Caught in the middle of Apple and Nvidia’s ongoing pissing contest, Gigabyte loaded its latest Gaming Box with an AMD Radeon RX 580, a graphics card that functions natively with macOS High Sierra. This Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box also finds itself in the middle of a hot debate as to why it doesn’t sport the AORUS gaming moniker. All signs suggest Nvidia GeForce Partners Program restricted the gaming branding of add-in card and system partners to GeForce chipsets. Due to mounting pressure, Nvidia pulled the plug on GPP on May 4th, 2018.
Apple’s exclusive use of AMD discrete graphics in its Mac lineup raises some questions. The most logical reason is the company’s long-term bet on Metal, which AMD has been more willing to accommodate. Another motivation is the desire to combat Nvidia’s vendor lock-in tactic. Apple is the master of lock-in platforms, so there’s no chance they would tolerate proprietary APIs (CUDA in this scenario) that dominate professional software in macOS. Others say there’s bad blood from failed discrete graphics cards in older generation MacBook Pros that Nvidia never owned up to. Whatever the case may be, we’re not here to discuss tech titan politics. Let’s turn our attention to the star of this review, the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box. Without a doubt it’s the most convenient and portable eGPU for Mac users as of spring 2018.
|PSU max power||450W|
|GPU max power||225W|
|Power delivery (PD)||100W|
|TB3 USB-C ports||1|
|Ports max bandwidth||5Gbps|
|USB3.0 ports (+C type)||3+0|
|Ethernet & SATA port||✖|
|Other ports||QC, 3xDP, HDMI|
|Size (in/mm, LxWxH)||8..35 x 3.78 x 6.38 |
212 x 96 x 162
|Max GPU len (in/cm)||6.65 / 16.9|
|Updated firmware||27.27 ✔|
The AMD Radeon RX 580 is this Gaming Box’s X factor. Apple selected the RX 580 for its external GPU development kit, making the macOS drivers and support suitably mature as of 10.13.4. This graphics card is also one of the most popular choices for cryptomining in the past year. Miners wouldn’t have been able to resist buying up this particular RX 580 with its mini-ITX form. To ensure eGPU enthusiasts had the first dibs on these Gaming Boxes, I worked with Brian @ Gigabyte to organize a pre-order. This was a great opportunity Gigabyte provided our community. Forum members who placed their pre-orders were not only able to get the RX 580 Gaming Box prior to launch (April 27th) but also received some nice AORUS swag.
The RX 580 Gaming Box’s side profile is identical to the GTX 1080 Gaming Box. Gigabyte custom built these graphics cards specifically for its own external GPU enclosures. The exposed cooling fins, heatsink, and single 130mm fan give the card a naked appearance. This cooler design looks the part and produces minimal noise. Video outputs are three DisplayPorts and one HDMI port. The GPU power connector is an 8-pin PCIe plug.
Sharing the same platform with AORUS’ GTX 1070 and 1080 Gaming Boxes, other components are direct carryovers. The power supply is an Enhance Flex ATX 450W unit that features a single rail 12V. Its wiring harness provides one 24-pin power cable for the Thunderbolt 3 main board and one 6 + 2-pin PCIe power cable for the graphics card. There’s no power switch on the PSU. The RX 580 Gaming Box turns on when there’s communication with a Thunderbolt host computer. Routing hot air out of the enclosure are two 40mm fans. Due to their tiny size, they omit a buzzing noise during use. For additional component details, please read my AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box review.
The main board contains all crucial components of a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure as well as rear expansion I/Os. On the top I spotted a TI83 USB-C controller and DSL6450 Intel Thunderbolt 3 controller. The Winbond EEPROM is located on the bottom. The RGB LED strip is on this same board and can only be controlled by AORUS Gaming Engine software in Windows.
Ever since the Gaming Box first came out last fall with its mini-ITX GTX 1070, our community has expressed strong interest in an AMD version for macOS external GPU native support. I previously sourced a few AMD graphics cards that fit inside the AORUS GTX 1070 Gaming Box. First was a Sapphire reference cooler RX 470, and then an HP-OEM mini-ITX RX 480. I didn’t have much luck with these attempts though. The only AMD card I managed to power on with this enclosure was an older R9 285 Compact that doesn’t have macOS eGPU support. Thanks to cryptocurrency, miners bought the Gaming Boxes in bulk for their GPUs then flooded eBay with empty enclosures, often for less than $200. Yukikaze is compiling a list of graphics cards that may work with this chassis.
Testings & Benchmarks
With Power Delivery and additional USB ports, the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box provides plenty of useful features for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pros. There are four standard USB ports in the rear, one of which is orange and serves as a charging port for mobile phones. It has Quick Charge support (QC 3.0) but does not transmit data. The other three USB 3.0 ports can be used with peripheral devices. Power Delivery is as promised at 100W when connecting with the supplied half-meter long Thunderbolt 3 cable. Thunderbolt firmware is 27.27 as shown in macOS System Information.
The #1 selling feature of this eGFX is macOS High Sierra plug-and-play. “It just works” as long as you have a Thunderbolt 3 Mac. With the launch of external GPU capability in 10.13.4, Apple officially blocks older Thunderbolt Mac computers from using external graphics cards. Our community strongly opposed this imposition and decided to do something about it. Mac_editor wrote a script to unblock Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 Macs for eGPU access. Goalque updated his automate-eGPU.kext to add external GPU compatibility for two dozen AMD graphics cards. Fr34k has been spending countless hours in the past month to enable Nvidia eGPU support in 10.13.4.
To truly put the “gaming” in this RX 580 Gaming Box, you still need Windows 10. The roadblock is Apple’s lack of external GPU support in Bootcamp. It’s a tremendous effort to resolve error 12 with AMD eGPUs. Once you manage to get this RX 580 Gaming Box working in Windows, it will reward your perseverance handsomely. Part of the Bootcamp eGPU setup process calls for rEFInd boot manager. One of our devoted members, Eightarmedpet, created an Apple-esque rEFInd theme to make the aesthetics gods happy.
There are a few hiccups with the RX 580 Gaming Box. First are the RGB lighting effects. You can only adjust or turn RGB off through AORUS Gaming Engine in Windows. In the most recent versions, this utility software has some glaring flaws. When you start up the software, Windows throws an error message “GvLedService.exe: Open driver handle failure!! in MapMem_Phys_To_Linear”. This is due to the AORUS Gaming Engine drivers are not fully signed by Microsoft. There are workarounds to bypass the error, but Gigabyte needs to fix this soon.
The second usability shortcoming lies with Intel rather than their Thunderbolt partners. Most first-generation eGPU enclosures with expansion I/O suffer USB lag issues. The Gigabyte/AORUS Gaming Boxes are no exception. Due to the single Thunderbolt 3 controller prioritized to handle eGPU traffic, peripherals such as mouse and keyboard experience intermittent freezing. Intel’s solution is to tune the Thunderbolt firmware to have a lower Host-to-Device throughput. Second-generation eGPU enclosures like the Razer Core V2 use an additional Thunderbolt 3 controller to stabilize expansion I/O traffic. As tested, the RX 580 Gaming Box came with Thunderbolt firmware that halves H2D speed.
Fortunately Gigabyte is one of the few eGFX manufacturers that provides two firmware builds for its Gaming Boxes. You can either maximize eGPU performance at the expense of USB peripherals or run the more balanced default firmware that accommodates the use of both eGPU and mouse/keyboard. Flashing the eGPU enclosure firmware is quite a task using a Thunderbolt 3 Mac. I went through the confusing ordeal and documented the procedure in this thread.
A huge benefit of using external GPU in Windows is AMD XConnect. The continuous work by XConnect team over the past two years has made the Radeon RX 580 the best value graphics card for external use. As seen in the benchmark results below, the performance loss between internal display acceleration vs. external monitor acceleration by the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box is minimal. I’ve observed very similar results with even more powerful Radeon graphics cards such as the R9 Fury and RX Vega. I sincerely hope Apple’s external graphics team will work closely with AMD’s XConnect team to optimize external GPU performance in macOS.
To evaluate the performance of this Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box, I paired it with a 2016 15″ MacBook Pro. In macOS, internal display acceleration relies on app developers. At the moment I’m not aware of any third-party applications that make use of eGPU with the internal display. Therefore I ran synthetic gaming benchmarks with an external monitor. In Windows 10, AMD XConnect handles the graphics switching depending on whether I have an external monitor attached to the eGPU. I ran gaming benchmarks in both internal display and external monitor modes.
|RX 580 Gaming Box||macOS External Monitor||Windows Internal Display||Windows External Monitor|
|Unigine Valley||37.7 FPS||49.6 FPS||49.9 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven||30.5 FPS||48.2 FPS||49.2 FPS|
|Tomb Raider 2013||54.0 FPS||81.5 FPS||87.8 FPS|
|Shadow of Mordor||27.9 FPS||66.5 FPS||72.9 FPS|
|Hitman||26.9 FPS||65.7 FPS||67.0 FPS|
|Dirt Rally||40.1 FPS||57.1 FPS||61.0 FPS|
Priced at $600, the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box is not as good a value compared to its AORUS GTX 1070 sibling. Middle-of-the-pack performance is just not as thrilling. The ultimate triumph is for Thunderbolt 3 Mac users. We finally have an all-in-one, plug-and-play solution. External graphics is all about finding the best compromise for your host computer. The RX580 Gaming Box provides Mac users a good balance of performance, portability and convenience.
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