Gaming on a Mac: External GPU + Logitech G27 Racing Wheel
We've been warned time and time again, "You're doing it wrong if you buy a Mac to game." Things change and so will opinions when macOS High Sierra with eGPU support arrives. Today I'm mixing a bit of old-school tech with new-school cool. I've had this Logitech G27 wheel mounted on a racing seat setup since the blissful days of Gran Turismo 5 on PlayStation 3. With the recent release of F1 2016 for macOS and eGPU support in 10.13 Beta, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to put the whole thing together and see how gaming on a Mac has improved.
The Sonnet Breakaway Box and Radeon RX 580 I reviewed back in April are the exact same components Apple chose for its External Graphics Development Kit. This RX 580 eGPU setup has been working very well with macOS 10.13 High Sierra beta. The bigger unknown for me was whether macOS and the game would detect the Logitech G27 racing wheel. It was surprisingly straight-forward. I only needed a USB to USB-C adapter to connect the G27 to my 2016 15" MacBook Pro. As soon as the game detected the steering wheel, it went through the initialization process of cocking the wheel side to side. All buttons on the wheel were functional, but it took me some time to figure out which button did what. I was not able to use the clutch and shifter inputs. Perhaps this was unsupported by the game and not due to macOS or the Logitech G27.
Once the main components were in place, I needed an external display because internal display eGPU acceleration would severely compromise graphics performance and gameplay enjoyment. I ran an 8 ft HDMI cable to a big screen rear-projection TV. After everything was up and running, I felt the excitement of a kid waking up Christmas morning.
Force Feedback worked great on this G27 racing wheel (as evidenced by the violent arm movements seen in the photo below). The steering feel has a nice weight to it during gameplay. The last time I played racing games with this G27 was a long while ago, so I decided not to upload video of my repeat, high-speed wreckage.
Speaking of crashing, F1 2016 crashed a couple of times during the almost three hours of gameplay. The RX 580 eGPU itself did not stop working nor did macOS. It might simply be a compatibility issue with 10.13 beta and the game. While I was at it, I ran this eGPU pairing through some benchmarks to show the improvement on gaming performance. Here are the numbers.
|2016 15" MacBook Pro||Radeon Pro 450 dGPU||Radeon RX 580 eGPU|
|F1 2016||17.0 FPS||51.0 FPS|
|Tomb Raider 2013||13.1 FPS||52.0 FPS|
|Hitman: Absolution||8.1 FPS||29.7 FPS|
|Unigine Valley||5.1 FPS||48.1 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven||4.3 FPS||38.2 FPS|
|GB 4.1 Metal||26,403||28,646|
|GB 4.1 OpenCL||11,975||121,225|
Another benefit of using an external GPU enclosure for gaming on a Mac is its expandability and upgradability. I could have used the Mantiz Venus eGPU enclosure for this test. The decision to go with the Sonnet Breakaway Box was to present a best-case scenario in terms of external graphics performance. The Mantiz Venus would provide 87W power delivery to charge the 15" MacBook Pro as well as be able to connect to the Logitech G27 racing wheel using one of its five standard USB ports. I could also install games on an external SSD mounted inside the Mantiz Venus SATA port. This would preserve the 256GB internal drive on my MacBook Pro. Yes, I would lose some performance due to the shared bandwidth when SATA SSD, USB devices, and eGPU are transmitted through a single Thunderbolt 3 connection. Nevertheless the ability to transform a laptop such as the MacBook Pro into a good gaming computer in macOS is a dream come true.
The ultimate takeaway from this experiment is that gaming on a Mac will improve in the very near future. Now that Apple is officially onboard to provide more capable hardware, game developers have a real motivation to get after the underserved Mac gamers. We are more than ready to pay and play.
Awesome article. Graphic bench results always puzzle me...
GeekBench Metal has been really inconsistent in my experience.
Great write up, be nice to see some other games tested too. My only gripe is the size of most eGPU enclosures, you could build smaller MITX PC's and have better performance (although at a higher cost obviously, when compare to the box and card).
Someone make more mini enclosures, I'm looking at you Mantiz...
2017 13" MacBook Pro Touch Bar
GTX1060 + AKiTiO Thunder3 + Win10
GTX1070 + Sonnet Breakaway Box + Win10
GTX1070 + Razer Core V1 + Win10
Vega 56 + Razer Core V1 + macOS + Win10
Vega 56 + Mantiz Venus + macOS + W10
Awesome! I'm waiting for my MacBook 2017 15" to arrive soon. But I thought you could still use the Mantiz Venus as the graphic card won't use the full bandwidth and the leftover is used by the extra ports and power delivery? - I'm confused. I like the Mantiz Venus, but if it doesn't provide full bandwidth to the GPU I think I will go for a Sonnet or Akitio.
If you want to use the clutch and shifter, you need to download FreeTheWheel. There's videos on YouTube of people using it on a Mac. Try it out
For what it's worth, the majority of Thunderbolt 2 enclosures recommended in the 2017 Buyer's Guide are Actually smaller than the Akitio Thunder2. After mocking them up with paper, There seems to be a certain size that is indeed too small, too. I think manufacturers are trying to find this balance right now.
As I understand it, there was an issue with many Thunderbolt 3 enclosures where they would artificially cap PCIe enclosures at 22 Gbps. That has (for the most part) been resolved, and as a result 32 Gbps of the maximum 40 Gbps is available for the PCIe data. Does that help?
Thank you. I will give FreeTheWheel a try. My assumption was that F1 cars are all dual-clutch now so manual was no longer available in-game therefore clutch and shifter don't work.