Please help me design an eGPU setup for my Lenovo x220
November 25, 2016 4:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to set up an external GPU for gaming and learning CUDA/TensorFlow on my aging but powerful and functional Lenovo x220 from 2011. I understand the generalities, but I'm having trouble with the specifics. The combinatorial explosion of options is driving me batty.

Requirements (with blanks that I need help to fill in):

- a Nvidia GPU. I'm leaning towards something between the 680 (currently about $100) and the 780 (currently about $250). What is the sweet spot my constraints below?

- an external PCI-E adapter (for the GPU) with an expresscard 54 interface (for the laptop). Probably one of these: ( but, which one? Or can you recommend a better manufacturer?

- a power supply. Apparently it's possible to run the adapter and card from an old laptop supply up to 75W, and you need an ATX supply for more powerful cards. I'd rather save myself the noise, heat and space, but I'd also like to understand the tradeoffs.


- The x220 has a Sandy Bridge processor, the i72620M at 2.70Mhz.

- The x220 expresscard slot is PCI-E 2.0, but I don't know how many lanes are exposed to the interface.

- I'm going to run this on my desk, on an external monitor, so I don't need a mobile setup where the video goes back into the laptop to be displayed on the laptop's monitor.

- We have a good monitor, 1900x1200, and I'd like to play recent-ish games decently... but I mostly play single-player games, so I don't need crazy frames per second.

- I don't need to run CUDA/TensorFlow calculations, and I'm not interested in alt-coin mining nor anything of the kind. I just want a learning platform.

- Budget sweet spot is between $300 and $400 Australian. ($240/$300 US)

There is a previous question about eGPUs, but it's 3 years old, so I thought we could have a new conversation.
posted by kandinski to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you checked or considered asking on TechInferno or TechInferno, in particular, has a lot of system-specific guides that might cover your current setup.
posted by Transmissions From Vrillon at 5:47 AM on November 25, 2016

I just want a learning platform.

it's a long time since i programmed a gpu, but i thought there was an opencl implementation for intel cpus. have a look here. i may have even used that on an x220 back in the day (great machine - don't "upgrade" until you need to, x seem to be getting worse, not better).
posted by andrewcooke at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2016

Thanks for the answers so far. Thanks to Transmission's pointers I've found a good, cheap provider for the adapter who will ship to Australia ( I think I'll wait until after Christmas to see which one of the 1050/1060/1070 cards comes down enough in price to fit my budget.

andrewcooke: I know the x220 is great! This is why I'm investing in it. I just doubled the memory to 16G. After swapping keyboards twice, putting in a big SSD two years ago, and putting in a new screen and taping up the chassis after flew out of my bag last year, it's a super-seaworthy Ship of Theseus. With another keyboard and a battery replacement, I don't see why it shouldn't last me another 5 years.
posted by kandinski at 2:54 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

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