A New External Graphics Card Will Superpower Your Gaming Laptop – BostInno

The steadily increasing quality of graphics, along with the emergence of virtual reality, has been like a gamer’s dream. But one aspect of these sophisticated technologies still sucks: You often have to use a desktop or a console to enjoy them. Wolfepack – a startup co-founded by Harvard students Dino Rodriguez, Chase Davis and Christian Ondaatje – is about to eliminate that inconvenience with its product, the Wolfe.

The Wolfe is a device that speeds up laptops, giving them a significant graphics boost. It’s an external Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) – or graphics card – that plugs into computers through a Thunderbolt port, which is available on Macbooks and will begin to appear on an increasing number Windows laptop models this year.

The Wolfe promises to increase the graphical computing power of standard consumer laptops tenfold, driving frame rate for an overall smoother experience. As a result, according to the Wolfepack team, it will offer a significant increase in performance when users are on their laptops for a number of tasks including gaming, rendering, 3D modeling and virtual reality.

Rodriguez had the original inspiration for the Wolfe. He explained, “I was in the office at my job and I had just bought a new MacBook that summer. I pulled it out after and realized I couldn’t play anything. It was a brand new computer and had a great processor, so I thought, ‘Why should I have to buy another computer for this?’” I started to look to see if there was such a thing as an extra GPU card. There were minor do-it-yourself options, but they had minimal capabilities.”

The team took charge and started developing the Wolfe last summer at the Harvard Innovation Lab. By the end of the summer, they had a functioning prototype and, through Paul Bottino’s Startup R&D class at Harvard this spring and “many an all nighter,” they were able to improve upon their initial prototype.

The tech specs

So what makes a GPU special? This chip contains microprocessors that can make millions of calculations at the same time. Your average laptop doesn’t come with a good enough GPU. Instead, it’s a smaller component in the computer that doesn’t offer the same processing power, and an array of graphically heavy applications suffer in return.

With earlier prototypes, the Wolfe has demonstrated frame rate increases from 14 frames per second (FPS) to 52.4 FPS on the newest 15-inch MacBook model. Meanwhile, the Wolfe Pro went up all the way to 75.8 FPS, as measured using the Heaven Benchmark.

The set-up for the Wolfe is simple: Users connect it to their laptops via Thunderbolt and install it before it’s ready to go. The Wolfe has also been designed with portability in mind because it’s meant to pair with your laptop. The dimensions measure 7.8 inches by 5.4 inches by 2.6 inches. The Wolfe weighs 2 pounds while the Wolfe Pro weighs 3.2 pounds.

If you’re a gamer, the Wolfe is about to be, well, a game-changer. For one thing, you won’t be confined to your desktop or consoles. Games (VR and AAA games included) you were never able to play on your laptop will soon be able to run smoothly on your laptop. So you can game wherever the heck you want without compromising the graphics.

Although the Wolfepack team has zeroed in on gamers as early adopters, the Wolfe isn’t just for them, though. Professionals can also benefit from the external graphics card. Anyone working in fields such as development, machine learning, architecture, engineering, graphic design and video editing won’t have to be stuck using their desktops. The technology would let them use a laptop and still do their work faster and more efficiently. And programs like CAD and Adobe Suite will never look so good.

Why this has not yet been done

Wolfepack is still working at the iLab, as well as at the apartment the co-founders and Harvard Computer Science concentrators share, and it’s ready to make its public debut. Davis told us, “We’re coming out of stealth mode after making strides. The area we’re working on is infantile and no one has really come out with a commercial product for it yet. The Tease by Razer is probably the first in this space, but it’s not the same as our product.”

“We’re starting to see sneak peeks from bigger corporation about how they’re interested in what we’re doing,” Davis said. “The implications are really huge.”

According to Rodriguez, technology has been the biggest hindrance on developing a plug-in GPU up until this point. USB ports, which every computer have, – every comp has, are nowhere near capable of handling the fast flow of data needed for an external GPU to work properly. For Thunderbolt, the speeds very recently became fast enough to make the Wolfe’s technology feasible. And Thunderbolt is finally releasing the information developers need to use them, so the legal and technical barriers have only recently been lowered.

Wolfepack has received seed funding through Rough Draft Ventures, but has otherwise been bootstrapping. The team recognizes that typically with hardware, startups need a big capital injection to begin driving growth. They’ve done fine without an immense amount of funding so far, but they will be looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign in the coming month to get the ball rolling on capital.

The retail price for the Wolfe is still in the works, but the team said it will be in the hundreds of dollars, with a lower price point for the intended crowdfunding campaign.

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