External Graphics Are Coming to a Laptop near You Thanks to the OCuLink Cable

OcuLinkCable1For graphics hounds in the market for a laptop or PC, the struggle for what to forgo is very real. While notebook PCs offer the utmost in convenience and portability, the need for low power consumption and a light, travel-friendly frame often greatly limit graphics power in comparison to what you can get in a desktop computer. And if you do decide to go with a laptop, are you financially limited to one with low-cost integrated graphics, or are you able to pony up for the more expensive discrete GPU? The dilemma is one that the PCI Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG) has been very quietly focused on for the last couple of years, and it looks like a solution is finally on the horizon in the form of the OCuLink cable.

OcuLinkCableThe forthcoming PCI Express OCuLink cable will actually enable you to dock your notebook to an external graphics card, among other things. This is huge news for graphics lovers who want to be able to access the same level of graphics performance that they get on their desktop PC while on-the-go. The technology is actually surprisingly simple – PCI Express is connected via the cable which allows for a very high data transfer, rather than having to connect directly to the motherboard as is the current norm. The cable can be connected to any external component for the purpose of storage, networking, and of course the almighty graphics card. Plus, according to president and chairman of the PCI SIG Al Yanes, the OCuLink cable could be used both inside and outside the PC. When used inside the PC, the cable could allow extra flexibility to hardware makers in terms of component placement, while externally it would function as a standard cabling solution for low-cost I/O disambiguation.

OcuLinkCable2Executives at PCI-SIG announced this week that Revision 0.9 of the spec is currently under review, and they expect the final specification, version 1.0, to debut in the third quarter of this year. That’s not to say that the version 1.0 doesn’t still have its limitations though. Currently, the OCuLink cable only supports PCI Express four-lane transfer at a maximum of 32GB/s, rather than the standard 16 lanes allocated to standard graphics cards (for those of you using on the plate graphic solutions currently, most of those offer 8-16 lanes and a maximum transfer of 64GB/s). However, they are working towards support for more bands in the very near future, which would enable them to connect to even the most powerful graphics cards on the market, such as the NVIDIA Titan X. It is the further hope of the PCI-SIG that the cable can be of some use in desktop computers by replacing the existing PCIe slots and aiding in the slimming down of the PC’s body. While the OCuLink will be available by the end of this year, we won’t really be able to grasp the scope of its impact until we see how it performs with PCIe 4.0 when it is made available in 2016.

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