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Razer Core shows what Apple could do for gamers with Thunderbolt

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Gaming hardware maker Razer has unveiled something that Mac users have sought after for years — a Thunderbolt-connected external module that lets gamers take advantage of desktop-class graphics hardware at home while keeping their laptop thin and light on the go.

The Razer Core, announced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, isn't technologically novel. It connects to the company's new Blade Stealth ultrabook via Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, and functions primarily as a really big Thunderbolt dock — one that happens to include a PCIe slot.

That slot can handle any standard double-width, full-length PCI Express x16 graphics card. Gamers can slip in a GTX 970 or Radeon R9 380, connect the Core to the Stealth, and play Crysis without melting the Stealth's integrated Intel graphics chip.

When they're done, they can unplug the Core — without rebooting — and take the MacBook Air-sized stealth to the coffee shop.

Gamers who prefer Apple's laptops have been searching for a solution like this for years. Interest has only intensified since Thunderbolt's introduction, but Apple has ignored their cries.

There are unofficial workarounds, of course, using some of the infrastructure Apple has built to support external PCIe devices for professionals.

It's not easy though. It requires some nontrivial hacking — in the oldest sense of the word — to enable Thunderbolt GPU drivers, and doesn't gracefully handle hotplugging the way Razer's solution does.

The adoption of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C gives Apple an excellent opportunity to make this work in a user-friendly way, but history suggests that they almost certainly won't.

Why does Apple seem so ambivalent toward desktop gaming? Maybe the Halo debacle — when Microsoft snatched Bungie up for the Xbox and subsequently killed the originally planned Mac release — scarred Apple for life, or perhaps they've simply chosen to put their weight behind iOS as the gaming platform of the future.