eGPU for Mac. What it is, and whether it has any practical uses?

In the recent release of macOS 10.13.4 Apple brought full support for an external GPU (eGPU). Today we will analyze in detail why this is necessary and how it can help in the work.

What is an eGPU?

As the name implies, it is a docking station with external video card which connects via a fast Thunderbolt interface 3. Of course, the box comes complete with power supply, which provide the required power. Video card is usually not included and must be purchased separately. Of course, before purchasing a graphics adapter, you must check compatibility on the manufacturer’s website of Boxing.

Though this type of adapters existed for a long time, the old interfaces (such as USB and FireWire) are not allowed to reveal the graphics card at full power, what the point in such solutions simply did not exist. But with the advent of Thunderbolt 3 everything has changed – due to the superior speed of 40 GB/s.

Why is it necessary?

Apple claims that an external graphics card to improve performance in applications that use Metal, OpenGL and OpenCL. In addition will be able to connect additional monitors, avoiding the limitation of integrated graphics.

A huge benefit of using eGPU lies in the fact that you can use this power on any Mac with Thunderbolt 3. This means that you can transform into a powerful workstation even MacBook Pro. Provided high-end solutions such tasks as video editing in 4K, 3D and VR graphics, and even the newest games will no longer be a problem. And at the end of the work will be enough to turn off the adapter and again to a mobile solution.

Are there any downsides?

In some cases, the performance of eGPU may be limited by the processor. In addition, not all applications can support such acceleration.

What else should you know?

Previously, Apple did not officially support such decisions, and support was provided solely by the manufacturers of docking stations, respectively, there were problems with connectivity and drivers. Now, with the advent 10.13.4 we can be sure the stable operation of such adapters. Unfortunately Apple for some reason refused to support graphics cards from NVIDIA. On the Apple website you can see a list of recommended boxes for specific graphics cards:

For graphics cards AMD Radeon RX 570, RX 580, and Radeon Pro WX 7100:

  • OWC Mercury Helios FX3
  • PowerColor Devil Box
  • Sapphire Gear Box
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 350W
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 550W
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W

For graphics cards AMD Radeon RX Vega 56:

  • OWC Mercury Helios FX3
  • PowerColor Devil Box
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 550W
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W

For graphics cards AMD Radeon RX 64 Vega, Vega Frontier Air Edition, Radeon 9100 Pro WX:

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W

Apple recommends that you connect box directly to USB type-C, avoiding the use of adapters. Unfortunately, Macs with Thunderbolt interface of the first and the second generation has not received the support eGPU because of insufficient data transfer speed.

As you consider whether to use such a solution? If not, why not?

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