macOS External GPU Review - Out-of-Body Experiment
 
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itsage
(@itsage)
Illustrious Member Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
 

Recap

macOS External GPU has been possible for several years thanks to the selfless work of many in our eGPU community. Most notable is the automate-eGPU script Goalque wrote that enables eGPU in 10.9 to 10.12. Today Apple officially adds this highly-anticipated capability in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 [17E199]. It's now available to the general public but not without limitations. As released, only Thunderbolt 3 Macs can make use of external GPU with select AMD Radeon graphics cards.

The questions that immediately come to mind for many Mac users are whether there's a workaround for non-supported systems, Thunderbolt 1/2 and Nvidia graphics cards. There are no easy answers, but the ball is now in Apple's court. eGPU.io's tremendous growth was due in part to a strong Mac user base looking for external graphics card solutions. Now that Apple has officially incorporated eGPU into their Mac platform, it's high time for the folks in Cupertino to provide first-party support.

macOS External GPU

macOS External GPU: AORUS Gaming Box + Apple MacBook laptops

The Journey

My first attempt with external graphics was a few summers ago when I realized the Mac Pro tower's form factor would not return in the Mac lineup. The next logical upgrade path was through an external enclosure with PCIe slot. The Mac Pro trashcan planted this seed with its six Thunderbolt 2 ports that Apple engineers cleverly attached directly to the Xeon CPU [system block diagram]. So I hopped on that train and built an eGPU out of an AKiTiO Thunder2 enclosure. The setup process wasn't for the faint of heart. Thanks to the resources already made available on TechInferno forums moderated by Nando, I was able to piece together a Radeon RX 470 eGPU for my Macs. The software that enabled this upgrade was Goalque's automate-eGPU script.

External graphics card components macOS External GPU RX 470 + AKiTiO Thunder2

Shortly after joining and learning about eGPU in macOS on TechInferno forums, Nando, Goalque, and I were banned due to conflicts of interest with the site owners. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave us a fresh start to build a new forum, fully dedicated to external graphics card solutions. eGPU.io is now the new and hopefully permanent home for eGPU enthusiasts. Our main mission has always been to make external GPU easy and accessible to all. Intel, AMD, and Thunderbolt partners share the same vision. The complete picture came together on June 5th, 2017 when Apple announced macOS external GPU support in High Sierra at WWDC.

Frequent visits from Cupertino - Dec 25th, 2016 to May 31st, 2017

High Sierra beta was available shortly after the announcement. I tested with the Sonnet Breakaway Box + RX 580 eGPU that is the very same setup Apple used for its eGPU Development Kit. While it worked, this early build was limited to the AMD Radeon RX 580 only and hot-plugging was buggy. Goalque's script worked more reliably in 10.12 at that point in time. macOS 10.13 was released fall 2017 with external graphics card support for developers only. We kept ourselves in the loop throughout macOS external GPU development process from 10.13 to 10.13.3. While there was marginal improvement following each update and additional support for Radeon Vega GPUs, no major change was in sight.

Then came 10.13.4 Beta 1, version 17E139j, and with it an initial glimpse of the public release of macOS external GPU. Beta 1 was an amazing build that refined the user experience significantly over previous versions. External GPU was now plug-and-play with almost all Thunderbolt Macs. We were beyond excited and anxious for the final release day. This excitement was short-lived. Beta 2 wreaked havoc on the hierarchy of trust. It broke compatibility with Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 Macs. Longtime Mac users, myself included, felt a punch to the gut when subsequent 10.13.4 Beta continued this trend, refusing to work with non-Thunderbolt 3 Macs. If you've been enjoying external graphics with your older Macs, stay with 10.13.3 until further notice.

Reality eventually set in; Apple is a control freak, and for them to add a software feature to support third-party hardware is unprecedented. As seen below, there are about a dozen of Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures compatible with macOS. It's likely only a handful will be macOS-certified. In the whole scheme there's a deadline to meet and the fewer Macs to focus on, the more quality assurance Apple can provide to ensure a successful launch. I remain hopeful macOS external GPU functionality will be extended to older Thunderbolt Mac systems in due time.

April 7th 2018 Update: mac_editor found a workaround to enable external GPU functionality for TB1/2 Mac on 10.13.4.

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#1

Razer
Core X

$300
link
link link 14.45
6.48/14.29 ATX-int
650W 100W
500W
12.99/33.0
1 & TI83
DSL6540
[email protected]
33.1 ✔ 50
link
#2 Razer Core
X Chroma
$400 link
link link 14.45 6.91/15.23
ATX-int 700W
100W 500W
12.99/33.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83
JHL6540 x2 [email protected] 40.1 ✔ 70
link
#3 Sonnet
Breakaway
350|
550|650



RX580
Vega56
Vega64
$199
$250
$300
$439
$799
$949

link link link 12.71
3.20/7.10 SFX-int 350W
550W
650W
350W
550W
650W

15W
87W
87W
60W
87W
87W
300W
375W
475W
225W
375W
475W

12.20/31.0 2xDP,
HDMI,
DVI-D
1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected] 25.2 ✔
25.2 ✔
25.2 ✔
25.1 ✔
25.2 ✔
25.2 ✔
50 link
#4 AORUS/
Gigabyte
Gaming Box
RX580
GTX1070
GTX1080
RTX2070
$420
$500
$670
$650
link
link
link
unbox
link link 3.30
2.35/5.19 fATX-int 450W 100W 225W 6.65/16.9 AMD: 3xDP,HDMI
Nvidia: DP, HDMI,
2xDVI-D ,
USB-C (RTX)
5Gbps 1 & TI83
DSL6540
[email protected]
F1.1
F1.0
F1.0
F1.0
50 link
link
link
link
#5 Mantiz
Saturn Pro
$299
link link link 14.57 5.70/12.54
ATX-int 750W 100W 550W 12.99/33.0
5Gbps 1 & TI83 JHL6540+
JHL6240
[email protected]
44.4 ✔ 70 link
#6 ADT-Link
R43SG-TB3
$120
discuss
link GPU
0.1/0.22
ATX-ext
or AC-ext

nolimit
15W
nolimit nolimit
1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected] ??
30
link
#6 AKiTiO
Node Titan

RX580
RX5700XT
RPW5700
$330
$550
$750
$1300
discuss link link 12.82 3.50/7.72 SFX-int 650W 85W 500W 12.60/32.0
2xDP, 2xHDMI, DVI-D

3xDP, HDMI
5xDP,USB-C
1 & TI83 JHL7440 [email protected]
?? 50 link
#7 Sapphire
GearBox
$259 link link link 8.45
3.30/7.30
fATX-int 500W
60W
300W
10.50/26.6
5Gbps
1 & TI83 JHL6540
[email protected] 41.41 50
link
#7 AORUS
RTX 2080 Ti
Gaming Box
RTX2080Ti $1500 link link   7.26
3.79/8.34 fATX-int 450W 100W 300W 12.60/32.0 3xDP,
HDMI,
USB-C
8Gbps 1 & TI83
JHL6340
x2
[email protected]
44.44 ✔ 50 link
#8 AKiTiO
Node
$200
link link link 14.09
4.90/10.78 SFX-int 400W 15W 375W 12.60/32.0 1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
25.1 50 link
#8 ASUS XG
Station Pro
$330 link link link 8.23 2.95 /6.50
AC-ext 330W 15W 300W 12.24/31.1
10Gbps 1 & TI83
JHL6540 [email protected] 29.1 ✔ 150 link
#8 PowerColor/
VisionTek
mini

RX560
RX570

$350
$480
link
link link 2.30
0.85/1.90
AC-ext
240W
45W
150W
6.89/17.5

2xDP,2xHDMI,DVI-D

5Gbps
1 & TI83
JHL6540+
JHL6240
[email protected] 40.1 ✔ 50
link
#9 HP Omen
Accelerator
$300
link link link 16.00 5.50/12.10 ATX-int 500W 60W 300W 11.42/29.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
25.25 50 link
#9 AKiTiO
Node Pro
$349
link link link 12.82 3.40/7.40 SFX-int 500W 60W x2 400W 12.60/32.0 10Gbps 2 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
23.1 ✔ 50 link
#9

Sonnet
Breakaway Puck

RX560
RX570
$399
$499
link link link 1.01 2.38/5.25 AC-ext 160W
220W
45W - - 3xDP,HDMI 1 & TI83 DSL6540
[email protected]
25.1 ✔ 50 link
#9 Blackmagic
eGPU | Pro
RP580
Vega56
$699
$1199

link
link link 9.64
4.60/10.20 custom-int
400W 85W
HDMI
TB3/USB-C

5Gbps
2 & TI83x2
JHL7540 [email protected]
26.3 ✔ 50
link
link
#10 Zotac AMP
Box Mini
$220 link
link link 4.17 0.85/1.87
AC-ext 180W 15W 150W
7.87/20.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
26.1 ✔ 50 link
#10 Razer
Core V2
$500 link link link 7.65 4.95/10.89 fATX-int 500W 65W 375W 11.81/30.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83
DSL6540 x2
[email protected]
26.1 ✔ 50 link
- Highpoint
Rocketstor 6661A
$175
preview link link 2.40
5.18/11.40
AC-ext 60W
15W
25W
8.20/20.8
10Gbps 2 & TI83
DSL6540 [email protected] ??
50 link
- AKiTiO
Node Lite
$190 link
link
link
link
2.64 2.00/4.39 AC-ext 72W 15W 25W 7.87/20.0 10Gbps 2 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
B1-25 50 link
- OWC Mercury
Helios 3
$200 user 2.69
1.40/3.08 AC-ext 90W 15W 25W 7.75/19.6 10Gbps 2 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
50 link
- PowerColor
Gaming Station
$250 link link 13.71 3.60/7.92
SFX-int 550W 87W 375W 12.20/31.0
5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
?? 50 link
- AKiTiO
Thunder3
$250 link
link
link
link
2.64
2.00/4.39 AC-ext 72W 15W 25W 7.87/20.0 10Gbps 2 & TI82 DSL6540 [email protected]
50 link
- PowerColor
Devil Box
$300
user link link 16.65 3.60/7.92 fATX-int 500W 60W 375W 12.20/31.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540
[email protected] 25.101 50 link
- Lenovo TB3
Graphics Dock
GTX1050 $325 link link link 0.74 0.69 / 1.51 AC-ext 170W 65W - - 2xDP,HDMI 5Gbps 1 & TI83 JHL6540 [email protected]
v003 50 link
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Node Duo
$370
link link link 10.54
5.00/11.00 AC-ext 150W 60W+15W 25W x2
8.66/22.0 10Gbps 2 & TI83x2 DSL6540 2@x2
33.3 200 link
-

Netstor
HL23T-Plus

$429
link
link
link 8.98
3.40/7.40
fATX-int
400W
15W
350W
12.60/32.0
1 & TI83 JHL6540
[email protected]
33.1 50
link
- Netstor
Hercules HL23T
$435 link link link 8.16 2.70/5.94 fATX-int 300W 15W 300W 12.60/32.0 10Gbps 2 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
25.1 ✔ 100 link
- ASUS ROG
XG Station 2
$550
link link link 20.03 5.10/11.22 fATX-int 680W 100W 500W 12.20/31.0 5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540
[email protected]
v25 50 link
N/A Mantiz
Venus
ended
link link link 11.56 3.60/7.92
SFX-int 550W 87W 375W 13.00/33.0
5Gbps 1 & TI83 DSL6540 [email protected]
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The Good

The most obvious and welcome change is true hot-plug capability for macOS external GPU. In High Sierra 10.13 to 10.13.3, hot-plugging was partial in that the system would ask you to log out then log back in to initialize the eGPU. In 10.13.4, this is no longer the case. Provided you have compatible hardware, you'll see a brand new icon in the Top Menu bar for external graphics status. For now this icon's sole purpose is to disconnect the external graphics card safely. 10.13.4 also shows the correct identification of supported Radeon GPUs. In previous builds these cards would show up as "R9 XXX". I foresee future enhancements to include a dedicated panel in System Preferences so that users can manually select which graphics card is engaged depending on workload and energy settings.

external GPU detected notification in 10.13.3 external GPU safe eject icon in 10.13.4

Clamshell mode is another highlight. This had been working intermittently depending on the build. Through six beta builds of 10.13.4, clamshell mode worked flawlessly on my late 2016 15" MacBook Pro and mid 2017 13" MacBook Pro. Sleep behavior was an improvement over previous versions too. Putting the computer to sleep while the eGPU is connected also puts the eGPU to sleep. External GPU functionality resumes working when the computer is woken up. Sleep issues may have been the deciding factor to axe Thunderbolt 1 & 2 Mac support. Using an eGPU with my Mac Pro trashcan had often caused unpredictable sleep and wake-up behaviors.

The Bad

In the current state macOS external GPU cannot provide loop-back acceleration to the internal display. This effects gaming use because the external graphics card is rendered useless without an external monitor. Professional applications that rely on OpenCL fare better because they can use all graphics cards presented in the system. In contrast AMD XConnect (Windows only) provides eGPU internal display acceleration. On the latest Adrenalin drivers, the performance difference between internal display vs. external monitor was limited to single-digit percentages.

Revision: Apple support article #HT208544 assigns the responsibility of internal display eGPU-acceleration on third-party software developers: “Pro applications and 3D games that accelerate the built-in display of an iMac or MacBook Pro. (This capability must be enabled by the application’s developer.)”

Timing for this release is rather unfortunate. Prices for graphics cards in general and AMD in specific have been inflated due to cryptomining. If you don't currently have a compatible eGPU setup, it's certainly not a good time to buy in. The recently announced Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box is one of the few reasonable options. For reference, this table shows all Radeon GPUs with native external graphics support in macOS High Sierra.

 

Natively Supported  macOS External GPUs
Radeon Vega Radeon Ellesmere Radeon Baffin
Pro WX 9100 Pro WX 7100 Pro WX 5100
 
Vega Frontier Edition RX 580 Pro WX 4100
RX Vega 64 Liquid RX 570 RX 560
RX Vega 64 RX 480 RX 560D
RX Vega 56 RX 470 RX 460

The Ugly

On the developer front, third-party software needs to catch up to macOS external GPU in 10.13.4. Even though it's been nearly a year since the release of 10.13 beta, many software have yet to take advantage of an eGPU. Apple's own software needs improvement too. Final Cut Pro X was working very well with eGPU up until version 10.3.4. The latest version 10.4 ironically refuses to use the external graphics card for export. Then there's the clusterfuck of software relying on Nvidia graphics cards for CUDA framework. The current Nvidia eGPU workaround may or may not survive this and ongoing macOS updates.

Last but not least is gaming in Windows. While eGPU in Bootcamp mode is neither supported nor related to this 10.13.4 release, many Mac users have been looking forward to using Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pros as part-time gaming laptops. I wish there was better news to report. For the time being, we must continue to follow an exhaustive procedure to make use of external GPU in Bootcamp. I tried both Nvidia and AMD eGPUs with all three variations of the TB3 MacBook Pros and lived to document it. The benchmark results below demonstrate the difference between Windows vs. macOS external GPU performance.

2016 15" MacBook Pro10.13.4 RX580W10 RX58010.13.4 RXVega56W10 RXVega56
Unigine Valley36.2 FPS47.5 FPS58.8 FPS70.2 FPS
Unigine Heaven29.5 FPS46.0 FPS53.5 FPS74.1 FPS
Tomb Raider 201348.7 FPS83.0 FPS84.4 FPS124.2 FPS
Shadow of Mordor12.2 FPS70.9 FPS45.8 FPS96.5 FPS
Hitman27.4 FPS67.8 FPS28.6 FPS66.3 FPS
Dirt Rally28.6 FPS51.6 FPS72.1 FPS92.8 FPS

Mac Ecosystem

Upgrading a Mac used to mean shoving hardware components inside the computer. Apple's Thunderbolt 3 I/O only strategy on its MacBook Pro lineup is shaping the new Mac ecosystem by attaching out-of-body components. My interpretation of this add-on paradigm is similar to that of DSLR cameras. You buy the body (Mac) to get started, then invest in the lens and flash (TB3 peripheral) to get the most of your setup. A high-quality lens can last a long time and pair well to many bodies. So can a Thunderbolt eGPU enclosure with compatible Macs. Apple is seemingly positioning itself to sell Macs only as a replaceable component of a more complete computer setup.

Besides eGPU, other Thunderbolt 3 peripherals are gradually coming to the market. The LG Ultrafine 5K display is no longer the only Thunderbolt 3 monitor. Mantiz designed its new Thunderbolt 3 dock Titan to specifically cater to the MacBook Pro with matching esthetics and anodized space grey finish. There were a handful of Thunderbolt 3 external high-speed storage drives announced at CES 2018. AKiTiO recently introduced Thunderbolt 3 10Gbps Ethernet adapter. Sonnet has also started selling a Thunderbolt 3 memory card reader. These are just to name a few.

What's Next

Consumer adoption is a crucial factor in determining macOS external GPU success. Thunderbolt technology has been available in a Mac since 2011. After so many years, Thunderbolt 3 has its best shot yet with a wide range of applications, eGPU being front and center. What concerns me most is the gnawing suspicion that top-level decision makers still have doubts about the costs vs benefits of TB3 technology. Thunderbolt external graphics solutions are costly for home users, much more so for business owners. In most production environments, the rule of thumb is to never run the latest OS version. Let the tech inclined suffer through bugs for a year before the production people get the stable release. 

Next comes hardware investment. Most agencies I know still haven't upgraded the majority of their equipment to Thunderbolt 3 Macs. After being neglected for many years without a proper "pro" Mac, Apple's recent efforts excite some but leave many skeptical. Had Apple re-enabled external graphics in Thunderbolt 2 Macs, more users would be exposed to the benefits of this feature and would be more inclined to transition to the new ecosystem. Now is the time for first-party support to step up. The success of external graphics as a platform within Thunderbolt rests on the shoulders of Intel, Apple and Thunderbolt partners.

 

See also

external graphics card builds
best laptops for external GPU
eGPU enclosure buyer's guide

 
2020 15" HP Spectre X360 [11th,4C,G] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (AORUS Gaming Box) + Win10 2004 [build link]  


goalque and nando4 liked
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goalque
(@goalque)
Noble Member Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
 
Posted by: itsage

In the current state macOS external GPU cannot provide loop-back acceleration to the internal display.

Actually nothing prevents us from developing apps and games that can be accelerated on the internal display. Apple puts responsibility on developers.

"Pro applications and 3D games that accelerate the built-in display of an iMac or MacBook Pro. (This capability must be enabled by the application's developer.)"

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208544

"If an external GPU needs to send data to the built-in display, that data must first be transferred from the external GPU to the built-in GPU that drives the built-in display."

https://developer.apple.com/documentation/metal/fundamental_components/about_multi_gpu_and_multi_display_setups/

I explained about this in my previous post:
https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/egpu-and-multi-screen-setup/#post-30676

automate-eGPU EFIapple_set_os.efi

Mid 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro eGPU Master Thread

 
2018 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + Radeon VII @ 32Gbps-TB3 (ASUS XG Station Pro) + Win10 1809 [build link]  


Chippy McChipset, ikir, nando4 and 1 people liked
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Zetthard
(@zetthard)
Active Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

I’m using mid 2014 MacBook Pro and really hope that Apple will return eGPU support for TB2 as well, including Bootcamp eGPU support. Ideally for both AMD and Nvidia graphic cards. Untill then I’m going to stay at 10.13.3.

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

itsage liked
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iSilver
(@isilver)
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Unfortunately it seems that the RX 560 and below aren't supported as of now. They're not listed on the official apple support page ( https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208544), and after brief testing with my RX 560 and 10.13.4 I got the same behavior that was reported here: https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/akitio-node-rx-560-10-13-4-beta-black-screen/

2017 13" MacBook Pro [7th,2C,U] + RX 560 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (AORUS Gaming Box) + macOS 10.13 & Win10 [build link]  

itsage liked
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Fabiana Espíndola
(@fabiana_espindola)
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

We're being pushed to Windows for compatibility and higher frame rates. No complaints, really.

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

itsage liked
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ikir
 ikir
(@ikir)
Prominent Member
Joined: 4 years ago
 
Posted by: Fabiana Espíndola

We're being pushed to Windows for compatibility and higher frame rates. No complaints, really.

Cmon it is a start, 10.13.4 brings a lot of fresh air. Higher frame rates depends of many things.


MacBook Pro 13" 2020 Touch Bar M1 8-core CPU 8-core GPU - 16GB unified memory - 512GB PCIe SSD
MacBook Pro 13" 2020 Touch Bar i7 quad-core 2.3Ghz - 16GB RAM - 1TB PCIe SSD

my awesome Radeon VII eGPU
my Mantiz Venus extreme mod with Sapphire Nitro+ RX Vega 64

 
2018 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + Radeon VII @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.15 [build link]  


ReplyQuote
Daniel Bölke
(@daniel_bolke)
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Is the "RX 580 Gaming Box" enclosure seen in the picture also supported?

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

ReplyQuote
itsage
(@itsage)
Illustrious Member Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
 

@daniel_bolke The Gaming Box in picture is the AORUS 1080. When the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box arrives, it should be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs.

external graphics card builds
best laptops for external GPU
eGPU enclosure buyer's guide

 
2020 15" HP Spectre X360 [11th,4C,G] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (AORUS Gaming Box) + Win10 2004 [build link]  


ReplyQuote
star-affinity
(@star-affinity)
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Saddening to see the frame rate results in that diagram between macOS and Windows, especially for Dirt Rally in macOS 10.13.4 compared to that of Windows – that game is the only one of the software in that diagram that I know is supposed to use Metal 2 for rendering, and despite that Windows gets about 20 more frames per second on both RX580 and RXVega56. While It’s understandable that Windows is ahead I think that difference is too big. Apple (and the developers?) still has a way to go untill macOS can be areasonable alternative to Windows for gaming. At least for the more demanding games. Oh, well...

To do: Create my signature with system and expected eGPU configuration information to give context to my posts. I have no builds.

.

ReplyQuote
itsage
(@itsage)
Illustrious Member Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
 

@star-affinity I agree the results are rather disheartening. Apple talked a big game but their actions have continuously been discouraging towards Mac users. When software developers and hardware vendors don't see an enthused user base, they will not invest heavily in the platform. To be honest with you, judging by the progress of external GPU support in High Sierra, it seems Apple did not do much until about 3 months ago.

external graphics card builds
best laptops for external GPU
eGPU enclosure buyer's guide

 
2020 15" HP Spectre X360 [11th,4C,G] + RTX 2080 Ti @ 32Gbps-TB4 (AORUS Gaming Box) + Win10 2004 [build link]  


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