Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac - 2017 Update - macOS Sierra
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 v184.108.40.206 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 Laptop||Thunderbolt PCIe Speed||Luxmark 3.1||Unigine Valley||Unigine Heaven|
|Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro||32Gbps-TB3||18,141||2,834 (67.7 FPS)||1,790 (71 FPS)|
|Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro||32Gbps-TB3||18,602||2,389 (57.1 FPS)||1,756 (69.7 FPS)|
|Early 2015 11" MacBook Air||16Gbps-TB2||18,435||2,218 (53 FPS)||1,653 (65.6 FPS)|
|Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro||10Gbps-TB1||17,933||2,215 (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.
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.
Thanks for sharing this exciting news! I'm waiting someone to test Akitio Node's capability with older Mac, finally here.
Thanks for your informative sharing.
Always enjoy reading your posts.
Thanks for the post. This is exciting news!
Are you suggesting that if you use the "fit-Headless GS" HDMI adapter that one could use an external GPU in a NODE and get video acceleration no your MacBook Pro built-in display?
If so, would this also work with Thunderbolt Displays connected to the MacBook Pro?
Forum user, enjoy posted his mod and was successful in his attempt. – https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/turn-your-macbook-pro-to-a-gaming-laptop-with-akitio-thunder2/#post-132
Thanks for that. Exactly what I needed.
I would like to be able to use the eGPU both in Windows and macOS.
AMD GPUs including the RX 480 work in macOS with Goalque‘s latest automate-eGPU v1.0.0 script. I’d recommend the GTX 980 Ti though for eGPU builds. In my testings, I have much better luck with Nvidia GPUs in both macOS and Windows.
Thanks ITSAGE. I'll go with the 980 TI then.
Now I just checked the NODE and unfortunately it will be too big for my setup. Razer Core or Bizon 2S or 3 would be perfect though. Are you aware if those have basically the same internals and support by macOS as the Node? I have here with me a 2015 15" macbook pro, iris only.
I don’t recommend Bizon products – no Intel certification and stolen work from eGPU community.
So basically I just run TB3-enabler and the Razer Core should behave like the Node? Meaning it'll support the 980 TI with macOS and bootcamp in my 2015 mbp, just like the Node? Sorry if it is obvious, it's just that this eGPU realm is very new to me.
Correct. Here’s a simplified overview of how Windows and macOS interact with eGPU:
Step 1 – Communication between the Thunderbolt enclosure to the computer.
Step 2 – Recognition in Windows or macOS that the enclosure contains a graphics card.
Step 3 – Appropriate drivers for the GPU are installed and loaded in Windows or macOS.
The AKiTiO Node with TI83 controller passes Step 1 because macOS fully supports it. Enclosures with older controller such as Razer Core and AKiTiO Thunder3 are unsupported. Therefore they need TB3-Enabler to pass this Step 1.
automate-eGPU script takes care of Step 2 and Step 3 in macOS. Intel Thunderbolt Software and either Nvidia Optimus or AMD XConnect handle Step 2 and Step 3 in Windows.
But out of curiosity, what are the implications of this older controller in the Razer Core? What does it do "worse" in practice compare to the TI83?
And what about the thunderbolt cable? Will I need to get a specific one or an adapter to make the connection between my mbp's TB2 and the core's TB3 or any thunderbolt 3 cable will do it?
The nice thing about eGPU is similar to a PC build, you can swap GPU whenever you’d like. If you have a nice deal on the GTX 970, jump on it. You can always sell it later for break even to get something else.
The TI82 controller is worse because it’s on Apple’s blacklist. Therefore it requires one more hack to make eGPU work in macOS.
I've checked every european AKiTiO stockist and they are all awaiting stock. AKiTiO told me March/April on Twitter
Hello, awesome post. I want to ask if you could shed any light on my situation. I have a 15" early '13 MBP (which I don't want to upgrade yet) which is usually hooked up to a Thunderbolt Display when not on the go. Could the Node sit inbetween them without any issue? As in...
TB1 MBP > TB3 Node w/video card > T1 Thunderbolt Display
With ">" being a Thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter.
Edwin, the AKiTiO Node has only the single TB3 port. There are no additional ports to daisy chain off. Your early 2013 15″ MBP (GT650M) has 2 Thunderbolt1 ports on it. There you’d attach one to your Thunderbolt display and the other to the AKiTiO Node via the Apple Thunderbolt3 to Thunderbolt2 adapter. Just Note that this LCD configuration is seen as attached to your internal GPU and so apps started in that LCD wouldn’t use eGPU acceleration by default. To have full use of the performance of the eGPU, you’d require a HDMI/DP LCD to attach to the eGPU.
Thank you for the promo response. 🙂
Just sucks that it seems I have to get rid of my Thunderbolt Display. 🙁
The Radeon R9 Fury X has the highest OpenCL performance in macOS. I’ve tried it successfully in the Node (paired with XPS 13). Other forum members have used R9 Fury and Polaris GPUs. Refer to our implementations table and look for AMD cards in macOS.
Is it possible to have the test of the internal graphic card for the comparison ? Thank you to make our dream possible ! I dream to upgrade my old macbook 2012 to accelerate render in fcpx. I use lots of plug....