AMD has announced its XConnect technology, which provides driver level support for external GPUs. This will allow users to add or remove external graphics cards using a Thunderbolt 3 port without the need to restart the system. Interestingly, the first system to receive XConnect happens to be the new Razer Blade Stealth.
Its name has actually been mentioned within the release note for Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.3 but details regarding the XConnect was only revealed to the world much later. The idea of boosting laptop graphics using an external GPU is not entirely new, although Intel has made it easier with the introduction of Thunderbolt 3. In theory, this allows easy compatibility between external housings and laptops, since they will all share the same port.
At the moment, only the Razer Blade Stealth explicitly supports XConnect; although AMD promises that it will work with just about any system that meets its specifications. Laptops must be running Windows 10 build 10586 or later and Thunderbolt firmware v.16 or higher; feature a Thunderbolt 3 port and 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable; and must have BIOS ACPI extensions for external GPUs. The last requirement is not available on all motherboards, although AMD says that it would be possible to publish an update at a later date.
There is another catch for those looking to give XConnect a try: it currently only supports AMD’s best cards. The list of compatible graphics cards is limited to the Radeon R9 series. AMD plans to expand the number of compatible graphics cards in the future, but has not provided a timeline for when this will happen.
External GPUs are one of the more exciting technologies to come from Intel’s Thunderbolt 3, and it will be interesting to see if more companies pick up on the idea.