Researching PCI Express Extension Cables

Building Luggable PC (Mark I) determined that a direct GPU connection to the motherboard takes up a lot of space. For Mark II, a simple riser card would not fit. That leaves us with using a PCI Express extension cable.

A flexible cable allows significantly more freedom in placement. Given this freedom, I wanted the GPU cooling intake to face the same direction as the CPU fan cooling intake. This is better than a simple riser card, which would result in the two fan intakes facing opposite directions. To flip the GPU (and its intake) around, I’ll need a longer cable to take the circuitous S-turn.

One word of caution: most extension cables are sold to crypto-currency miners, who want the flexibility to pack as many GPUs into one computer as possible. Miners are not concerned with bandwidth and latency over the PCIe bus, but I am!

Hunting in the sea of products aimed at miners, my next task is to determine how much I need to pay for a decent quality cable. Amazon vendors sell cables for anywhere from $7 to $70. Some of the reviews left on the $7 cable warned of destroyed components, making me jittery about going cheap. This cable has the potential to destroy a multi-hundred dollar GPU, a multi-hundred dollar CPU+Motherboard, or possibly both! I climbed up the Amazon price ladder until I found a $30 unit by “EZDIY” with a significant number of reviews, none of which complained about destroyed components.

Then it came time to mount everything. The freedom of placement given by the extension cable also takes away the structural connection to the motherboard. I will need to design my own GPU mounting bracket with zero structural help from the motherboard mount.

The PC interface slot standard, built up over decades tracing back to the old ISA expansion cards, is quite a challenge to deal with. Optimized for mass-production with sheet metal, it is not very friendly to hobbyist 3D printing. But it’s a problem solvable with enough creativity in Fusion 360 and multiple test prints on the 3D printer.

Once it was all set up, I tested the configuration of both the extension cable and the 3D-printed custom GPU mount to verify everything works. It was a little jarring to see my GPU sitting on top of the box instead of its usual home inside.

IMG_5198
GPU mounted in custom 3D-printed bracket and connected to the rest of the system via PCI-Express flexible extension cable.

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