The PC hardware and components industry's big trade show, Computex, is just over a week away - and we've been working hard to find out what's going to be on show, and over the next few days we'll be posting previews of what the major manufacturers will have on show. We're kicking things off with MSI.
Just when you thought the idea of external graphics for laptops was dead, MSI is here to save the day! ATI still seems unconvinced about its own XGP? and of course, the Asus XG Station went through more deaths and rebirths than even the most tortured comic book hero. Well, MSI thinks it can make the concept work, and we got to see 'GUS' - MSI's Graphics Upgrade Solution.
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Inside the black plastic box and silver mesh lies an MSI Radeon HD 5670 1GB, which is in turn connected to the laptop via ExpressCard slot.
There's space for any standard PCI Express graphics card, however the 7A power brick limits the TDP to just 84W and the unit has no extra 6-pin power adapter, so the 61W Radeon HD 5670 is currently the maximum it can handle.
When you consider this is all being pumped through an ExpressCard slot that has the equivalent to PCI-Express 2.0 1x bandwidth, arguably anything faster would be entirely wasted anyway. This ExpressCard interface was always the limitation on previous incarnations of the external graphics concept, and MSI claims to have worked to make the most of what bandwidth there is. For starters, it uses a thicker, shielded copper cable and with the "improved" associated electronics inside it means that the connection can use "over 70 per cent" of the theoretical bandwidth, unlike ~50 per cent or less from other ExpressCard devices. Future generations will use a simpler USB 3 interface, MSI claims.
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MSI claims that some 50 per cent of laptops are sold with ExpressCard slots and most without discrete graphics or with older integrated graphics (usually Intel), so it provides a very viable upgrade option, providing you're near a plug. It also means that laptops can have up to four simultaneous display outputs: one from the laptop and three from the Radeon HD 5670.
So while a laptop with GUS won't ever replace a full-fat desktop, it will handle light gaming and means during the day you can carry around a thin and light machine, while in the evening connect it up to a multi-monitor array for some casual, large screen gaming or use the Radeon's UVD video acceleration to watch HD movies.
MSI plans to sell the GUS with Radeon HD 5670, among other possible graphics options, for between $169-$229, but you can buy the GUS on its own for just $99-$109. That's really very reasonable when you consider the additional cost of serious graphics in laptops.
We did try to take it apart to get some internal shots, however the correct way to open it eluded everyone in the room and our own attempts to prize the base off lead to several painful yelps from extremely anxious MSI people - they seemed to want it in one piece for Computex. Oh well, you'll have to wait until we get one for review, then.