A review of the Razer Core X, using a System76 Darter Pro and Nvidia GTX 1080.
Created on August 7, 2020.
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.
Disclosure: Nobody paid me to write this article, although I've included affiliate links that help fund this website's continued standard of excellence.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
After having rebooted, things should work as expected.
There you have it, an unboxed and working Razer Core X.
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.
Speaking of heat generation: Reducing heat in your laptop is a major, underplayed advantage of an external video card enclosure. The less heat endured by your laptop, the longer it should last. More heat can make the solder on the laptop's motherboard brittle, dry the thermal paste connecting the processor to its heat sink, harm battery health, etc. These are all reasons why I dissuade people from buying "gaming laptops" with dedicated video cards inside—absent a water block (as is typical), they generate a great deal of heat, impacting surrounding components.
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.