Gaming Externally

Gaming Externally

Recently, Apple in particular has been aggressively pushing the newest connectivity interface standard, Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak). Although it received little attention initially, interest and support has been slowly building for it in recent months. Excitement over the interface is greater than ever at this years CES where several clever new products that take advantage of the Thunderbolt interface were demonstrated. Now it is important to note that Intel, who developed the interface intends Thunderbolt to work alongside of the USB standard rather than replace it, USB has finally lived up to the first word in its name, “Universal”, and Intel seems to have neither the means nor the interestto challenge that. With that in mind, Thunderbolt appears poised to become a standard feature on many new computers and to have a widespread impact on the industry. That being said, it should be understood that this development has little to no impact on those gamers who have well designed gaming machines, this is a step in the wrong direction for those people, rather this is for those who game casually on a laptop or mini PC that doesn’t have the horsepower for more intense titles.

 

Now briefly, Thunderbolt from a technical view is a new interface for connecting devices to a PC, its unique compared to USB or Firewire (IE 1394) because of the tremendous bandwidth it offers. Where USB 2.0 is capable to up to 480 Mbps Thunderbolt is capable of 10 Gbps in both directions at the same time, more than twenty times that of USB 2.o and twice what USB 3.0 can handle. Originally Thunderbolt was supposed to use fiber optic cables which would allow for much longer cables and speeds approaching 100 Gbps but the cost of fiber optics at this time is prohibitive and so Intel opted to use copper for now and within the next 10 years switch back over to fiber optic once that is viable. From that view, its only going to get faster with time. For those of you who want to learn more about ThunderBolt and what it can do, visit apple.com/thunderbolt. Now to the good part.

 

External Video Card via Thunderbolt

Due to the tremendous amount of data that Thunderbolt can carry, engineers at various companies have come up with some very clever product ideas that have never been possible much less even practical with other interfaces. One of the most clever ideas uses Thunderbolt to connect a full power graphics card to your computer externally. This allows your computer to offload all graphics processes from its internal integrated card to a external discrete video card. While this may sound pointless (and it is if your running a performance PC), it also has tremendous implications for a number of circumstances such as those who have laptops or PCs with small form factors that don’t have space for a full powered graphics card. Now while a PCI-E 2.0 x16  slot has a significant bandwidth advantage over Thunderbolt on paper (64 Gbps vs 20 Gbps), it seems that todays video cards simply cannot saturate that bandwidth, particularly at lower resolutions since that significantly reducing the data that needs to be processed. Plus, once Thunderbolt starts using optical cables, it will have more than enough bandwidth to handle even the new PCI-E 3.0 standards. Pretty exciting.

 

Viable external graphics cards via Thunderbolt suddenly makes it possible for those users that don’t have space in the computer or laptop (Snow I am talking to you) to achieve the similar performance in games to computers using a high end discrete video card. However, this concept is still in its infancy so before we all rush out and purchase external video cards, a few things must be considered. Despite reducing the cost, you are still going to have to spend money to take advantage of this solution. The issue is, will that money be worth it or are you better off going another direction. The answer to that will have to be determined in the coming months. Still, this development gives many people hope of gaming on systems that can also offer mobility and small size while being able to plug into a card when video muscle is called for. There are a great number of technical limitations to this idea however, its still an exciting development that is sure to be closely watched in the coming months and may, for those without a dedicated gaming machine, drastically change their ability to game.


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