Review: Sonnet Breakaway Box 550 + Sapphire Pulse Vega 56 + MacBook Pro 2018 - 15"
having gotten so much useful information from this forum before taking the plunge buying an eGPU setup I'd like to report my experience after a week of testing hoping it will be helpful to somebody:
I mainly needed more GPU power for 4K video editing which works surprisingly well on the 2018 MacBook Pro with Radeon Pro 560X graphics on an external LG 4K monitor (in 5K scaling), but there are limitations of course. This is the setup I went for:
My first impression of the Breakaway Box: looks and feels better than expected, also smaller than I imagined. Somehow I expected a fairly unappealing plastic behemoth but materials and color are actually reasonably attractive and installing the card was done within a few minutes.
Everything works just as expected, macOS runs smoothly - but it already did beforehand. No glitches as of yet, macOS also showing the boot screen(s) as usual. The included TB3 cable is short but that had to be expected - glad they include one in the first place!
Noise / Fans
This is of utmost importance to me since this is a joint audio mixing and video editing suite with no separate machine room. This to me is the most pleasant realization about this rig: it's actually very quiet. Having considered the Blackmagic eGPU Pro for that reason I have to say that I am very glad I did not spent double on the same GPU since this card is very quiet and so is the Breakaway Box. Under sustained load the fans will spool up gently but it is still a level much less invasive than the MacBook Pro's fans on full speed. Speaking of which: I was hoping the eGPU would have a positive effect on the Macbook's thermal management (which I use in clamshell mode) since the internal GPU is leveraging much less load - and it does. I observe higher average clock speeds under load and the Macbook Pro's fans remain at low RPM more often than not.
After some testing and finishing a first two projects in Premiere Pro CC 2019 I can say: big difference. I am now editing and rendering (Media Encoder) using the Metal engine which has been slower than Open CL so far, but now it seems to be the better match although I haven't done any scientific testing. What I observe though is that I can play timelines with 4-5 Clips in 4K with multiple layers of Lumetri color correction, Warp Stabilizer, Lens Correction and some other little things here and there in full resolution with no dropped frames - and both the MacBook Pro as the eGPU remain whisper quiet. Via Activity Monitor I can see that both GPU's (the eGPU and the internal 560X) are being used heavily, CPU load only goes up during segments of unaccelerated effects.
I never really play games much aside from the occasional hyper-realistic racing simulation. The only two titles I own for macOS at this point are Dirt 3 Rally and F1 2013. Both games run at full 4K resolution and all graphics settings maxed out 100% smoothly, no stutter whatsoever.
Overall I am extremely happy with this setup, it has really unlocked some much needed potential of the MacBook Pro used as a hybrid between mobile use and desktop workstation as well.