How To: Build an Apple External Graphics Development Kit

Everyone is over the moon with the announcement yesterday at WWDC. Apple finally gave its blessings. Official macOS eGPU support is here. The general public won’t have access to this new feature until next spring. But if you’re the type who lives on the edge, here’s how you can get in on the action.

1. Be an Apple developer and buy its Metal 2 external GPU Development Kit ($599 in the US).

2. Be an eGPU enthusiast and buy the components we have sourced together in this guide.

Overall pricing for either option isn’t much different. You’ll end up $600 poorer and spend many hours toying with this thing like it was your first computer.

The major change this eGPU support announcement from Apple is that software side of things in macOS is now no longer a hack of system files. The eGPU community has been enjoying external graphics cards for years thanks to the selfless work from Nando, Goalque, and Rastafabi. Dare I say what our eGPU community accomplished through countless eGPU implementations on macOS has prompted Apple to finally take action. It comes in the form of macOS 10.13 High Sierra.

Hardware wise, Apple didn’t do much for its Metal 2 external GPU Development Kit. It simply outsourced the Thunderbolt 3 enclosure to Sonnet, then paired that with an AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card. The addition of a Belkin USB-C to standard USB hub is to allow Thunderbolt 3 Macs to use HTC Vive.

 

Late 2013 Mac Pro + Sonnet Breakaway Box + RX 580
Late 2013 Mac Pro + Sonnet Breakaway Box 350 + RX 580

 

What do we know about these hardware choice? Fortunately, we tested and reviewed this exact eGPU pairing not too long ago. We concluded the Sonnet Breakaway Box 350 is a great enclosure for professionals. It runs cool and quiet. Pricing at under $300 is a reasonable value.

The other crucial component is AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card. It has a $229 MSRP however due to high demand for their use in crypto currrency mining there’s currently a shortage of these Polaris 10 GPUs. What is available sells for well above MSRP.

Some of you may like other enclosures better. The good news is, as long as the eGPU box has TI83 USB-C controller, it will work with native external GPU support in macOS 10.13 High Sierra.  For example, an additional US$30 for the Sonnet Breakaway 550 over the 350 model will see charging capacity boosted from 15W to 87W. That is enough to power even a 15″ Macbook Pro via a single attached Thunderbolt 3 cable and so is money well spent. Do you require additional ports on your enclosure so it is an all-in-one docking solution? Consider the Mantiz Venus from the Buyer’s Guide.

Besides the Radeon RX 580 GPU, there are a handful of other AMD graphics cards which share the same PCI ID. We prepared this table to show you the alternative components you can use to build your own Metal 2 external GPU Development Kit.

 

TB3 EnclosureAMD Radeon
US$299 Sonnet Breakaway 350
US$329 Sonnet Breakaway 550
RX 580
US$299 AKiTiO NodeRX 570
~US$469-delivered Mantiz VenusRX 480
~US$699 Asus XG Station 2RX 470

 

While Apple only mentioned Thunderbolt 3 Macs being supported in its release note, we have found the majority of Macs with Thunderbolt ports to be eGPU compatible. Take a look at our eGPU implementation list for successful Mac setup to get an idea whether your Mac would work. For quick reference, the table below details all Mac computers with Thunderbolt connectivity. Mac models with an asterisk (*) denote they have discrete graphics as a standard feature. If all goes well, you’ll see macOS detection of External Graphics as soon as you plug the enclosure into your Mac. Simply log out then back in to begin using the eGPU.

 

 

Thunderbolt MacPCIe Speed
Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)32 Gbps
iMac Pro (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2017) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2017) *
iMac (Retina 4K, 21-inch, Mid 2017) *
iMac (21-inch, Mid 2017)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2017) *
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016) *
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
Thunderbolt 216 Gbps
Mac Pro (Late 2013) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2015) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2015) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) *
iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2015)
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2014)
Mac mini (Late 2014)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2015)

 

 

 

Thunderbolt10 Gbps
iMac (27-inch, Late 2013) *
iMac (27-inch, Early 2013) *
iMac (27-inch, Late 2012) *
iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011) *
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2013)
iMac (21.5-inch, Early 2013)
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2012)
iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011)
Mac mini (Late 2012)
Mac mini (Mid 2011)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Late 2011) *
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2011) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Early 2013) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2012) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2011) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2013)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2014)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2013)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2011)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2014)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2013)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2011)

 

This was my attempt to connect all three TI83 enclosures I have to a late-2016 15″ MacBook Pro. macOS High Sierra detected all three without issues. The limitation I found is due to the MacBook Pro having only two Thunderbolt buses, the system may only use upto two eGPUs at once. Seeing the huge OpenCL performance boost, there’s little to no reason to complain about this limit. 😀 

Join our forum to inquire or share your eGPU development kit build.

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17 Comments on "How To: Build an Apple External Graphics Development Kit"

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mklegend
Member

Great news, I believe we shall wait for VEGA Cards to have the best of both worlds (macOS & Windows) despite which one of the above listed four enclosures.
What do you think @theitsage?

Samuel
Guest

“599 USD or in local currency”
In Switzerland it costs 900 USD (869 CHF)

igerard
Member

Yes… 889€ in France

My Node setup in France :

349€ For the node
35€ tb3tb2
49€ Tb2–tb2

Plus the card … mine a used one at 350€ on price minister 😉

mwb
Member

Similar prices in New Zealand: NZ$1349 ~ US$970

Seems like the dev kit is a good deal if you’re in the states but cheaper to piece it together yourself otherwise.

derFunkenstein
Member

I already had an Akitio Node to use with my 13″ MBP, but it had a GTX 1050 Ti that worked well. The promise of a fully-supported configuration was just too tempting, though. I spent (ugh) $369 on NCIX yesterday to get the only model they had in stock. Cheaper than the $500-700 third-party sellers are asking on Amazon and Newegg, though. Hopefully it’ll be here early next week.

Hindrik
Guest

Not sure if I read it right.

I have a Macbook Pro 15″ Retina (Late 2013) (GT750M). Unfortunately the laptop has a thunderbolt 2 port and no thunderbolt 3.
Although, I clicked on the eGPU Implementation List, and saw that my Macbook is on there.

Could I connect a eGPU (by using e.g. a Sonnet) via Thunderbolt 2? Or can I expect the results to be worse.

alone1i
Member

@theitsage: Hello Sir. At this moment macOS 10.13 beta, internal display doesn’t working with eGPU. From your experience, do you think they will implement this feature in future updates?

Cy frei
Guest

What gbps do I need for 60hz 1080p

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