerCube (5). It is not pretty, but I have less cable clutter around the case :)

I got mine from the German Amazon site since I could not find any in the UK, they still have a few in stock, see here

Tanakrit

Dude this is incredibly cool, have you considered prettying it up and making a case? I love that its kind of like a magic ‘power-up’ box where it’s increasing your computers performance and can also provide power etc. to it. Super, super cool.

Poul Serek

Hi Tanakrit

Thank you! I have considered to solid acrylic to cover it up, it would be very easy since OpenBeam supports 3mm in the slots, see here. But at the same time, the exoskeleton keeps the whole thing very cool, but the 200mm fan should be able to take care of any heat the GTX 9xx series generate with the acrylic covers.

/Poul

Sean

Hi,
Thank you for sharing these valuable information. I’ve placed an order to build the eGPU as following,

  • GPU : EVGA GTX 980
  • Power :CORSAIR RM650
  • PCIe to TB : Akitio Thunderbolt 2 PCIe Expansion Box
  • Case : Thermaltake Core V21
    I’m going put everything into Core V21 micro case. Even Akitio box can be sit inside the case.
    Now, there is one missing part - PCIe riser. As you recommended, I found this one http://is.gd/Pdzmk9 . But I’m wondering that I really need to use the expansion riser with power version. Can I use the riser which

Poul Serek

Hi Sean

Sorry for the late replay, just got back from vacation and there was very limited internet! Now, the riser serves two purposes

  1. To be able to connect the card physically to the AKiTiO Thunder2 enclosure without pulling out the inner parts. For this part you don’t need a powered riser, any will do
  2. Some graphic cards expect to able able to draw the full 75 watts of power from the PCI port. The AKiTiO Thunder2 only supplies 25 watts. The powered riser fixes this issue. If you get enough power from the auxiliary powerlines then you should be fine, but potentially the card does not get enough power on peak loads

So you might be fine, but why take the chance? Get a powered riser!

/Poul

Poul Serek

If you got the GTX 980 ti, then as far as I can see the standard GTX 980 ti has one 8-pin and one 6-pin connecter which equals 150+75=225 watts of power. Add the 25 watts of power from the AKiTiO Thunder2 then you have 250 watts. Many sites mention that the card draws up to 250 watts, maybe even more with factory overclocked cards. If the card you have has two 8-pin connecters (150+150 = 300 watts + the 25 watts from the AKiTiO Thunder2) then you should be fine, otherwise I would still strongly recommend a powered riser

Alcarinquei

Hello,

Do you think such an installation also work with newer laptop with TB3 such as the dell XPS 13’inch? Or is there a chance that Dell is going to propose an external eGpu to it?

The XPS looks like it has everything to it, light and powerful, good screen. It is just missing a good gpu :)

Thank you for your posts

Poul Serek

Hello Alcarinquei

It should work just fine with Thunderbolt 3, in fact Thunderbolt 3 officially support external graphics cards as described here. So any company can make external graphics card enclosures that should work just fine with the Dell XPS. And as far as I can see it also supports Optimus so the internal display should also be able to be used. I would check out https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/forum/83-diy-e-gpu-projects/ to see what other people are doing with the Dell XPS in regards to external graphic cards before buying anything, I don’t think there are any posts or guides at the moment, but it is just a matter of time.

/Poul

roiga

Hi,

Thanks for the very informative writeup on your projects! I want to make something similar for my Mac Mini and want it to be as compact as possible. You mentioned going with a smaller modular PSU. Did you ever get one? If not, what would you recommend? I plan on powering a GTX 980 video card.

Thanks again!

colesdav

Hi.

Great work. Very impressive. I have a few questions for you though.

(1). New small form factor GPU’s are available for ITX cases. Would they fit directly in the Akitio case? for example.

(A). NVIDIA: Gigabyte GV-N970IXOC-4GD - GeForce GTX 970 4GB Graphics Card GDDR5 PCI-E HDMI/DisplayPort/DVI-D/Dual-Link DVI-I
http://www.guru3d.com/articles-summary/gigabyte-geforce-gtx-970-oc-mini-itx-review.html

(B). AMD: R9 Nano. http://www.guru3d.com/articles-pages/amd-radeon-r9-nano-review,1.html
http://www.hardwareslave.com/reviews/hardware/graphics/sapphire-radeon-r9-nano-review/

  1. Whilst I am on the subject of AMD. Any reason you focus on NVIDIA Cards? Have you tried an AMD Card?

  2. And finally. New AMD Cards no longer need a Crossfire Bridge in normal Pcie setup. Do you think it possible to have two AMD cards connected via two separate Akitio thunder2 boxes via thunderbolt and run crossfire on two R9 Nanos? You might be surprised. AMD might even help you try this out if you contact them and ask. Good game to test Crossfire on is Crysis 3.

Good luck.

Poul Serek

Hi Colesdav

1) A few will fit, but there are a few issues with the ones you mention.

  1. First the cards typically draw more than 75 watts of power and need one or two auxiliary 6-pin / 8-pin connectors. The AKiTiO Thunder2 cannot supply more than 75 watts of power through the PCIe port (25 watts normally, 75 watts with an upgrade 120 watts power brick) and you cannot use these cards without getting som more power into the case.
  2. Secondly the 6-pin / 8-pin connectors are typically located on the top of the card and these is not room enough to fit these inside the AKiTiO Thunder2.

If you use a small form factor card that only draws power from the PCIe port and upgrade the power brick of the AKiTiO Thunder2 then it should be possible. If you have a Thunderbolt 3 enabled device then you can get what you want with basically any card using something like the Razer Core.

2) I use NVIDIA cards since they support Optimus which means it is very easy to beam the video signal from the graphics card back to the laptop and display it on the internal screen, take a look at my post here. So with NVIDIA cards you don’t need and external monitor at all! AMD cards are just fine if you use an external monitor.

3) Since Thunderbolt exposes the PCIe bus it should work just fine. It has been done with two NVIDIA cards in SLI here and two AMD cards in Crossfire here.

/Poul

colesdav

Hi Poul,

Thank you kindly again for your response.
Here are my replies.

RE: 1)1. response above. Looking at the AMD R9 Nano, it appears that it would require roughly 186 Watts peak power running an external UHD monitor during gaming.
(http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/amd-radeon-r9-nano,review-33301-9.html).

Pcie Port should draw 75Watts max to keep witin the Pcie Spec so clearly I would need the 120W Power Brick connected to the Akitio box.

RE: 1).2. response above. Yes I understand that additional power would need to be supplied into the Akitio Box. AMD Cards I have seen usually have 1 or two 6/8 pin connectors. placed at the end of the PCB. This additional power connection would likely have to be accessed through the top of the existing Akitio box. I in the case of the R9 Nano it looks like an additional 120W power supply might be enough to power the card through the power connector on the card.

RE: If you have a Thunderbolt 3 enabled device then you can get what you want with basically any card using something like the Razer Core.
Unfortunately I own nothing with thunderbolt 3 interface.

Poul Serek

Hi Colesdav

The 120 watt power supply connected to the AKiTiO Thunder2 will let you only use 75 watts from the PCIe port on the AKiTiO. For a small build you might want to play around with the DELL DA-2 power brick which is 220 watts total. Take a look at https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/forum/108-enclosures-and-adapters/ forum for inspiration, at contains many post specifically to eGPU enclosures and adapters. The DELL DA-2 is described in this post.

You might also want to consider taking the PCB out and putting it in a slightly larger enclosure to be able to fit everything inside, like a small mini-itx case.

/Poul

Poul Serek

Hi Colesdav

Yes I saw that recently and looking forward to some competition to the Razer Core. This is high on my list of gadgets to get this year!

/Poul

colesdav

RE: This is high on my list of gadgets to get this year!
Same here ;-).

I am hoping I wlll be able to use it from my desktop Windows PC.

My PC has an Asus Z87 Deluxe/Dual which has two Thunderbolt1 ports. I bought this motherboard at the time because it has Thunderbolt 1. Unfortunately this motherboard does not have a Thunderbolt Header.

I did not know at the time I bought this motherboard that Thunderbolt1 and 2 PCIe Expansion Cards require a connection between the Expansion Card to a Thunderbolt Header.

I was hoping that perhaps Thunderbolt 3 expansion cards would improve technology and drop the requirement for a Thunderbolt Header and find a more common way to send whatever information passes through the Thunderbolt Header to the card.

I found one article about an Asus Thunderboilt 3 expansion car so far but it looks like it still requires a Thunderbolt Header connection.

The requirement for a Thunderbolt Header on the motherboard is so frustrating because it means I cannot purchase an expansion card to upgrade my Motherboard to Thunderbolt 3

It looks like I am stuck with Thunderbolt 1 Pcie 2.0x4 speed and will need to purchase a Thunderbolt 1/2 to Thunderbolt3 adapter to use the Akitio Thunder3 egpu from my PC.

Akitio told me that they do not supply any PC to Thunder3 egpu docks.

It is very difficult to get any information about exactly what the Thunderbolt Header does or why it is needed.

Do you have any thoughts/knowledge on this?

Bye.

colesdav

Correction: “Akitio told me that they do not supply any PC to Thunder3 egpu docks.”

should be

“Akitio told me that they do not supply any PC to Thunder3 egpu PCIe cards”.

colesdav

If you want to keep up to date with news about the Akitio egpu release date - you can do the following.

“Akitio have a monthly newsletter where we usually announce the new products. You can subscribe to it at https://www.akitio.com/newsletter

Poul Serek

Hi Colesdav

Yes I have seen it. It is not compatible with a Thunderbolt 1/2 host device, but if one had a Thunderbolt 3 device that is compatible with eGFX then this might be my recommendation. It is not compatible with macOS, but should be with Windows as described here. The reason that I do not recommend it at the moment is

  • Few Thunderbolt 3 laptops are eGFX compatible
  • For that price range hot-plugging needs to work - not sure it does on every device.
  • There is no Thunderbolt 3 passthrough, which means the Node needs to be the last device in a chain. All those old Thunderbolt 1/2 devices cannot sit in between.
  • I am disappointed about the missing USB / ethernet ports - the Razer Core has these and it saves a Thunderbolt docking station
  • It is missing a SATA / M.2 slot for a harddisk. This would complete the device as all the games you cannot play anyway without the AKiTiO Node would not take space up on the laptop.

But for $300 I would still get it if I owned a compatible device.

/Poul

colesdav

Hi,

I am really dissapointed they didn’t include a thunderbolt 2 input as well as the thunderbolt 3.
I would have bought one immediately if they did that.
Hardly anyone has thunderbolt3 as far as I can see,

How about buying the node, and fitting the Akitio Thunder2 board into the Node, and then perhaps selling the Thunderbolt3 card?

I just bought a second hand Powercolor R9 Nano for £270 to fit in my Akitio Thunder 2 which I bought recently by the way. I will let you know how it goes for me … I will be testing it from an Asus Z87 Deluxe Dual Motherboard with Thunderbolt 1, from an Asus Z97 Deluxe Motherboard with Thunderbolt 2 and finally running from an Asus G751JL on Windows10 hopefully with AMD XConnect … which is a long shot since I believe Xconnect is Thunderbolt3 only.

Now I am off shopping for a small 200Watt power supply that can drive the 8 pin power Socket of the R9 Nano.
I am trying to keep everything in the Akitio Thunder2 box.
Wish me luck… I will need it ;-).

colesdav

Hi,

I read through this thread again and looked at your recommendation on the Dell 220W power DA-2 power supply. I could purchase a DA-2 here for around £50.00 However it looks like the pins on the DA-2 output connector needs modding with additional expense for cable modification / rewiring / time to do the soldering etc ,,. etc and I could not face doing it. Especially with the risk of messing up and blowing a GPU due to an incorrect power connection. Looking at Corsair Web Site they recently introduced the following two power supplies. The Corsair SF450 (~£80) and Corsair SF600 (~£100). These are Small Form Factor (SFX) PSU’s for a small PC build and have all of the outputs required with cables. I decided on a SF600, so that I could easily run 2 Nano’s in Crossfire over two akitio boxes.

I could also drive a a GPU Watercooling unit if I decide to watercool the nano’s needed and also I now have a spare PSU for my next PC build. I get the feeling the scope of this project is starting to get out of control in my mind ;-).

Poul Serek

Hi Colesdav

I guess Intel is not allowing them to sell an eGPU enclosure with Thunderbolt 2 since this is not officially supported and Intel is known to be strict on what they allow when the certify devices. And as long as the project is only getting out of control in your mind you should be fine :)

/Poul

colesdav

All the components I need should be here by next Tuesday. I will be spending quite a bit of time testing the R9 Nano, especially the memory (it’s 4GB of HBM1) befoie I accept the second hand card card is o.k. I will then be in a position to post some pictures and benchmark results if you or other egpu users are interested in the results. Let me know if you want me to make the data available somewhere. I will likely post the data on my Steam and Plays.TV/Youtube accounts.

Thanks again for all of your input and help with this project so far.

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