What is the MXM Graphics Card standard and what is the origin?
If PC owners want to replace the graphics card in their computer, there’s no problem: take the old card out and put the new one in. This has been a little more difficult with notebooks. Nvidia wanted to solve this problem and has developed the MXM standard in conjunction with various notebook manufacturers. MXM is the abbreviation for Mobile PCI Express Module. In order to change the graphics card in a notebook with a corresponding mainboard and connection, it is sufficient now to remove the old MXM card and insert the new one., with the, formerly new, developed MXM standard
If PC owners want to replace the graphics card in their computer, this is no problem: Take out the old card and insert the new one. This has been a little more difficult with notebooks. There were only solutions from individual manufacturers that were not compatible with each other.
Nvidia wants to solve this problem and has developed the MXM standard in cooperation with notebook manufacturers. MXM is the abbreviation for Mobile PCI Express Module. At about the same time as the first PCI Express graphics cards, the MXM cards for notebooks were also supposed to celebrate their entry into the IT world.
In order to replace the graphics card in a notebook with a corresponding mainboard and MXM port, it is now sufficient to remove the old MXM card and insert the new one.
Notebooks have various price and performance classes. Nvidia took this into account with three variants of the MXM interface: MXM-I (width x length: 70 x 68 millimeters) with up to 128 megabytes of memory, MXM II (73 x 78 millimeters) with up to 256 megabytes of memory and MXM-III (82 x 100 millimeters) with also up to 256 megabytes of memory, back when they launched the MXM standard. Today there are many MXM graphics cards with 1080p and even 4k capability available.
According to Nvidia, buyers of a notebook with an MXM graphics card have several advantages. By introducing the standard, they get powerful graphics cards for their portable PC faster than before, and they can install new graphics cards coming onto the market directly and even in the notebook.
Notebook manufacturers, in turn, have the advantage that they can equip one and the same device with different high-performance graphics cards. MXM is also compatible with integrated graphics chips. If desired, a notebook manufacturer can therefore deliver the notebook with an on-board graphics chip. The buyer can then adapt the notebook to his requirements and upgrade it with an MXM graphics card.
The first MXM notebooks came on the market in the second half of the year 2004. Among the partners who supported the MXM type standard were the manufacturers Aopen, FIC, Uniwill and Alienware. Others joined the former manufacturers over the years. The MXM standard is also open for other manufacturers of graphics chips.
“The more people use the notebook as their primary PC, the more the ability to upgrade the system will become an important feature and will help differentiate the notebook manufacturers. When customers think about upgrading, graphics will automatically play an important role,”
said Bernie Tsai, CEO of AOpen in a press release from Nvidia back then. MXM is not only a solution for notebooks, but also for all units with small form factors.
New Manufacturers joining the MXM standard
Club 3D has introduced a new entry-level graphics card that is designed to appeal to a special target group. Because the special feature of the GF119-based graphics accelerator is the PCI Express interface, which is used in the smallest version.
A PCI Express x1 slot is therefore used, so that a discrete graphics card can also be used on small and inexpensive mini-ITX boards without a full x16 slot. The low-profile card comes with matching slot covers that allow a certain flexibility – shown by Club 3D using the x16 version as an example:
The Club 3D GeForce GT 610 PCI Express x1 is based on the GF119 chip, which is already used in the GeForce GT 520. This offers 48 shaders, and 1 GByte of DDR3 memory is also attached to a 64-bit memory interface. The chip clock is 810 MHz, the shaders work with 1,620 MHz, the memory works with effective 2,000 MHz. Club 3D estimates the maximum power consumption at 29 watts.
External Graphics Cards
Notebooks are practical, but hardly upgradeable. Especially the graphics performance falls back quickly, suddenly new games jerk. A new class of devices should help.
Gamers have been dreaming about this for a long time: to add graphics power to laptops that are too slow to play the newest games. Several well-known manufacturers also like the idea a lot, as it creates a new business opportunity – upgrading older laptops. Among them are not only manufacturers specializing in gaming such as Asus and Razer, but also relatively unknown ones like Mantiz and surprise candidates like Apple. There is obviously a market. Appropriately, we try to illuminate the still young class of devices and present the first models.
What do eGPU docks offer?
These eGPU docks are external enclosures for graphics cards, but they are more commonly referred to as “external graphics cards for laptops” – at least if you consult Google. In techie-speak they are known as “eGPU-Docks”. By the way, most of the devices presented or announced here do much more than just provide additional graphics power.
Black cases with lighting and partly even side windows: Externally, the models from Asus, HP, Powercolor and Razer are trimmed for gaming. Inside there is a normal sized PCI Express slot (16x slot, quadruple connected) for a standard graphics card, such as the AMD Radeon RX 580 or Nvidia Geforce GTX 1070. The latter usually occupy two slots due to their own cooling systems; this circumstance doesn’t pose a (space) problem for the eGPU docks, though. Even a separate power supply usually fits in, which in the case of the Asus ROG XG Station and the Powercolor Devil Box provides a solid 375 watts for the graphic card. The installation of a particularly nimble and therefore power-hungry pixel accelerator is therefore possible – and thus the immersion in virtual reality worlds. The eGPU docks often additionally serve as USB 3.0 distributors (up to four ports), offer a network socket – in contrast to many modern notebooks – and sometimes even have room for an internal 2.5-inch drive (SSD or hard disk). We already had the HP Omen Accelerator in our test lab and put the manufacturer’s promise of “dock and go” to the test – details and measured values can be found in a coming article.
Thunderbolt 3 makes it possible!
This inevitably raises the question: What is the source of all the data streams? Which interface provides enough bandwidth? The answer: Thunderbolt 3 – a technology developed by Apple and Intel to establish a lightning-fast and universal standard. Thunderbolt 3 shovels up to 40 gigabits per second (Gbps) through the line. For comparison: With USB 3.1 Gen 2, a maximum of 10 Gbit/s is currently possible. However, there is still a risk of confusion: Both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 use the USB type C standard, which can be plugged in on both sides, as plug and socket. However, the eGPU docks shown here are only compatible with Thunderbolt 3 notebooks. According to a google search of shops, there are currently over 550 models (as of February 2020), including a strikingly large number of Apple MacBooks. This is matched by the news that even Apple is working on an eGPU dock and already offers a developer kit for around 600 US dollars including graphics card.
eGPU docks: Not a real novelty
eGPU docks are only really picking up speed now because Thunderbolt 3 is a suitable transmission standard. But the idea behind it is by no means new. External graphic cards could already be docked to notebooks from around 2005 via ExpressCard. The standard of that time didn’t catch on, was too slow and needed a lot of space. Fujitsu undertook a new attempt together with AMD from 2008 to 2009: “XGP” (eXternal Graphics Platform) was what AMD called the technology.
Fujitsu named the external graphics card “Amilo Graphic Booster”, which could be connected to certain notebooks. This system did not establish itself either, because it was expensive and often led to driver problems. However in this field we can expect much more innovation to come, especially since Apple joined the eGPU market.