Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac - 2017 Update - macOS Sierra
 
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Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac - 2017 Update - macOS Sierra  

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

 

What's the best Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac in 2017? Depends on whom you ask, the answers vary. I happen to be in possession of three Thunderbolt expansion enclosures and four Apple Mac laptops which span three generations of Thunderbolt connectivity. At the moment, my pick would go to the AKiTiO Node.

My conclusion came after I ran all four Mac laptops through all three Thunderbolt enclosures. The Node is the only enclosure that is a ready-to-go eGPU solution from the factory. Its 400W power supply and generous chassis dimensions mean it can accomodate up to the most powerful AMD or NVidia cards available. It also has the newer USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 controller, TI83, which macOS fully supports.

The other two enclosures, Thunder2 and Thunder3, require a more powerful power supply than their factory 60W unit to run any AMD or NVidia card. Their cases need to be modified to accommodate most graphics cards. They also have older and unsupported Thunderbolt controllers.

The list of Thunderbolt equipped Mac laptops for this evaluation with the AKiTiO Node Thunderbolt 3 enclosure are:

  • Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro with iGPU HD 530 and dGPU Radeon Pro 450
  • Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro with iGPU Iris 540
  • Early 2015 11" MacBook Air with iGPU Iris 6100
  • Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro with iGPU HD 3000 and dGPU Radeon HD 6770M

The Late 2016 Mac laptops are running at Thunderbolt 3 speed (40Gbps) through the AKiTiO Thunderbolt 3 cable while the older Mac laptops are running at slower speed via the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. The Early 2015 11" MacBook Air is running at Thunderbolt 2 speed (20Gbps) and the Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro is running at Thunderbolt 1 speed (10Gbps).

An AKiTiO Node running with firmware v1.0.0.3 B1-23+3.6.1 is fully functional in macOS 10.12 Sierra. To enable the use of an eGPU in Mac OS environment, the one prerequisite is Goalque's automate-eGPU script. At the moment, Nvidia GTX 900s series and older are Mac compatible. The soon-to-be-released version 1.0.0 of this script will have better support for AMD Polaris and Fiji graphics cards.

I successfully ran automate-eGPU script on these four Mac laptops to enable eGPU with the AKiTiO Node enclosure. The graphics card used is an EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid with liquid cooling; it's a perfect pairing with the Node. Below are the benchmarks - you can click on the scores to see the screen captures.

Mac LaptopThunderbolt PCIe SpeedLuxmark 3.1Unigine ValleyUnigine Heaven
Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro32Gbps-TB318,1412,834 (67.7 FPS)1,790 (71 FPS)
Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro32Gbps-TB318,6022,389 (57.1 FPS)1,756 (69.7 FPS)
Early 2015 11" MacBook Air16Gbps-TB218,4352,218 (53 FPS)1,653 (65.6 FPS)
Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro10Gbps-TB117,9332,215 (52.9 FPS)1,538 (61.1 FPS)

The performance difference between older Thunderbolt Macs vs the latest Thunderbolt 3 ones is very marginal. The only scenario in which you would benefit from native Thunderbolt 3 speed is in Windows using Nvidia Optimus or AMD XConnect to accelerate the internal display; I will be testing these same four Mac laptops in the coming weeks with Windows 10. In macOS environment, full usage of an eGPU requires an external monitor.

I know many people (myself included) want a solution for eGPU accelerated internal display. It's not possible yet through software. There are workarounds using hardware though. A very clever and resourceful forum member built a HDMI adapter-to-no-where to trick the operating system into using eGPU through the internal display. Alternatively, you can get a HMDI adapter-to-fake-display.

Update 1/21/2017: It's now possible to have the eGPU accelerate your Mac's internal display in macOS.

Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac is becoming more of a reality than it has ever been. With the demands of VR development, 4K video editing, and immersive video games, the performance boost of an external graphics card would enable your Mac to do things Apple didn't think you could.

Browse the builds for other successful eGPU implementations with Apple Thunderbolt computers.

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

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX 5600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (VisionTek mini eGFX) + macOS 11 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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Barry
 Barry
(@Barry)
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Great post, thanks! Quick question, everywhere I can find selling the AKiTiO Node states that it is "Windows Only" compatible. Is this just to be ignored or is there a variant which support OSX?

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

.

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

Apple never announced eGPU as a feature of its computers. Therefore Intel does not issue macOS certification to any eGPU manufacturer. AKiTiO may not claim macOS compatibility for this reason.

It's very much a trial and error process with finding Thunderbolt enclosures which work on macOS. Fortunately AKiTiO boxes (Thunder2, Thunder3, and now Node) have been found to work well so far.

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

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX 5600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (VisionTek mini eGFX) + macOS 11 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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mdr1a
(@mdr1a)
Active Member
Joined: 4 years ago
 

Thanks for sharing this exciting news! I'm waiting someone to test Akitio Node's capability with older Mac, finally here.

2015 15" MacBook Pro (R9 M370X) [4th,4C,H] + GTX 970 @ 16Gbps-TB2>TB3 (AKiTiO Node) + macOS 10.12.2 & Win10 [build link]  

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

Adding an eGPU is definitely a better upgrade than buying the new Late 2016 MacBook Pro.

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

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX 5600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (VisionTek mini eGFX) + macOS 11 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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pdafan
 pdafan
(@pdafan)
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Hi TheITSage,
Thanks for your informative sharing.
Always enjoy reading your posts.

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

.

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Jasper
 Jasper
(@Jasper)
Joined: 3 years ago
 

Hi TheITSage,
Thanks for the article, this has made me very happy to be able to do such things Smile
Just a minor correction, the Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro uses the HD 530 iGPU not the Iris 530 😉

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

.

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mrtn12
(@mrtn12)
New Member
Joined: 4 years ago
 

Hi ITSage,

I was wondering if the internal SFX power supply could be replaced to a new one from another brand (ex. corsair)

Thanks!

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

.

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

Thank you for spotting that. We made the correction. Smile

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

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX 5600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (VisionTek mini eGFX) + macOS 11 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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

Swapping the original SFX power supply with one from other brand should be possible. You'll have more power cables to deal with though.

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

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX 5600 XT @ 32Gbps-TB3 (VisionTek mini eGFX) + macOS 11 & Win10 2004 [build link]  


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