[Solved] Mac mini 2018 i3, XFX RX-480, Sonnet 350: blank screen on high settings of games & benchmarks
Soonet Breakaway 350, using Sonnet-supplied Thunderbolt 3 cable
XFX Radeon RX-480 8GB
Mac mini 2018 (Core i3, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Intel HD 630)
Activity Monitor history: spikes briefly during test.
GB Metal score: 124339
GB OpenCL score: 29457
None to speak of, all sections identify two GPUs & which is the primary based on what I have connect to the monitor at that time
Nothing quite matches my setup but I looked at the posts: I didn’t spot any edge cases right away.
Command Line Swiss Army Knife
I didn’t mess with the CLI/Terminal stuff because the top of the post said it was fore developers & the initiated. I’m no developer but I’m pretty sharp with hardware, though not much experience with a proper (supposedly) supported configuration in macOS.
I also skipped these steps as it’s a brand-new system and all I did was do the macOS + App Store updates, and install Steam to test out gaming.
This is started with screen losing output from GPU. This is not the GPU sending a “blank screen” signal (where it leaves the LCD panel backlights on as if they’re still receiving a signal) but actually sends no signal so the screen powers off.
This first happened in Dawn of War 2: Retribution at 1440p max settings. My display output would work if directly connected to the Mac mini (but the game wouldn’t reappear; Force Quit of Dawn of War 2 was possible). However, once back to desktop I couldn’t launch any game while connected to eGPU without causing the game to lock up during launch. A full restart, with video output (HDMI) connected only to Mac mini would resolve.
I next decided to test multiple games (Dawn of War 3, Civilization 6, Tomb Raider, Battletech, Borderlands 2) with mixed results. Civ 6 & Borderlands 2 seem to run for at least an hour without issue. Dawn of War 3 blank-screens immediately, Civ 6 will run for a little over 30 minutes before blank screen. Battletech & Dawn of War 3 will only run for a few minutes before crashing.
I decided to lower settings and, across the board, at 720p (1366x768) with low or medium/low mix the system will not crash.
When testing Ungine Heaven benchmark I did both “Basic” and “Extreme” defaults.
Basic: FPS 74.2, Score 1869
Extreme: crashed on scene 5/26
GPU temperature never exceeded 38°C as reported by Heaven (I didn’t believe this at first but I put my hand up to the exhaust and very little warm air is coming out, so I’m more inclined to believe it now).
My working theory at this point is the the PSU in the Sonnet Breakaway 350 isn’t supplying enough power to the GPU at peak demand. I will also point out that I was using this RX-480 card (directly connected to PCI-e x16 slot, no external housing) in my desktop just minutes before installing it in the Sonnet. Also, that when I hacked this together to work on my Mac mini 2012 last year it performed fine (as fine as it can under TB1 lol).
This behavior didn’t exist in my PC, my Alienware 13’s external graphics amp, nor when I ran it through purge-wrangler on my Mac mini 2012 & TB1 adapter. Since the Mac mini 2012 could only supply 5Gb/s I assume the power draw was less, which is why I didn’t see this behavior before.
Considering all of that I'm leaning toward the PSU in the Sonnet isn’t able to provide enough power to the GPU and therefore for is causing it to shut off (despite the LEDs & fans still running).
I’ve also tried all 4 thunderbolt ports.
I'm having my girlfriend bring over her 13" MBP non-Touchbar tomorrow to see if it exhibits the same behavior. I'm also considering taking the 600w PSU out of my Alienware Graphics Amp to put into the Sonnet, unless there's someone who can think of a reason not to.
I'm not absolutely opposed to re-imaging the system as I don't have much on it, but I wanted to see if there were some other troubleshooting steps to try first. Thank you all!
@jim_survak great to see a comprehensive troubleshooting post like this one. Have you tried NVRAM and SMC reset?
There have been reports previously that XFX cards don’t work as well with macOS. If possible, try flashing a different vendor’s BIOS and retesting. I know you got it working with your older Mac Mini, but this may resolve the problem.
I previously used an MSI RX 480 with the Sonnet 350W PSU and recall no issues.
Thanks for the advice @mac_editor !
I'll NVRAM & SMC resets tomorrow.
As far as flashing the VBIOS goes: is there a particular guide you recommend? I prefer the opinions of forum members I trust over my own random internet searches (quite a lot of "use this flash method for mining" stuff on the RX-480s).
Looking at the issue again, the GPU seems to be crashing at high loads. However, it worked fine for low/medium settings on those games that crashed. Were you capping FPS? Ideally the GPU should crash for any high workloads (low settings + high FPS = high workload) - or not at all. Nonetheless, experimenting with a different power supply is also a good idea as you already surmised. Testing with a different host is also a good move. Do share your findings once you try that.
Flashing the GPU would be more on the "last resort" workarounds list IMO.
SMC & PRAM reset didn't resolve. However, I did put it through about an hour of capped 60 FPS 1080p medium settings game testing this morning & it made it about an hour. It's when I turned off Vsync & uncapped the FPS that the game I was using crashed after 8 or so minutes. That was a really good suggestion, I hadn't considered it.
The alternate PSU & alternate Mac testing will have to wait until this afternoon though: gotta get to work!
@mac_editor I agree this is a nice example of troubleshooting and documenting an issue. I read through the symptoms observed as well as attempts made and they led to the RX 480 being the culprit. I don't think the 350W PSU in this Sonnet Breakaway is insufficient. The enclosure would have shut off entirely if that was the case. My recommendation is to remove the heat sink from GPU die, clean everything up then reapply thermal paste. Leave the enclosure cover off during post-clean testing to observe the GPU fans/cooling system should the blank screen issue occurs again.
Flashing AMD graphics cards is best done in Windows. I don't think the effort is worth it at this point. You would need the RX 480 eGPU working in Boot Camp before ATIFlash would allow vBIOS programming. It's possible used AMD cards run modified vBIOS for best hash rate during mining sessions but not stable during gaming sessions. Your posted LuxMark 3.1 (w/ iGPU) seems higher than the average RX 480. Here are some results for comparison. Run the RX 480 eGPU in Luxmark again without iGPU. If it's around 13,000 it may be normal.
I tested it on my girlfriend's MacBook Pro using only the external monitor (closed-clamshell style) I am using with my Mac mini. Games would launch but when running their built-in benchmark utilities they would crash & output a log file. I haven't scrutinized those logs.
I did go ahead with replacing the PSU in my Sonnet & the issue might be fixed. I gamed a bit at 1080p medium in Dawn of War 2 - which would cause the game to crash after 15 minutes or so, but it was solid all the way through. I turned off Vsync: no crash. So I start running the in-game benchmark, upping the stress on the system from 1080p, to 1080p high, 1080p ultra, and finally 1440p ultra w/ AA on (high res of my monitor). The game hasn't crashed once.
I decided to re-run LuxMark & the Unigine Heaven benchmarks. I went all in & did the "Extreme" Heaven preset at 1440p. Not stellar FPS but it didn't crash (I was tentatively hopeful after it didn't crash on the 2nd scene)! Also complete LuxMark & it scored just under 14,000.
Since we're discussing flashing I should point out that I'm the only owner of this GPU, I bought it new at Best Buy. However, it is one of these XFX "Black Edition" cards which has a factory OC; I'm assuming that means it's got a modified vBIOS from XFX.
As a last note, I will say now that I've got the cover off of the Sonnet, I'm hearing an odd noise. I'm not sure I know what coil whine sounds like but I hear a slight ticking or very faint rattling noise. It's unnoticeable with game or benchmark volume turned up. I also noticed that during the very brief moments of a scene change in LuxMark (where the screen goes solid black) the noise stops for that moment.
I'm not above putting new thermal paste on the GPU chips if you recommend it, but since it's running 6°C cooler in Unigine Heaven (at 32°) I'm not sure it's necessary.
Still very interested in your thoughts! Thank again, both of you.
@jim_survak great to see that the issue is mostly resolved. The noise is likely normal. Usually happens when memory is under load. Can hear the same on my Vega system as well. I think thermal repasting may be unnecessary.
Good to hear the replacement PSU remedied your issue. It's possible the OC XFX RX 480 you use draws power in a way that the stock 350W PSU of Sonnet Breakaway couldn't provide. Near 14,000 on Luxmark 2.1 is definitely higher than a reference RX 480. Also the noise you described are normal. I hear them on all kinds of GPUs when I run AIDA64 or compute related tasks.