2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + HD 7970 @32Gbps-TB3 (AKiTiO Node) + Win10 1903
 
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2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + HD 7970 @32Gbps-TB3 (AKiTiO Node) + Win10 1903  

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cnon297
(@cnon297)
Eminent Member
Joined: 5 months ago
 

This started as a nostalgia build.  The MSI Radeon HD7970 was the 1st graphics card I bought for my ’09 Mac Pro.  It replaced the OEM Apple Geforce GT120 that came standard with this model.  This particular HD7970 was flashed by MacVidCards.com to support Mac boot screens.  Tho it’s an older card, I was curious to see if it would work in an eGPU (it does). 

 

 

Computer: 

2019 CTO 13” MacBook Pro 1.4GHz 4-core i5-8257U, Iris Plus 645, dual TB3, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD

 

eGPU:

AKiTiO Node + MSI Radeon HD7970 3GB GDDR5 VRAM + 0.8m Plugable.com TB3 cable

 

Monitor:

Philips Brilliance 242G5, 1080p, 144Hz, 1ms, Display Port, 2x HDMI, DVI-DL, VGA.

 

OS:

Windows 10 1903 v1

 

 

Hardware setup:  

The MSI Radeon HD7970 is a 2-slot reference design with blower style fan cooler.  It includes a dual BIOS switch.  I tested the slower setting but it was nearly as loud.  So I keep the BIOS set to high performance.  The reference card design was easy to install.  I can attach the knurled retainer screws by hand.  For my Vega56 and GTX cards with their taller axial fan coolers, I need tweezers to guide the tiny knurled retainer screws into place.  The HD7970 is rated at 250W and is easily powered by my AKiTiO Node 400W PS.  I used the same  Plugable.com 0.8M TB3 cable to connect the Node to the 13” MBPro as my previous Vega56 build.  The extra 0.3M doesn’t seem like much but it helps and still maintains 40Gbps.

 

 

Procedure: 

MacOS:  I’ve owned this card for around 6 years and still use it in my Mac Pro.  Throughout that time it has been utterly reliable!  But I didn’t realize until now that the HD7970 has the same macOS 10.13 limitation as my GTX cards.  Tho it’s probably considered outdated rather than being held back by some idiotic and blatantly anti-consumer feud  Sad    MacOS 10.14 detects the HD7970 with Vendor: “AMD (0x1002)” when connected via TB3.  But unlike my Vega56, there’s no driver support.  The external monitor remains dark and there’s no eject icon in the menu bar.  My 2019 13” MBPro can’t downgrade below macOS 10.14 so I’m unable to test it in macOS 10.13; except with my Mac Pro (tower) where it runs fine under 10.13.6 in a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot. 

 

Windows 10:  As with my Vega 56 build, this was almost too easy due to using Windows 1903 v1 (as recommended by @itsage).  I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of Win10 1903 v1 over 1903 v2.  It’s the difference between success and failure for an AMD card: 

 

1- Perform a clean install of BootCamp with Win10 1903 v1.  Be sure to set a manual Restore point and increase the Restore storage setting. 

 

2- Download new drivers from either BootCampDrivers.com or directly from AMD.  I’d recommend Adrenaline 20.2.2 or newer.  Don’t install the drivers yet.

 

3- Reboot Windows 10 into safe mode (I used MSCONFIG) and run DDU to remove any existing AMD and Nvidia drivers.  Set Windows back to normal boot mode and shut down. 

 

4- Connect the video and TB3 cables and boot up the MBPro into Win10.  Turn on the monitor, then the eGPU (Node + Radeon 7970).  Win10 will install drivers for the Node’s PCI slot.

 

5- Extract & run the AMD driver installer.  Both internal Retina and external displays are recognized by WIn10 and default to Duplicate Displays / mirrored mode (see photo).  

MSI 7970 eGPU Win10 AMD drivers

6- (Optional - Closed Lid mode).  At this point I used the Windows 10 display preferences to show only on Display 2 (external monitor).  I also went Into advanced settings and increased the Monitor refresh to match the Philips 242G5 144Hz.  In the power settings I changed the setting for Closed Lid mode to “do nothing” - otherwise the MBPro would shut down or hibernate in closed lid mode.  I used a USB-C hub to connect an external keyboard and mouse.  After downloading drivers for KB & mouse and rebooting, you can close the MBPro lid.  You can also reboot Win10 in closed lid mode.  It takes slightly longer to boot but it works great (see photo). 

MSI 7970 eGPU + Closed Lid mode

 

Performance:  Given the 3GB VRAM I choose a 1080p monitor over my 1440p monitor for this build.  While I doubt anyone would go out of their way to buy this card new today, it has held up surprisingly well.  It supports DX12 and is about 20% faster in both “Rise of the Tomb Raider” & “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” vs DX11.  I’ve never overclocked the card so the BIOS settings are what MSI originally configured.  GPU-Z shows the back position (facing the video cables) set  to 925 MHz GPU clock while the forward position sets it to 1010 MHz.  Other than this test, it’s been on the faster BIOS setting since new.

GPU Z MSI HD7970 SWC

 

Node cover & noise:  As with my Vega56 there is a slight buzzing sound emitted by the Radeon 7970 PCB under load that I hadn’t noticed previously.  However, the buzzing is much quieter than with my Vega56; it’s nearly imperceptible.  I’m also running it with the Node cover off and its front exhaust fan disconnected.  The blower design of the HD7970 cooler exhausts back instead of front.  There is a disconnect plug for the unusually loud Node front exhaust fan at the lower front of the Node PCB behind the graphics card (see photo).  To play it safe, I’d advise monitoring the GFX card temps to be sure a Node open cover setup has sufficient cooling for your card.  HWinNFO works great for this.  Warning:  I assume no responsibility if your GFX card fails due to overheating!  OTOH you could also just upgrade to a higher quality front exhaust fan.  Tho it looks awesome running the Node with the cover off 😉 

Node front fan connector

 

AMD Win10 driver stability:  IMO AMD has resolved the much-publicized stability issues with their latest drivers.  I’d previously experienced these issues during my Vega56 build; black screens, reboots, app crashing, etc.  However, since installing the late February 2020 AMD driver update I haven’t experienced a single issue with either Radeon HD7970 or Vega56!  Not everyone may agree with this.  Even AMD lists remaining bugs including a possible black screen issue.  But this is no exaggeration; I’ve not had a single issue since!  AMD has dramatically improved the quality of their drivers and it shows!

 

 

Benchmarks:

Each result was the highest of 3 runs.  External monitor-only, MBPro in closed lid mode.

Geekbench4

Score Win10

HD 7970 OpenCL

98167

 

LuxMark v3.1 (OpenCL)

Samples/Sec Win10

Hotel Lobby

2635 K

Neumann Microphone

8152 K

Luxball HDR

11909 K

 

FireStrike:

Score

Graphics Test 1 fps

Graphics Test 2 fps

Physics Test fps 

7127

39.31

33.09

28.48

 

Unigine Valley:

Settings

Avg fps

Min fps

Max fps

Score

Extreme

47.0

23.6

87.3

1965

Extreme HD

37.6

21.2

70.2

1573

 

Tomb Raider: 

V-Sync set to off.  

Settings

Avg fps

Min fps

Max fps

1080p Normal

144.7

112.0

168.0

1080p High

122.8

92.0

146.0

1080p Ultimate

58.2

46.0

70.0

 

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 

V-Sync set to off.  

Settings

Overall fps

Mountain fps

Syria fps

Geotherm fps

720p Hi DX11

56.21

75.67

50.27

41.72

720p Hi DX12

70.22

90.08

63.73

55.85

1080p Med DX12

59.54

72.57

49.76

54.68

1080p High DX12

52.53

62.53

47.14

47.04

 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: 

V-Sync set to off.  

Settings

Frames

Avg FPS

GPU Min

GPU Max

GPU Avg

GPU 95%

720p Low DX11

7587

48

29

124

49

33

720p Low DX12

9032

59

44

135

68

51

1080p Lowest DX12

8025

51

39

99

53

40

1080p Low DX12

5929

38

30

72

39

30

 

 

Miscellaneous Items: 

  • Closed Lid thermals:  Unlike my 1080Ti, there’s no performance loss in closed lid mode with HD7970 & Vega56.  I retested all 3 in Closed & Open Lid modes.  While MSI 1080Ti is always faster, in Closed Lid mode it takes a performance hit.  Game benchmarks appear bursty; a steady higher frame rate briefly drops by half and then catches up to full speed again - repeatedly.  HWiNFO shows the QC i5 hitting 100 degC and throttling.  It’s not that a quad-core i5 boosted to 3.9GHz isn’t fast enough; it just can’t keep its cool with the single fan thermal solution Apple provided.  The dual fan 13” models likely hold their temps down longer.  Based on the redesign of 16” MBPros, the upcoming 14” models may improve thermals even more.
  • 13” MBPro noise:  The Node front exhaust fan was the loudest part of my eGPU builds - tho I’d mistakenly assumed most fan noise was the Node PS.  Now with the front exhaust fan disconnected the loudest part of my builds is the 13” MBPro fan!  Seriously, it drowns out the axial-fan coolers of my Vega56 and 1080Ti and Node PS even with the Node cover off!  Only the reference blower fan of my Radeon HD7970 is louder.  Even then the MPro fan can sometimes match it!  No surprises here, loud fan noise is typical for ultrabooks.  But it shows the Node could benefit from a better quality front exhaust fan. 

 

 

Conclusion:  It’s surprising to see an older Radeon HD7970 working this well in a 2020 eGPU build.  I doubt the HD7970 was considered for use in an eGPU when designed - which makes it all the more satisfying to see it running perfectly in Windows 10.  It even achieved playable frame rates in SOTTR (albeit at 720p)!  At the same time it’s disappointing (tho not unexpected) that it’s not supported in macOS 10.14.  Still, I consider this build an overall success.  If you have an older graphics card and an available eGPU, it’s worth a try IMO.

 

This topic was modified 3 days ago

2019 13" CTO MBPro dual TB3 4-core 1.4GHz i5 + Akitio Node + Vega56
2009 Mac Pro 5,1 with 3.47 6-core Xeon + AMD Radeon HD 7970 (flashed)


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