Will an External GPU Revolutionize Your Photography and Video Workflow?

Laptops have severe limitations when it comes to throwing graphics around, lacking the big, fan-cooled processors that are often a feature of desktop machines. What if you could keep the mobility of your laptop and plug into an external GPU when you need to render graphics or export your content? Could this be a game changer when it comes to your workflow?

In this short video, Ted Forbes looks at the impact of plugging his Dell laptop (a 15” XPS 9570 with 32gb of RAM) into an NVIDIA GEFORCE RTX 2080 Ti contained inside a Razer Core X enclosure and connected via Thunderbolt 3. Frustratingly for photographers, there doesn’t seem to be a huge impact in terms of the machine’s efficiency when it comes to exporting images from Lightroom, but videographers will be delighted to see the effects when it comes to rendering graphics and exporting video.

The question, as always, is whether the gains offered by an external GPU are worth the investment. With a laptop already costing in excess of $2,000, some might be wary of spending another large sum on a piece of kit unless it adds significant advantages, and this is where I think the problem lies. The enclosure will set you back a cent short of $300 and the graphics card itself is just shy of $1,300. So is a $1,600 investment worth the advantages that Forbes is putting forward here?

As usual, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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12 Comments

Motti Bembaron's picture

As usual, the answer is, it depends. As a photographer, there is no advantage to a stronger GPU. When I built my computer, I used NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti simply because anything bigger would not make any difference. I wish it did though.

If a GPU can help your work then sure...

Saying that, if I was a video editor I would not have used a laptop. Laptop advantage is mobility but now you ask people to also carry around a huge box for an external video card...

A stand-alone PC has so much more to offer in terms of power and cooling ability. Not to mention way cheaper and upgradable.

Ted mostly edits his videos on his ipad nowadays. To me this is the ultimate way to edit for a photographer or videographer. The only bottleneck is the file transfer to the iPad otherwise a damn sweet workflow.

With ios13 apple announced USB key support for iPad !

Michael Comeau's picture

I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I believe most bottlenecks are in software, not hardware.

Want to edit 4K video on the go with no compromises? Use Final Cut Pro X. It flies, even if you don't have the latest hardware.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

I am a mobile content creator and when at home I connect my Macbook Pro to a Vega 64 eGPU. With Resolve, most of my workflow is immediately accelerated. With FCPX, the gains are also impressive but not at the same level as Resolve. Simply put, if you are a [mobile] Video Editor and your software takes advantage of an eGPU, I strongly recommend it. As a Photoshop and lightroom user, the gains are barely noticeable, if any, for me. Perhaps when Adobe leverages the GPU more in future versions...

Rayann Elzein's picture

Why is there "Photography" in the title?

Because for some of us photographers who do not use Adobe products, a more powerful GPU makes a noticeable difference, since our software title takes full advantage of GPU compute.

Rayann Elzein's picture

True! I've been so "obsessed" with Adobe's poor performance.... Trying to get out of it though, but the learning curve is so steep...

JetCity Ninja's picture

will a wheelchair help your mobility whether your legs work or not?

JetCity Ninja's picture

is your editor of choice coded to utilize a GPU for rendering?

let's use a troubleshooting flowchart.

step 1: if yes, then yes.

step 2: if no, then no.

step 3: if no, but you disagree and believe yes because you have a feeling it does but have no proof, you're a moron for willfully ignoring steps 1 and 2.

Bear in mind that, the idea that powerful GPUs do not benefit photographers, that only applies to photographers using Adobe products. Many other photography software titles take full advantage of the GPU.