Razer Core X Chroma Review – Absolute Unit

Truong Nguyen Product Reviews

Introduction

When you have the top-selling eGFX on the market, what can be done to make it more dominant? Razer’s answer is to pack in even more goodies and crush the competition. At first glance the Razer Core X Chroma looks identical to the base Core X. Inside the Chroma though, Razer added a beefier power supply, a second Thunderbolt 3 controller, and RGB lighting. Other subtle tweaks to component mounting brackets provide better interior customization. These improvements allow the Core X Chroma to support virtually all Thunderbolt 3 hosts and graphics cards. On top of that it now hosts expansion I/Os for one-cable connectivity and Chroma sync with compatible Razer products. Yet there is more than what meets the eye.

Hardware

Razer Core X Chroma + RX Vega 64 LC

Razer Core X Chroma + RX Vega 64 LC

Specifications  compare 
Price US$
$399
PSU location-type
internal-ATX
PSU max power700W
GPU max power
500W
Power delivery (PD)
100W
USB-C controller
TI83
TB3 USB-C ports1
Size (in/mm, LxWxH)
14.72 x 9.06 x 6.61
374 x 230 x 168
Max GPU len (in/cm)
12.99/33.0
Weight (kg/lb)6.48/14.29
Updated firmware33.1 ✔
TB3 cable length (cm)70
Vendor pagelink
Implementations
link

The jackfruit you see next to the Razer Core X Chroma weighs 32 pounds. It is delicious and could be desert for a dozen people, or feeding a man and his two dogs for several days. By comparison, the Core X Chroma weighs in around 14 pounds empty. Measuring in at 374 x 230 x 168mm (14.72 x 9.06 x 6.61″), it can house any graphics card you want. Perhaps the best application is one with a closed-loop, all-in-one liquid cooler. It was a pleasant surprise to learn the revised 120mm fan mounting bracket could accommodate a RX Vega 64 LC GPU without modification. Also, thanks to the slightly boosted output of 700W, the PSU has more than enough juice for this power-hungry graphics card even when overclocked.

As the name implies, the new Razer eGPU enclosure gains Chroma support. Its two RGB lighting zones can be adjusted individually or sync with compatible Chroma devices. The controller software is Razer Synapse 3 that is only available in Windows at the moment. The side lighting zone has 13 LED diodes, while the front underside zone has 15. I’m not a huge fan of RGB, but Razer has always managed to present their products in the best light.

Razer Core X Chroma Light Zones

Razer Core X Chroma Light Zones

Razer Core X Chroma Inner Carrier + RX Vega 65 LX

Razer Core X Chroma Inner Carrier + RX Vega 65 LX

Besides Chroma, expansion ports are another added feature over the base Core X. Expansion I/O in eGPU enclosures can provide a one-cable solution for ultrabook users. However there are performance downsides to them. We have learned single-Thunderbolt 3 controller enclosures can experience mouse/keyboard lag issues during heavy load. The remedy is to limit device-to-host bandwidth through Thunderbolt 3 enclosure firmware. This is not an acceptable workaround because the already-limited bandwidth (22Gbps) of the Thunderbolt 3 connection is reduced further. Fortunately there’s another solution. Razer was the first to implement a hardware fix for mouse/keyboard lag by adding a second Thunderbolt 3 controller to the main board of the Razer Core V2. They did the same with this Core X Chroma.

The expansion daughter board has similar dimensions to a standard x4 PCIe add-in card. I tested the fit with a few cards such as NVMe M.2 adapter and Thunderbolt 3 ALPINE RIDGE AIC. It may be possible to swap the provided expansion card with an NVMe SSD card or, more adventurously, a Thunderbolt 3 AIC. If you manage to get an AIC to work in this slot alongside eGPU, please share with our community.

Expansion IO Board Closeup

Expansion IO Board Closeup

Expansion IO Board and Other X4 Add-in Cards

Expansion IO Board and Other X4 Add-in Cards

x4 Expansion Slot NVMe Card

x4 Expansion Slot NVMe Card

An improvement in this new Core X Chroma that may not garner much attention but deserves recognition is the cooling fan mounting bracket. Razer moved it to the edge of the inner carrier to sit flush with the power supply. This frees up room in front of the PSU and behind an installed graphics card. While I was able to use velcro squares to half-assedly mount radiator + fan of the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid in the original Core X, this new bracket in the Core X Chroma is designed with AIO liquid cooled GPUs in mind.

Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled Installed in Razer Core X Chroma

Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled Installed in Razer Core X Chroma

Core X Chroma Front Intake 140mm Cooling Fan

Core X Chroma Front Intake 140mm Cooling Fan

Running the RX Vega 64 LC meant I needed to remove the stock 120mm cooling fan to mount the radiator. I realized in this modified arrangement there’s little to no airflow through the enclosure. This led to discovering another nice surprise in the Core X Chroma. The front fascia once removed reveals five mounting holes, four of which align precisely with a 140mm cooling fan. The front-mounted intake fan can run off the mainboard 3-pin header or through a separate fan controller.

The power supply received a minor tweak to output 700W (up from 650W). It’s a 12V multi-rail unit. This PSU provides four power cables. A pair of 6+2-pin PCIe power cables go to the graphics card, while one 24-pin and one 8-pin ESP power cables go to the mainboard. The cooling fan inside this PSU is one of the few weak points of the Core X Chroma. Although the PSU is ATX size, it uses a small 60mm fan facing the rear of the enclosure for air exhaustion. Noise during operation is not a concern in my observation. What bugs me is that the PSU fan runs all the time even when the host computer is asleep.

Razer Core X Chroma Teardown Component Layout

Razer Core X Chroma Teardown Component Layout

Other components remain the same as the Core X. A minor tweak to the PSU mounting gives it some clearance with the rear inner carrier. This can be a boon for swapping the stock power supply with a quieter option. The Thunderbolt 3 main board now has a second PCI slot but doesn’t grow much in size. It contains all the crucial components of JHL6540 Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 controller (2x), Winbond EEPROM chip (2x), and Texas Instrument TPS65083BA USB-C controller.

Texas Instrument TPS65083BA USB-C Controller

Texas Instrument TPS65083BA USB-C Controller

Secondary JHL6540 Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Secondary JHL6540 Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Winbond ICs and Primary JHL6540 Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Winbond ICs and Primary JHL6540 Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller

Testings

Connecting to my 2018 13″ MacBook Pro showed power delivery at 100W as claimed. Similar to the Thunderbolt firmware version of the Razer Core X, the Core X Chroma comes with version 33.1 for the primary Thunderbolt 3 controller. However the secondary Thunderbolt 3 controller has version 40.1. Verified through AIDA64 in Windows and CL!ng in macOS, this Core X Chroma firmware yields the maximum performance out of Thunderbolt 3 eGFX bandwidth (capped at 22Gbps).

macOS System Information Power

macOS System Information Power

macOS System Information Thunderbolt

macOS System Information Thunderbolt

In order to fully utilize the Chroma feature of this new Razer eGPU enclosure, Razer Synapse 3 is a prerequisite. This software is only compatible with the latest Razer products in Windows. When I paired the Core X Chroma with a 2018 13″ Blade Stealth, I needed Razer Synapse 2 to control the lights in the laptop separately. This wasn’t the most user-friendly experience. Linux and macOS users are out of luck if they want to make changes to Chroma settings.

2019 13 In Razer Blade Stealth Core X Chroma Synapse 3 Dashboard

Synapse 3 Dashboard

2019 13 In Razer Blade Stealth Core X Chroma Synapse 3 Egpu

Core X Chroma in Synapse 3

2019 13 In Razer Blade Stealth Core X Chroma Synapse 3 System

2019 13″ Razer Blade Stealth in Synapse 3

The second Thunderbolt 3 controller is confirmed to provide stability for low-latency peripherals attached to the Core X Chroma’s USB ports. We have seen reports of lagging issues due to connecting a peripheral through a USB hub rather than to the enclosure directly. One expansion port that may not work out of the box is the Ethernet port. In macOS, you’d need to download and install third-party drivers. We also heard inconsistent performance of this Ethernet port in Windows, macOS, and Linux. Razer informed us they were working on providing the drivers directly on the Core X Chroma Support website [available as of July 2nd 2019].

2019 Blade Stealth Razer Core X Chroma Radeon Rx Vega 64 Lc Right

2019 13″ Blade Stealth + Core X Chroma

Razer Core X Chroma Unboxing Macbook Pro 13 Samsung Chg90

Core X Chroma + 13″ Macbook Pro + Samsung CHG90

As interest and demand for eGPU grows, we’ve started seeing more community solutions to facilitate external graphics use in Linux. As a matter of fact, Thunderbolt device detection in most recent Linux distros is very good. In Ubuntu 19.04 for example, the system would notify there’s a connected Thunderbolt 3 device. Clicking on this notification would bring up the Thunderbolt panel to approve the new device. I found this detection implementation better and more intuitive than Windows’ Intel Thunderbolt Software/Thunderbolt Control Center and macOS’s complete lack of notification or approval process.

2019 Razer Blade Stealth in Ubuntu 19.04 Settings Devices Thunderbolt

2019 Razer Blade Stealth in Ubuntu 19.04 Settings > Devices > Thunderbolt

2019 Razer Blade Stealth in Ubuntu 19.04 Terminal eGPU-Switch Setup

2019 Razer Blade Stealth in Ubuntu 19.04 Terminal – eGPU-Switch Setup

In order to stress-test the revised power supply, I used the most demanding graphics card in recent years, the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled. The reference RX Vega 64 GPU is known to cause over-voltage protection in most eGPU enclosures unless they have a 650W+ PSU. This liquid-cooled version requires even more power than reference model. Not only was Razer Core X Chroma’s PSU able to handle the Vega 64 LC, but overclocking was also a possibility. I’ve paired the eGPU with many systems in all three OS environments. The performance was consistent and stable. Cooling was very effective with hot air exhausted directly outside through the side. Paired with my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro in Boot Camp, I ran the RX Vega 64 LC at 1782MHz GPU clock and 1100MHz Memory clock.

2016 15 In Macbook Pro Razer Core X Chroma Rx Vega 64 Lc Radeon Wattman Settings

RX Vega 64 LC Radeon Wattman Settings

Razer Core X Chroma Radeon Rx Vega 64 Lc Backside

RX Vega 64 LC Radiator & Load Indicator LEDs

Speaking of Boot Camp support, things have somewhat improved for eGPU users courtesy of Microsoft. Windows 10 1903 has better hot-plug detection and handling of PCIe device through Thunderbolt 3 interface. A major challenge with using an eGPU in Boot Camp is device resource management. Prior to W10 1903, hot-plugging an AMD Radeon eGPU to a Mac would result in error 12 [lack of resource]. There are workarounds to fix this error in our Boot Camp setup guide but it can be intimidating for beginners. Thanks to these improvements in Windows, I was able to use the Razer Core X Chroma + RX Vega 64 LC setup on both 2016 15″ MacBook Pro and 2018 Mac mini with relative ease.

Conclusion

As of summer 2019, there are two types of eGPU buyers: those who prioritize a single feature and those who buy the Razer Core X Chroma. Unless you want the quietest or smallest eGPU solution, you can’t go wrong with Razer’s latest offering. Priced at US$399, it’s $100 more than the very competitive base Core X. This added cost is well worth the refinements in expansion I/O, RGB, and liquid-cooled GPU compatibility. This absolute unit of an eGPU enclosure is destined to eat up market share. With the Core X and Core X Chroma, Razer delivers a one-two punch that knocks everybody out. If other eGFX vendors don’t up their game soon, our eGPU buyer’s guide will be topped by Razer products heading into 2020.

Razer Core X Chroma Radeon Rx Vega 64 Lc Monitors Keyboard Mouse

Razer Core X Chroma + RX Vega 64 LC + MacBook Pro + 49″ & 5K Monitors + Boot Camp eGPU