Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac – 2017 Update – macOS Sierra

What’s the best Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac in 2017? Depends on whom you ask, the answers vary. I happen to be in possession of three Thunderbolt expansion enclosures and four Apple Mac laptops which span three generations of Thunderbolt connectivity. At the moment, my pick would go to the AKiTiO Node.

My conclusion came after I ran all four Mac laptops through all three Thunderbolt enclosures. The Node is the only enclosure that is a ready-to-go eGPU solution from the factory. Its 400W power supply and generous chassis dimensions mean it can accomodate up to the most powerful AMD or NVidia cards available. It also has the newer USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 controller, TI83, which macOS fully supports.

The other two enclosures, Thunder2 and Thunder3,  require a more powerful power supply than their factory 60W unit to run any AMD or NVidia card. Their cases need to be modified to accommodate most graphics cards.  They also have older and unsupported Thunderbolt controllers.

The list of Thunderbolt equipped Mac laptops for this evaluation with the AKiTiO Node Thunderbolt 3 enclosure are:

  • Late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with iGPU HD 530 and dGPU Radeon Pro 450
  • Late 2016 13″ MacBook Pro with iGPU Iris 540
  • Early 2015 11″ MacBook Air with iGPU Iris 6100
  • Late 2011 17″ MacBook Pro with iGPU HD 3000 and dGPU Radeon HD 6770M

AKiTiO Node Thunderbolt 3 eGPU for Mac

The Late 2016 Mac laptops are running at Thunderbolt 3 speed (40Gbps) through the AKiTiO Thunderbolt 3 cable while the older Mac laptops are running at slower speed via the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. The Early 2015 11″ MacBook Air is running at Thunderbolt 2 speed (20Gbps) and the Late 2011 17″ MacBook Pro is running at Thunderbolt 1 speed (10Gbps).

An AKiTiO Node running with firmware v1.0.0.3 B1-23+3.6.1 is fully functional in macOS 10.12 Sierra. To enable the use of an eGPU in Mac OS environment, the one prerequisite is Goalque’s automate-eGPU script. At the moment, Nvidia GTX 900s series and older are Mac compatible. The soon-to-be-released version 1.0.0 of this script will have better support for AMD Polaris and Fiji graphics cards.

I successfully ran automate-eGPU script on these four Mac laptops to enable eGPU with the AKiTiO Node enclosure. The graphics card used is an EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid with liquid cooling; it’s a perfect pairing with the Node. Below are the benchmarks – you can click on the scores to see the screen captures.

Mac LaptopThunderbolt PCIe SpeedLuxmark 3.1Unigine ValleyUnigine Heaven
Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro32Gbps-TB318,1412,834 (67.7 FPS)1,790 (71 FPS)
Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro32Gbps-TB318,6022,389 (57.1 FPS)1,756 (69.7 FPS)
Early 2015 11" MacBook Air16Gbps-TB218,4352,218 (53 FPS)1,653 (65.6 FPS)
Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro10Gbps-TB117,9332,215 (52.9 FPS)1,538 (61.1 FPS)

The performance difference between older Thunderbolt Macs vs the latest Thunderbolt 3 ones is very marginal. The only scenario in which you would benefit from native Thunderbolt 3 speed is in Windows using Nvidia Optimus or AMD XConnect to accelerate the internal display; I will be testing these same four Mac laptops in the coming weeks with Windows 10. In macOS environment, full usage of an eGPU requires an external monitor.

I know many people (myself included) want a solution for eGPU accelerated internal display. It’s not possible yet through software. There are workarounds using hardware though. A very clever and resourceful forum member built a HDMI adapter-to-no-where to trick the operating system into using eGPU through the internal display. Alternatively, you can get a HMDI adapter-to-fake-display.

Update 1/21/2017: It’s now possible to have the eGPU accelerate your Mac’s internal display in macOS

Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac is becoming more of a reality than it has ever been. With the demands of VR development, 4K video editing, and immersive video games, the performance boost of an external graphics card would enable your Mac to do things Apple didn’t think you could.

Browse eGPU.io’s implementations table for other successful eGPU implementations with Apple Thunderbolt computers.

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69 Comments on "Thunderbolt eGPU for Mac – 2017 Update – macOS Sierra"

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Barry
Guest

Great post, thanks! Quick question, everywhere I can find selling the AKiTiO Node states that it is “Windows Only” compatible. Is this just to be ignored or is there a variant which support OSX?

mdr1a
Member

Thanks for sharing this exciting news! I’m waiting someone to test Akitio Node’s capability with older Mac, finally here.

pdafan
Guest

Hi TheITSage,
Thanks for your informative sharing.
Always enjoy reading your posts.

Jasper
Guest

Hi TheITSage,
Thanks for the article, this has made me very happy to be able to do such things 🙂
Just a minor correction, the Late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro uses the HD 530 iGPU not the Iris 530 😉

mrtn12
Member

Hi ITSage,

I was wondering if the internal SFX power supply could be replaced to a new one from another brand (ex. corsair)

Thanks!

Matthew
Guest

Thanks for the post. This is exciting news!

Are you suggesting that if you use the “fit-Headless GS” HDMI adapter that one could use an external GPU in a NODE and get video acceleration no your MacBook Pro built-in display?

If so, would this also work with Thunderbolt Displays connected to the MacBook Pro?

dream3
Member

Thanks for that. Exactly what I needed.

Do you think I should pick up the Node with a 980 TI or an AMD RX 480? Or the RX 480 would be out due to not being supported by that script?

I would like to be able to use the eGPU both in Windows and macOS.

dream3
Member

Thanks THEITSAGE. I’ll go with the 980 TI then.

Now I just checked the NODE and unfortunately it will be too big for my setup. Razer Core or Bizon 2S or 3 would be perfect though. Are you aware if those have basically the same internals and support by macOS as the Node? I have here with me a 2015 15″ macbook pro, iris only.

Matthew
Guest

Hi, where can one pickup an AKiTiO Node? It seems they won’t be available until March 2017?

Barry
Guest

I’ve checked every european AKiTiO stockist and they are all awaiting stock. AKiTiO told me March/April on Twitter

https://twitter.com/akitio/status/821543416190222337

Edwin
Guest

Hello, awesome post. I want to ask if you could shed any light on my situation. I have a 15″ early ’13 MBP (which I don’t want to upgrade yet) which is usually hooked up to a Thunderbolt Display when not on the go. Could the Node sit inbetween them without any issue? As in…

TB1 MBP > TB3 Node w/video card > T1 Thunderbolt Display

With “>” being a Thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter.

nando4
Admin
Edwin, the AKiTiO Node has only the single TB3 port. There are no additional ports to daisy chain off. Your early 2013 15″ MBP (GT650M) has 2 Thunderbolt1 ports on it. There you’d attach one to your Thunderbolt display and the other to the AKiTiO Node via the Apple Thunderbolt3 to Thunderbolt2 adapter. Just Note that this LCD configuration is seen as attached to your internal GPU and so apps started in that LCD wouldn’t use eGPU acceleration by default. To have full use of the performance of the eGPU, you’d require a HDMI/DP LCD to attach to the eGPU.… Read more »
Edwin
Guest

Thank you for the promo response. 🙂

Just sucks that it seems I have to get rid of my Thunderbolt Display. 🙁

Edwin
Guest

What if it where a 13″ MBP with no dGPU, only a iGPU?

Janny
Guest

Hi, Function Akitio node with msi 750ti ( this graphics card doesnt have pin connector).
Thanks for answer

Vincent Aux Fruits
Guest

Thank you for all these information. Just a question, I need graphic acceleration for FCPX on a mbp non retina 2012, which graphic card is the most valuable ? I heard nvdia are not the most powerful in opencl…

Vincent Aux Fruits
Guest

Is it possible to have the test of the internal graphic card for the comparison ? Thank you to make our dream possible ! I dream to upgrade my old macbook 2012 to accelerate render in fcpx. I use lots of plug….

itsmikerofl
Member

After much time spent comparing, I’ve finally found this post… And thank you for sharing!

Judging by the Heaven/Valley benchmarks, it looks like the CPU is not as much of a “bottleneck” as the ThunderBolt 3 PCIe x4 connection itself can provide.

Is it safe to say that in this scenario, the upgrade from the dual-core 13″ model to the quad-core 15″ model is not going to yield a higher eGPU performance?

CudaPowerMacPro
Guest

I really need cuda power for 3d rendering

Would it work using, say, an OWC Mercury Helios TB2 box ( Already have one) + external 400w pus + pcie 16x riser cable (gnu outside the box) + say a evga 980 ti or similar

Ribby
Guest
I have an Early-2015 MBP 13″ (Intel Iris 6100 1536 MB) and want to get an eGPU set up. Because my laptop does not have Thunderbolt 3 ports, I thought I was only limited to Thunderbolt 2 eGPU enclosures. But reading your post, TB3 enclosures (like the Akitio Thunder 3 and Node) seem to work with older Macbooks with TB2 ports with the use of Apple’s TB3 to TB2 adapter. I was wondering if the Akitio Thunder 3 or Akitio Node would work for my Macbook Pro with the use of Apple’s adapter. If yes, will other TB3 enclosures like… Read more »
Barry
Guest

Small update on UK stock, I ordered my Node on 12th Jan when it was out of stock everywhere in the UK and it has just showed up today (8th Feb) much earlier than I was expecting it.

Greg
Guest

Thanks for all the support here! I have three questions:
1) Can I use the Node with a Nvidia GTX 1060 Card on macOS Sierra? I am asking because the mac driver situation doesn’t seem to be clear but Nvidia now released their own drivers for mac, I think.
2) Would the same setup in bootcamp windows 10 work?
3) Is it possible to power the LG UltraFine 5K Display with this Setup? Do i just connect both (display and egpu) directly to my mac?

P-Mac
Guest

1) nope, no pascal drivers for macOS yet
2) yes
3) ideally you would want to connect the display to the eGPU (because if you connect it to the laptop directly, the laptop’s GPU will drive it)

Daniel Perez
Guest

Sierra only ?? … or is there eGPU support in El Capitan ??

Zach
Guest

I have a late 2014 5k iMac, and could really use the GPU to drive Cinema 4d and After Effects plugins that rely on the GPU. Would this setup work with an iMac?

dmsaudio
Member

I have a 2012 i7 Mac Mini running Sierra 10.12.4 and Sonnet IIID expansion chassis. And I have run the popular automated script. I’ve tried an older GT120 card…no luck…black screen. And no drivers for the 2 ATI cards I have. Wondering what GPU(s) might work for me and stay within the 300w of power limit the chassis has on board. Thanks!

Dirk vdB
Guest
Hello from Berlin and thank you so much for this post and the further insight in the comments. I am a documentary director, in our ongoing project we have just switched to 4K video (Sony a7s II) so my old “mule”, the MBP 2011 2,5 GHz with 16GB Ram for the first time EVER reached its limits. Until yesterday I felt stupid that I still had not bought the new MBP 2016 done it, decision to wait came from the RAM limitation of the current Apple CPUs. Today (April 4) Apple announced that they “will do more for Pro users,… Read more »
Dirk vdB
Guest

Thank you THEITSAGE for the quick answer. Have looked at the other post, but am not really able to compare the benchmarks there for my purposes (4K Final Cut Pro). I don’t want you do have too much a burden to answer my questions – but could you maybe direct me to another website or forum where I could find answers? The R9 Fury costs about 600 -650 Euros in Germany, so together with the Akitio the investment would be around 1000 Euro… THANK YOU!!!

Dirk vdB
Guest

I did check the specs on the implementation’s table, and found that you tested the MBP 2011 / 17″ with a GTX 980TI. Now what I see on the web is that there are at least two versions (and tons of different types) of that card. I found one on Amazon Germany, it is the ASUS GeForce MATRIX GTX 980TI Platinum 6GB GDDR5 P (the 6GB version), here https://www.amazon.de/dp/B017KOAZG2?smid=A3ULVD47Q2ZXW&linkCode=df0&creative=22510&creativeASIN=B017KOAZG2&childASIN=B017KOAZG2&tag=geizhals10-21 and a 4GB version here on eBay http://www.ebay.de/itm/Asus-Matrix-GTX-980-Ti-Platinum-4GB-Grafikkarte-/272616423023?_trksid=p2141725.m3641.l6368 – now I am more than confused, to be honest, which one to pick…

prjkt
Guest

Dirk VDB: From what I can tell, Apple’s software, Final Cut especially, requires/prefers AMD GPUs for hardware acceleration.
I may be wrong, but you may want to look into this before going the nVidia route

Atilla
Guest
Thank you for this great overview. I loved the idea of eGPU from the beginning! Until now I was happy with my MacBook 15″ Late 2013 with a 750m graphics card because I mainly do design stuff. I recently started with 4k video editing in FCPX and use plugins which heavily rely on GPU power. Question is: What is the best affordable eGPU for my system? I know that I can’t use the internal display of my MacBook since i only have TB2. I use a Dell 4k display anyway. Any recommendations for us 2013 mac “oldies” with TB enclosure… Read more »
Mike
Guest

Hi, I have a late-2012 iMac (thunderbolt 2) – is there any way I can connect my machine to thunderbolt 3? Would that be some kind of adapter? Will it work? I know it will decrease transfer speed but I just want to take advantage of the eGPU and I guess choosing usb-c is making the eGPU future proof. Let me know! Thank you!

nando4
Admin

Yes, TB3 enclosure connectivity using a TB2/TB1 host Mac is possible via the Apple TB3-to-TB2 adapter. See examples.

Quizza
Guest

Just saw your July 17, 2017 update, and am very interested applying the eGPU to my 2017 iMac (27″, i7).

Does the signal run from the iMac to the eGPU and back into 27″ monitor or does the signal only goes to an extended 2nd monitor? I notice much of the discussion revolves around the Macbooks, but haven’t seen much regarding compatibility and usability with USBC enabled iMacs.

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