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Buyer advice: Considering NUCs + eGPUs  

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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
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July 8, 2018 4:06 pm  

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-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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halmoni100
(@halmoni100)
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Joined: 9 months ago
Posts: 5
July 9, 2018 4:25 am  

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.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
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July 9, 2018 7:05 am  

@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-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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tinkerer
(@tinkerer)
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Posts: 2
July 9, 2018 12:49 pm  

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.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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mac_editor
(@mac_editor)
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Posts: 1909
July 9, 2018 12:56 pm  

@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 🙂

purge-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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tinkerer
(@tinkerer)
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July 9, 2018 1:09 pm  

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

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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theitsage
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July 9, 2018 1:22 pm  

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.

Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

94 external GPU build guides


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mac_editor
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Posts: 1909
July 9, 2018 1:33 pm  

@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-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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ajayjapan
(@ajayjapan)
New Member
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 2
March 15, 2019 11:05 pm  

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!

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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BarbarySheep
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Joined: 12 months ago
Posts: 11
March 16, 2019 12:09 am  
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.

Pending: Add my system information and expected eGPU configuration to my signature to give context to my posts


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theitsage
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March 16, 2019 2:15 am  

The RTX series are a better choice for on-the-go use. The USB-C portable can power a portable USB-C monitor. I do wish next gen NUC can be powered from the TB3/USB-C port.

Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

94 external GPU build guides


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mac_editor
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March 16, 2019 4:46 am  

@ajayjapan a lot has changed since I posted then. I eventually upgraded both the laptop and eGPU and decided not to get a NUC. For now I am satisfied with my current arrangement (TB3 Mac + Vega) for both productivity (macOS) and gaming (Bootcamp) - more than sufficient for a college student. Next steps for me would be (hopefully) the new Mac Pro (where I can use whatever GPU I need) which would be my home setup (since my use case I realize is usually stationary) and have a thin laptop (perhaps 13” MBP) and if required a mini eGFX to go with it. This is all once I know I’m staying in the States long-term.

On some other points though I feel somewhat disappointed with eGPU gaming in general because most modern titles seem to be bandwidth-necked (I game at 4K, where it very easily becomes evident). Compute is the most apt use of eGPUs and for gamers we will soon need better I/O (not just bandwidth, but perhaps improvements to latency) - given the industry is mostly at 1080-1440p gaming at the moment, this isn’t always too problematic at the moment. In summary, a flexible macOS desktop (what I hope would be the new Mac Pro) which also bootcamps well might just be enough for me to forego eGPU entirely.

purge-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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OliverB
(@oliverb)
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March 16, 2019 9:19 am  
Posted by: mac_editor

On some other points though I feel somewhat disappointed with eGPU gaming in general because most modern titles seem to be bandwidth-necked (I game at 4K, where it very easily becomes evident). Compute is the most apt use of eGPUs and for gamers we will soon need better I/O (not just bandwidth, but perhaps improvements to latency) 

@mac_editor, yes and no.

First you are right, more and more games perform very bad with eGPU. Ths now goes apparent by the bad performance the Radeon VII in some titles. Looking at the wattman during the benchmark is evident that there is a problem with the connection.

It is not correct, though, that with 4k it becomes evident, it hits any resolution. It's the Framerates that suffer from the problem. The best evidence is when the 4k benchmark is more or less the same as 2,5k or 2k. (That is of course for an external display, when accelerating and internal display resolution plays a big role)

This post was modified 1 week ago

2018 15" MBP & 2015 13" MBP connected to RTX2080Ti GTX1080Ti GTX1080 Vega56 RX580 R9-290 GTX680


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mac_editor
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March 16, 2019 3:36 pm  

@oliverb the point being made here is that at higher resolution one will hit bandwidth limits sooner (at lesser framerate). Similar benches across different resolutions does not imply bandwidth problems. Also it is obvious that the bandwidth limits hit any resolution. I said at 4K it becomes much easier to hit it, and for others resolutions - isn’t always too problematic.

purge-wrangler.shpurge-nvda.shset-eGPU.shautomate-eGPU EFI Installer
----
Troubleshooting eGPUs on macOS
Command Line Swiss Knife
eGPU Hardware Chart
----
Multiple Build Guides


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OliverB
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March 16, 2019 6:41 pm  
Posted by: mac_editor

@oliverb the point being made here is that at higher resolution one will hit bandwidth limits sooner (at lesser framerate). Similar benches across different resolutions does not imply bandwidth problems. Also it is obvious that the bandwidth limits hit any resolution. I said at 4K it becomes much easier to hit it, and for others resolutions - isn’t always too problematic.

@mac_editor
very seldom I do have a different opinion than you and don't want to contradict you, my experience tells me that the amount of data from laptop to eGPU (H2D) is typically not dependent of the resolution.
There are several logical arguments which support this and of course a benchmark analysis of mine. I had done some posts about this topic and search for them to link them here.

Until I found them let's consider this: The program(CPU, notebook) tells the GPU to display something in a particular resolution (For example: A house in 1920x1080). Typically (there may be exceptions) the program doesn't care itself about the resolution, it only mandates it to the GPU, because the rendering is done solely by GPU. So there is no change of traffic from notebook to GPU for different resolutions.
The describing information about the house (coordinates, textures, everything what the GPU needs to display it) remains the always same for any resolution.

This post was modified 1 week ago

2018 15" MBP & 2015 13" MBP connected to RTX2080Ti GTX1080Ti GTX1080 Vega56 RX580 R9-290 GTX680


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goalque
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wimpzilla
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March 22, 2019 6:57 pm  

My best advice to you if you begin to be an exigent gamer, is to build a Mini-ITX rig.
There are very good mini-itx mb and case atm, low power consumption gpu, with some decent power to play @1440p.

Still portable, with a small form factor as you like.
The eGPU enclosure, laptop give you mobility when you travel or move abroad.

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2012 13-inch Dell Latitude E6320 + R9 [email protected] (EXP GDC 8.4) + Win10
E=Mc²


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