macOS Pascal Drivers: GTX 1080 Ti + 2016 15″ MacBook Pro

The first week of April has been insanely great for Mac users. Apple apologized that its Late 2013 Mac Pro trashcan failed to meet users’ needs. It vowed to completely redesign its next Mac Pro to make up with its core user base, the creative professionals. Two days later, Nvidia announced a beast of a graphics card, the GTX Titan Xp. It subtly dropped the news Pascal drivers for macOS would arrive within a week to support this new GPU and a whole host of GTX 10 series graphics cards.

We prepped our Mantiz Venus Thunderbolt 3 external GPU enclosure with a GTX 1080 Ti then hooked it up to a Late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro. Everything was ready to go pending the web drivers from Nvidia. April 11, 2017 marked an 11-month wait for Pascal driver support in macOS since the GTX 1080 release on May 27, 2016. This was a much longer delay than the previous seven-month wait for Maxwell drivers. All was forgiven though. Nvidia web drivers 378.05.05.05f01 are here, and they work with some visual glitches with Goalque’s automate-eGPU script to enable GTX 10 series eGPU support in macOS. This is the beta version of the drivers and hopefully these glitches will be remedied by the time the Pascal drivers are finalized.

pascal drivers for macOS GTX 1080 Ti eGPU

There have been many questions and concerns about bottlenecking on eGPU implementations. Before we discuss the CPU performance, let’s assess the full path the GPU travels via the external enclosure to accelerate your ultrabook. This is a typical channel for how the external GPU communicates with the CPU:

GPU « » External Enclosure « » Thunderbolt cable « » Computer « » PCH « » CPU

 

Maximising TB3 eGPU performance: TB3-CPU vs TB3-PCH, how many PCIe lanes are attached?

The past five months have taught us there are frustrations in selecting the right components for your eGPU build to get the most performance. Some notable issues we’ve discovered include the 2x PCIe lane cripple with the majority of the Dell XPS line, the TI83 enclosures’ firmware Host-to-Device half-speed limit and Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 fine print (pg6) which states Thunderbolt “DATA” (i.e., PCIe traffic) is throttled down to 22Gbps. Our reports have prompted Dell to clarify its XPS laptops PCIe lanes and have encouraged external GPU manufacturers to push Intel for firmware updates.

To get the most out of an eGPU setup, you should start with a computer that is a good Thunderbolt 3 host. From the limited resources we’ve gathered to date, the Late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro is currently the best host for external GPU implementation. We found Apple attached the PCIe lanes directly to the quad-core i7 CPU in the newest 15″ MacBook Pro laptops.

This is unlike the majority of Thunderbolt 3 laptops which route the PCIe lanes through the PCH. The disadvantage of having the Thunderbolt connection through the PCH is that the PCH shares bandwidth with other internal components (e.g., PCIe flash storage, network cards, USB ports) and potentially limits the eGPU performance. Nando prepared this table explaining max bandwidth for eGPU usage on the Late 2016 MacBook Pro.

late-2016 15″ Macbook Pro late-2016 13″ Macbook Pro Touch Bar

No. of active eGPUs : bandwidth per eGPU

1: 22Gbps
2: 22Gbps/16Gbps  (on alternate/same side)
3: 22Gbps on side with single eGPU, 16Gbps on side with dual eGPUs
4: 16Gbps

No. of active eGPUs : bandwidth per eGPU

1: 22Gbps/16Gbps (left/right) minus other PCH devices overhead
2: 16Gbps  (on alternate sides or left side only) minus other PCH devices overhead
2: 8Gbps (right side only)  minus other PCH devices overhead 
3: b/w 8Gbps-16Gbps depending on ports used minus other PCH devices overhead
4: 8Gbps  minus other PCH devices overhead

HWInfo64 of Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro

 

GTX 1080 Ti Performance Testing

We wanted to test the GTX 1080 Ti Thunderbolt 3 eGPU with the Late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro to present a best-case scenario performance wise. We are using an AKiTiO Node and a Mantiz Venus TB3 external GPU enclosure for these tests. We also have a full comparison on different external enclosures in our eGPU buyer’s guide. The Unigine tests were run through the MacBook Pro’s internal display via the ghost HDMI adapter. Here are our initial findings:

Late 2016 15" MacBook ProLuxmark 3.1Valley 1.0Heaven 4.0
AMD Radeon Pro 450 + Intel HD 5305,822706360
AMD Radeon Pro 455 + Intel HD 5305,901798404
AMD Radeon Pro 460 + Intel HD 5306,056895495
Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti TB3 eGPU22,6732,0261,177
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti TB3 eGPU23,1722,3531,422
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti TB3 eGPU external display23,1723,0312,640

It’s an exciting time for our eGPU community. Apple is beginning to take steps in the right direction to address the power and performance needs of its pro users. At the same time Nvidia is expanding the selection of graphics cards available for eGPU implementation on Macs.

27 thoughts on “macOS Pascal Drivers: GTX 1080 Ti + 2016 15″ MacBook Pro

  1. Matthew Reply

    Great article, thanks! I have a MB Pro 13″ 2016. I didn’t realize the different TB3 ports had different bandwidth. In your comparison, you list #1 – #4. However, I’m not clear on how those map to the actual MB Pro ports. Would #1 be the farthest back port of the left, #2 being the closest left front port? And #3 being farthest back right, and #4 being closest front right?

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      Matthew, the 1 – 4 numbers are the quantity of possible eGPU pairing with the MacBook Pro. The table shows theoretical max bandwidth.

      For your Late 2016 13″ touchbar MacBook Pro, the left side ports are routed through a 4x PCIe connection. The right ones are 2x.

  2. loose_cannon Reply

    THEITSAGE, do you happen to know the theoretical max bandwidth of the Late 2016 13″ non-touchbar MacBook Pro TB3 ports?

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      I think IKIR meant left-side ports on the non-touchbar MBP. They are the same as the left-side ports on the touchbar version shown in the table.

  3. Rain Reply

    THEITSAGE,

    Do you have any comparison of the best-case performance of a 15″ and 13″ model?
    How much faster is the quad core in real world usage?

    I’m trying to pick between the two, but 1:1 comparisons are hard to find.

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      I have tried non-tb 13″ MBP, tb 13″ MBP, and now the 15″ MBP. If you’re after max performance, the 15″ is the one to get. Its internal architecture is better.

      We don’t have many 1:1 comparisons on these 2016 MBPs. Our Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac 2017 Update article has some performance numbers of the 13″ vs. 15″.

  4. ryan Reply

    can we see that 1080 in your cMP 🙂 would love to see how it stacks up against the other cards you have run through that machine

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      I will definitely put it through the pace inside the Mac Pro tower. eGPU testing has higher priority atm. 😀

  5. Lorenzo Reply

    Hi, I assume that there wouldn’t be any issues with a Mac that has already a discrete gpu build on it, like the new macbook pro 15 retina 2016, that can’t be shipped without the AMD mobile chip.

  6. Ben McC Reply

    great comparisons, very interesting regarding the PCIe and PCH implementation.

    Do you have any data regarding 15″ non touchbar? As this doesnt have an ATI card, it could be possibly the best MBP for eGPU?

    Also, if Apple were to have say a 15″ touchbar without the ATI graphics, I’m guessing it would be saving PCIe lanes by not having the graphics cards, so this would be the best for eGPU performance?

  7. marco Reply

    Any tests with the akitio node and new drivers? Trying to get the best for my new 13″ mbp so i can play games on bootcamp.

  8. Onizis Reply

    Hi,

    Thanks for theses tests. What is the noise level of Macbook Pro when you use eGPU ? Are they full load or do you only hear the fan from GPU?

    Thanks for your reply

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      Noise from the MacBook Pro is not a concern at all. It’s almost non-audible while the eGPU box is going. The loudest component is the graphics card fan. If you place the eGPU enclosure at a distance, say under your desk you may hear the MBP.

  9. Marc Reply

    Hi,

    I have a more general question:
    I do a lot of after effects/premiere/photoshop (later maybe even 3D) work and have a fully speced 15″ 2016 MBP with TB3.
    I am interested in using an eGPU with a top of a line nvidia graphics card.
    I am not so much interested in gaming. More in CUDA based rendering solution for the MBP 2016.

    I read a lot about those boxes and I am wondering which one is the best:
    – the Akition Node
    – the Mantiz Venus
    – the Bizon (?)
    – are there any others ?

    I read a lot of articles but I am still not sure which one has the best performance for above tasks.
    Maybe you could shed some light on it.

    thanks in advance

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      For your intended use, I’d recommend the AKiTiO Node. It has one single port fully dedicated to the external GPU. The large enclosure also provides enough room for pretty much any GPU you want to use.

      • Marc Reply

        That was a fast response. 😉

        Ok. I did not know that the single port. I will look into it.
        Thanks for this information.

  10. whirk Reply

    do the drivers support the boot screen is or it black until the main Mac OS X screen loads? or i guess as a second device the boot screen stays on the laptop? curious if these drivers support the boot screen on a Mac Pro 5,1…

  11. Lam Reply

    Hello,

    Have you tried these set up with games in Windows 10?

    I’ve been waiting for this day for so long: bringing a 15″ MbP to work for mobility and simply plug it into eGPU at home via single cable for gaming.

    Anw, thanks for the review!

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      I have not tried gaming with this setup in Windows. It should work great though given how much better the drivers are in Windows vs. macOS.

  12. Basil Reply

    Hi,

    Can I use the AKiTiO Node as an eGPU with a thunderbolt to thunderbolt 3 adapter for a 2013 Mac trashcan? Would their be a decrease in performance?

    Thank You!

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