Laptops come in several flavors, but the most common ones are thin and light, gaming, and cheap. We’ll be concentrating on the thin and lights here and why they’re both a blessing and a curse. If you want the best performance in a laptop, you pick up a gaming laptop because these are absolute beasts at everything. The problem with these is that they’re usually quite heavy and often times also quite large. They’re not very portable and because of this, most people end up going with thin and lights which can perform quite well, but usually suffer when it comes to gaming of any for of graphic heavy task. That’s the route I took and while I love my little HP Spectre x360, I wish I could play some more graphic intensive games on it. Well now I can with the use of the AKiTiO Node Titan, a plug & play Thunderbolt 3 external GPU (eGPU) enclosure.
So what makes the AKiTiO Node Titan so special? Unlike a desktop computer, you can’t really upgrade a laptop with a better GPU (graphics card). Instead, if your laptop only had Intel integrated graphics as an example, that’s what you’re stuck with. However, there’s a way around that now, but only if your laptop has a Thunderbolt 3 port, such as most modern PC laptops and Macbooks. With the AKiTiO Node Titan and the inclusion of a graphics card, you’re able to increase the graphic power of your laptop, safely and easily.
How the AKiTiO Node Titan works is simple. The kit is basically already setup for you and all you need to do is provide a graphics card. There is a list of supported graphics cards here, but if you card doesn’t show up on this list, it doesn’t mean it won’t work. For instance, no current NVIDIA RTX 30 series graphic cards are on this list, but I can guarantee that the NVIDIA RTX 3070 Founders Edition does indeed work as this is the card I am currently using to test the AKiTiO Node Titan with.
Anyways, the AKiTiO Node Titan looks like a small form factor PC with a handle on it. At some angles, it even looks like a toolbox. On one side, there is a mesh grill to allow for fresh air in while the bottom has an exhaust fan opening to push the hot air out. The back of the case looks a bit like the back of a PC case, except that the only ports it has is a Thunderbolt 3 port and the plug for the power cable. There is also a PCIe opening in the back that can support double-width cards.
Up top is a retractable handle to make carrying the unit much easier, and the top is also removable and this is how you get into the guts. The top is removed by unscrewing two thumb screws and is then easily slid off. If you look inside, you’ll find that there is a single PCIe 3.0 x4 inteface that can support a single full-length, full-height and double-width graphics card. I had no issues inserting my RTX 3070 Founders Edition into it, though you may have issues with some cards that are very long. Power is provided by a built in PSU rated at 650W which includes 2 x 8-pin (6+2) PCIe power connectors.
Once you’ve installed your GPU, just slide the Node Titan cover back on, lock the screws in place, and you’re pretty much good to go. Connect the Node Titan to power, connect the Thunderblot 3 cable to your laptop and to the Node Titan, and then flip the switch on the PSU. If you laptop or computer is supported, it will automatically install any GPU drivers you may need, in my case it was the NVIDIA drivers. Windows does automatically install drivers, but you’ll still want to head over to NVIDIA’s site and download the NVIDIA Experience app so that you can download updated drivers. You’ll want to do this for AMD Radeon cards too if that’s what you’re using. After that, you’ll want to switch to dedicated graphics by following the instructions here.
For reference, I’m testing this out again on an HP Spectre x360 (2018) with a Core i7 8th Gen processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD.
So what am I using the AKiTiO Node Titan for? Gaming of course. I don’t game quite as much on PC as I should and it’s because I haven’t had what I call an updated computer in years. My old desktop is running a GT 420 and my laptop as you know doesn’t even have a discreet GPU. Most of my gaming is console based. So with this test, I’m mainly playing a few games I know won’t even play on my laptop correctly and can do with a boost.
One game I’ve always want to see run with Ray Tracing is Minecraft. This game runs decently on my laptop without a GPU but with the GPU, it looks absolutely stunning. Enabling RTX mode makes what’s usually a fairly “ugly” game into something much more modern with realistic lighting effects, water reflections, and more. It really ups the visual quality and I’m also able to see a lot farther into the horizon as well. That’s just one example.
Fortnite is another one of those games where I can barely even play it on my laptop, even at the lowest possible graphic settings. With the Node Titan, I’m able to turn graphic quality all the way up to high and actually get framerates where it doesn’t look like I’m flipping through a hand-drawn flip book.
As great as the experience is, it’s not quite 100%. I know the NVIDIA RTX 3070 is capable of more performance than what I’m getting and that may be mainly do to only having 8GB of RAM on my laptop and the Thunderbolt 3 connection. I’m pretty sure there’s a small bottleneck somewhere. So some games, I need to adjust to keep the frame rates high, but it’s still way better than playing games without it, as I couldn’t even play certain games on the lowest setting.
Is the AKiTiO Node Titan right for you? That depends. Building an eGPU isn’t exactly cheap right now. The enclosure itself retails for $329.75 and a GPU can vary in price depending on how lucky you are. That means total, a complete eGPU can end up costing you a bit of money. It might not make sense building one just to boost the graphics power of a regular laptop, but if you own something like a Macbook that doesn’t come with discreet graphics or you really love your current laptop, this could be the prefect solution for you.
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