While wandering around the MSI suite at The Venetian today I came across a very interesting new device. The GUS II is an external discrete graphics card dock that connects to a notebook PC (or small-form factor, etc) via a Thunderbolt connection.
Thunderbolt is a somewhat new interface that extends the PCI Express bus outside of the machine allowing for performance as high as 10 Gb/s per channel in its full implementation. Current Intel implementations that ship with the Macbook Air and likely included in the first batch of Thunderbolt-capable Ultrabooks are built around Eagle Ridge that offers two bi-directional channels. Still, even with a 10 Gb/s rating, we are seeing more than enough bandwidth for a discrete graphics card.
You can see that device obviously won’t fit your new Radeon HD 7970 3GB in there but the GUS II will support cards with as much as 150 watts of power consumption via the included external power brick. 75 watts of power is supplied by the internal PEG slot while the internal 6-pin ATX power connector supplies another 75 watts.
MSI was running an HD 5770 inside the GUS II on a MacBook Pro running Windows 7. Unigine Heaven was playing on the graphics card outputs and it was definitely running at speeds and quality settings that the GPU in the Macbook would not have been able to.
MSI mentioned they were hopeful the price would be in the $150 range which is actually quite a good surprise considering they are going to be including the Thunderbolt cable in the box – an accessory that is notoriously expensive today.
All that is holding up the GUS II from release at this point is compatibility and driver support from AMD and NVIDIA. Because you are essentially adding in another PCI Express graphics card to system that might only have been prepared and QA’d for a single one, there are some issues to work out. Even with the hardware in a basically complete state, there is no time table for release though hopefully we can get this pushed into the mainstream soon.
Thunderbolt might finally bring us the dockable and upgradeable graphics we have always envisioned for notebooks.
PC Perspective’s CES 2012 coverage is sponsored by MSI Computer.
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