Laptops, despite advances in mobile graphics performance, cannot quite match the graphical horsepower of desktop gaming PCs.
But laptops can be boosted by an external graphics dock for more heavy duty gaming and work applications.
These enclosures hold a desktop graphics card that do the graphics heavy-lifting for a connected laptop. The results are then shown on the laptop screen or a separate monitor.
In addition, these docks also come with USB and Ethernet ports to supplement the limited connectors in notebooks.
The latest docks use the USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 interface, which provides ample bandwidth and convenience.
Simply connect the external graphics dock to your laptop's Thunderbolt 3 port using the bundled cable.
Of course, installing a desktop graphics card - usually sold separately - into the enclosure will require some effort (and probably a screwdriver).
The Straits Times takes a look at two of the latest external graphics docks available.
PORTS: 4 x USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3 port, Gigabit Ethernet
POWER SUPPLY: 500W
DIMENSIONS: 34 x 22 x 10cm
VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5
Razer Core V2
The second iteration of the Razer Core external graphics dock has the same black chassis as the previous version. It feels very sturdy, which is unsurprising as it is said to be cut from a block of aluminium. The installed graphics card is visible from its meshed side window.
Razer's Chroma RGB LEDs light up the bottom front and the inside of the Core. By default, they are set to change colours rhythmically, but the Razer Synapse software can be installed to customise the behaviour of the LEDs, even synchronising the LEDs with other Razer Chroma devices, such as Razer keyboards.
Pull the handle at the rear of the Core to withdraw the entire contents of the dock from its shell. I did not need a screwdriver to install a graphics card. The single screw holding the card can be loosened by hand.
Like the Omen Accelerator, the Core comes with a relatively short Thunderbolt 3 cable (50cm) that limits where one can place the dock. But the V2 is about half the size of the Omen.
Razer says the internal design of the V2 has been improved to support larger graphics cards. It also has two Thunderbolt 3 controllers to ensure that graphics performance remains unaffected even when its USB and Gigabit Ethernet ports are heavily in use.
It performed as well as the Omen, producing near-identical scores in the benchmarks using the same HP laptop.
But the Core is significantly noisier than its competitor, with its internal cooling fans adding to the din caused by the graphics card's fan.
Then, there is its price tag, which seems hard to justify if features and performance are the main criteria.
•Verdict: It is pricey and noisy, but also compact, solid and looks attractive, especially with its Chroma lighting.
PORTS: 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 4 x USB 3.1, Thunderbolt 3 port, Gigabit Ethernet
POWER SUPPLY: 500W
DIMENSIONS: 40 x 20 x 20cm
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
HP Omen Accelerator
HP spices up the boxy look of its Omen Accelerator graphics dock by tilting its rectangular enclosure to rest on its edge.
A side window lets one glimpse the graphics card inside, which is illuminated by red LEDs. The front Omen logo glows red when the dock is connected to a laptop.
It is bigger than many of its peers. In fact, one could probably squeeze the innards of a PC inside. Hence, there is ample space for a high-end graphics card and more, such as a 2.5-inch drive bay for an internal storage drive.
While it is easy to open the plastic chassis to install a graphics card, a screwdriver is needed to remove the brackets that secure the card. These brackets are padded, probably to ensure a snug fit and to dampen any vibrations from the graphics card's cooling fan. I was impressed by how quiet the graphics card operated, even while it was toiling in the graphics benchmarks.
To test the graphics dock, I connected it to a HP laptop with integrated graphics that is unable to run the latest games in a playable state.
After adding the graphics dock, the 3DMark Fire Extreme benchmark scores increased from 468 to 6,376, and I could run graphics-heavy games such as Doom and Crysis 3. In fact, it scored 83 frames per second (fps) in Doom at the maximum settings, and at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. With Crysis 3, it managed 64 fps at similar settings.
My review set came pre-installed with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card and a 1TB hard drive. This configuration costs $1,199 from HP. The empty shell costs $499.
•Verdict: Its large size is its biggest drawback, but the storage bay and its quiet operation are plus points. It is also attractively priced.