Sonnet Breakaway Puck Review – Pint-sized Compromise

eGPU Reviews, External GPU 31 Comments

Introduction

With a dozen Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosures currently available on the market, we now have more options that either maximize performance or portability. The latest entry is the Breakaway Puck from Sonnet Tech. Built to be the most portable external graphics solution (eGFX), it’s neither particularly powerful nor cost-conscious. The Sonnet Breakaway Puck is intended for multi-monitor expansion or as a compact setup for eSports gaming. Sonnet is catering to a niche group of customers in a very niche market, and I commend its commitment. So for those whose needs are perfectly met by a handheld eGPU, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Hardware Specifics

Sonnet Breakaway Puck - the size of a slice of bread

Sonnet Breakaway Puck meets a slice of bread

Specifications  compare 
Price US$
$399 | $599
Included GPU RX560 | RX570
Max PCIe bandwidth 32Gbps
PSU location-type
external-AC
PSU max power 160W | 220W
Power delivery (PD)
45W
USB-C controller
TI83
TB3 USB-C ports 1
USB3.0 ports (+C type)
Ethernet & SATA  port
Other ports 3xDP,HDMI
Size (in/mm, LxWxH)
6.00 x 2.00 x 5.12
152 x 51 x 130
Weight (kg/lb) 2.38/5.25
Updated firmware 25.1 ✔
Implementations
link

Recent studies show American youth is losing their grip strength. Tech companies share some of the blame with their continuous advancements in the workplace and through thinner and lighter electronics. The Sonnet Breakaway Puck is a very clear example of this trend. It took the bulk and mass of a typical eGPU enclosure by relocating the power supply externally. Instead of building an enclosure large enough to house a PCIe graphics card, the Breakaway Puck uses an MXM GPU. Compared to the Breakaway Box that weighs more than 7 lbs, this Puck weighs in under 5.25 lbs including the AC adapter. You need both hands to handle the Breakaway Box. That’s not the case with the Puck.

The four rubber feet at the bottom of the enclosure serve as covers for Philips screws. Opening this bottom cover to access the internal components will void your warranty. The metal housing is very sturdy. Its top cover features a Sonnet Tech logo which glows blue when active. This is also a point of air intake through mesh windows. The single fan disperses heat from the heatsink through cutouts on the sides. Sandwiched in between the heatsink and main Thunderbolt board is the MXM graphics card.

Using an AC adapter to power an external graphics card is a concept most eGPU enthusiasts are familiar with. Prior to the all-in-one enclosure with an internal PSU design, we have been building eGPU boxes out of the AKiTiO Thunder2 and Thunder3. The PSU of choice was often a Dell DA-2 220W. Sonnet enhanced this concept in the Breakaway Puck. It uses a Mean Well 160W power brick for the RX 560 media sample I received. This PSU is both lighter and smaller than the Dell DA-2.

The cooling fan is a 75mm unit made by Apistek. It’s whisper quiet most of the time. The only occasion I noticed it running full speed was during initiation with the host computer to activate AMD XConnect. This process only lasts a few seconds. I can’t speak for the RX 570 version, but in the Sonnet Breakaway Puck RX 560 this cooling fan is sufficient. With the power supply not located inside the enclosure, this eGPU runs relatively cool.

The Sonnet Breakaway Puck contains a Thunderbolt 3 main board that’s arranged to uniquely work with an MXM card. The main differences with the other eGPU enclosure boards are a slot for the MXM card and the video output ports. Next to the Thunderbolt 3 port are an assortment of one HDMI and three DisplayPorts. The crucial controllers and IC for a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics card are all here: Texas Instrument TP865983 USB-C controller, Intel DSL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, and Winbond EEPROM.

Testings & Benchmarks

I’m not the target audience for this enclosure, but my wife immediately saw the appeal of this Sonnet Breakaway Puck, asking why all the other enclosures I reviewed were so large. The Puck has the same appeal as a Mac mini – a very small footprint, compact enough for you to pick it up just to admire the form factor. It just made sense to pair this Breakaway Puck RX 560 with a Mac mini for testing in macOS.

The RX 570 version (shares same PCI ID 67DF with RX 580) is plug-and-play with macOS 10.13 native eGPU support. The RX 560 however does not have this same fate. It’s not hard to enable eGPU for it though. Goalque created and packaged automate-eGPU.kext installer for 10.13 to make this process easy. Once I ran this installer, the Sonnet Breakaway RX 560 works great with a 2011 Mac mini via the Apple USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter (Thunderbolt 1 speed). The process is the same as with the natively supported RX 570/580; I hot plug the eGPU, macOS notifies me to log out to enable external GPU then log back in to use.

Power delivery is only possible when paired with a Thunderbolt 3 host computer. I tested with a late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro and saw 45W PD through this Breakaway Puck. Thunderbolt firmware version is 25.1 which should not have the H2D bandwidth issue found in earlier eGPU enclosures.

If you recall back in March this year, I ventured into building a custom AKiTiO Thunder2 RX 470 eGPU and mounted it on the back of a monitor. That idea was very well-received. Sonnet made that a reality in this Puck. It offers a Puckcuff VESA mounting kit ($59) for you to accomplish this same task. For more pictures of the Breakaway Puck and Puckcuff, please read my unboxing post.

For performance testing, an ultrabook would make the best pairing for the intended use of this product. The release of this enclosure coincides with Intel 8th generation quad-core ULV CPU availability. I used a late 2017 Lenovo Yoga 920 for this review. This ultrabook has the i7-8550U that many eGPU enthusiasts anticipate will boost external graphics performance.

I sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating there are two main performance hindrances on ultrabooks paired with eGPU. The first one is PCI Express lane assignment for Thunderbolt 3 connection. The ideal arrangement is 4 data-transmission PCI Express lanes but many come with only 2 lanes. The second issue is whether the laptop is set for low-power GT2 OPI mode or high-performance GT4 OPI mode. This information is unfortunately not available on the spec sheet from the manufacturers. We want to bring more awareness so that eventually the PC OEMs will provide this detail for future products. The good news is this Yoga 920 has both x4 PCIe connection over its Thunderbolt ports and runs in GT4 OPI mode. The Sonnet Breakaway Puck provides sufficient power to charge this laptop through the Thunderbolt 3 cable.

I didn’t have any eSports games to test. Sonnet provided these tests they did in-house. I ran my usual set of synthetic benchmarks, except I changed the settings to Medium at FHD. These were run through the Intel UHD Graphics 620 iGPU with the internal display and Sonnet Breakaway Puck RX 560 eGPU with an external monitor. Here are the numbers:

Lenovo Yoga 920Intel HD 620 iGPUAMD RX 560 eGPU
Unigine Valley4561,559
Unigine Heaven2661,014
Unigine Superposition7982,856
3DMark Time Spy5822,163
3DMark Fire Strike1,1234,807
Tomb Raider 201318.0 FPS70.8 FPS
Shadow of Mordor14.5 FPS49.0 FPS
Dirt Rally15.5 FPS48.8 FPS
Hitman18.0 FPS63.8 FPS

Conclusion

With electronics, smaller and lighter often comes with a hefty price. The Sonnet Breakaway Puck is no exception. It accomplishes the mission of being the most compact external graphics solution on the market. At $399 for the RX 560 and $599 for the RX 570 version, the Breakaway Puck is a compromise on performance given the alternatives. Nevertheless it still roughly quadruples the performance of an Intel iGPU. If portability is the main priority, net yourself a Breakaway Puck.

 

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Comments 31

  1. I think this eGPU is far from being perfect. It is targeted for doing work rather than gaming. It should have an internal SATA or Nvme support, a Lan and mix of some USB ports otherwise it is a waste of TH3 port!

    Hopefully, we can have a newer model that can give us more GPU option up to mobile 1080.

    1. Posted by: NobodyKnowsYourName
      Does the Puck’s GPU go to sleep with the Macbook? Or does it keep running? I heard the HP Omen Accellerators GPU does not go to sleep when you put your Mac into sleep mode.

      It goes to sleep in a nice and fine way together with the Macbook. And so does the Asus XG Station. But there are issues with nVidia cards in Bootcamp, which of course does not concern this fine piece of hardware, the Puck 🙂

    1. Posted by: C4PPY
      Has anyone tried with a different MXM card?
      Was thinking that you could take a GTX10xxM card and install instead would give you close to real GPU power in a much smaller footprint?

      I’m curious about this too. MXM cards can be pricy, but are a viable upgrade path if that works!

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  3. @itsage, thanks for the review.
    Today, I have received a Breakaway Puck 570 and I have to say, it’s great piece of hardware. It’s small, silent, yet powerful. It is as silent as the ASUS XG Station Pro, but much smaller. It fits well on the foot of our monitor.

    I have got it for really good price (327 EUR) and my wife loves it. It will probably be used by my wife’s 13-inch MBP 2015. It works immediately out of the box with that Notebook. I hope I find soon time for a user build thread.

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  5. I have just seen that the Puck 560 has been sold shortly before for 302 EUR. So we were quite lucky, because 327 EUR for the Puck 570 is really great value. )

    Of course, the Puck 560 is not attractive for someone who has a 15-inch MBP 2018 which exactly the same chip built in. 🙂

    1. Posted by: OliverB
      I have just seen that the Puck 560 has been sold shortly before for 302 EUR. So we were quite lucky, because 327 EUR for the Puck 570 is really great value. )
      Of course, the Puck 560 is not attractive for someone who has a 15-inch MBP 2018 which exactly the same chip built in. 🙂

      I think there’s a post on here which shows the built in 560’s are about 60% of the performance of a desktop 560 so even in an egpu a 560 would be more powerful, but not by much…

      1. Posted by: Eightarmedpet
        Posted by: OliverB

        I have just seen that the Puck 560 has been sold shortly before for 302 EUR. So we were quite lucky, because 327 EUR for the Puck 570 is really great value. )

        Of course, the Puck 560 is not attractive for someone who has a 15-inch MBP 2018 which exactly the same chip built in. 🙂

        I think there’s a post on here which shows the built in 560’s are about 60% of the performance of a desktop 560 so even in an egpu a 560 would be more powerful, but not by much…

        Yes, the “external 560” is more powerful for two reasons:

        1) The “external” 560 has a higher clockrate, that is about 1200 MHz to 1000 Mhz, which gives of course abound 20% gain.
        2) Under load the built-in 560 can get quicker hot and thus is throttled down. You can see this very good in Unigine Heaven, when at the end the FPS drop rapidly.

        But as you said, it’s not thaaaat much, still the exactly same chip, so not very attractive for owners of 15-inch 2018 MPBs. The 570, however, has a very notable gain.

  6. What is most amazing with this little box is the fact, that is super quiet. I thought the Asus XG Station Pro was the most quiet next to the Blackmagic. That’s not exactly true, this is the most quiet. All three solutions are amazingly quiet.
    I had the Aorus Gaming Box and Razer Core X and those were really very, very loud compared to it.
    EDIT: And it’s not even getting hot. It has now a superficial temperator of 34 Celsius. Very pleasing. I am buffed how great it is.

    1. Posted by: Joikansai
      @OliverB, from where did you get it? From your typo I assumed you’re from Germany, aren’t you? I check amazon.de didn’t find that price, kind need something small as well for my Blade stealth, rather than buying new one.

      @joi_kansai, which typo is revealing me?
      It was actually an ebay auction, but from a company with invoice. The action ended at 7:30 in the morning and I told my wife she should bet 333,33 EUR in the last seconds. That was a close thing (image that I was also thinking about betting only 300,51 EUR).
      Now after getting it, I would have said to bet at least 400 EUR…because that’s value.

  7. Update for the little Puck. It is still a great asset combined with my wife’s 13″ inch MBP. My wife is not a computer tinkerer/hacker (of course, lol) and she was not happy with the solutions before and now she is very happy. It’s absolutely user friendly, you even don’t notice it and never fails.

    For this topic I found an interesting video, which was very good until the Mac part came. Was ist really so bad at the time the video was made?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05i0QEfqB2A

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      February 2018 was when Apple was actively finalizing the official eGPU support for 10.13.4. The Puck 570 was plug-and-play at that point in time. It was not possible prior to 10.13 unless you used our community support scripts. Stating it was a waste of time and money shows his lack of understanding why Mac users are the driving force of eGPU technology.

  8. On apples faq pages they list this eGPU and the RX560 as non-HDCP compliant.
    Do you know if it’s only the puck implementation of the 560-card that lacks HDCP and their for is unable to playback copy protected content and streaming or If the lack of HDCP compliance is due to apples RX560 drivers and therefor disabled every 560-cards HDCP?

    5. Playback of HDCP-protected content from iTunes and some streaming services is not supported on displays attached to Radeon 560-based eGPUs. You can play this content on the built-in display on MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac.

  9. This product is a piece of crap, don’t buy it! Overpriced for a weak GPU, the power brick is as big as the entire eGPU (they don’t show that on the product pics of course). Unit broke after 3 months and manufacturer Sonnet declines to accept it under warranty….

  10. Thanks @itsage and @OliverB for your insights into the Sonnet Puck eGPU. I really like your builds and your recurrent reports on this eGPU.

    After reading this article from 2017 and the built of OliverB from Feb 2019 (and several other builds with the Puck), I was wondering whether you both still recommend the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon RX 560 for the following case scenario and whether there are any compatibility issues:
    I have a MPB 13′ Early 2015 with the following specs:

    2,7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 CPU (Broadwell)
    8 GB 1867 MHz DDR3 RAM
    Intel Iris Graphics 6100 1536 MB
    256 GB SSD
    2x Thunderbolt 2 ports
    Windows on Parallels Desktop 13 Virtual Machine (so no Bootcamp partition)
    MacOS Catalina Version 10.15.4 (19E266)

    I would like to buy an eGPU in order to add bit more GPU-power to my Mac, primarily for playing older games (Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (2008), Far Cry 2 (2008) and Battlefield Bad Company 2 (2010)) on Windows within my VM using Parallels. Although all games can be played with my Iris 6100 (on Windows within the VM) selecting a minimal resolution, I would like to have more GPU-power for playing these games with a higher resolution or even playing some never games on minimal resolution. I am definitely not a pro gamer and not interested in playing the most recent games with a 4k display or so. 
    Also, I just like to have a really small eGPU (I know that the power brick is huge) that has a decent silent fan when gaming these older games. Even, if I am not able to upgrade the graphics card in this eGPU in the future, I think that this would be a good start.
    I was also thinking about building my own eGPU with the Akitio Thunder 2 or Thunder 3 selecting my own graphics card. But in the end, I am just interested in a small, one-box and budget solution, so no extra equipment like PSU connected to or a metal frame removed from the eGPU. Also because of the form-factor, I wouldn’t opt for itsage‘s amazing self-built budget solution featured in this post (which was picked up by MacLife in this article). Last but not least, itsage‘s solution is not feasible for me because I simply couldn’t manage to buy the parts in Germany!
    To sum up: Apple Germany currently sells the Sonnet Puck 560 for 359,95 EUR with VAT included (= 390 USD) (see here) along with the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter for 55,00 EUR (see here) . 9To5Mac reported on a price drop for the Sonnet Puck 560 in Apple US Stores from 399 USD to 299 USD (see here). I’m not sure how much VAT would be added in the US, so that I am not sure whether the german Apple store has already matched the price drop. But I guess it seems so. The price at the official Apple Germany website is actually the cheapest at the moment I could find, compared to other sellers in Germany (or shipping to Germany). Also, there are no deals on ebay (Kleinanzeigen) yet.
    Do you think, that this is a reasonable price for the eGPU in this scenario?

    Thank you so much in advance! If I’ll buy it, I will also upload a built from my set-up! Sorry, it this is the wrong section of the forum. Please tell me, where to post it, if I’m wrong!

    1. @price_fox
      Important to know:
      -For TB2-MacBooks (like Early 13″ 2015), you need additional software to run it with MacOSX like purge-wranger (not necessary in Windows or TB3-Macs)
      -Actually Parallels 15 really can emulate DirectX 11, so this is an interesting setup.
      -Nevertheless Gaming with Virtual Machines is not recommended.
       

      1. @oliverb

        Thanks four your reply. Just one question regarding the additional script needed for TB2-MacBooks:
        Do you know if there is an up-to-date EFI automate-eGPU solution by Goalque (instead of pure wrangler) for Catalina?
        In itsage‘s State of eGPU For Macs – Catalina 10.15 Update article, the two different solutions are described. The article suggests, that the EFI automate-eGPU solution might work on Catalina as well (as it is mentioned in the article).

        I would prefer to not disable the SIP on my Mac. Therefore, I am searching for the EFI automate-eGPU solution.

        The latest update in the post regarding the EFI automate-eGPU solution by Goalque is from 2018, and there seems to be no update.
         
         
         

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