I’ve had my Asus ROG Flow X13 with the ROG XG Mobile dock for a bit over a year now. I would say it successfully performed what I wanted out of it, for the most part. I had been exploring, for a while, a laptop with an external GPU (eGPU) but Thunderbolt was not good enough for the task. The XG Mobile did things a bit differently, and I think this is possibly the only real way to do a setup like this. Otherwise, you’re leaving performance on the table.
So, what is this setup?
The ROG Flow X13 is a 13" laptop. The first release of it includes an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS, 16GB of RAM, 1TB of NVMe storage, and a hybrid graphics setup with the AMD graphics on the CPU and Nvidia GTX 1650 Max-Q. At the time, this was the only spec available for it, but since then, there’s been more CPU and GPU options made available, such as the Ryzen 9 5980HS and the Nvidia RTX 3050 and Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti laptop spec.
Since this is a thin and light laptop, you can’t expect great gaming performance out of it. So that’s why the ROG XG Mobile dock is also available. Initial release has it coming with a Nvidia RTX 3080 laptop GPU, and it’s also the source of power and more IO for the laptop. By hosting the more power hungry GPU in the dock itself, it doesn’t need to deliver a ton of power to the laptop, keeping power delivery a bit better.
The obvious reason to want a powerful GPU is for gaming. But I had another reason: use it for machine learning. I had hoped to be able to use both Linux and Windows on this laptop, with 1 TB of storage being more than enough for me, and modern external SSDs really delivering on performance when needed, if I needed more storage beyond the internal storage. On my old desktop computer, where I was still using SATA SSDs, I found my “slow” USB SSD to be my fastest storage, prompting me to upgrade it to NVMe. I put “slow” in quotes because there’s even faster USB SSDs these days (one of which I later purchased).
First and foremost, while I have enjoyed this setup, I will not be going this route again in the future. Unless Asus can make this experience better, this setup is a pain in the ass.
Switching to the eGPU is not automatic. There’s a software toggle that you must perform to enable it. And you must use this software toggle to disable it before removing the docking connector. If you don’t disable it, the computer will shame you for it. I’m pretty sure there’s a reason for needing a “safe” ejection of the eGPU, but this is a pretty user-unfriendly way to handle it. Making things worse, I only want to enable to eGPU when I need it, so when I’m not gaming or working on ML models, I leave it disabled, but when I unlock my computer with it disabled, it reminds me to enable it. Every time. Unlock, get a popup to enable it, dismiss it.
Because there’s a software toggle, one should assume that this means the software toggle is only supported in Windows. And yeah, it’s true. There’s a project to make this work in Linux, but it apparently only works on a limited number of distributions, and not any that I prefer. I’m not into distro-hopping, and I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a distribution I don’t prefer.
I did manage to get dual boot working, and I found I could toggle the dock in Windows and make it work in Linux as I needed it. This worked well for me for a while.
I had to stop using Linux on this laptop after the dock had a hardware failure. The USB ports stopped functioning in USB 3 modes, which is an odd failure mode. It’s possible power was the problem and it was incapable of negotiating USB 3 modes as a result. I was barely still in warranty and Asus took care of me. However, repair took a long time, thanks to supply chain issues, and the fact that the first time it was repaired and returned to me, FedEx apparently dropped something extremely heavy on the packaging, damaging the protective bubble enclosure, and, of course, the laptop and the dock.
I have to say, Asus support may be a little difficult to figure out, but they take care of you. Both times I had to RMA my laptop, they were helpful, and took care of my concerns. The only problem I had with them is they didn’t cover shipping, and becomes I had to ship it to them twice, and pay for the laptop box twice, I was still out some money. But it wasn’t horrible.
After I got the laptop back, so firmware updates and whatnot came through. Wanting to get back into Linux, I discovered Asus broke something in their BIOS that makes newer Linux kernels unbootable.
After many frustrations trying to get Linux working again, I ended up giving up. I may work on getting another dual boot running on a repartitioned drive, but I’m still not a fan of not being able to freely work with the eGPU within Linux, and open source just doesn’t have the time and resources to really solve this. It looks like the kernel interfaces are finally in place to toggle the eGPU, but for some reason it crashes the Nvidia driver and I just don’t care to fiddle with this so much.
In terms of upgrading, it’s not really there. The RAM is soldered so you need to choose the amount you need at the time of purchase, and I’ve been wanting more RAM for some of the stuff that I do. The NVMe SSD is a 2230 size card, so you can’t just go out and buy a bigger stick as 2230 size cards are pretty rare. The small form factor card also means there’s no room for a DRAM cache so performance isn’t as nice as a full size NVMe card. If you already got the XG Mobile, you got the best graphics you can get. There was indication there might be a 3070 version of the dock, but I don’t think that ever launched, going from a “low end” dock to a max spec dock isn’t even on the table.
I will probably get at least a couple more years out of this setup, but, unless something changes, I’m going back to a basic setup. I’ll seek out a decent small form factor build again, like my old one, without all the complexities. I’m not even sure if I’ll get a new laptop, if iPadOS keeps doing what it’s doing (yeah, I use an iPad…so what?). The eGPU is not a full RTX3080 anyway, it’s a laptop chip, and it’s still on a PCIe 3 bus (CPU supports PCIe 4), so I’m not even sure it’s tremendously worth it to try to squeeze more out of it.
So who would I say this is for? Well, it sfor the person who isn’t too much of a hardcore gamer, who maybe only occasionally games. Or perhaps it’s for the person who only occasionally goes mobile. If you don’t intend to get the dock, then there are plenty of cheaper options with better inbuilt graphics, and far less complexity to worry about failing. If you are looking for a gaming laptop, get a laptop that’s built from the ground up for gaming without addons.
In my opinion, this is probably the best implementation of an eGPU dock, but it’s still a pretty big miss, especially since access to flagship graphics aren’t even on the table, and especially for the price.