Thunderbolt 2 eGPU using AKiTiO Thunder2

5 min read

I wanted to try a simpler and cheaper external GPU (eGPU) setup than I have used previously. For this I use the AKiTiO Thunder2 which is a fairly inexpensive compared to the rest of the pack. Setup, installation and use is much simpler than before (no voodoo, rain dance or luck needed anymore), to use the setup from is as simple as

This is both using the internal monitor with Optimus enabled and using an external monitor.

The key differences from my previous setup is

eGPU Setup

Parts

Total 641 USD

For my readers who wants to build something similar I have a few recommendations:

Hardware

eGPU setup
  1. AKiTiO Thunder2 PCIe box
  2. GTX 970 GPU
  3. PSU
  4. Powered PCIe riser

Plug the GPU into the PCIe riser. The PICe riser is plugged into the AKiTiO box. Make sure it is firmly attached. Plug in power to the PCIe riser and GPU from the PSU and use the paperclip trick (c) to turn on the PSU. Plug in the PSU to the wall socket and thunderbolt cable from the AKiTiO box to your thunderbolt enabled computer. Notice that I have disconnected the fan in the AKiTiO box (a) and when using a powered PCIe riser there is no need to use the power supply unit that came with the AKiTiO box (b).

Software

UPDATE 30-01-2016: NVIDIA released a new driver for Windows 10 that finally fixes Optimus! Check out my post here

Driver installation

This will work both when using external monitors attached to the GPU or using Optimus to accelerate the internal screen of the laptop. Repeat step 1-4 to boot into Windows with the eGPU active.

Troubleshooting

Performance

The reduced bandwidth from the setup does not impact frame rates in games as much as one would think, see here for an excellent test using the new NVIDIA GTX 980.

The following tests are executed using a 13 inch retina MacBook Pro late 2013 with 16 GB ram. You can use any laptop with thunderbolt, but I recommend getting one with Thunderbolt 2 like the MacBook Pro. I have included my previous test result using my previous setup with a GTX 760. The presets are described here:

Unigine Valley 1.0 benchmark

FPS

 BasicExtremeExtreme HD
HD510014,75,03,8
GTX 760 (internal)40,040,332,4
GTX 760 (external)85,444,735,3
GTX 970 (internal)45,153,545,5
GTX 970 (external)69,457,8N/A

Score

 BasicExtremeExtreme HD
HD5100616208160
GTX 760 (internal)167416861354
GTX 760 (external)357518701479
GTX 970 (internal)188922391903
GTX 970 (external)29042418N/A

Using higher resolutions makes the difference between internal and external monitor using the GPU very small compared to lower resolutions or lower AA. Notice that my GTX 970 scores are lower than GTX 760 using an external monitor at low settings. I did retest using my GTX 970 card getting the same results. I do not currently own an external 1080p monitor, hence no result for Extreme HD.

3DMark benchmark

The presets are described here:

 Fire strike ultraFire strike extremeFire strike
HD5100N/A400921
GTX 760 (internal)N/A24924209
GTX 970 (internal)229539215941
GTX 970 (external)239842396659
 Sky diverCloud gate
HD510040775750
GTX 760 (internal)86607975
GTX 970 (internal)127609206
GTX 970 (external)1495511557

A 4k monitor was not needed to run the high resolution test, but I need at least 3 GB video ram. Therefore no results for fire strike ultra on HD5100 and GTX 760.

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