I originally looked at the Devil Box from PowerColor back in October and found that it was a pretty interesting concept. In that review I looked at the performance that an external GPU package could deliver by comparison to a gaming PC with a discrete video card. Why even look at it when a desktop with a discrete GPU is going to deliver all the gaming performance you could ask for? Well, there is an increasing segment that wants the best of both worlds: small form factor PCs or laptops with the ability to play triple-A game titles. Dumping a bunch of GPU firepower into a portable or small form factor PC, like an Intel NUC, is just not going to happen. While AMD has put together some impressive graphics solutions for laptops and APUs, it still cannot compete with a dedicated, enthusiast-level discrete GPU. If you look at Intel's integrated graphics solutions, the performance in games, while better than in the past, still leave much to be desired as far as gaming FPS is concerned, even with Intel's Iris Pro graphics.
PowerColor put together the Devil Box to fill this gap in the market, as many laptops and small form factor PCs are coming equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection - one of the key components in making an external solution like this work. Now, when I first tested the Devil Box from PowerColor, I used a high end PC with the requisite Thunderbolt 3 connection to run the enclosure through its paces. This time around, I will use a PC that is more in line with what you might find in the possession of someone looking at this kind of solution: the Intel® NUC NUC6i7KYK. By testing with this compact device, we can get a better perspective on just how well the PowerColor Devil Box performs as the great equalizer.
Testing the PowerColor Devil Box will consist of using the device as intended by installing a supported video card and running it through some game testing to see what kind of FPS performance the card delivers when connected through a Thundebolt 3 connection. Additionally, I will look at data transfer speeds to a solid state drive connected via the USB 3.0 ports on the back of the Devil Box to a USB 3.0 dock. Pretty simple testing, when you get down to it. To completely use this device from PowerColor, you will need to ensure that you have the latest Thunderbolt firmware and drivers, along with at least AMD driver package 16.2.2 or above. My testing will be run at 2560 x 1440 instead of 1920 x 1080 to see where the performance level falls by comparison to the installed card residing in the motherboard's 16x PCIe 3.0 slot. The driver I am using for the installed PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 8GB is the 16.10.2 Crimson software suite. Game setting information can be seen in the PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 review.
Processor: Intel Sixth Generation Core i7 6700K @ 4.5GHz
CPU Cooling: Corsair H115i
Motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Extreme
Memory: G.SKILL Trident Z 16GB 3400MHz
Video Cards: PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 8GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Hard Drive: Corsair Force GT 240GB SSD x2
Optical Drive: Lite-On Blu-ray
Case: Corsair Obsidian 650D
OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Intel® NUC NUC6i7KYK
GTX 1060 Founders Edition
Red Devil RX 480 8GB
To be able to use an external enclosure such as the Devil Box or even the Razer Core, first and foremost you will need a PC that has a working Thunderbolt 3 connection and a graphics driver that supports the use of an external enclosure. To set my system up, I had to first install the Thunderbolt 3 driver and then update the firmware to the latest version. At that point, I removed all of the discrete video cards from the system, installed the latest Intel integrated graphics driver for the Intel Core i7 6700K, and started making the appropriate connections between the Devil Box and the PC I am using. Connecting to a Thunderbolt 3 laptop would have been ideal, but is easily simulated with my gaming setup.
Once the PC is on and you have the power turn on the Devil Box, all you have to do to put the Devil Box into play is to plug in the 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable and install the driver for the video card you are using, either AMD or NVIDIA-based. Then, set your gaming resolution and start fraggin'. These are the video card results running at 2560 x 1440.
PowerColor Devil Box Redux Conclusion:
Once set up, all you have to do is power on the Devil Box and plug in the Thunderbolt 3 cable to your laptop, mini PC, or desktop, just like you would plug in a flash drive. Once connected, the 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 data path allows the Devil Box to function not only as a discrete graphics card, but you can configure it to use as an external storage solution to connect your USB accessories and LAN cable while only having one connection to the PC. This one connection can also serve as a means to charge your laptop, as long as you stay under the 60 watt limit provided across the cable.
Visually, the Devil Box is a solidly built, good looking piece of hardware. Once you crank it up, the pulsing LEDs inside the chassis give it a little bit of life. Red LEDs would enhance this heartbeat, but that's my opinion!
As far as gaming performance is concerned, the sky is really the limit as long as you use a discrete card with a less than 375W TDP. This gives you a lot of flexibility with the amount of newer cards out in the market that fall in this range. I found that running over the Thunderbolt connection is going to give you playable frame rates above 30FPS in every game I tested at 2560 x 1440. Running at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 that is available on plenty of high-end laptops now only gives you a better performance curve, especially when you tone down the visual quality settings just a touch. With the settings I used, the Red Devil RX 480 delivered anywhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of the performance of the same card when installed in the test PC. When I tried running any of the testing with the integrated GPU, there was not a game that played higher than about 10-12 FPS over a DisplayPort 1.2 connection to the monitor. In that respect you have a winning combination of the RX 480 and Devil Box.
If you are using a laptop, you get single connection to everything you need via Thunderbolt 3. External storage, connecting USB peripherals, Gigabit LAN connectivity, display output, and charging all through one cable. Pricing will come in at $375 US for just the Devil Box enclosure and included Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps cable. Add in the cost of a good, solid $200 GPU and you fast approach $600. As a means to improve a gaming PC, the Devil Box is not the easiest way to go about it from a cost perspective. But if you are devoted to using a laptop and want to game without spending upwards of $1300 to $2000 or more for a power hungry and heavy gaming-centric laptop, the Devil Box is a very viable solution with added benefits. By the time you read this, the Devil Box should be available for purchase!
My initial reactions to how the Devil Box improved gaming performance have not changed much after the change in baseline hardware. I found that even with a device such as Intel's high performance NUC as the backbone of your system, you still can really game at almost full speed just by using a device like PowerColor's Devil Box to fill your gaming needs. My results shown above are at 2560 x 1440 as a proof of concept that if you have the monitor real estate, you can indeed game at up to 1440p resolutions with the two cards tested. That being said, the sweet spot for resolutions will ultimately be limited by your choice of the video card that will populate the confines of the Devil Box. The only challenge I saw while testing was that the green card had a hiccup in a couple games and did not perform as expected. Driver changes usually fix small things like this in specific games. Smaller form factor PCs are becoming more common place each and every day. As integrated graphics solutions still struggle to deliver gaming performance, there is a solution: PowerColor's Devil Box!
Big improvement in gaming performance
One cable connectivity
Works with both AMD and NVIDIA
USB 3.0 functionality
Ease of use
Weight, if travelling