Review: AKiTiO Node Thunderbolt 3 eGPU Enclosure  

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theitsage
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January 8, 2017 11:48 am  

Let me start this AKiTiO Node review by getting one thing out there first. Intel needs to stop crippling its Thunderbolt implementation and let eGPU go mainstream. Every major computer manufacturer has shown its commitment to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. CES 2017 brought an onslaught of external graphics card solutions. People want them and will pay for them. Intel has no excuse.

As earlier reports pointed out, the AKiTiO Node TB3 board has the Texas Instrument TPS65983 (TI83) USB-C controller with Thunderbolt 3 support. Interestingly Apple's first Thunderbolt 3 Mac, the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, only supports this TI83 controller. Older Thunderbolt 3 enclosures with the TI82 controller such as Razer Core, AKiTiO Thunder3, and Plugable TB3 docks do not have official support in macOS 10.12 Sierra. This is a software limitation Apple uses to restrict the implementation of external graphics cards on macOS.

I've been using this AKiTiO Node with a Late 2016 13" non-touchbar MacBook Pro. It's an awesome setup...in Windows 10 that is. As soon as I installed Windows 10 through Bootcamp, the system immediately detected the eGPU and prompted me to install the appropriate drivers (for a GTX 980 Ti Hybrid). After a restart the MacBook Pro was up and running with a fully functional GTX 980 Ti Thunderbolt 3 eGPU. Nvidia Optimus was running to power the MacBook Pro's internal display, all benchmark software and games were able to make use of the GTX 980 Ti without a fuss. It was beautiful.

It's another story in macOS. Even though the TI83 is compatible with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro and macOS recognizes the Thunderbolt 3 connection, there is a software block to prevent detection of the external graphics card. Many are working to come up with a solution.

1/10/17 Update: I was searching for additional documentation and firmware information on Texas Instrument TPS65983 controller and found a firmware update for the Node. The AKiTiO Node with its v1.0.0.3 B1-23+3.6.1 version is now working in macOS. I’ve tried it with the Late 2016 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro and they both work. The only modification is automate-eGPU script from Goalque. Here’s a quick video of the setup in action.

As far as the hardware itself, the only downside I've noticed with the Node is the PSU's fan. It's louder than it should be and in all honesty isn't needed. I disconnected the PSU fan (warning: you’ll void the warranty with this mod), and this eGPU is very quiet during operation now.

You may have seen unboxing photos from an earlier AKiTiO Node post. The enclosure is bigger than you would imagine from seeing photos online. I like it to be honest. I'm sick of designs full of compromises. The Node enclosure and its size accommodates every double-wide GPU made. Look at the EVGA GTX 980 Ti and its liquid cooling components. Everything fits inside with room to spare. I have not put the outer case back on because I like the look of the eGPU this way.

The 400W power supply is surprisingly small and has 3 PCIe cables. One 6-pin PCIe cable goes into the boards. The other two 6+2 PCIe cables are for the GPU.  It's plenty enough to power most graphics cards. I've even tried a Sapphire R9 Fury X which is a 400W TDP card, and the PSU has no issues keeping up under load.

One nice improvement in this AKiTiO enclosure compared to other Thunderbolt expansion boxes I've used is the front fan and its mounting. There are two thumb screws holding a 120mm fan and its sliding bracket. I was able to mount the GTX 980 Ti radiator and fan without any modification because of this universal design and sizing.

The best feature? Its price. I know $300 is still a lot of money but compared to other options on the market, the AKiTiO Node is the most affordable all-in-one Thunderbolt 3 eGPU box. Another nice thing is AKiTiO's support and involvement with the eGPU community. Many forum members have shared their stories and good experiences with AKiTiO's customer service. I reached out to Razer and other eGPU makers for a demo unit to test and find a solution for macOS. AKiTiO was one of the two who shipped us a demo unit (Mantiz was the other).

To assess and review this AKiTiO Node, I tried these Thunderbolt 3 computers and here are the recaps:

  • Late 2016 13" non-touchbar MacBook Pro - as of 1/10/17 works in both macOS and Windows 10: link
  • Dell XPS 13 9350 - Thunderbolt Software shows eGPU not supported and no detection.
  • Intel NUC Skull Canyon - plug-n-play, fully functional.
  • Alienware 17 R4 - plug-n-play, fully functional : link
  • Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro - same as the 13" in macOS, but requires a DSDT override in Windows 10 to resolve error 12.

During my testings, I've found some frustration with Thunderbolt 3 implementation due to outdated Thunderbolt firmware. All Thunderbolt 3 equipped computers are capable of using an eGPU such as this AKiTiO Node. Yet some would show "External GPU: Not Supported" in Intel Thunderbolt Software (Dell XPS 9350 is an example). The reason I've found is the NVM firmware and its communication with the TI83 controller. NVM firmware version 18 and newer would show support for external graphics cards. If you have a machine with an older NVM firmware, contact your computer manufacturer to expedite the release of new Thunderbolt firmware updates.

So why does Apple stop us from experiencing such a great solution for their thin and light laptops? Some may guess Apple is working on its own eGPU product; I highly doubt this. Given its design and sales strategies over the years, the only way Apple would ever implement an eGPU is through a sealed Thunderbolt 3 display, using a custom board GPU. Well, Apple stopped building displays.

My opinion on this situation is the same as the Mac Pro tower vs. the newer Mac Pro trashcan. You can custom build the older Mac Pro to be much more powerful than its newer iteration. Apple wants tight control over its Mac lineup hierarchy. An eGPU would disrupt this order.

Regardless of what Intel, Apple, and the OEMs decide to do, people want external graphics cards for the latest breed of computers. The AKiTiO Node is the first enclosure to push eGPU mainstream with its all-in-one box and reasonable price point. As a long time Mac user, I'd buy this Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and start making the switch away from Apple.

Edited: 2 months  ago

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Inotna
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January 8, 2017 1:21 pm  

thanks for the little review. 

Is the almost plug and play connection the same with the touch bar model 13 2016 model. Or is more difficult than the non touch bar 13?

can this enclosure be carried around with the graphics card inside? 

 

When does the Node actually ship? I can't really seem to find any information on it. 


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Mangix
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January 8, 2017 1:42 pm  

Great review, the only thing i dislike in the node is the lack of additional usb ports.. i mean i want to hook up some other devices as well.. 

 

as for apple, they should have this as big opportunity to promote their new laptops (which lacking power).

but i think apple wants to have their customer overpay their silly gpu upgrades..

 

 


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theitsage
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January 8, 2017 6:02 pm  

I had the boards apart and took close-up photos to compare the differences between AKiTiO Node and Thunder3.

AKiTiO Node

AKiTiO Thunder3


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theitsage
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January 8, 2017 8:51 pm  
Posted by: Inotna

thanks for the little review. 

Is the almost plug and play connection the same with the touch bar model 13 2016 model. Or is more difficult than the non touch bar 13?

can this enclosure be carried around with the graphics card inside? 

When does the Node actually ship? I can't really seem to find any information on it.

Unfortunately idk when it will ship. The handle is very sturdy and can carry the weight of the whole setup around. The touchbar 13" MBP may require a few more steps to make it work. DSDT Override will for sure make the AKiTiO Node work with all Late 2016 MacBook Pros in Windows.


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theitsage
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January 8, 2017 8:56 pm  
Posted by: Mangix

Great review, the only thing i dislike in the node is the lack of additional usb ports.. i mean i want to hook up some other devices as well.. 

as for apple, they should have this as big opportunity to promote their new laptops (which lacking power).

but i think apple wants to have their customer overpay their silly gpu upgrades..

If you look at the Thunderbolt 3 board of the Node, it may be possible to solder another USB-C port like the Thunder3. Given the space inside, remote-wiring the second USB-C  port to be inside the enclosure is an intriguing mod. That way, you can add more peripherals and contain everything in one enclosure.

Digikey.com is a very good online store for board components. I found these available and will probably give it a shot.

Texas Instruments TPS65982ABZQZR - $11

TE Connectivity AMP 2129691-1 USB Type-C - $3.03

Edited: 2 months  ago

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Excalibur
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January 12, 2017 8:39 pm  

Both boards have MP-TD3I-AKT--V1.01 silkscreen, while PCIe boards have different IDs for the extra 6 pin power supply.

Also TP82, TP83, and TP86(this one may not have Thunderbolt 3 support) are all pin to pin compatible.

Current: Thinkpad W540 - i7 4900MQ - 32 GB DDR3L - Quadro K2100M - Akitio Thunder2 - GTX 660 OEM
Retired: Thinkpad W520 - i7 2860QM - 32 GB DDR3L - Quadro 1000M - EXP GDC Beast - GTX 560 Ti - GTX 660 OEM


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rolfl
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January 13, 2017 9:06 pm  

Update: Installing Intel Thunderbolt Tools does allow AKiTiO FW tool to start.
Since I don't have node yet I can't actually test flashing.

theitsage can you confirm if you can flash node from bootcamp???

 

 

Edited: 1 month  ago

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theitsage
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January 13, 2017 9:53 pm  
Posted by: rolfl

 

Update: Installing Intel Thunderbolt Tools does allow AKiTiO FW tool to start.
Since I don't have node yet I can't actually test flashing.

theitsage can you confirm if you can flash node from bootcamp???

   

I flashed the Node to version 1.0.0.3 using my 2016 13" MacBook Pro in Bootcamp Windows 10. I also tried updating the Node to version 1.0.0.4 using the XPS 13 9350. Both times the process went smoothly. 


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sh@dow
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January 15, 2017 3:28 pm  

The Node also works with Windows 10 using Bootcamp on TB1/TB2 Macs:

https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/2015-11-macbook-air-gtx980ti16gbps-tb2-akitio-node-via-apple-tb3-tb2-adapter-win10-theitsage/

Edited: 1 month  ago

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Menneisyys
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February 7, 2017 2:05 am  
Posted by: theitsage

 

Unfortunately idk when it will ship.

   

Just a quick heads-up: I've ordered the Node Saturday night from the UK Equip shop. Yesterday (Monday) they've sent me a UPS tracking number and it's most definitely coming. That is, it's in stock with them.


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fattymax
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February 9, 2017 4:12 am  

Get Node x 2 here. One from China and another one from Taiwan. Will test soon. Around USD380 (including shipping) each.


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jefniro
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February 9, 2017 6:42 am  
Posted by: Menneisyys

 

Posted by: theitsage

 

Unfortunately idk when it will ship.

   

Just a quick heads-up: I've ordered the Node Saturday night from the UK Equip shop. Yesterday (Monday) they've sent me a UPS tracking number and it's most definitely coming. That is, it's in stock with them.

   

How much you have paid it? I hope not £320.40!!

 

 

 


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Menneisyys
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February 9, 2017 10:24 am  

Even more: £334.20 - also because I'm in Finland. Here's part of their Order Acknowledgement:

 

Products

------------------------------------------------------

1 x Node external GPU PCIe box (NODE-T3IA-AKTU)  = £289.20

------------------------------------------------------

Sub-Total: £289.20

Non-UK zone rates (Courier to FI (5.00kg(s))): £45.00

Total: £334.20

includes VAT @ 20%: £55.70


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jefniro
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February 10, 2017 1:31 am  
Posted by: Menneisyys

 

Even more: £334.20 - also because I'm in Finland. Here's part of their Order Acknowledgement:

 

Products


------------------------------------------------------


1 x Node external GPU PCIe box (NODE-T3IA-AKTU)  = £289.20


------------------------------------------------------


Sub-Total: £289.20


Non-UK zone rates (Courier to FI (5.00kg(s))): £45.00


Total: £334.20


includes VAT @ 20%: £55.70

   

Finland is not in Euro zone?


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Menneisyys
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February 10, 2017 6:38 am  

It is.

BTW,  UPS has just delivered the package. Will unbox it as soon as it gets warmer.


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Menneisyys
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February 10, 2017 11:30 am  

Here's some unboxing pics:

[click image for flickr album]

Edited: 2 weeks  ago

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fattymax
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February 10, 2017 9:27 pm  

Both are TI83 chips. No problem to be recognised by Mac OS Sierra 10.12.2.


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ed_co
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February 11, 2017 12:35 am  
Posted by: fattymax

 

Get Node x 2 here. One from China and another one from Taiwan. Will test soon. Around USD380 (including shipping) each.

1486635141-IMG1494.jpg

   

Websites, please!

And by the way, Blitz Micro increased the price to 330+GBP, without shipping!! l.ike bhphotovideo increased it too . They are taking advantage of it... I wish amazon could start selling that, and take rid of these scammers... What a shame!!

Edited: 2 weeks  ago

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esatamacmodular
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February 11, 2017 11:18 am  

thx for info I was thinking of ordering at bhphoto and now its $269 ... im too stubborn. will wait til it's back at $249.


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ed_co
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February 12, 2017 4:57 am  
Posted by: esatamacmodular

 

thx for info I was thinking of ordering at bhphoto and now its $269 ... im too stubborn. will wait til it's back at $249.

   

https://egpu.io/forums/thunderbolt-enclosures/akitio-node-thunderbolt-3-egpu-enclosure/paged/3/#post-2588


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jefniro
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February 13, 2017 4:45 am  

Great!!


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Menneisyys
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February 14, 2017 2:34 pm  

I've tried making the Node, with the Sapphire 4GB RX 480 card, on an early 2013 rMBP (i7 2.4GHz, 256G, 8G) running 10.12.3, connected via Apple's (2 metres) Thunderbolt cable and TB1/2 <> 3 adapter, the early 2013 rMBP only being TB1-capable.

 

The Node firmware version is listed as “23,1”.

 

(In the following two sublists, references to  “Thunderbolt” and “Graphics/Displays” all refer to “About this Mac > System report”. It should be closed and reopened upon connecting / disconnecting TB devices so that the changes are seen.)

 

1, hot plugging in the Node into OS X 

a, can be disconnected without crashing the OS

b, nothing can be seen on the connected external screen

 

2, plugging in the Node before booting into OS X: As opposed to the Bullet 1 above, 

 

a, can NOT be disconnected without crashing the OS

b, the connected external screen shows the extended desktop, which remains the same in clamshell mode (the inner screen keeps on working), unlike with the built-in HDMI / DP (where the external screen starts showing the primary desktop once the MBP is in clamshell mode).

 

In neither case will the plain “Overview” dialog list the GFX card – only the two internal ones (4000 + 650M). In both cases, starts listing it in “Thunderbolt” and “Graphics/Displays”

 

The different switches (a, m, no switch) of automate-eGPU.sh don't seem to have any effect on these results. Even when hot-plugging the Node after explicitly -m'ing out the daemon results in the same as above. Also, disabling auto graphics switching in Settings > Power didn't have any effect.

 

Bootcamp + Win10

 

I've also tested the setup under Bootcamp + Win10. Upon hot plugging, it didn't notice it being there. Neither did the latest firmware updater (1.0.0.4 B1-23+3.6.1; https://www.akitio.com/firmware/node-firmware ) did detect it. 

 

Trying to boot in with the eGPU connected always resulted in crashing. I even tried the tricks mentioned at https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/egpu-setup-1-30/#post-55 and https://egpu.io/forums/mac-setup/egpu-setup-1-30/#post-56 , without any success. (Not even almost immediately inserting the TB cable after clicking the Windows icon in the Bootcamp boot chooser did help.)

 

Parallels 11 + Win10

 

Nothing either – tried both hotplugin and long-time insertion (with the latest firmware updater (1.0.0.4 B1-23+3.6.1)). Based on http://kb.parallels.com/en/5136 , it was easy to guess the “Devices” menu wouldn't show any new TB hardware. 

 

SwitchResX?

 

I also have SwitchResX on my desktop with two 4k 35 Hz settings for my home and work HDMI  4k monitors. The SwitchResX is legally purchased and I have no daemons running.

 

Screenshots

 

I also provide five screenshots of all these. The “automate-eGPU.png” shows the script encountered no problems. (Neither did the a/m modes result in any error message.)  Attached is one of them; all the five are in the following flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33448355@N07/albums/72157678163384952  

 

1487104481-GraphicsDisplays.png
Edited: 2 weeks  ago

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Menneisyys
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February 15, 2017 12:19 am  

1. The same happens when I uninstall via the script: “Thunderbolt” and “Graphics/Displays” still list the AMD card / the enclosure.

2. the OS version is 10.2.3. This, as opposed to 10.2.2, has caused some problems to TB3 + AMD owners, according to some other threads here. However, no word on earlier MBP models.


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goalque
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February 15, 2017 4:39 am  

@Menneisyys: So OpenCL and OpenGL acceleration works perfectly on macOS 10.12.3? The AMD freeze issue concerns only TB3-TB3 connection.

Try apple_set_os.efi on Windows 10  Boot Camp.

 

 

Edited: 1 week  ago

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Menneisyys
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February 15, 2017 4:45 am  

1, yup, 10.12.3 16D32, upgraded (from 10.11.6) some 4-5 days ago.

 

2, The only app that could have previously modded kexts is SwitchResX. Did the modding under both 10.11 and after upgrading to 10.12.3 to support 35Hz on my two (home & work) external 4k monitors.


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goalque
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February 15, 2017 4:58 am  

Ok, edited my previous post as realized that your problem was Windows only.


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Menneisyys
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February 15, 2017 5:07 am  

Nope, sorry - also OS X problem. While

- both “Thunderbolt” and “Graphics/Displays” still list the AMD card / the enclosure (with both boot-time eGPU and hot plug-in) and

- the connection (physically, just a display pass-thru) does work as the second desktop is shown on the external monitor if I boot in with the eGPU connected (but not via hot-plugging, as opposed to the boot-time eGPU connection)

, I can in no way make OS X

- list the eGPU right on the overview screen ("About this Mac" - see https://www.flickr.com/photos/33448355@N07/32089028113/in/dateposted/ )

- use the card (other than the useless 2nd-desktop displayport passthru done by the built-in dGPU)


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goalque
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February 15, 2017 5:23 am  

Slow screen update? If so, then x4100 kext is not loaded. Hot-plugging is not supported on macOS (just for the eGPU detection in script installation).  Set the eGPU monitor as the primary and try Valley bench.

Edited: 1 week  ago

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Menneisyys
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February 15, 2017 2:20 pm  

YES! Indeed the problem was just the AMDRadeonX4100.kext not being loaded. The simple

sudo kextload /System/Library/Extensions/AMDRadeonX4100.kext

command did it all. After executing it, the card immediately was shown in the About this Mac > Displays tab (albeit still not in the default, "Overview" tab, which still only lists the iGPU. Only after a shutdown + boot did it show up.).

Then, all I needed to do was switch to 4k60 (1080p60 HiDPI) from the previous 4k30 mode. With SwitchResX, the needed settings:

- Color LCD: 1920*1080 (not HiDPI, not listed as "recommended")

- The external monitor: 1080p60 HiDPI 

I played XCOM 2 quite a bit with this setup using the auto-detected Medium preset (again, it's an early 2013 MBP; that is, it only has a TB1 connection). Absolutely wonderful compared to the dGPU's absolutely disastrous speed. The GPU RAM usage has never exceeded 2GB during the play; the GPU's CPU usage was constantly around 100% (with some valleys 0% around).

No problems (crashes etc.) encountered so far.

Again, thanks for your extensive help!

 

Edited: 1 week  ago

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