Being even-handed, the Sapphire GearBox does exactly what it says on the tin, with the minimum of fuss...
The allure of turbocharging the anaemic graphics resident in an Ultrabook/MacBook or small-form-factor PC is compelling, and a few companies have taken it upon themselves to produce Thunderbolt 3-connected enclosures that house high-end graphics cards and provide a smattering of useful ports and connectors into the bargain.
Sapphire now tips its hat into the ring with the GearBox. Using an attractive aluminium enclosure and packed with a 500W Enhance PSU, it powers any modern dual-slot graphics card up to 266mm long.
Using a Radeon RX 580 Nitro+ card, which pushes total cost of ownership up to near £500, the performance uptick, at high-quality settings, is massive over integrated graphics - just as you would expect. GearBox turns games that are totally unplayable on a NUC - even with quality settings dialled down - to being smooth at an FHD resolution.
However, the combination of a low-power CPU and Thunderbolt 3 connection results in absolute performance being approximately two-thirds of the same RX 580 card installed in a high-performance computer via the usual PCIe slot. This state of affairs is wholly expected and normal, however.
Is the GearBox beyond reproach, then? Not quite, as we'd prefer the unit's cooling fans to turn off in concert with the GPUs' at low loads, we'd prefer the ability to switch off the piercing blue LED strip on the front, and, being picky, want a longer enclosure that accommodates the beefiest of cards such as the Radeon VII.
Being even-handed, the Sapphire GearBox does exactly what it says on the tin, with the minimum of fuss, and succeeds in its remit of enabling a number of IGP-only Ultrabooks/MacBooks to play games that are way out of the reach of the baked-in graphics. It also offers Gigabit Ethernet, multi-monitor capability and USB peripheral/storage support for an easy, single-cable transition between mobile and desktop environments. And it doesn't hurt that it looks good and is priced attractively, too.
Good selection of I/O ports
Gets loud at full chat
Blue LED can't be turned off
The Sapphire GearBox is available from Overclockers.
At HEXUS, we invite the companies whose products we test to comment on our articles. If any company representatives for the products reviewed choose to respond, we'll publish their commentary here verbatim.