With the launch of High Sierra, millions of Thunderbolt Macs are now capable of hosting an external graphics card. Apple has indicated this feature will be available for mainstream use beginning Spring 2018 for Thunderbolt 3 systems only. However, many Mac computers can make use of this exciting technology today.
AMD Radeon eGPU
Officially the Radeon RX 580 is the only supported GPU in High Sierra for external graphics use. This AMD GPU shares its device ID with a few other Polaris siblings (RX 470/480/570), so those GPUs can also work natively as external graphics cards in macOS 10.13. We recently learned Radeon RX Vega cards have native eGPU support in High Sierra as well. This broadens the graphics card selection to at least 8 cards rather than only one. Given the high price and limited availability of RX series cards, many were hoping for High Sierra eGPU compatibility with older AMD graphics cards.
Luckily Goalque, the author of the renowned automated-eGPU script, has been following High Sierra development. He found a workaround to enable external graphics support on an RX 460 in 10.13 through a direct Thunderbolt 3 connection. This same workaround can potentially be replicated on Radeon R9 series GPUs.
Some of the Radeon cards we have been testing are HD 7870, HD 7970, R9 285, R9 390, and RX 460. The Thunderbolt Macs we tried include a 2011 17″ MacBook Pro, 2013 13″ Mac Book Pro, 2013 Mac Pro, 2015 15″ MacBook Pro and 2015 11″ MacBook Air. At the moment, Thunderbolt 2 enclosures work best for Thunderbolt 2 and older Macs. We’re providing early access to Goalque’s workaround to forum members. Please list your eGPU components in the comment section if you’d like to test Goalque’s automate-eGPU.kext for 10.13.
Update: Goalque has released automate-eGPU BETA v0.1.0 for all. This kext workaround enables 17 more AMD graphics card for external graphics use in macOS High Sierra 10.13.
Nvidia GeForce eGPU
For Nvidia eGPU users, do not upgrade to High Sierra yet. We’re waiting on Nvidia to release its web drivers and on Apple to enable eGPU support for Nvidia graphics cards. Having the drivers for Nvidia graphics cards in High Sierra is not enough. In order to use a graphics card externally in a Thunderbolt enclosure, macOS has to be able to identify the GPU as IOPCITunnelCompatible amongst other requirements.
From what we gathered, macOS High Sierra native eGPU support for Nvidia cards may take a while. One of our active developers in the eGPU community, Ratasfabi, has been working on his eGPU-enabler app. We’re hoping he can find a workaround for Nvidia eGPU in High Sierra.
Update: Nvidia has released its 10.13 (17A365) compatible web drivers. As we suspected, this has not changed Nvidia eGPU incompatibility in macOS High Sierra.
Compatible Enclosures & GPUs
With regards to Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures, the Apple eGPU development kit isn’t the only way to add a compatible external graphics card to your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. The prerequisite for macOS High Sierra compatibility is an enclosure with the TI83 controller. We prepared this table of compatible eGPU enclosures as well as their pricing and features extract from eGPU.io’s Buyer’s Guide:
|Sonnet Break – new
away Box 350 | 550
|HP Omen new
||$276 & &
|| $269 & | $349-Q3
|Max PCIe bandwidth||32Gbps||32Gbps||32Gbps||32Gbps||32Gbps|
|PSU max power||400W||350W | 550W
|GPU max power
||375W||300W | 375W
|Power delivery (PD)1
||15W||15W | 87W||60W||15W||87W|
|TB3 USB-C ports45||1||1||1||2||1|
|Ports max bandwidth5
|USB 3.0 ports5
|Other port5||✖||✖||USB-C 3.1||✖||✖
|Size (in/mm, LxWxH)
[ visual comparison ]
|16.85 x 5.71 x 8.94
428 x 145 x 227
|13.38 x 7.25 x 8.00
340 x 185 x 202
|15.75 x 7.87 x 7.87
400 x 200 x 200
|14.60 x 4.30 x 7.87
371 x 110 x 200
|12.99 x 6.42 x 8.46
330 x 163 x 215
|Max GPU len (in/cm)
||12.60 / 32.0||12.20/31.0||11.42/29.0||12.60/32.0
||13.00 / 33.0
|Updated firmware6||B1-25+4.3.3 ✔||25.2✔||25.25✔||25.1✔||25.1 ✔|
Next is to pair the appropriate graphics card for your eGPU build. Radeon RX Polaris 10/20 are a safe bet due to their native support in High Sierra. Drivers for the Radeon RX Vega series are currently under development thanks to the iMac Pro. These powerful graphics cards need an enclosure with at least a 550W power supply. At the moment, we recommend the RX Vega 56 over its more power-hungry brother, the RX Vega 64.
|RX Vega||RX Polaris|
|RX Vega 64 Liquid||RX 580|
|RX Vega 64 Silver||RX 570|
|RX Vega 64||RX 480|
|RX Vega 56||RX 470|
The release of external graphics support in macOS 10.13 is a welcome and much-anticipated change in strategy from Apple. While we wish Apple had enabled support for more graphics cards, we understand there are resource constraints and compatibility challenges with older Macs and GPUs. macOS High Sierra is a pivotal release. It sets the foundation for further development of many exciting technologies on the Mac platform in the coming years.