For the past few years, companies like Alienware and Razer have worked to push the idea of external GPU boxes as upgrades for PC laptops. Alienware has had their own solution, customized for their own systems, while companies like Intel, AMD, and Razer teamed up to create the XConnect platform last year. We’re finally seeing more OEMs opting for this approach, and HP’s new Omen Accelerator extends it from graphics into other performance areas as well.
Unlike other GPU accelerators we’ve seen, the new Omen Accelerator will include a 2.5-inch dock for an SSD and gigabit Ethernet support, with an integrated 500W PSU to support the entire affair. HP has stated that the dock will support GPUs that can draw up to 300W (that likely refers to sustained power draw). It echoes some of the configurations we expected a year ago when AMD’s XConnect first debuted. Four USB ports and a USB-C port are also provided at the rear of the chassis, as shown in the image below:
Base price for the Omen Accelerator is $ 300. While that’s still fairly expensive in the grand scheme of things, it’s lower than what we’ve seen from previous docks from other companies, and it may not be a crazy add if you can afford a high-end laptop from the Omen line in the first place. According to PCWorld, the Omen Accelerator is officially specced to work with the HP Spectre 13, Spectre x360 13, Spectre x360 15, EliteBook x360 1030 G2, Envy 27 All-in-One, and Envy Curved All-in-One. In theory, it should work with any system with Thunderbolt 3, though the degree of support may depend on whether the system’s UEFI has been updated to play nice with external GPUs.
Supported GPUs include anything up to the RX 580 from AMD and the GTX 1060 or 1070 from Nvidia. We’d recommend against trying to shove higher-end GPUs into any enclosure that doesn’t officially support them, even if the math seems to work for the power supply. That said, it could be that HP is being cautious, or there could be cooling issues separate from power supply requirements.
External enclosures like this should continue to work well even as new GPU generations become available. Much as CPU coolers specified for 125W – 140W can continue to cool multiple CPU generations, PCIe eGPU enclosures specced at 300W should be suitable for multiple GPU generations as well. That may make the purchase easier to swallow for customers — it’s easier to justify an investment like this if you see it as a product with a 5-10 year life expectancy, rather than a per-laptop purchase. With Thunderbolt 3 picking up steam and PCIe 4.0 expected to maintain backwards compatibility with the PCIe 3.0 specification, there should be little worry about these enclosures falling off the roadmap in the medium-to-long term.