If you say ‘Thunderbolt GPU’, it makes it sound like a PCIe device with a Thunderbolt output. Rather than go in this direction, ASRock has developed a GPU + Thunderbolt connection like an eGPU, but all on one PCB. This means that this is an eGPU designed for internal applications, like mini PCs and GPU-accelerated monitors. Confused yet?

Just imagine an external GPU that connects through Thunderbolt. In most designs, the GPU is replaceable. What ASRock has done is to move all the ‘Thunderbolt’ hardware in the external chassis directly onto the GPU board itself. This means that the price of the chassis can be much cheaper, and the GPU can be used a wide array of devices, not just external GPU boxes (or in this case, a standard box). ASRock is aiming for the OEM market with this first design, using an RX 570 as the base graphics card that can be used to accelerate any number of Ice Lake designs coming later this year which will have integrated TB3.

Like a standard external enclosure, on the same board as the GPU comes with some extra Ethernet and USB ports. In order to enable this, the board actually has two TB3 controllers in its initial design: one to connect to the host, and the other to provide the Ethernet/USB. Power for the graphics card comes through an external power brick, which could easily be built into any chassis that an OEM wants to use.

ASRock tried pitching the new design as a ‘Thunderbolt GPU’, which I think is a little misleading. It’s an eGPU design, but built for any number of simple mini-ITX style chassis. This simplifies anyone wanting to build their own GPU box, however with the extra hardware on the GPU, it makes each GPU itself a little more expensive to upgrade. That is the tradeoff.

ASRock is looking to finalize the design later this year, and sell to OEMs. I’ve told ASRock that the best way forward is to provide a reference design for some of its customers, to showcase what sort of implementation they can do. We will keep abreast of what happens.

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  • abufrejoval - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    USB4/TB3 and their next generations perhaps based on PCIe 4 and 5 allow to disaggregate our decades old notion of PC, with motherboards and slots. It now becomes a compute core and various docks connected by bundles of PCIe (or InfinityFabric) lanes, instead of tons of different legacy ports.

    The break-out into legacy (including DP/HDMI or lower rate USB) happens in the docks, which contain some type of "southswitch".

    Perhaps they'll even find a proper way to have the same 15Watt/TDP compute core that you carry inside your ultrabook-dock be cooled quitely yet efficiently when it runs at 80 Watts killing monsters on the eGPU.

    I guess I'd like it even more if you could aggregate these compute cores and eGPUs via these USB4/TB3/PCIex fabrics to form 2x, 4x,... power workstations on demand (or budget).
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    This article was confusing (Ian I think you need another day of jet-lag recovery before getting back to work), and I feel like I'm missing something.

    How does moving the TB3 chip from the enclosure to the box reduce the total initial price of the box+gpu? Long term I'd expect it to be more expensive since you'd need to buy a new TB3 chip every time you upgrade your car; and would be limited to cards from ASRock.
    Reply
  • cm959 - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    Wrapping my head around this...
    So, this is for OEMs who wish to build an TB3-connected eGPU in their own case or display, so that it is cheaper overall than a TB3-to-PCIe-to-PU configuration because they skip the PCIe step?
    The end user buys an external GPU for their PC/laptop, but loses the ability to upgrade the GPU - but they pay less than an external PCIe case and GPU.
    I suspect that's a reasonable trade-off for many users - those who don't value the ability to upgrade a GPU, or never plan to place it inside a larger system, or who think a USB-to-PCIe case is a bad idea since PCIe 4 is coming, or mabe those who just expect even more extreme changes to come to the PC market before they would buy their next GPU.
    Reply
  • Skeptical123 - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    Ian I personally found the first paragraph very confusing. Even though I know about all the tech you are talking about. I'm sure you guys have been slammed for Computex coverage but it might be worth your time to reword the first paragraph.

    Something like - ASRock is showing off a demo external GPU of sorts. ASRock's design integrates thunderbolts 3 into the pcb to connect to the computer instead of a PCIe lanes. This reduces the need for PCIe to thunderbolt adapter normally found in external GPU boxes. Which is how egpu in laptops are set up. Though this is a first for an external. Which makes the name ASRock is calling their device "Thunderbolt GPU" confusing.

    "If you say ‘Thunderbolt GPU’, it makes it sound like a PCIe device with a Thunderbolt output. Rather than go in this direction, ASRock has developed a GPU + Thunderbolt connection like an eGPU, but all on one PCB. This means that this is an eGPU designed for internal applications, like mini PCs and GPU-accelerated monitors. Confused yet?"
    Reply
  • NeBlackCat - Thursday, June 6, 2019 - link

    Or even "this is an eGPU card that connects directly to TB3 rather than PCIe, thereby allowing its use in standard SFF PC cases".

    I may have a brain no bigger my own eyeball, but even I could instantly the implications of that.
    Reply
  • wr3zzz - Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - link

    So the value proposition is to make a GPU "board" of sorts that fits the motherboard form factor of a standard mini-ITX case, or in any PC case for that matter, as casing. This could be interesting if the eGPU board is not very expensive relative to a comparable GPU card. For most enthusiasts an empty PC case is already a sunk cost. Reply

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