2018 Mac Mini [8th,6C,B] + RP W5500 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Sonnet Breakaway 650) + macOS ...
 
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2018 Mac Mini [8th,6C,B] + RP W5500 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Sonnet Breakaway 650) + macOS 11.6 & Win10 21H1  

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Mini i5
(@mini-i5)
Prominent Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

System specs 

2018 Mac Mini, 3.0 GHz Hex-Core Intel i5, 32 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, iGPU : Intel UHD 630

Mac OS Big Sur 11.6 and Windows 10 21H1

eGPU hardware

Sonnet Breakaway Box 650 + AMD Radeon Pro W5500

Display

Dell 27" 4K connected via Display Port cable

 

Comments

AMD's Radeon Pro W5500 doesn't cost thousands, is available on Amazon today, and easily fits inside that stellar new enclosure you smartly secured.

(Unlike certain cards... cough, cough... RX 6900 XT

And yes - the Pro W5500 games as well, with performance matching consumer go-to RX 5500 XT models in both MacOS and Windows.

 

Hardware Pictures 

Sonnet BB 650
W5500

 

W5500 DP ports

 

Mac Installation steps 

Compared to the current legion of swole gaming cards, the distinctively smol Radeon Pro W5500 is a much better fit for the limited envelope available in eGPU enclosures. (I'm pretty sure the W5500 has more appearances on "Tiny House" TV shows than YouTube Tech deep dives)

The effort involved in installing the card and re-assembling my Breakaway Box 650 was minimal. From there, the steps were just a matter of following my usual eGPU set-up procedure.

With the Mac Mini shut down, I unplugged all my TB3 and USB-C external devices, and attached my display to the Mini's HDMI port.

I reset the Mini's SMC, unplugging the wall power plug for 15 minutes (not seconds). Then did an NVRAM reset - holding down the Command+Option+P+R keys at startup, and waiting 20 seconds for the 2nd Mac start-up chime before releasing.

I signed into Big Sur 11.6 and then shut down before attaching my eGPU via one of the Mini's (4) TB3 ports. I left the eGPU power switch in the OFF position. 

After starting up and signing into Big Sur once again, I turned the connected Breakaway Box's power switch to ON.

The eGPU Icon appeared in the Menu Bar at the top of my display, showing the Mac Mini and W5500 were talking over TB3.

The MacOS System Info profiler agreed.

MacOS sys info
W5500 profile

After shutting the Mini down one more time and attaching my display to one of the W5500's (4) display ports, I re-started my Mac.

It was now time. Speed test time.

 

Mac Benchmarks

Spoiler: In synthetic benchmarks, AMD's Radeon Pro W5500 matches the performance of Sapphire and XFX brand RX 5500 XT models I've reviewed here previously.

Test were performed at 4K High settings using Apple's Metal graphics API.

Alright, play the hits!

CLing!
Basemark Metal
GB5 Metal
BM Raw Speed

 

Mac Affinity Photo GPU Acceleration 

A helpful feature in Affinity Photo is improved rasterization performance when eGPU hardware is paired with an Intel Mac's internal (or dedicated) graphics processor. Apple's Metal API takes care of combining the GPUs’ compute output.  

Affinity GPU acceleration

You can see the potential resulting boost expressed in (best-case) numbers using Photo’s internal Benchmark utility.

In the case of my Mini:

Single GPU - Intel UHD 630 rasterization score: 1,815

Multi GPU - Radeon Pro W5500 + Intel UHD 630 combined rasterization score: 9,768   

Lens filter applied to ProRAW image

With that much GPU image processing power available, it's unsurprising when applying a simple Lens Filter to a 12.9MP Apple ProRAW image barely taps the GPU Activity Monitor needle.

 

Mac Final Cut Pro GPU Acceleration 

With Apple's (late September) stealth macOS Big Sur Pro Video Format update, FCP now identifies video shot on iPhone 13 Pro cameras as Apple ProRes 422 format(!)  

Oh, Apple... you’re so funny. Ha ha. Really, we know it's not ProRES 422 yet. We’re still waiting for that IOS 15.1 update to enable Apple ProRES 422 recording on our higher end model iPhone 13 Pro.

Anyway, working in a FCP Wide Gamut color space, I exported a 1-minute project of 4K 60 FPS HDR video to FCP's H.264 (Better Quality) Share format.

4K HDR 1 minute FCP project

1-minute length 4K 60 FPS HDR project

FCP Share export render time: 5 mins 35 seconds

eGPU W5500 Load used for hardware H.264 BQ encoding: 26% (peak)

Adding FCP's Noise Reduction effect to a 10-second 4K 60 FPS clip, and exporting to the same H2.64 (Better Quality) Share format tasks the W5500 a bit more.

FCP noise reduction effect

10-second length 4K 60 FPS clip with Noise Reduction

FCP Share export render time: 1 mins 33 seconds

eGPU W5500 Load used for hardware H.264 BQ encoding: 38% (peak)

4K 60FPS playback

Playback of the FCP project timeline is smooth.

1-minute of 4K HDR 60FPS iPhone 13 Pro HEVC video loads the Pro W550 eGPU to only 15%.

 

Mac Redshift GPU Rendering Performance 

Redshift for Metal's official release happened this past spring, and Maxon is actively supporting their macOS GPU pro rendering product with regular bug fixes and improvements. 

I ran the standalone Redshift Benchmark from the MacOS Terminal. The benchmark file is pre-set to optimal final-render / client-deliverable quality - so don't be in a hurry to see a result.

Unless you put dual RX 6800 XTs in your rig.   

Reshift Benchmark results
Redshift Benchmark

Age of Vultures (artist: Toni Bratincevic)

Redshift render time: 22 mins 0 seconds 

 

Mac Octane X GPU Rendering Performance 

Though Octane X public releases remain paused in Beta form (available on the Mac App Store), a major update from Otoy - optimized around graphics rendering capabilities included in MacOS Monterey - is promised for the fall.

I ran the Chess Set Procedural demo within Octane X's standalone program to compare my Pro W5500 eGPU setup against other AMD GPUs.

Octane X Chess Set Procedural

Chess Set Procedural (Octane Render demo)

Render time at default settings: 0 mins 40 seconds

GPU chart

Relative GPU performance charts predictably linearly in standalone rendering programs. Unsurprisingly, my Radeon Pro W5500 eGPU's score slots in between AMD's Radeon Pro 580 and RX 5600M GPU models. 

With the W5500 breezing through the slender Chess Set Procedural file, it seemed more meaningful to task the card with something beefier like the Interior DL Arch-Viz model - especially since Interior DL poses more of a challenge to Octane X's light and shadow rendering feature set.

Octane X Interior DL 256 samples with denoising

Interior DL (Octane Bench demo)

Render time for a UHD 3840 x 2160p image using 256 samples and denoising: 3 mins 49 seconds.

  

Mac Blender Rendering Performance 

Running the (Summer 2021) 2.93 LTS Blender for Intel Macs, I rendered some demo files using AMD's Radeon ProRender plug-in. Sample quantity and light ray depth were tweaked for speed and image quality.

Mac RPR Italian Flat 36 samples + denoising

Italian Flat (artist: Flavio Della Tommasa)

Render time using AMD RPR denoising and clamping: 2 mins 55 seconds 

(You can read about rendering this scene here: Blender 2.82a Mac OS with Pro Render 2.3 and eGPU – Page 4 | Thunderbolt macOS eGPU

Mac RPR Monster 48 samples with denoising

Monster Under the Bed (artist: Metin Seven)

Render time using AMD RPR denoising and clamping: 0 mins 57 seconds

Mac RPR BMW 128 samples + denoising

BMW Car Demo (artist: Mike Pan)

Render time using AMD RPR denoising and clamping: 0 mins 27 seconds

Mac RPR Classroom 128 samples + denoising

Classroom (artist: Christophe Seux)

Render time using AMD RPR denoising and clamping: 4 mins 26 seconds

 

Bootcamp Windows Setup

So I’ve been ride-or-die-ing alongside the latest version of Windows 10 21H1 for awhile now, and I’m pleased to report the Win 21H1 eGPU road trip continues to be a velvety-smooth, pothole-free, thoroughly enjoyable excursion.

In fact, this multi-month-long journey’s been going so well, now I even trust 21H1 to install all of those pesky, periodic Windows System Updates automatically.

Yep, that's right. Some serious Windows 21H1 Bootcamp staning is going on here.

Win 10 Version

 

To get my Mini prepped for Windows to start working with the W5500, I basically followed my MacOS Thunderbolt playbook.

I began by shutting down the Mini, unplugging all TB3 and USB-C external devices, and attaching my 4K display to the Mac’s HDMI port.

I re-started my Mini, signed into the desktop, then downloaded the current Pro Driver and Enterprise Software from AMD's website. 

AMD RP Site

 

After AMD's software installer finished, I ignored the Installer's "oops something went wrong..." message and proceeded to shut down Windows and attach the Breakaway Box via TB3. I re-attached my display to one of the card's display ports.

That's all it took to get my Radeon Pro W5500 eGPU setup running.

I restarted my Mac (with the Breakaway Box's power switch turned ON) and signed back into the Windows desktop without encountering Error 12 or a black screen.

Win 10 21H1 Device Manager
AMD Pro Driver 21.Q3

  

Windows Benchmarks

Performed at 4K High settings using DirectX.

Uni Super Bench

 

Windows Blender Rendering Performance  

Here's some fresh OpenCL GPU luv from (Summer 2021's) 2.93 LTS for Windows using Blender's native Cycles rendering engine. (Sample quantity and light ray depth tweaks made for speed + image quality)

Win Cycles Italian Flat 128 samples + denoising

Italian Flat (artist: Flavio Della Tommasa)

Render time using Cycles OpenCL denoising and clamping: 3 mins 57 seconds 

Win Cycles Monster 48 samples + denoising

Monster Under the Bed (artist: Metin Seven)

Render time using Cycles OpenCL denoising and clamping: 1 min 49 seconds

Win Cycles BMW 32 samples + denoising

BMW Car Demo (artist: Mike Pan)

Render time using Cycles OpenCL denoising and clamping: 1 min 34 seconds

Win Cycles Classroom 128 samples + denoising

Classroom (artist: Christophe Seux)

Render time using Cycles OpenCL denoising and clamping: 2 mins 29 seconds

 

Windows Gaming

Gaming performance in my current favs, Control (at 1440p) and Star Wars Squadrons (at 4K), is def enjoyable. Turns out that AMD Pro Workstation driver is pretty spicy.

Scenes play smoothly at the kind of very acceptable frame rates I'm expecting from a not-super-expensive-pro-workstation-card.

And AMD's Radeon Pro software includes some dope detailed read-outs for their GPU metrics. 

Control 1440p

Er… you can slide da panel to one side of your screen…

Radeon Pro Metrics Overlay

 

Good times 😎

 

  

 

 

2018 Mac Mini + AMD RX 6600 XT (Sonnet Breakaway Box 650) Monterey 12.1 pending + Windows 21H1

 
2018 Mac Mini [8th,6C,B] + RX 6600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Sonnet Breakaway 650) + macOS 12.0 & Win10 21H1 [build link]  


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