Apple M1 3

Apple Silicon ARM Macs and Thunderbolt 3 / USB4 eGPU

eGPU Mac 58 Comments

Introduction

I’d like to start a topic on ARM Macs and how they may work with existing as well as future eGPU products. Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

For the past 8 years, Apple has integrated Thunderbolt technology in all Macs except for the 12-in MacBook. There’s no chance they are abandoning Thunderbolt 3 Macs and accessories during this transition. We’ve learnt adding a TB3 AIB can allow non-supported AMD CPU systems to work with Thunderbolt devices. It’s a simple task for Apple to implement Thunderbolt 3 and eventually USB4 on the new ARM Mac lineup.

The biggest blow to this switch is Boot Camp mode for gaming. I don’t foresee Apple ever be able to earn the trust of game developers to make macOS gaming a viable option. Linux gaming will be our only hope going forward. I’d probably hang on to the 2020 13-in Ice Lake MacBook Pro so that I can keep using Boot Camp for the next 5 years. After 2025, all bets are off.

Implications

By @mac_editor

The switch to ARM on Macs enables Apple to make significant changes to the macOS preboot environment and enforce far more control over security. Notably, however, Apple claims that while these changes enhance security, hobbyists and security researchers can turn off most protections, similar to how we can today.

Preboot Fun

ARM Macs will incorporate a secure boot process similar to iOS and iPadOS. At maximum security, this implies signed macOS versions, with verification of the entire boot chain done early on. Additionally, the new system is designed for:

  • Support for multiple macOS installs
  • Support for multiple macOS versions
  • macOS recovery flows

Meaning there is feature parity in terms of flexibility of macOS installations. But there’s more. Startup options will now be a dedicated UI instead of just keyboard shortcuts. This can be accessed by long-pressing the power button. Target Disk Mode has been replaced with Mac Sharing Mode. Security is fully configurable using csrutil for:

  • Secure Boot
  • Authenticated Root Volumes
  • System Integrity Protection

Here’s a look at the user interface:

Advancements

On Intel Macs, disabling SIP or ART will affect every installation of macOS. In a sense, those security policies are global for every Mac, rather than every install. With Apple Silicon, security policies will be applied per OS, meaning that one can have a fully secured (SIP/ART/SB enabled) install + unsecured volume to test and fiddle around with.

The login experience will be far better as well. Similar to iOS, ARM Macs can boot into the OS even with FileVault enabled, providing an accelerated UI for unified login with Accessibility support. Besides that, strides have been made in data protection in scenarios such as hibernation.

Recovery’s Recovery – If for some reason macOS Recovery is inaccessible, a separate System Recovery mechanism exists locally beyond the Internet Recovery system that runs a minimal version of macOS to reinstall macOS and macOS Recovery.

There are only two security modes on ARM Macs:

  • Full security – like the iPhone
  • Reduced security – support for unsigned macOS versions and notarized 3rd party kexts

Kernel Integrity Protection on ARM Macs will prevent any modifications of the kernel in memory – meaning EFI patching will likely not be possible. I am not sure if we can load unsigned kernel extensions from identified developers in reduced security mode.

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craftsman

eGPU will work the same as always in macOS. There’s always going to be people with need for more power with a bigger thermal envelope than the Apple GPU has.

mac_editor

Yes I do agree that USB4 will be standard on the next generation of Macs. With respect to eGPU however, I see little progress as long as we are restricted to the limitations of Thunderbolt 3. This ties in perfectly well with excluding bootcamp – where Apple never supported eGPUs to begin with, and for modern gaming titles, it really doesn’t work well anymore. I presume Apple will implement Thunderbolt 3 interoperability with USB4. Finally, I think with the switch to Apple Silicon, they will negate performance advantages for eGPUs on most Macs. I think so because it’s highly likely… Read more »

E Wong

Honestly, I have huge doubt about whether will keep this egpu bussiness. First, the Blackmagic eGPU Pro has been discontinued, making the only eGPU solution obtainable from Apple Store worse than the configurable upgrade on the 16 inch Macbook Pro. This might not sounds like much, but I feel like this move shows the rather lacking support from Apple. I think Apple will release the first “Macbook ARM” with something like a MacBook Air or Macbook, targeting at less power centric users. Just like the original 12 inch Macbook, Apple had used that to test out their new design langauge… Read more »

mac_editor
Posted by: @itsage

I don’t foresee Apple ever be able to earn the trust of game developers to make macOS gaming a viable option.

They should help bolster Proton for Metal.

Rob Weddell

After the transition and further support period ends (when Bootcamp is laid to rest), what are the chances of Windows emulators being any good for gaming? I’ve read that Rosetta 2 may make it possible to run these emulators into the (more) distant future and some them (Parallels) even support eGPUs. As someone who only recently purchased an eGPU, I have really enjoyed the experience (excellent performance and easy-ish setup with the help of this forum) so it seems a real shame that it won’t be as useful in the future. Perhaps by the time this all comes to fruition,… Read more »

Jyin

I think the writing is on the wall, the Apple will stop making desktops, and even laptops (as we know them) at some point in the future.

They will be replaced with 27inch iPad Pro with built-in stand, and 16inch iPad ‘mini’ with holographic keyboard (which we will hate, but learn to live with).

I will be happy to buy them, as productivity device. But unless Apple buys Epic and start bribing the developers for exclusive deals, my gaming futures will be on Ryzen based DIY Windows machines.

But my magic 8 ball is saying “fuzzy”.

J

John Keates

This whole thing just feels weird. On one hand it makes sense if you look at it from Apple’s perspective and ignore the niche of bootcamp users, multibootees, gamers, eGPU users etc. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that a large part of Apple’s growth on the computing part after 2006 was due to the x86 support on the hardware and software side. It did a lot of things; suddenly a lot of components are available, you could buy PC graphics cards and PC RAM and PC CPUs and they would work. You could run Windows on… Read more »

mysterylake

I’m going to be honest, I’m not too optimistic about the future of Bootcamp in general and eGPUs in particular.  If I try to think from Apple’s perspective, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of value for them in supporting Windows. The vast majority of their “average” users would lose nothing in the transition to ARM (assuming that Rosetta’d apps work as well as the ones shown in the demos at WWDC). On the other hand, the (hopefully) increased battery life and the unique selling points of “hey all your iPhone apps work on your Mac too!” would likely… Read more »

mac_editor

@itsage do you mind if I edit the main post to add a section about some security features after switching to ARM Macs? There are SIGNIFICANT changes to the boot process, recovery, and pre-boot environment.

Eightarmedpet

Nothing feels too certain atm imo… I don’t see eGPU support going anywhere in the next 5 years, but also unsure if apple sees them as part of their future. 
I don’t imagine Apple ever making GPUs to match the strongest AMD cards so drivers will be kept on for Mac Pro’s at least. 
if Apple wants to keep any hope of gaming alive they need to do some serious work, either buy or bribe a studio, or have a porting team they lease for free. 

Leovinus

It’s an interesting future ahead, that’s for sure. As for Thunderbolt, I think Apple has embraced the modularity it provides to such an extent that it’ll stay. Possibly to a degree where the Thunderbolt name might stay for marketing purposes despite the underlying tech being USB4. As for their future hardware I think people in general might be a little confused on what it takes to design silicon. To start with, efficiency comes at the cost of performance. It’s more or less a law of nature. Which makes Apple’s efficiency focused silicon outperforming performance focused silicon all the more impressive.… Read more »

mac_editor

Watched Daring Fireball’s talk with Craig Federighi – bootcamp is dead. There is no plan to boot 3rd party OSes on Apple Silicon and virtualization is the way to go.

John Keates
Posted by: @mac_editor

Watched Daring Fireball’s talk with Craig Federighi – bootcamp is dead. There is no plan to boot 3rd party OSes on Apple Silicon and virtualization is the way to go.

Sad, but understandable. I imagine at this point they just weigh the current users, possible future users, and their effort and it just isn’t worth it. With Hyperkit and a more driver-in-userspace approach they seem to be taking it might even end up being a sane choice not to open up the platform to security and misconfiguration possibilities for the general user.

andygev35
Posted by: @mac_editor

virtualization is the way to go

If they could allow VM access to hardware (dGPU or eGPU), that wouldn’t be all bad…

mac_editor

@andygev35, I so HOPE that is the case. PCIe passthrough puh-lease. They did introduce PCIDriverKit in macOS 10.15.4 so I hope something can be done somehow.

 

Eightarmedpet

@mac_editor, I’d take pcie pass through. EGPU bootcamp gamers are such a niche I do fear we may be forgotten. 

 

Di Wang

I guess it will be fine eventually although things could be tricky at the beginning of the release of arm based mac due to lack of support. I’d already seen people making Nvidia/AMD GPUs working with arm based CPU, so technically it’s possible. I assume AMD card would have the first support from apple since apple is not shifting away from AMD GPUs yet.

John Keates

Posted by: @Di Wang I guess it will be fine eventually although things could be tricky at the beginning of the release of arm based mac due to lack of support. I’d already seen people making Nvidia/AMD GPUs working with arm based CPU, so technically it’s possible. I assume AMD card would have the first support from apple since apple is not shifting away from AMD GPUs yet. I think it’s important to also see the longer term, we’ll still have Intel Macs for a long time (say, at least 5 years after the last release, combined with the ~2… Read more »

mac_editor

Added some details about the advancements in ARM Macs to main post.

carl1978

I don’t even know about continued support for AMD GPU drivers since Apple’s chips will be both CPUs and GPUs.

How does AMD fit in that picture ?

Ningauble77

Apple’s own page on egpu support states that they only allow their own video drivers on the platform, for architectures already in their existing mac lineup. This could obviously change, but if they eliminate AMD from any future Arm macs I wouldn’t hold my breath about egpu support. If the high end iMac Pro/Mac Pro/Macbook Pro 16 continue to include AMD discrete graphics to supplement the Apple silicon igpu, then I would say the odds are good for continued egpu support.  There are mixed messages in the WWDC dev presentations, everything regarding moving Metal apps to Apple silicon implies that… Read more »

ondert

I simply do not trust Tim Cook when it comes to the Macs. Just a complete salesman. So, don’t expect any progress from Apple under his command.

whoDean

No mention of Bootcamp.

 

Apple’s own silicon will be used for video capability on the new Apple Silicon Macs instead of either AMD or NVIDIA

 

Sure seems like bootcamp and Mac eGPU are on the way out.

mac_editor

In case people missed it, Apple officially confirmed support for Thunderbolt on ARM macs. Additionally, it also seems that most refreshed macs will not have dual-GPU architecture because Apple GPU will provide iGPU power savings and  dGPU performance. Overall the theme of Apple Silicon (ASi) has been simplifying some key system architecture ideas we take for granted today. A single GPU eliminates the need for mux design, plus their GPUs won’t have separate VRAM and instead have unified memory architecture (shared system memory). There are many such simplifications.

Chippy McChipset

whoDean: ARM64 / Apple Silicon Macs won’t support Boot Camp, only Windows  / Linux via virtualization (like Parallels or VMware).   mac_editor: re Apple GPUs, it will be interesting to see what they do next. Not sure what motivation AMD now has to continue supporting GPUs over Apple ecosystems / partnering with Apple to optimize drivers, render tech, etc. And if they decide they’re done when the last Intel Mac is made, not sure what that means for eGPU. Will Apple make their own retail models to be placed in eGPUs? Seems unlikely but I’ve given up trying to guess.… Read more »

mac_editor

@Chippy McChipset, certainly an interesting period in computing. The WWDC sessions were quite good. In typical Apple way, it seems they have a detailed, well-thought-out plan of action, and are laser-focused. Typically this means culling support for various things though. However, the situation remains complicated due to Mac Pro (2019). Highly likely that (existing) AMD stuff will be supported for quite a while even after Apple starts creating their own standalone units as users will still be on those. As you say though, whether we will see newer AMD chips for mac is anyone’s guess.

 

joevt

If Thunderbolt can’t be used for eGPU for Apple Silicon, there is still the possibility of using other types of accelerator cards like the Apple Afterburner card. And on second thought, if a eGPU cannot be used for displays or gaming, maybe it can still be used to accelerate some tasks.

mac_editor

I suppose one way forward may be to allow for GPU drivers to be created for the platform via DriverKit – but this would be in stark contrast to Apple’s recent aversions to NVIDIA (since Mojave).

joevt

@mac_editor, keyword being “allow”. Apple “allowed” AMD and Nvidia to make drivers via kext, then Apple stopped allowing Nvidia to make drivers via kext. Now Apple stopped allowing AMD to make drivers via kext for Apple Silicon. No stark contrast here. Just more of the same. Apple has never made public all the api’s required to make a graphics driver (with acceleration). Would they do that for a DriverKit graphics driver api? If not, would Apple at least give the necessary info to AMD and Nvidia? The contrast you speak of would only occur if they gave the info to… Read more »

mac_editor

@joevt, not sure you understood what I said there. By “allow” I meant creation of 3rd-party GPU drivers. The drivers included in macOS should not be considered 3rd-party at all. So it would be in contrast to existing behavior (which is not allowing 3rd-party drivers) if they allowed it later on via DriverKit. Posted by: @joevt Would they do that for a DriverKit graphics driver api? No one knows except Apple. Posted by: @joevt The contrast you speak of would only occur if they gave the info to Nvidia. NVIDIA did build 3rd-party drivers with full acceleration pre-Mojave. With Mojave, either: NVIDIA… Read more »

John Keates

@joevt, Allow is a bit of a strong word. You can always develop your kexts as much as you like. What you mean is that Apple didn’t sign the kexts anymore and thus the public would have no easy way of loading them. Doesn’t mean you can’t write and release driver binaries. Just means that you have to disable kernel protections to load them.

 

iron_breed

But wouldn’t focusing on Apple only GPUs kill their professional oriented Mac division completely?

Even if they manage to release a solid GPU, in no way it would be able to compete with AMD and definitely not with Nvidia in their current state.

 

John Keates

@iron_breed, not sure they would. One of those annoying aspects of Apple where they present stuff really vague so it could be anything. If I recall correctly, they presented the Apple Silicon move with “TB3 GPU support” and “Apple Silicon GPUs and Others”. I have no idea what that means, could be that “others” is PowerVR. Could also be that they are doing a sneaky with AMD (or NVIDIA — their public mud fight tells us nothing about their internal projects) and have something else planned that we haven’t considered yet. Technically, if that Apple SoC has PCIe, and the… Read more »

mac_editor
Posted by: @John Keates

I have no idea what that means, could be that “others” is PowerVR. Could also be that they are doing a sneaky with AMD (or NVIDIA — their public mud fight tells us nothing about their internal projects) and have something else planned that we haven’t considered yet.

Tbh all this vagueness at least keeps me excited and hopeful.

John Keates

@mac_editor, It is pretty interesting to have some mysteriousness indeed. A simple “nothing changes” is somewhat boring in comparison. I’m also excited for the driver dissection others do on the released binaries (but also on the future stuff we’re going to see once real world hardware releases happen!). Whatever comes, there will be plenty to play with.

 

mac_editor

@itsage noticed something while investigating IOThunderboltFamily kext: $ lipo -detailed_info /System/Library/Extensions/IOThunderboltFamily.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOThunderboltFamily   Fat header in: /System/Library/Extensions/IOThunderboltFamily.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOThunderboltFamily fat_magic 0xcafebabe nfat_arch 2 architecture x86_64     cputype CPU_TYPE_X86_64     cpusubtype CPU_SUBTYPE_X86_64_ALL     capabilities 0x0     offset 4096     size 1793008     align 2^12 (4096) architecture arm64e     cputype CPU_TYPE_ARM64     cpusubtype CPU_SUBTYPE_ARM64E     capabilities PTR_AUTH_VERSION KERNEL 0     offset 1802240     size 2185088     align 2^14 (16384) We know Apple Silicon Macs will have Thunderbolt, and Apple seems to have created an ARM-specific version of the binary to execute natively. In the… Read more »

joevt

@mac_editor, Rosetta 2 will not run kexts.

 

mac_editor

@joevt, ah you’re right – this probably means we might indeed be losing AMD support.

 

John Keates

@mac_editor, seems to be odd that they would have eGPU support but then not support AMD (or Nvidia). Perhaps they will add drivers later? Unless eGPU support now means Xe and Apple Silicon GPUs but that seems a bit wild and unlikely (and we probably would have seen some binaries to support that).

mac_editor

@John Keates, well, they might just drop eGPU support is what I was alluding to. Otherwise external Apple GPUs do make sense. But again, will they create an x86 driver for their GPU so Mac Pro 2019 could use it? Man this is tricky. I do know that NVIDIA has ARM64 drivers for Linux, and AMD doesn’t do ARM64 drivers AFAIK. I don’t know anymore.

 

manzanita

Simple as that.  Is a room for a plausible future with eGPU support?  What do you really think? (Not want to believe) I, for one, have a rather pragmatical POV. Bootcamp was never fully developed. eGPU was never fully developed by Apple. Neither 3rd party apps.  Today, 2020, I can’t perform an intensive GPU task on a MBP 13” 2017 even with a eGPU because the apps and the OS are not optimized for that. Crappy kekts with crappy custom drivers that no perform like its counterpart in crappy Windows.  I see no object to keep maintaining alive eGPU. And… Read more »

tsakal

Posted by: @craftsman expect that if and when Apple releases a iMac/Mac Pro with M processor then they will port a Radeon driver to ARM, unless they make their own big GPU with competitive performance. but not competitive price …. 😥   @manzanita, not sure what you are talking about. an egpu has been very beneficial to me since my 2015 mbp 13 thanks to Mac editor. I started with a gaming box rx 580 bought around 400$. Currently using a 2020 mbp 13 with the core x and 5700xt and it helps with final cut davinci capture one and… Read more »

manzanita

@tsakal Now I don’t know what you’re talking about except tha last paragraph. You are aknowledging a lack of commitment of Apple and the industry in general. Then I’m fully aware of the fact that eGPU is by no means an one in all solution. I’m using it to power properly múltiple displays. Rendering with DaVinci and other Stuff that I would not be able to do with a MBP 15”, let alone a MBP 13”. I do not have the means to afford a Mac Pro. Adobe for example. Never supported eGPU. Do you think Adobe Suite is a… Read more »

Last edited 2 days ago by manzanita
corb555

@manzanita, I’m using a Mac Mini with eGPU to edit 10 bit 4k video using Premiere Pro.  It works like a dream.  That workload is impossible on any Apple short of the Mac Pro.  The new M architecture has better onboard GPU performance but still would not be anywhere close to handling that load.  Without a discrete GPU solution, Apple has a big hole in their lineup below the Pro level.
 

manzanita

Posted by: @corb555 @manzanita, I’m using a Mac Mini with eGPU to edit 10 bit 4k video using Premiere Pro.  It works like a dream.  That workload is impossible on any Apple short of the Mac Pro.  The new M architecture has better onboard GPU performance but still would not be anywhere close to handling that load.  Without a discrete GPU solution, Apple has a big hole in their lineup below the Pro level.   @corb555 Totally agree.  I tried using Adobe Premiere Pro with my MBP 13” with eGPU and it was painful. That’s why I’m using DaVinci nowadays. … Read more »

corb555

@manzanita, Detailed specs here (ignore the Title since it was first posted with a MacBook).  https://egpu.io/forums/ builds/2019-13-macbook-pro-radeon-pro-w5700-40gbps-tb3-akitio-node-titan-macos-10-15-4-connected-to-usb-c-only-lg-5k-monitor/ I’m using the Radeon Pro W5700 but I suspect the RX 5700XT could also handle this load.  DaVinci certainly has far better performance than Adobe. Apple has done an amazing job with the M architecture CPU performance and the onboard GPU performance is far better than Intels.  They’ve definitely shown they can do a far better job at silicon than Intel. They might want to do the same with GPU, but there’s a huge leap between their best GPU performance and a high-end… Read more »

manzanita

I really really hope you’re right. The put Intel to the ground. Both. Intel and AMD. It’s like David and Goliath. No one I believe expected these results in a lower end chip. I honestly don’t know. The thing all you need to understand is that for us, which are living in Argentina and another countries, having a Mac or an iPhone is an element of luxury. Not a tool. Thus, if you Make a living with tech, it’s not easy change your laptop and probé every year. Here we think a lot before buying. It’s really an investment Sorry… Read more »

tsakal

@manzanita, that is why we should start looking at windows again. Apple just wants to be the the preferred choice of the mass market, who don’t really care about the power of the machine but the design and practicability. Unfortunately, apple could do both but decided not to. Windows is not that bad anymore just need to learn to live with it. can you imagine if Microsoft tried to do something similar? Having such control over a platform where there is no competition? The regulators would slaughter them. The amount of delibarate planned obsolescence baked into apple products is unreal… Read more »

ikir

Posted by: @tsakal @manzanita, that is why we should start looking at windows again. Apple just wants to be the the preferred choice of the mass market, who don’t really care about the power of the machine but the design and practicability. Unfortunately, apple could do both but decided not to. Windows is not that bad anymore just need to learn to live with it. can you imagine if Microsoft tried to do something similar? Having such control over a platform where there is no competition? The regulators would slaughter them. The amount of delibarate planned obsolescence baked into apple… Read more »

craftsman

All I can say is that the M1 with an external 4K display has been smoother than my 15 or 16 inch MacBook Pros with a 5700XT eGPU and that includes Photoshop with large photos. 

Obviously best performance in After Effects and Media Encoder need beefy GPUs that won’t fit in any kind of laptop under 100w power consumption.

I expect that if and when Apple releases a iMac/Mac Pro with M processor then they will port a Radeon driver to ARM, unless they make their own big GPU with competitive performance.

jefniro

Apple can achieve those results because they made the Hardware and they made the OS. Windows has very different approach, Windows must works on every HW made by others and, moreover, Intel is not under Microsoft corporation. Same story for Android OS.    Apple knows exactly what they need in order to gain power from MacOS (or iOS) because they can (now) develop the best HW for his products.    Is like Playstation 4. The HW is 7-8 years old but the games (developed by Sony’s Software houses) are very beautiful today. They know exactly the HW and they can… Read more »

John Keates

@jefniro, That is of course partially true. But we have also seen Microsoft control the entire stack and still make a mess. Windows RT and Surface comes to mind, but also some of the PocketPC and Windows CE stacks with hardware, firmware, OS HAL, OS. Generally, Microsoft aims at a group of (somewhat incoherent) APIs, like win32, com, the C# Classic ecosystem etc. and then build not-very-connected features on top of that. They are more about breadth than about depth, which is good for quantity but not always for quality. You end up with a little bit of a lot.… Read more »

jefniro

@John Keates, don’t forget that Apple has many years of experience thanks to iPhone and iPad. They invested a lot of money on them and now the power of those systems are ready for Notebook and Ultrabook market. This has been a great strategy.
 

tsakal

@jefniro, 100% agree. My feeling is they they new where this was going since they realized how good metal was. The point now is how much greedy they want to be and how much control they want to have over the ecosystem. Our only hope is that the services business is what drives them so they will leave some windows open…,
 

jefniro

Posted by: @tsakal
@jefniro, 100% agree. My feeling is they they new where this was going since they realized how good metal was. The point now is how much greedy they want to be and how much control they want to have over the ecosystem. Our only hope is that the services business is what drives them so they will leave some windows open…,
 

I have a bad feeling about that… I hope I’m wrong.

craftsman

BTW I’m using the Photoshop BETA and it is very fast on the M1. Tools like Select Subject are faster and more accurate than I have seen on my 5Ghz PC that has an RTX 2080 Super. The app is about 80% complete and is going to rock when it comes. If Adobe can do the same great thing with Premiere and After Effects people are going to go wild.