Buyer advice: Considering NUCs + eGPUs
 
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Buyer advice: Considering NUCs + eGPUs  

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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 4 years ago
 

Hi all,

What I currently have:

  • MBP 15" 750M
  • Aorus Gaming Box (1070) which works only on macOS on stated mac
  • Node + RX580 (broken) that works great on stated mac on both OSes - but can only attempt RMA after I'm back in US (mid-Aug)

 

I've been considering various Intel NUCs with Thunderbolt 3 for my gaming needs and to segregate macOS & Windows completely. While a PC would likely be a better bet at the price - the primary reason for my interest is portability+size+weight, of course. I have looked at the eGPU builds for the NUCs and they seem pretty straightforward - eGPU is basically natively supported. I'm planning on purchasing one in late August/early Sep. Here are my questions and concerns -

 

  • What NUC should I go for?
    I have shortlisted the following NUCs:

    • NUC8i7HNK - i7-8705G (4C+8T) + Vega M + 2 TB3 ports ~ $739
    • NUC6i7KYK - i7-6770HQ (4C+8T) + Iris Pro 580 + 1 TB3 port$540 << leaning towards
    • NUC7i5BNK - i5-7260U (2C+4T) + Iris Plus 640 + 1 TB3 port ~ $349

       

  • What I already have is OK right?
    I have a spare Samsung 960 Evo 500G, so will only need a RAM kit. Suggestions appreciated. Looking at 2x8GB, or maybe 1x16GB. I have keys for Windows thanks to university - so no issues with the OS.
  • Should I wait for newer NUCs?
    Are we going to see newer NUCs soon - worth waiting for? If so, when may I expect them to be out?
  • What other NUC kits should I consider beside my shortlist, if any? High core count preferred.
    This is one reason why the i5-7260u, although cheap, is something I'm not keen on. eGPUs benefit with high performance multi-cores. Also, I don't like how this NUC looks - which does really bring it down to the top-2 in the shortlist, unless you urgently recommend neither.
  • If you feel NUC is not the right option for me - why so, and what is, then?
  • Assuming I cannot RMA my RX580 eGPU - should I invest in a Gigabyte Box (not liking the Node) or better AMD card for my mac instead, and continue gaming on mac (bootcamp)?

 

I should also state that I do not need to sync any data across the systems - Windows is just for play.

purge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


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halmoni100
(@halmoni100)
Active Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

My quick opinion on your questions:
NUC6i7KYK looks like a good choice if all you need the GPU for is gaming or other occasional GPU work.  If you need a GPU frequently though, an eGPU does become a headache (see 2nd to last paragraph of post).  NUC8 is for people who want the Vega M GPU.
- 16 GB should be plenty of RAM, unless you do some really intense computing or plan on running virtual machines.  I have 1x8GB with plans for possibly upgrading.  So if it's cheaper I'd go with 2x8GB.
- The NUC8 seems like it'll be the latest NUC for some time, I wouldn't wait.

I personally have a NUC7i5BNH and a Aorus 1070 eGPU.  I got it because:
- I had an older macbook pro that didn't support a 4k monitor
- I'm not a huge gamer, but I do play games from time to time
- I wanted a Windows/Linux machine with the greatest bang for buck

An important note is that while Windows supports eGPU, there seems to be issues when sleeping the NUC.  I need to restart the computer with a full shut down and cold boot whenever I want to use the eGPU, and when I'm done, I need to disconnect and restart again by shutting down and booting.  It's annoying but not a deal breaker for me, since I don't game frequently.  However, if you game frequently enough, I find it better to just build a separate PC to avoid eGPU headaches.  Since you have a spare RX580, seems like you could do that.  Hopefully this changes in the future.

Another side note is that the potential of multicore CPUs can only be realized by software, and not the graphics card.  But since modern games generally use parallel processing, the more the better for gaming.

2017 Intel NUC7i5BNH [7th,2C,U] + GTX 1070 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (AORUS Gaming Box) + Linux & Win10 [build link]  

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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 4 years ago
 

@halmoni100 Thank you for sharing your insight! I might be moving around a bunch in the next two years, so a PC doesn't seem like an optimal choice right now. I plan to use the Aorus with the NUC whenever I'm not testing stuff on the mac. I don't plan to use the NUC without an eGPU (which makes PC sound optimal, I know), but the small form factor is alluring. Maybe I'll look into a building a small PC too.

purge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


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tinkerer
(@tinkerer)
New Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

Greetings.  I've been lurking this forum on and off for a little while now.  Have always been fascinated with the idea of an eGPU even before Thunderbolt and have tinkered with them a bit on and off.  My latest is the Intel NUC7i5BNH (taller version of the NUC7i5BNK with a 2.5" slot allowing for dual drives), and a Gigabyte Aorus Gaming Box with an MSI Radeon RX560.  I bought this setup strictly for tinkering purposes.  I had planned to use this more for Mac than Windows, but have not yet actually started using it other than tinkering.

A bit of info on the Aorus Gaming Box.  This was the 1070 version.  I removed the 1070 and put it in an mITX build for my son, as it is way overkill for the purpose of tinkering around.  I tried 4 different 1050 Ti (none requires the use of the PCIE power plug) in the Aorus box to no avail - it simply will not power on.  I borrowed a friend's Zotac 1060 3GB which uses a 6-pin PCIE power and it worked fine.  I then found a user here from the user builds section that the MSI Radeon RX560 works.

This eGPU combo works extremely well in Windows 10.  I enabled Thunberbolt boot support in the NUC7 BIOS and it can boot with the eGPU active even during POST (I can enter the NUC's BIOS settings screen through the eGPU).  The OS can even sleep and wake from sleep with no trouble, though the fan in the eGPU enclosure continues to run even while on sleep (I just noticed Gigabyte posted a firmware update relating to turning off the PSU fan while off, have not updated yet).  In this NUC I have a Samsung 970 EVO NVMe 256GB drive, dual booting with Mac OS 10.13.4.  I also have a Lenovo laptop with Thunderbolt 3 (only 2 lanes) and it works fine there also.  This is why I love the idea of eGPU, having the ability to share.

On the Mac side, I have not been very successful.  When trying to boot Mac OS, I cannot have the monitor plugged into the eGPU.  If I do, right before the login prompt appears, the screen flashes for a split second and goes blank.  What is strange is, if I let it boot without a monitor connected during power up and POST, it will work if I plug the monitor in after Mac OS finishes booting.  Even stranger is that right after a fresh installation of Mac OS 10.13.4, the first initial boot of the OS, the eGPU will work with the monitor connected during POST.  Yes it will only ever work properly that one time, during the very first boot of the fresh installation of 10.13.4.  I have tried the older version of Goalque's kext couple months back but it did not help.  I have not played with the NUC since.

Although I have owned various Macbooks in the past few years, my main computers are Windows boxes, so my ability to troubleshoot Mac problems is essentially zero.  I just like having a Mac around, the last one was a 2016 Macbook Pro 13.  I've been building Windows computers since 486SX, so on the Windows side I can answer any questions you may have.  Sorry for the super long post, but hopes that gives you a bit of information deciding on which NUC to go with.

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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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 4 years ago
 

@tinkerer I'm always up for reading long and detailed insights as yours - thank you! Glad you mentioned enabling Thunderbolt Boot support in the NUC BIOS - having been on mac hardware for a decade, loading up BIOSes to change these things never crosses my mind haha. Now I know one more thing to keep in mind while setting things up if I go through with the purchase.

I see you booted macOS on the NUC too - I presume using the Hacintosh Clover guides. While that is exciting, I'll only be sticking to Windows on the NUC (for starters at least). If the tinkerer in me lights up someday, I'll keep your mentioned macOS troubles in mind Smile

purge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


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tinkerer
(@tinkerer)
New Member
Joined: 2 years ago
 

Yes.  I followed RehabMan's guide from tonymacx86.  The extent of my macOS knowledge is being able to follow instructions and that's it Oops

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
 

Reading this discussion makes me wish the new Mac mini with Thunderbolt 3 was available. If I was in your shoes, I'd go with the NUC7i5BNK. It's insane how many components you can stuff/swap inside these NUCs.

When you're getting to the $600 budget range, a last gen ultrabook seems more appealing. A very good candidate I found is the Toshiba X20W-D. It has excellent build quality. It's deceptively light due to its weight distribution. The trackpad is the one component I don't like. When you're used to the trackpad on a Mac laptop, it's hard to find Windows equivalent.

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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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
Famed Member Moderator
Joined: 4 years ago
 

@itsage Indeed I felt the same. NUC is less elegant, in my opinion, in terms of the looks, but that's the best we've got. Mac mini 6-core, please descend already - even tho I may not buy one in the near future (as my laptop will likely need a bump soon).

purge-wranglertbt-flashpurge-nvdaset-eGPU
Insights Into macOS Video Editing Performance

Master Threads:
2014 15-inch MacBook Pro 750M
2018 15-inch MacBook Pro

 
2019 13" MacBook Pro [8th,4C,U] + RX Vega 64 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Mantiz Venus) + macOS 10.14.6 & Win10 [build link]  


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

Hi @mac_editor,

I am going to be traveling a lot this year so I am in the same boat as you.

Hence, I'm planning on doing the same (NUC + Akitio Node + 1080 Ti).

I was wondering what you ended up choosing and if you would recommend differently for me.

Ps. Rather than for gaming, I am planning on using it as a mobile deep learning rig (running Linux). 

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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BarbarySheep
(@barbarysheep)
Active Member
Joined: 3 years ago
 
Posted by: ajayjapan

Hi @mac_editor,

I am going to be traveling a lot this year so I am in the same boat as you.

Hence, I'm planning on doing the same (NUC + Akitio Node + 1080 Ti).

I was wondering what you ended up choosing and if you would recommend differently for me.

Ps. Rather than for gaming, I am planning on using it as a mobile deep learning rig (running Linux). 

Thanks!

Have you considered getting a laptop instead of a NUC, the 8th gen NUCs are pretty good in terms of CPU performance (the Bean Canyons at least). It's not by any means portable enough especially because you need to take pherpherials and maybe a monitor...

Also for GPU, are the RTX series not better for machine learning, tensor cores, many more cuda cores and what not.

2018 Intel NUC8i5BEK [8th,4C,U] + RTX 2060 @ 32Gbps-TB3 (Razer Core X) + Win10 [build link]  

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