The Dell XPS 13 laptop is a great lightweight
and portable machine, however you can’t
really play games on it due to a lack of discrete
graphics, so just how well does it perform
if we connect an Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti over Thunderbolt?
Let’s find out.
This video is mostly just for fun, I’ve
got the newest Dell XPS 13 to review and I
have a 2080 Ti, and was curious to see how
they’d go together using an external GPU
The enclosure that I’m using is the Mantiz
Venus which I’ve previously covered in another
video. Basically you plug in your graphics
card then connect the enclosure to a laptop
using Thunderbolt 3. My enclosure also provides
enough power to run the XPS 13 over thunderbolt,
so I literally just need to connect a single
cable for this setup.
The XPS 13 that I’m testing with has an
Intel i7-8565U Whiskey Lake CPU, so 4 cores
8 threads with pretty high boost clock speeds.
There’s 16GB of LPDDR3 memory in dual channel,
and no discrete graphics, just the weak Intel
integrated graphics in the CPU, which are
pretty terrible for gaming.
I’ve also tested games with both the laptop
screen, and an external monitor. In general,
we expect higher performance when using an
external screen connected directly to the
external GPU. This is because there is less
overhead on the Thunderbolt 3 connection,
but also the Intel integrated graphics is
no longer a bottleneck. When using the laptop
screen, the signal needs to come over Thunderbolt
from our external graphics and get processed
by the Intel iGPU before showing on the laptop
display. This step is avoided by running the
game directly on an external screen, resulting
in increased performance.
We’ll start out with some games that I was
able to run on the Intel graphics just for
comparison. With Overwatch I’ve got the
results in the top bar from running the game
at 720p with minimum settings, and it was
getting 45 FPS, so was mostly playable, but
not great. The bars below show the performance
with the external GPU enclosure. We’re also
running at 1080p now with maximum epic settings,
but despite this the frame rate is seeing
a huge improvement over the Intel graphics
inside the XPS 13. With the external monitor
there’s an even further improvement, as
there’s less Thunderbolt and Intel integrated
graphics overhead involved.
Here are the same tests for CS:GO, again the
bar up the top shows the results at 720p with
minimum settings, then the other two bars
are at 1080p with maximum settings, and there
are again huge improvements to be had from
the 2080 Ti. It was possible to get a further
35% boost to average FPS when using an external
monitor connected to the 2080 Ti when compared
with just using the screen on the laptop.
In Dota 2 I was actually getting quite playable
performance with the Intel integrated graphics,
but despite the frame rates showing the highest
on this graph, remember I tested at 720p and
minimum settings. For comparison with the
2080 Ti at 1080p and maximum settings it was
still possible to get above 100 FPS, though
in my experience this seems to be more of
a CPU demanding game anyway, which is why
I think it was running quite well even with
the Intel graphics.
Let’s look at Fortnite before getting into
some higher end games. Again this game did
run ok on the Intel integrated graphics at
720p with minimum settings, however with our
2080 Ti it was possible to run at 1080p maximum
settings and get much higher frame rates with
our eGPU setup.
Those are the only less demanding games that
I tested with both the Intel graphics and
with the eGPU, the point was just to show
the differences in performance between the
XPS 13 out of the box compared to the eGPU
configuration. Now we’ll look at more demanding
games that had no chance of even running on
the XPS 13.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested with
the built in benchmark, and at 1080p even
with ultra settings it was possible to nearly
average 60 FPS with the laptop screen. Simply
by using an external monitor though it was
possible to boost average FPS by 24%, a nice
improvement from such a simple change.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was also tested
with the built in benchmark, but is a game
that I’ve found to be more CPU heavy, which
is why we’re seeing much less of a difference
between the laptop screen and an external
monitor here. The external screen setup was
giving just 5% higher FPS in this test with
max settings, so it just goes to show the
difference really depends on the game.
Apex legends saw a 10% improvement to average
frame rate when hooking up the external screen
to the 2080Ti when compared to just playing
off of the laptops screen, though even worst
case still 60 FPS averages at maximum settings
was now possible with our eGPU.
Battlefield 5 was tested with Direct X 11,
I couldn’t get 12 working so no RTX either,
it kept crashing and I didn’t have much
time for troubleshooting. In any case this
is a title that was absolutely not playable
with the stock XPS 13, that was now running
very well even maxed out at ultra settings
once using the external graphics.
Far Cry New Dawn was tested with the built
in benchmark, and at ultra settings the laptop
screen was only just below the 60 FPS sweet
spot, pretty decent results, with a 16% improvement
to average FPS using the external screen.
PUBG was tested using the replay feature,
and I got the same 1% low regardless of using
the laptop or external screen, with a small
5% improvement to average FPS with the monitor,
so another that didn’t really see much difference.
Rainbow Six Siege was tested with the built
in benchmark, and saw one of the largest improvements
by using an external monitor. In this case
the average frame rate was 30% higher when
compared to just playing with the laptop’s
screen, however in either case it was still
very playable even maxed out with ultra settings.
The Witcher 3 received a fair 15% improvement
with the external monitor, but again even
with ultra settings this graphically intensive
game was still very playable with the XPS
13 now, whereas prior to the eGPU enclosure
it wouldn’t have played at all.
Here’s what we’re looking at in terms
of improvement to average FPS with the external
monitor when compared against playing on the
laptop’s screen in all 12 games tested.
On average there was almost a 20% improvement,
but as we can see it really depends on the
specific game. This does show that it seems
to be worthwhile playing on an external monitor
to get the most out of an external graphics
enclosure setup, plus you’d have the option
of using a much larger and higher refresh
rate monitor compared to the 13 inch 60Hz
one the XPS 13 offers.
Is this a practical solution? For most people,
no not really. The XPS 13 I’ve got here
goes for around $1900 USD, though they do
start at $900, you can find updated prices
to everything I’m using linked in the description.
The GPU enclosure goes for around $200 to
$300, while the 2080 Ti is around $1300 USD,
so around the price of a mid range gaming
laptop. If you add on an external display,
mouse and keyboard then we’re more than
doubling the cost of just the XPS 13, though
you could of course use a cheaper GPU, you
don’t have to use the 2080 Ti, I just wanted
to show the biggest improvement.
This is why this is impractical for most people.
If you’ve got money to burn and want a super
portable laptop that you can just connect
up to the external graphics with one cable
when you get home to run games, then this
might be the setup for you. For most people
though, it would be cheaper and make more
sense to have the lower powered thin and light
laptop for travel, then have a mid range gaming
PC at home, which is why I think the eGPU
enclosure is a niche solution. It really seems
like it comes down to how important having
the single machine is to you.
In any case, it’s always fun to test out
stuff like this and see what levels of performance
we’re able to get with top end hardware,
and I think it’s impressive that we had
games that couldn’t play on the XPS 13 that
could easily run at maximum settings with
the eGPU, even if we’re obviously being
limited and not getting the full performance
we’d see by using it in a desktop PC.
Be sure to let me know your thoughts on an
external GPU laptop setup like this down in
the comments, would this be something you’d
go for, or would you just use a cheaper laptop
and gaming PC instead? Whatever your preference,
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