External PCI-Express Graphics for Laptops
LAS VEGAS -- Notebook gamers rejoice! ASUS today announced a first-of-its-kind device that allows PCI-Express graphic cards from a desktop computer to be used with a notebook.
The orange/grey toned docking station, dubbed the XG Station, connects into the ExpressCard slot found on most new notebooks. The full-sized graphics card inside the XG Station then powers an external monitor, which becomes the primary display. The right side of the XG Station also features two USB 2.0 ports, a Dolby 5.1 audio-output jack, and a microphone input (perfect for gaming headsets).
ASUS said it expects to start shipping the XG Station around May for around $600 (possibly including a 3-year warranty) and most likely bundled with an ASUS EN7900GS board (our number 3 ranked graphics card at press time). The company was tight-lipped when asked if it would offer the unit without the bundled board, but in my brief time with a pre-production unit here at CES 2007, I did notice that you can easily swap in your own card.
A Closer Look
The XG Station features a large, 5-inch-wide, car-stereo-like control panel on its front. This displays real time information such as master volume, a game's current fame rate per second, in addition to clock speed and fan speed statistics for the graphics card itself. These settings can easily be adjusted using either the large function knob, or through software that mimics the look and feel of the hardware. You'll be able to position the XG Station either horizontally or vertically, and the number read-out will automatically rotate.
Positioned horizontally, the L-shaped device measures 10.75-inches wide by 4.5-inches high by 6.35-inches long. ASUS confirmed support for Windows Vista and Windows XP in addition to most modern ATI and Nvidia PCI-Express boards. The notable exception: Nvidia's recent high-end 8800-based cards (they're too long to fit inside the XG Station's casing).
The First of a New Series?
A mesh-like grill on the rear slope of the XG Station lets you see the graphics card inside bathed in blue light. Written above this area is "ASUS Gaming Series XG", which could give the impression that this is the first in a new line of products. When I pressed the company a little further, it declined to comment on this, future designs, or possible SLI/CrossFire multi-card support.
For notebook gamers happy with their 17- or 19-inch internal display, the company did say it doesn't plans to allow the card to feed its output back into the internal screen of a notebook, pointing out that such desktop replacement models usually have decent discrete graphics as it is.
As mentioned, the XG Station lets you overclock its graphics card in real-time simply by turning the large control knob. Though you won't quite get the same performance as you would if that same card was used a desktop PC, this is a welcomed feature. Out of the box, ASUS claims an up-to-9-times performance boost over integrated Intel 945GM graphics. Of course, now that we've got a unit to test, we'll let you know our full results in the very near future.
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