At SolidWorks World (SWW) last week AMD demonstrated an enhanced version of its XConnect technology that allows users of pro 3D applications to boost the graphics performance of a laptop or mobile workstation by plugging in an external desktop GPU.
AMD’s demo centred on a Dell Precision 7520 mobile workstation with built in entry-level AMD Radeon Pro WX 4130 GPU. The 15-inch laptop was shown working with an ultra-high-end AMD Radeon Pro WX 9100 GPU, housed in a Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box and connected over Thunderbolt 3.
AMD showed how the eGPU solution could be used to accelerate both the viewport in SolidWorks 2018 and the GPU-optimised rendering plug-in, Radeon ProRender for SolidWorks. The OpenCL-based rendering computations were distributed across both the embedded Radeon Pro WX 4130 GPU and the external Radeon Pro WX 9100.
The big attraction of the technology is that designers and engineers do not have to let their peak GPU requirements dictate their choice of machine. High-end professional GPUs are only available in large, heavy 17-inch mobile workstations, which are not practical for day to day travel. With eGPU, designers and engineers can theoretically choose a smaller, more portable laptop with an entry-level integrated GPU and plug in a more powerful GPU as and when required.
In terms of compatibility, the primary pre-requisite is for the laptop or mobile workstation to have a Thunderbolt 3 port. The pro graphics focused technology will work with several different integrated graphics options including Nvidia (Quadro or GeForce), Intel or AMD Radeon Pro. You cannot mix a consumer AMD Radeon GPU with a professional AMD Radeon Pro GPU.
AMD has been testing the technology with a number of mobile workstations, including the Dell Precision 7520, Dell Precision 7720 and ultra-portable HP ZBook 14u G5 and HP ZBook 15u G5 mobile workstations, (both of which feature the entry-level AMD Radeon Pro WX 3100 GPU). AMD recommends customers contact mobile workstation OEMs directly to get an official position on support for eGPU.
AMD is not the first GPU manufacturer to demonstrate a professional eGPU solution. In July last year Nvidia introduced the Quadro eGPU solution which works on a similar principle over Thunderbolt 3.