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Dell Alienware Graphics Amplifier Driver for non-Alienware systems

I have PC's that have only 240 watt power and small form factor, and they need upgraded graphics cards for Virtual Reality.  I thought that Alienware Graphics Amplifier would be an ideal solution, but Dell told me they don't release drivers for this for any other pc's than their own Alienware branded units.  Does anyone know a workaround for this if I got an Alienware Graphics Amplifier unit to use with other pc's than the Alienware pc's?  Are there any alternative drivers or 3rd party drivers that would somehow work?  Is there another device like this that you might recommend if not that could do the same job?  My computers are USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt compatible.  Thanks!
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David Eisenberg
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David Eisenberg
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Dillyn BarberCIOCommented:
The Alienware Graphics Amplifier port uses “raw/unmuxed/filtered” PCI Express Gen3 (Gen2 for the Alienware 13 R1) lanes when connected to the Alienware notebooks, Alpha R2, X51 R3 –that is a direct PCI Express connection to a desktop graphics card. This type of connection is the same that is used on desktop computers –direct PCI Express. In layman's terms it is a specifically designed port only built into certain alienware laptops, it does not operate off of USB or thunderbolt. For more info there is a community FAQ: https://na.alienwarearena.com/forums/thread/83039/technical-support-1/alienware-graphics-amplifier-faq
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dbruntonCommented:
I believe the Alienware Graphics Amplifier cable is proprietary and will only connect to select Alienware laptops.

Other devices?  There are solutions for laptops but I can't find anything for desktops.  See http://www.techradar.com/news/computing-components/graphics-cards/how-to-make-an-external-laptop-graphics-adaptor-915616 and http://www.pcworld.com/article/2984716/laptop-computers/how-to-transform-your-laptop-into-a-gaming-powerhouse-with-an-external-graphics-card.html

Especially read the second page http://www.pcworld.com/article/2984716/laptop-computers/how-to-transform-your-laptop-into-a-gaming-powerhouse-with-an-external-graphics-card.html?page=2 and it talks about other experiments and with links to other sites that have implemented solutions including Thunderbolt.

But these are all expensive and not off the shelf solutions and you are probably on your own if you go this way.
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
Thank you for this idea!  I may find a great thunderbolt card and install it and then try to jimmy an external setup like in the article you suggested with everything kind of sitting external but connecting a laptop power supply and a gtx 1060 separately.  Hp did say that if the solution all sat outside the computer after a thunderbolt or usb 3.0 connection, then it would not cause any internal problems if it didn't work, and would not void the warranty in any way.  Any thoughts about using usb 3.0 or thunderbolt 2 instead of 3?  I'm having trouble finding a thunderbolt 3 pci express card for my desktop.  One representative suggested that thunderbolt 2 was 20 gig thruput and would be more than enough for anything, but I'm not sure.  And usb 3 is simply built into my pc, so any solution starting with usb 3.0 is much less expensive and easier for me too.  What do you think?
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nobusCommented:
would you not be better off with a desktop with a proper video card and power supply?
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
Perhaps, but I can't replace my just purchased desktops purchased by my organization.  I have to somehow work with what I have been given for my students.  And Hp will not exchange or return at this point.
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dbruntonCommented:
Thunderbolt 2 would be your pick.
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nobusCommented:
>>  And Hp will not exchange or return at this point.  <<  i doubt that, but you may have to move higher up in their ranks
given that you'll take more expensive units - i see no much reason to decline the change
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
Thanks, Nobus, even if it were possible, the HP rep told me they would charge a minimum of 30% restocking fee, which would be unacceptable to my superiors, and an amount I would not be able to afford.
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
I'm concerned about the pcie bus.  Have you used these before?  Do you know of any American companies selling this?  I often have difficulty buying from a public school budget from foreign suppliers.
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Danny ChildIT ManagerCommented:
The whole VR environment is pretty demanding on PCs, and not just for graphics.  You should look at the minimum spec for your package, and compare it to the entire PC you're looking at.  I'd strongly recommend some very thorough real-world performance tests before you commit to any major roll-out.
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
I found two interesting options with everything built in:  

The Sonnet ECHO-EXP-S, which costs $380 and runs off Thunderbolt 2.  It is rated at 80 Watts.   Any chance this could run any usable VR Graphics card on its own?

http://www.adorama.com/SNTEXPSE2.html?RRref=productPage

Alternatively, there may be running something like this Akito model:  

http://www.adorama.com/aoexpanbox.html

and then trying to plug in an alternative external hard drive sitting outside the thing, which I'm not quite sure how to do, but I think I could buy a standard 400 watt hard drive for maybe $50 or so, and then maybe unplug something and plug the different power supply in, having it sitting next to the thing like an electrician's garage next to my computer...

The other option is the Razer Core, at $499 each, runs off Thunderbolt 3, though I might only be able to install Thunderbolt 2.  Also says it's open source architecture unlike the Dell Alienware, but it is recommended for laptops, and says nothing of desktops.  How good is this solution?  And is it just for Radeon cards, or can I run any card from it?  Thanks so much again!

David
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Dillyn BarberCIOCommented:
Unfortunately, both the Sonnet ECHO-EXP-S and the Akito will not work. The Akito page itself notes that it does not support graphics cards. The Sonnet only supports up to 80 watts, and a single GTX 1080 requires 180 watts. Also, the port speed requirement for a single GTX 1080 is 10 Gbps, which is the max for Thunderbolt 2 You got to find that Thunderbolt 3 PCIe and I would most certainly recommend the Razer Core, it is the direct competition to the Alienware Graphics Amplifier. These are the cards the Razer Core supports:
AMD Radeon™ RX 480
AMD Radeon™ RX 470
AMD Radeon™ RX 460
AMD Radeon™ R9 Fury
AMD Radeon™ R9 Nano
AMD Radeon™ R9 300 Series
AMD Radeon™ R9 290X
AMD Radeon™ R9 290
AMD Radeon™ R9 285
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX Titan X
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 980 Ti
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 980
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 970
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 950
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 750 Ti
NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 750

And it allows up to 375 Watts.
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
How might I find out about the port speed requirements for these different graphics cards, in case I cannot find a better than Thunderbolt 2, but can meet all the other specs?  Perhaps another, less advanced card, such as a GTX 1060, 970 or a slower Radeon model might have a slightly less fast minimum requirement of port speed to use and still be VR compatible, but then be more reliable with a Thunderbolt 2 connection?  There does not seem like there is any option other than Thunderbolt 2 at this time.  Thanks so much again,

David
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
According to wikipedia (which of course could be unreliable), "Thunderbolt 2 has max throughput of 20 Gbps. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 has a maximum throughput of 5 Gbps, which makes Thunderbolt 2 up to four times as fast as USB 3.0. Recently, the USB Promoters Association announced the USB 3.1 spec, which allows USB to transfer up to 10 Gbps".  I have USB 3.1 pre-installed on the Z240's, but I can easily install an HP branded Thunderbolt 2 card that says it should max out at 20 gbps.  What do you think?
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Dillyn BarberCIOCommented:
Your bottom that would work for tunderbolt 2 is the geforce 980 or readon eqivilent. That is the first one to include VR technologies. But power will still be an issue, you need to find an external pci bus that will support more than 165 watts.

http://www.geforce.com/hardware/desktop-gpus/geforce-gtx-980/specifications
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
Thanks!  It seems more possible to find the external gpu and pci bus with more power at this point than the thunderbolt 3 card.  Still looking though.  Right now, my favorite option seems to be trying to build one.  Though my school won't let me buy from a kickstarter, I emailed to find out more about:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thewolfe/the-wolfe-supercharge-your-laptop

and am trying to understand this for possibly building something similar:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-to-build-an-external-gpu-for-4k-video-editing-vr-and-gaming/

Thanks again!

Dave
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Dillyn BarberCIOCommented:
I would follow the Tech Republic article, today was the first time I have read it. Most likely it will be your best solution you will find for Thunderbolt 2.
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David EisenbergAuthor Commented:
Thank you!!!!!
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