Apple Thunderbolt Display with built-in eGPU that never was

Last summer there were rumors Apple was working on a Thunderbolt 3 Display with built-in eGPU. Anticipation rose as Apple discontinued the 27″ Thunderbolt Display in July 2016. The October “Hello Again” event brought new MacBook Pro laptops with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity but sadly Apple called it quits on making displays.

What’s a Mac and eGPU enthusiast to do? Mounting a full size graphics card to the back of a display seemed reasonable enough. So I got after it.

What you’re seeing is an RX 470 in an AKiTiO Thunder2 enclosure mounted on the back of an LG 34″ ultrawide monitor through a VESA adapter. It took me some time to find the right VESA adapter for this purpose. The key was something with a slim profile that would also allow sliding in and out of place. This VideoSecu Ultra Thin VESA mount bracket was the perfect match.

I was ready to drill holes on the backside of the AKiTiO Thunder2 inner enclosure in order to make the VESA bracket work. I soon found out I didn’t need to drill at all. The mounting holes for the Thunder2 boards go all the way to the backside. I was able to align the VESA bracket mounting holes to the two existing holes on the Thunder2. I also borrowed 2 mounting screws from the Thunder2 PCIe board.

Installing the other VESA bracket on the back of the LG monitor was no big deal. It’s universal sizing and all went in nicely using the supplied mounting screws in the kit. Once these two steps were done, I could slide the AKiTiO Thunder2 in and out of this VESA carrier with ease. I put two more screws on top to secure this eGPU backpack in place.

The next step was to route the cables to the right components. I’m using a Dell DA-2 power brick connected to a modified cable to supply power to both the AKiTiO enclosure and the RX 470 graphics card. An Apple Thunderbolt 2 cable connects the eGPU to a mid 2011 Mac mini. Last but not least, a DisplayPort cable runs from the RX 470 to the LG monitor.

Here’s a video of this monitor with built-in eGPU in action. 😀

Similar to my earlier build using this Mac mini inside an AKiTiO Node with an R9 Fury Nitro, everything works as if the external graphics card was an integral component. As a matter of fact, I wrote this post as well as edited the photos and video on this machine.

Join our forum for latest Thunderbolt 3 eGPU development. Please share your thoughts in the comments or in our eGPU Implementation forum.

12 thoughts on “Apple Thunderbolt Display with built-in eGPU that never was

  1. Eric Reply

    :O! that’s a HUGE “I didn’t know you could do that”

    damn! write more about it

  2. Raj Nigam Reply

    What’s the maximum number of displays it could power? Would something like Eyefinity work on MacOS?

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      The maximum number of external displays depends on the graphics card. This AMD RX 470 can handle 3 and upto 6 with a DisplayPort MST hub.

  3. Roberto Jorge Reply

    Hi @The It Sage,

    First of All congrats on your implementations!! They look awesome. If possible i would need a small help here. I purchased a few months ago a Akitio Thunder2 and i can run it successfully with a GTX 950 with a 2012 Late 2012 Mac Mini. Results in terms of gaming are great but for video rendering are bad, worst than the integrated HD4000.

    2 Weeks ago i did purchase a MSI AMD 460 in hopes that it would improve the rendering specially because FCPX works with OpenCl instead of OpenGl. Running the automate-eGPU.sh script v1.0.0 i do get image on screen but my image is really choppy. Seems that there is no acceleration whatsoever so unusable. I tried editing some Kexts as indicated in some threads and one written by you 🙂 https://www.theitsage.com/install-radeon-rx-480-gpu-macos-sierra/ to try and accelerate the GPU but no success.

    Do you have any tip that could help solve the issue in hand? (Mac Mini late 2012, I7 2.3Ghz, 16GB Ram, 256GB SSD, Sierra 10.12)
    Thanks
    All the Best
    RJ

    • theitsage Post authorReply

      Hi RJ,

      Which specific version of macOS are you running? 10.12.3 has some strange behaviors which may explain the issues you’re having with your RX 460 setup. I’d recommend running the automate-eGPU script again and restart. Hopefully that’ll get the RX 460 going.

      I tried this very same RX 470 + AKiTiO Thunder2 build with a 2015 13″ MBP and it took 3 tries of automate-eGPU script for the laptop to fully run with acceleration and Metal support.

  4. Roberto Jorge Reply

    Hey Sage, yep im using 10.12.3 🙂 i have spent yesterday trying on the MBP 13″ Late 2015 and on the Mac Mini and i lost count on how many times i did it, and still no acceleration.

    Trying to find a online version of 10.12 to see if i am successfully with a prior version
    Thanks
    RJ

  5. Roberto Jorge Reply

    Did install 10.12 on a external SSD to test and no changes, still get no acceleration.
    After the 2x sudo ./automate-eGPU.sh i do get image but very jerky.
    I have taken a few screen shots, dont know if they can help http://imgur.com/a/pAGqR

    Going to put it aside for a while 🙂
    RJ

  6. robertojorge Reply

    Hey Sage, thanks for the tip. I did tried last night a couple of hours of rebooting and rebooting but no success on the MBP 13″ Early 2015.
    I have not given up. I still need to try this weekend on my Mac Mini I7 2.3Ghz Late 2012. I will keep posted and if sucessful i will open a forum thread 🙂
    Thanks
    RJ

  7. ninjaflo Reply

    Can you provide instructions on how you modified that power cable?
    It looks like you added a DC power cable to an 8pin PSU extender and then wrapped it in electrical tape.

    Which pins/wires did you solder?

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