A Core X, Darter Pro and GTX 1080 Walk Into a Bar

A review of the Razer Core X, using a System76 Darter Pro and Nvidia GTX 1080.

Created on August 7, 2020.

Razer Core X

My old Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 purring inside the Razer Core X, plugged into my Darter Pro via Thunderbolt 3.

In Resentful Rememberance

If you read my Darter Pro review, you would know why I was in the market for a new laptop in late 2019. In short, some disheveled vagrant stole my last laptop out of a rental car in an asphalt asylum, ruled by technocratic vegan barbarians, called the San Francisco Bay Area. The theft was no doubt the product of a lapse in judgment abided by the individual who borrowed my laptop—who I will not name—although I will tell you that this individual was my wife. Just imagine meeting your demise while crying and screaming for help in 1000Hz because your fleshmother left you unattended in an unfamiliar locale.

Anyhow, one of the reasons for choosing the Darter Pro as a replacement was its Thunderbolt 3 port, an electronic orifice for maximizing one's digital pleasure with a peripheral potpourri. One such peripheral is the Razer Core X, the external video card enclosure boasting, in my opinion, the best balance between affordability and power at the time of this writing.

Unboxing

Razer Core X Box

Unsurprisingly the Razer Core X is shipped inside a box, but not just any box—a box with a plastic handle. Why? I surmise that because the Razer Core X does not have a handle, the packaging is meant to be kept for securely transporting the enclosure across long distances. To that end you may have reason to hang onto the packaging. Alternatively, you can just use straps to lug around the enclosure like a purse. One Reddit user did just that.

Razer Core X Box Partially Open

I knew the Core X didn't come with a built-on handle, although I had assumed, prior to ordering the enclosure, that it was mobile. You know, mobile in the sense of not being inconvenient to move on a whim. That assumption was challenged upon my receiving and lifting the containing box. My immediate observations were that the enclosure must have been:

  1. Large
  2. Heavy

To be more specific, the dimensions of the Core X are 12.99 (length) x 6.3 (width) x 2.36 (height) inches, and it weighs 14.26 pounds. Placing it back into the packaging isn't an activity you'd want to find yourself doing often. Again, I would recommend straps if you intend to move it a lot, which isn't so bad. When I was a teenager attending LAN parties in the 2000s, I used straps to frequently transport a full ATX desktop computer.

Short Thunderbolt Cable

I was frustrated when I happened upon the Thunderbolt 3 cable, measuring to be about 1.6ft long. That's enough if it's okay for the laptop to be right next to (or on top of) the enclosure. Otherwise, you won't be happy. If you plan to buy the Core X, I strongly recommend adding this 6.5ft Belkin cable rated at 40Gbps to your cart as well. Another option, if you want to situate your laptop atop the enclosure, would be VELCRO.

Manuals and Cables

The power cable is about 5ft, which is fine for my purposes. A manual is included, which you ought to read, but probably won't. There are some Razer stickers thrown in. I was hoping for temporary tattoos as well, but you get what you pay for.

TIE Fighter

To ensure the safety of the Core X on its sojourn to your parents' basement, Razer has outfitted it with blocks of conjoined polymers deleterious to environmental stewardship. That is to say it looks like a TIE fighter. Cool.

Sliding Out

Breaking from my traditional and nauseating snarkiness, one compliment I would give to Razer, if I were so inclined, is that operating the sliding mechanism is sensually and spiritually satisfying.

Slid Open

The GPU Sizing Guide states:

EXCEEDING THE RECOMMENDED SIZE MAY CAUSE DIFFICULTY CLOSING THE COMPARTMENT.

I wouldn't try to fit a card much longer than 12" in there. Be sure to verify compatibility for unwieldy insertions with the vendor. Another constraint worth considering is that the Core X only supports up to 500W for the video card, although its power supply is rated for 650W. The discrepancy is due to the fact that 100W can be allocated toward charging the plugged-in laptop, and finally 50W is left for the enclosure's main board and fan.

Innards

I like that the Core X charges my laptop. This lets me leave the charger where I tend to use the laptop without the bulky enclosure. Of course, I don't play games all the time.

1080 Plugged In

My EVGA GTX 1080 FTW fit into the Razer Core X with ease. Having said that, I don't recommend using an Nvidia card if you're running Linux, enclosure or not (Windows and MacOS users should be fine). Nvidia's proprietary drivers just don't play nice on Linux, and unfortunately the open source alternative, Nouveau, has such poor performance that you may be better off with embedded graphics. I was able to get the Nvidia proprietary drivers working, but it's not a process I'm eager to repeat ever again. It took a couple days of on-and-off troubleshooting and tweaking. AMD cards, to the contrary, have excellent open source driver support via Mesa.

Sliding In

Nvidia and AMD aside, Linux users may want to know one more thing. To toggle the enclosure on and off, you ought to install this egpu-switcher script. Since the enclosure isn't natively hot-swappable on Linux, you may unplug it and find yourself staring into the void. At that point you can press Alt and simultaneously one of the function keys, e.g. F1, F2, F3, etc., which will hopefully provide access to a virtual terminal. From there, you can log in and run said script like so:

sudo egpu-switcher switch auto

auto will automatically detect whether the enclosure is plugged in.

Then you can reboot with:

sudo reboot

After having rebooted, things should work as expected.

Next to darp6

There you have it, an unboxed and working Razer Core X.

Hypothetical FAQ

Before purchasing the Razer Core X, I had many questions. Despite having read this far, I imagine you may have some lingering questions as well. I'll address what I consider to be frequently asked—albeit hypothetical—questions.

  • Is it worth it to buy an external graphics processing unit (eGPU) enclosure at all, Razer Core X or not? This is a question so dependent on personal circumstances that I cannot provide a definitive answer. Conditionally, if you already have a laptop, a powerful GPU with passable driver support on the operating system you intend to use, and you want to play games on said laptop, then buying an enclosure is reasonable. Bonus points if you already own numerous PC games. Otherwise, it's difficult to justify an eGPU's cost. Presently, for a nice enclosure and video card, that'll run you at least $600–800. I emphasize at least.
  • What are good alternatives to eGPUs? If you've the money and don't care much for mobility, build or buy a desktop computer. If that's too expensive, then buy a console with used games. Alternatively, if you've a kickass Internet connection and enough money to cover the subscription fee, check out a service such as PlayStation Now or Google Stadia. I can attest that PS Now works pretty well on Google Fiber, although it can be quirky at times.
  • What's better, the Core X or the Chroma? The Chroma seems a bit expensive for what it is. Its power supply sports an additional 50W, which is intended for some extra USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and some extra lighting. I suppose since some laptops don't have a dedicated Ethernet port, the Chroma might make sense provided you're not using wireless, and you've only one Thunderbolt port.
  • What of other eGPU solutions? That's for you to evaluate; however, this comparison table from egpu.io should help. At the time of this writing, the Razer Core X is the top-rated enclosure. The Chroma comes in second.
  • There's a fan included in the Core X. Is it loud? It's only slightly noticeable to me, but white noise is music to my ears.
  • How does the Core X work with different monitor setups? It's just whatever your video card supports. You should even be able to close your laptop's lid if you want.
  • What about heat generation? Oh yeah, pushing your video card to its limits or running poorly-optimized games and drivers can result in tremendous heat, but the enclosure keeps that heat out of the laptop.

Conclusions

I use Linux, so Steam Play has provided for a nigh-seamless experience with my Core X, Darter Pro and GTX 1080. Halo: The Master Chief Collection runs on it like a charm, along with Path of Exile, XCOM 2, etc. All in all, I conclude that the Razer Core X is a fantastic piece of hardware (if you're sold on it, please use the link to help me write more articles like this).

As previously stated, the Core X is not for everyone, but under the right circumstances it may be right for you. I already have a desktop computer for gaming (and making games!), but my wife's "gaming laptop" fell out of commission. Since I already had the Darter Pro and a spare video card, the Core X just made sense in my carefully orchestrated and premeditated real-life sunk cost fallacy. Now my wife can play games with me using the Darter Pro. Hopefully my experience helps you deliberate. Thanks for your time.

© Reese Schultz

My code is released under the MIT license.