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Razer Core X Chroma review


Is Razer's $649 external graphics enclosure worth it?

Outer core


The Razer Core X Chroma is an external housing for a graphics card, which has enough grunt to bring desktop PC power to your laptop.

It's made for gamers, designers, video editors, and anyone else who needs both a laptop for portability and powerful graphics processing at home or work.

The fast speed of Thunderbolt 3 means enough data can be transferred back and forth to run a graphics processing unit (GPU) externally, as well as multiple USB devices, as if they were part of the same machine. It also powers your laptop, so you don't need yet another cable messing up your area.

CHOICE verdict

The Razer Core X Chroma is worth considering for people who need more graphics power than their laptop can handle, but don't want or need a whole separate desktop PC. We went hands on with this latest eGPU (external graphics processing unit) courtesy of Razer, pairing it with a supplied Razer Blade Stealth laptop and high-end GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card.

At $649 plus the cost of a graphics card (and possibly a longer Thunderbolt 3 cable), it's still an investment. And it's worth remembering you can get the same performance out of the cheaper $469 Razer Core X – minus the four USB ports and LED lighting.

It's also not a complete desktop replacement: a laptop plus an external graphics card may still leave you short in the storage drive department. If that's an issue, add the cost of an external drive or NAS setup to your budget.

Price: $649

Contact: razer.com/au-en


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The look

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The size, power requirements and cooling needs of modern high-end GPUs mean the Core X Chroma is somewhere between a large four-slice toaster and a small sub-woofer in volume – 268mm x 374mm x 230mm.

The mostly aluminium body feels sturdy and well made. It's heavy and not particularly portable, but the idea is to give you the freedom of a laptop when you're out, coupled with the power of a desktop at home or in the office.

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Aesthetically, it's a minimalist black box that shouldn't look too out of place in most tech setups. The RGB (red, green, blue – combinable to make any colour) LEDs add a splash of charm for those into programmable lighting. Choose from different lighting modes such as Breathe, Spectrum Cycling, Ripple, and Wave, among others.

The case slides open without hassle, though you do get black paint shavings building up each time you open or close it. It's not too much, but it's enough that you'll need to wipe it up whenever you have cause to peek inside.

How easy is the Core X Chroma to use?

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Setup is easy if you follow the instruction booklet, making sure to pay special attention to the sections on Thunderbolt 3 settings and graphics card drivers.

Running the GeForce RTX 2080 felt like it was part of the same machine, and that's a very high-end card right now. The case fan is whisper-quiet, but some GPU fans are far from discreet. Performance and noise will vary depending on the card you put in it, but our particular combination worked admirably.

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Four USB 3.1 (gen 1) ports are a welcome inclusion for general data transfer and peripherals. Not only does it mean you don't have to purchase a separate dock, the one Thunderbolt 3 port handles everything, freeing your desk from the tyranny of cable clutter.

However, USB 3.1 (gen 1) is an older technology by today's standards. A minimum of USB 3.1 (gen 2) would provide faster data transfer and feel much more at home, as would at least one more USB-C shaped port (the Thunderbolt 3 connection uses the only one).

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The biggest drawback is a small issue that creates bigger problems. Razer gives you a 70cm Thunderbolt 3 cord (with the standard Core X it's just 50cm), making you position the Core X Chroma extremely close to your laptop. This creates a crowded workspace, and can even impinge on mouse movements, depending on your setup.

A good quality 1m Thunderbolt 3 cable with 100W power delivery (needed to power a laptop) and 40Gbps data speeds can cost you anywhere between $80 and $100 online, if not more, so keep that in mind as a potential added expense if you're thinking about buying.

Not the only game in town

Core X Chroma media shot for online

The Core X Chroma is just one (eGPU) enclosure on the market. Razer alone has the standard Core X, and the Core V2, which the Core X Chroma replaces as the top-tier product.

The standard Core X ($469) lacks RGB lighting and USB ports. If the aesthetic appeal of programmable lighting effects doesn't catch your eye, then you're paying an extra $180 for four USB 3.1 (gen 1) ports and a barely more powerful power supply unit, though on paper both products have the same 500W of power available to the graphics card.

The Core V2 is $719, but is an older model and harder to find these days. On paper, not much looks different between it and the Core X Chroma, except the latter can handle three slot (wider than standard) graphics cards, and can supply more power to the graphics card.

Razer Core X Chroma compatibility

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Laptops

  • Windows 10 (RS5 or later) with external graphics support
  • Mac laptops running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later

Graphics cards

  • NVIDIA GeForce (Windows 10)
  • NVIDIA Quadro (Windows 10)
  • AMD Radeon (Windows 10 and macOS)
  • AMD Radeon Pro (Windows 10 and macOS)

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