My Experience Switching to an eGPU-less World
 
Notifications
Clear all

My Experience Switching to an eGPU-less World  

 of  2
  RSS

mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 5 years ago
 

Some Background

I've been messing around with eGPUs since 2017. As far as I remember, there was no vendor except perhaps Alienware with their proprietary solutions who was actively supporting eGPUs officially. That's when I stumbled upon this community (credit to @itsage, @nando4 and @goalque) who have been supportive throughout the journey. The rest is history.

eGPUs have served me really well. It was the best option for me back in 2017, when I wanted more oomph with less ca$h for my already expensive Mac. Worked out really well in college once I paired an RX 480 to the 2014 15" MBP. Then I moved to the 2018 MBP and everything worked the same with 1 adapter less (specifically the TB3>TB2 adapter). It was rather refreshing to see all my peripherals and displays light up and work just as they always have.

Today I typically use and prefer Apple devices for work and hobbies and have a PC for gaming. So far, I have retained my eGPU because it's the best dock you can have - 4+ displays (dependent on your GPU), SSDs, and USB peripherals, all in one. Since my PC handles gaming needs, my need for eGPU performance reduced significantly, although I still benefited somewhat for my video editing hobby. For work, I use a 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro. With the new 2021 MacBook Pros, I decided to replace my personal Mac. As of now, these machines do not support eGPUs, so I was looking to replace my one-cable solution to work with this machine along with my work machine.

Using a 1-cable solution has spoiled me

Replacing the eGPU means that I would face the biggest challenge with supporting my displays. I quickly found out that Thunderbolt 4 can only support 2 external displays at 4K 60Hz. Specifically, this is the limit on 1 thunderbolt controller (at least per Intel spec) - you need another one in parallel (not daisy-chained) to support more, or a separate display output. Displayport MST should technically allow more monitors but macOS doesn't support it AFAIK. I have 3 displays. One of my key requirements was to be able to connect all peripherals on one side of the laptop, due to how my current desk setup is. The 2021 MBP (M1 Max) has 3 Thunderbolt controllers + separate HDMI port, so I can use one side to connect a dock + HDMI. The M1 Pro models probably have 2 controllers only. However, on the 2019 MBP, each side has 1 controller, so I need to use both. This sucks for me (a bit).

In terms of the peripherals, good eGFX units are just better than typical Thunderbolt docks. Specifically, I don't think I saw any small Thunderbolt 4 dock that had space for a SATA/NVMe SSD. If you know of one, do share in this thread.

Before vs. Now

So what's my setup like now? Here's a quick before&after:

The eGPU setup has the following drawbacks:

  • Cannot log in to macOS with FileVault enabled on eGPU-connected display.
  • Mantiz Saturn ethernet was limited to 500 Mbps on macOS for some reason (I have duplex 1 Gbps).
  • macOS has trouble dealing with eGPUs ejecting, unoptimized apps, etc., plus I still experience loud internal fans where the eGPU should reduce the thermal load on the Mac.

The new setup has the following drawbacks:

  • Need 2 cables directly connected to the laptop ensuring use of different Thunderbolt controllers or separate display output.
  • USB peripherals may need to be power-cycled to be detected - at least for my AMP/DAC - did not occur before.
  • Does not take load off of internal GPU. You work with what you have.
  • 90W power delivery. I couldn't find a TB4 dock that delivered 100W.

While switching to the new setup, I also upgraded from a SATA to NVMe SSD and put the WAVLINK adapter I bought a while back to use (finally). I use a 2m Thunderbolt cable and my existing Thunderbolt 3 cable did not work with the new Razer dock. I had to specifically purchase a 2m Thunderbolt 4 cable.

Another note: you'll notice that most of the drawbacks for the eGPU setup I've mentioned above are macOS/Mac-specific. On a Windows device, you could have a far better experience, especially with Windows 11 where Microsoft has taken Thunderbolt seriously.

The lower power delivery can be an issue. For the 2021 MacBook Pro, it is unlikely to cause any significant issues because it requires both the CPU and GPU to be loaded at maximum to consume that much power. The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro can hit 90W with the CPU alone (burst loads) so you may find it say "Not Charging" sometimes. Since I don't play games or have anything causing sustained load on GPU on the work laptop, it doesn't matter much to me, but for other use cases this is important.

In Summary

Nothing is perfect. If you are a Mac user like me, the Razer dock is a good option for a one-cable solution if you have only 2 external displays. If you need 3+ displays, an eGFX solution would be the better choice, especially if you need a performance bump. In my case, the Vega 64 eGPU is also slower than the 2021 MBP so it would be a downgrade performance-wise if it were to work anyway. Aside from another cable hooked up on my desk, I'm happy with the new setup. I'll still be messing around with eGPUs though since it's fun.

"Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed." — Seneca

Author: kryptonitepurge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance
Launching Apps on Specific (e)GPUs on macOS

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


jefniro, itsage, nando4 and 1 people liked
ReplyQuote
Boltoway
(@boltoway)
Estimable Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago
 

@mac_editor

I have Lenovo's ThinkPad Universal Thunderbolt 4 Dock and while I do not know how well it would interface with a Macbook Pro, it alleviates some of the issues you mentioned regarding the Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock; It delivers 100W power delivery and supports 4 x 4K Monitors @ 60Hz.

Furthermore, I have also daisy-chained an eGPU through the downstream Thunderbolt port on the dock. While there is a performance loss of approximately 10%, the performance has been extremely stable, without any stuttering, freezing or crashes. 

Depending on how well the Thinkpad Dock works with Apple devices, it could be the one-cable solution you desire. 

 

2021 14" Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Pro (MX450) [11th,4C,H] + RTX 3060 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (Wikingoo eGPU) + Win10 21H1 [build link]  

ReplyQuote
mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 5 years ago
 

@boltoway, Have you tried 4 4K@60Hz monitors on it?

https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/gaming/resources/upgrade-gaming-accessories-thunderbolt-4.html I don't understand how 1 thunderbolt port can support 4 such monitors unless there is some DSC magic or 8-bit color only (my monitors are 10-bit). Do you know how this works?

https://www.reddit.com/r/UsbCHardware/comments/poup5k/thinkpad_universal_thunderbolt_4_dock_us/ I saw this thread which talks about splitting DisplayPort signal. Not sure if it'll work as expected on macOS, but thanks a bunch for this suggestion. I'll try to grab one if I can find it.

Tagging @joevt as well in case they can explain.

Edit: I see a matrix here: https://support.lenovo.com/us/en/solutions/pd029622 which says it works with 4 monitors with DSC enabled while disabling internal LCD (which in my case I am doing). This might suggest that Lenovo's drivers for this might be a bit special perhaps. 

"Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed." — Seneca

Author: kryptonitepurge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance
Launching Apps on Specific (e)GPUs on macOS

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


ReplyQuote
Boltoway
(@boltoway)
Estimable Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago
 

@mac_editor

No, sadly I don't have 4 x 4K monitors available to me to test. I am only referencing the specifications provided by Lenovo. 

If you get your hands on one I would definitely be interested to see how it works with MacOS and multiple 4K displays. I hope it works out well for you, as it has for me. 

I had basically given up my search for the 'perfect' Thunderbolt 4 dock until discovering the Thinkpad Dock at the very last minute. It took about 4 weeks for them to ship it (purchased directly from Lenovo Australia) and the website currently states there is an 8 week wait time.

Nonetheless, it has worked flawlessly for me, and even with the eGPU diary chained I am able to run a keyboard, 2.4ghz wireless mouse and a USB audio interface with no disconnections or stuttering whatsoever. It's brilliant. 

 

2021 14" Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Pro (MX450) [11th,4C,H] + RTX 3060 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (Wikingoo eGPU) + Win10 21H1 [build link]  

ReplyQuote
mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 5 years ago
 

@boltoway, Problem is the matrix/specs say it works on Lenovo laptops. Also hard to come by at the moment. There's one on eBay but it's rather expensive for a dock: 470 USD pre-tax. Guess I'll shoot Lenovo an email.

 

"Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed." — Seneca

Author: kryptonitepurge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance
Launching Apps on Specific (e)GPUs on macOS

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


ReplyQuote
Boltoway
(@boltoway)
Estimable Member Moderator
Joined: 3 years ago
 

@mac_editor

Isn't much of a 'universal dock' if some features only work on Lenovos! If you get your hands on one make sure to share the results.

 

2021 14" Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Pro (MX450) [11th,4C,H] + RTX 3060 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (Wikingoo eGPU) + Win10 21H1 [build link]  

ReplyQuote
itsage
(@itsage)
Founder Admin
Joined: 5 years ago
 

@mac_editor, Thank you for this perspective. The one-cable solution is something many of us are after, eGPU or not. This is especially appealing for a hybrid work environment; a single capable laptop that can go with you anywhere and dock to a full "Desktop" at the home office or the work office.

At my full time employment, I do need native Windows environment to test and stage different e-commerce warehouse solutions. This VisionTek mini eGFX + RX 5600 XT ITX setup [build link] has been the most perfect eGPU docking solution for me in the past year.

I'm curious about new Thunderbolt 4 docks and how they may address your needs. An interesting solution could be from Apple or their partnership with BMD to build a ARM eGPU dock. 

 

LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Youtube | Instagram
 
external graphics card builds
best laptops for external GPU
eGPU enclosure buyer's guide

 
2021 14" Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio [11th,4C,H] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (WD_Black D50) + Win11 [build link]  


ReplyQuote
mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 5 years ago
 

@boltoway just found 1 in stock on Amazon and ordered the dock! Should arrive by Wednesday hopefully. Luckily Amazon has extended return period (until Jan. 31, 2022) during holiday season so I have plenty of time to return one of the docks. Will share more details once I have it and have tested it. Thanks again for your recommendation, I'm excited to try it out. This dock has everything I need (if it works).

It's funny, I always find myself to be subject to some experimentation to get my things working, be it eGPUs or docks (I suppose that's one reason I've written various scripts/workarounds haha). Sometimes I want it to 'just work' and be a regular ol' customer-who-knows-nothing haha.

@itsage I'm not sure if Apple would consider an eGPU at the moment, especially given all the 'unified memory' stuff they have been touting. Perhaps in the future there may be a possibility for Apple to do so with better Thunderbolt or some proprietary port, but right now I don't see them considering this option.

"Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed." — Seneca

Author: kryptonitepurge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance
Launching Apps on Specific (e)GPUs on macOS

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


itsage and Boltoway liked
ReplyQuote
joevt
(@joevt)
Noble Member
Joined: 4 years ago
 

The reddit thread leads to a teardown discussion of the Lenovo Thunderbolt 4 Dock.

https://www.reddit.com/r/UsbCHardware/comments/ptnuhr/lenovo_thunderbolt_4_dock_unboxing_and_teardown/
https://dancharblog.wordpress.com/2021/09/22/lenovo-thunderbolt-4-dock-unboxing-and-teardown/

It uses two MST chips

VMM6212 - HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.4
VMM53328 - 3x DisplayPort 1.4

They might be linked together? Need something that can show the DisplayPort topology.
AGDCDiagnose in macOS can get the top level MST Hub.
Intel Graphics Control Panel (the older software) can show the topology in Windows.
Linux can probably show the topology somewhere in its filesystem. fwupd should be able to detect the MST chips.

As for connecting 4 displays, macOS doesn't support MST for multiple displays so you'll probably only be able to connect two displays in that case: one to the downstream Thunderbolt port and one to a other port.

A 4K 60Hz display is usually 533.25 MHz of pixels. DSC can do 12 bpp or 8bpp compression. The MST Hub can take a DSC input and decompress it for displays that don't support DSC.

1 display requires:

4.2 Gbps @ 8bpp (DSC)
6.4 Gbps @ 12bpp (DSC)
12.8 Gbps @ 24 bpp
16 Gbps @ 30 bpp

Thunderbolt (40 Gbps) can carry two DisplayPort signals. These are the options:

RBR = 5.184 Gbps
HBR = 8.64 Gbps
HBR2 = 17.28 Gbps
HBR3 = 25.92 Gbps

Usually the limit is two HBR2 or one HBR3 + HBR = 34.56 Gbps
Apple can force two HBR3 for the Apple Pro Display XDR (38.9 Gbps) for GPUs that don't support DSC.

I have done three 4K60 displays in Windows from MST hubs but I don't know what DSC compression it was using. I think the link rate was HBR3 so it could be 12 bpp. There's some overhead with DSC and MST that I did not account for.

If 3 displays uses an HBR3 link, then that leaves only HBR for the second DisplayPort connection. DSC would be required for that which could mean that one of the MST chips is connected somehow to the downstream Thunderbolt port?

A Thunderbolt 4 Dock usually has 3 downstream Thunderbolt ports. This dock appears to only have one. What did they do with the other two? If both were used for displays, then the exposed downstream port cannot be used for a display and you wouldn't be able to connect four displays. It would be a waste if the one of the not exposed Thunderbolt 4 ports was only used for USB...

The Video Matrix chart doesn't make sense. It says it can connect a 5K Thunderbolt display and three 4K displays. A 5K Thunderbolt Display (5120x2880) usually requires two HBR2 connections leaving nothing for other displays. It could work with an MST Hub but I don't see how they would place it between the Thunderbolt controller and the downstream Thunderbolt port without having another Thunderbolt controller. The teardown suggests some kind of loopback to the downstream TB4 port.

Mac mini (2018), Mac Pro (Early 2008), GA-Z170X-Gaming 7, Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 580 8GB GDDR5, Radeon Pro W5700, Sonnet Echo Express III-D, Trebleet Thunderbolt 3 to NVMe M.2 case


ReplyQuote
mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 5 years ago
 

@joevt, thank you for the insight. Yeah, at worst, I'd still have 2 external displays and get 100W PD and more warranty, but it will be intriguing to see what happens. Usually with MST the Mac will just mirror the displays (detect as one) so as you suggest, it'll work out to be 1 display per controller. The downstream TB port will be interesting though. I do want a downstream port for my WAVLINK adapter so let's see what I can get this dock to do.

Based on the article you linked, the MST chips seem to be linked Synaptics VMM53328 -> Synaptics VMM6212. Not sure if that means I won't even get 2 monitors.

 

"Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed." — Seneca

Author: kryptonitepurge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance
Launching Apps on Specific (e)GPUs on macOS

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


Boltoway liked
ReplyQuote
 of  2