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Best Mini PCs for eGPU Gaming?  

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omardesu
(@omardesu)
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February 13, 2019 5:38 am  

After reading @itsage's post on the 2018 Mac mini, I started looking in to buying one to replace the 2014 Mac mini I currently have.  I have my current Mac mini running more or less as a home server/access point on MacOs for when I'm out of the country.  I started gaming on my 2016 15" MBP on Bootcamp which I eventually extended to the 2014 Mac mini and ultimately bought an eGPU for (ASUS XG Station Pro with an EVGA 1070 Ti).

Gaming on the 2014 Mac mini is doable (maybe 50-60 fps min on Fortnite), but there's probably some performance drop due to the i5 and TB2 connection.  So I was thinking the next progression is to go TB3 and faster CPU, hence looking at the 2018 Mac mini...  However, the base price of $799 to run and game on Bootcamp on a 128GB SSD is probably out of the question.  My current Mac mini has a 1TB SATA drive, so in terms of Bootcamp and storage, it's not a problem.  If you add in 1 TB of NVME with a TB3 enclosure to the 2018 Mac mini you'd be looking at probably $300-400 minimum so that would be upwards of $1100 just to get the 2018 Mac mini up to par with the 2014 Mac mini storage.  If you configure the Mac mini with 1TB of SSD storage, you're looking at $1600 - a definite no go there...

With that kind of pricing, I thought maybe it's easier and cheaper to build a SFF desktop which I could transfer my 1070 Ti to.  I wouldn't have to worry about TB3 anymore which would render my eGPU enclosure useless as I don't really have any apps in MacOs that need GPU acceleration.  Thermals could be an issue depending on the case chosen.  But this would take more time to spec out the parts and source and ultimately build, but I think something could be built in the $600-800 price range (excluding the GPU) especially when the premium SFF cases are priced at $200+.  Also, it's definitely going to be bulkier than a Mac mini.

So that brings me to the title question, what are the Best Mini PCs for eGPU Gaming?  I guess that would also extend to which mini PCs have the best TB3 architecture that go directly to the CPU like the Mac mini and 2016 and newer 15" MBPs?

2018 Mac mini seems to answer the call, but then the price becomes a factor
Intel NUC's?
Any others?

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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theitsage
(@itsage)
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February 13, 2019 3:20 pm  

@omardesu NUC systems have their Thunderbolt 3 controller attached to the PCH. There are not many ITX motherboards with onboard Thunderbolt 3. The few that do also have a x16 PCIe slot. Using the GC-Titan-Ridge AIC in this single CPU wired slot would expand your choices of ITX motherboard and platform. In my Ryzen 5 2400G ITX build, I did just that to add TB3 on an AMD system.

Direct CPU access for Thunderbolt 3 is a best case scenario. We also have to factor in other aspects of the build. The cooling system in the 2018 Mac mini is capable of handling the i3 CPU. You'll have a lot more flexibility piecing together an ITX system. The ability to fine-tune the performance of CPU and RAM is nice too. If you were to build a TB3-SFF for gaming with an $800 budget, here's my recommendation:

  • Motherboard: ASROCK Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac ~ $180
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-8700 6 Cores / 12 Threads ~ $300
  • Case & Power Supply: Inwin Chopin mini-ITX w/ 150W PSU ~ $90
  • Memory: 2x 8GB DDR4 PC4-25600 3200MHz ~ $120
  • Cooler: Noctua NH-L9i Low-profile CPU Cooler ~ $40
  • SSD: HP EX920 M.2 512GB PCIe 3.1 x4 NVMe ~ $80

The InWin Chopin is 3.3L in terms of volume. It doesn't have a much larger foot print compared to the Mac mini due to its vertical orientation. Here's some photos for reference.

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Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

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omardesu
(@omardesu)
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February 14, 2019 4:17 am  

Thanks @itsage for the detailed response and PC build recommendation.

I actually spent the last few hours pricing out the components that you listed, and it was roughly $800 (then another $30+ for sales tax).  Looking the ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac specs, I saw that it had 1 TB3 which is perfect for the eGPU.  Not sure if anybody here has done this kind of setup yet since I've only seen like 3 ITX MBs with TB3, but I do seem very drawn to pulling the trigger.

So all the components w/out case comes out to be ~$720, then it all comes down to the case itself.  There's 2 trains of thought here and I really don't know which way to go:

1) SFF+TB3 eGPU = In-Win Chopin + ASUS XG Station Pro w/1070 Ti.  Price: ~$800
2) SFF+GPU = Dan A4-SFX + 1070 Ti.  Price: ~$1100

The Dan A4-SFX at 112 x 200 x 317 mm is almost the same size my XG Station Pro at 107 x 205 x 375 mm.  So instead of just an eGPU (in terms of size), I could have a complete SFF build with internal GPU.

Another factor would be the ~20% performance drop in TB3, but I'm not sure if that will be such a big problem for playing Fortnite with the 1070 Ti.  And if you think about it, the price of the Dan case with PSU is the same price of a eGPU enclosure.

What to do, what to do... So many things to consider...  🙄

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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omardesu
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February 14, 2019 1:32 pm  

After researching for the last day, I think I'm pretty much sold on an ITX build with a Dan A4-SFX (just read on the SFF forums that the V4 model should be coming out in March according to Dan).  This would be good timing as I still have to source all the components and can try to get the best deals to try to offset that $200 case.

I'll probably still go with the ASRock MB that @itsage recommended to keep the TB3 option since it's pretty flexible in terms of upgradability.  Not to mention, I could also do some PCIe vs TB3 GPU testing for shits and giggles.

I also may have an RX580 lined up from a coworker which I can probably get for $100-120, so that can go into the eGPU once the 1070 Ti gets transplanted into the A4-SFX.  That would mean I can easily dock my 2016 MBP or Mac mini with the eGPU and have no problems with Mojave.  So the XG Station Pro would live on!

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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theitsage
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February 14, 2019 7:31 pm  

The answer to which of two options is better usually becomes why not both!  :mrgreen:

Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

94 external GPU build guides


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omardesu
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February 15, 2019 5:40 am  

@itsage 1000% agree!!!  Actually at this point, I ordered all the components except CPU and case since Newegg had some sales going on.  I could very well start with the Chopin as the Dan A4-SFX won’t be available sometime in April.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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omardesu
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February 18, 2019 10:48 pm  

@itsage Just found out via the interwebs that the TB3 port on the ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac MB are only using 2 PCIe lanes via the Intel Alpine Ridge JHL6240 controller which would put me at TB2 speeds.  See the link here.  So I guess I could still use it with eGPU for testing purposes, but that would seem redundant since my 2014 Mac mini is already running the eGPU on TB2.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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OliverB
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February 18, 2019 10:51 pm  
Posted by: omardesu

@itsage Just found out via the interwebs that the TB3 port on the ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac MB are only using 2 PCIe lanes via the Intel Alpine Ridge JHL6240 controller which would put me at TB2 speeds.  See the link here.  So I guess I could still use it with eGPU for testing purposes, but that would seem redundant since my 2014 Mac mini is already running the eGPU on TB2.

If you have an external monitor and keep at moderate FPS, it won't matter. External monitor and 60FPS the performances are nearly identical (TB2 vs TB3, x2 vs x4), Why do  you think that x4 is not really beaten by x16?

2018 15" MBP & 2015 13" MBP connected to RTX2080Ti GTX1080Ti GTX1080 Vega56 RX580 R9-290 GTX680


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omardesu
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February 18, 2019 11:19 pm  

@OliverB With my current Mac mini and external monitor, I'm getting 60fps most of the time.  It can go as high as 144fps, but it's not even remotely stable there (plus doesn't matter right now as I don't have a 144Hz monitor).  I'm not sure if I'm limited by CPU, GPU, or eGPU bandwidth.  If you have any insight on this, it would help me understand it better.

In the end, I would like to get into higher, stable FPS which I believe I can achieve with the ITX build with my 1070 Ti directly on the MB.  Sure I'd have to get a 144Hz monitor, but that's a step I'm willing to take.

Once I finish the ITX build, I can run the following setups and compare:
1) 2014 Mac mini + 1070 Ti eGPU
2) ITX Build + 1070 Ti
3) ITX Build + 1070 Ti eGPU
4) 2015 MBP 15" + 1070 Ti eGPU

Setup 4 is low priority as I only need to do 60 fps on internal screen, and it looks pretty involved to get the 1070 Ti up in Bootcamp (I was hoping for plug-and-play but seems like it isn't).

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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OliverB
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February 18, 2019 11:25 pm  

I can tell you that from theoretical aspects and personal experience, 144 FPS is not optimal for eGPUs.
A eGPU setup  with external performs best at high resolution (e.g. 4K), high details and moderate Framerates (about 60FPS)).
.

2018 15" MBP & 2015 13" MBP connected to RTX2080Ti GTX1080Ti GTX1080 Vega56 RX580 R9-290 GTX680


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omardesu
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February 18, 2019 11:40 pm  

Thanks for your input @OliverB.  This is why I've gone the path of building up a PC.  Once the ITX build is up, as I've been mentioning to itsage, the eGPU will kind of be in limbo as I don't have another GPU to put in it.  I could drop an AMD GPU in it, but I don't have much use for graphics acceleration in MacOs at the moment.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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