State of eGPU for Macs – Mojave Update

Truong Nguyen Technology Consulting

Overview

Today Apple releases Mojave 10.14, one year after the launch of macOS High Sierra 10.13 with eGPU support. We have been following the development of this latest version since WWDC18. During the past six months Apple made significant progress by narrowing their focus to Thunderbolt 3 Macs and select AMD Radeon graphics cards. Support for true hot-plug, internal display acceleration, and multiple eGPUs are the highlights of Mojave 10.14 release for eGPU users.

While these are welcome improvements, Apple excludes users with older Macs and/or Nvidia graphics cards. There’s no sign Apple will ever extend eGPU support to Thunderbolt 1 and 2 Macs. Nvidia and Apple remain on unfriendly terms. Fortunately the developers of our community, Goalque, Mac_Editor, and Fr34k have continuously engineered workarounds to keep many Mac users in the game. Boot Camp mode to run Windows shows minor progress however. Does the release of Mojave mean your Mac is ready to adopt external graphics technology? Your particular configuration holds the answer.

2016 15 Macbook Pro Mojave 10.14 4x eGPUs System Info History

2016 15 Macbook Pro with 4x eGPUs in Mojave 10.14

Native Support

If you have a Thunderbolt 3 Mac computer, you’re in luck because this is the platform on which Apple has been building eGPU support. All you’d need is a MacOS-certified AMD Radeon graphics card + eGFX enclosure pairing that fits your needs and budget. There are a handful of solutions that come ready-to-go with a graphics card such as the Sonnet Breakaway Puck 570, Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box, and Blackmagic eGPU. As of fall 2018, these are Thunderbolt 3 Macs that have native eGPU support in MacOS 10.13.4 and newer.

Supported MacsPCIe Speed
Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)32 Gbps
MacBook Pro (15-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2018) *
MacBook Pro (13-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2018)
iMac Pro (Retina 5K, 27-inch, T2 Chip, Late 2017) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2017) *
iMac (Retina 4K, 21-inch, Mid 2017) *
iMac (21-inch, Mid 2017)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2017) *
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016) *
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
 

Thunderbolt 3 connector

* Indicates a Mac with discrete graphics card as standard equipment

 

A more future-proof route is to piece together an eGPU yourself. This process takes more effort but gives you flexibility and upgradability. This is beneficial for both enthusiasts and first-timers. Enthusiasts get to have nearly full control of the features they want out of an eGPU. If you try eGPU out and decide it’s not what you expect, the GPU can be repurposed and the enclosure sold.

There is some homework to do in order to understand eGFX technology and what features are available. eGPU.io enclosure reviews go into detail on power delivery to host computer, available expansion I/O ports, power supply capacity, and more. The options listed in the table below are currently available and best-suited for Mac computers. The ranking is based on the number of user builds in the past six months.

 

Thunderbolt 3 EnclosuresAORUS/Gigabyte
Gaming Box
Sonnet Breakaway Box
Asus XG
Station Pro
AKiTiO
Node
Razer
Core X
AKiTiO
Node Pro
Mantiz
Venus

Razer
Core V2
Sonnet
Breakaway Puck
Blackmagic
eGPU
Popularity rank#1 #2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
Appearance
Included GPU1RX580✖  RX570RP580
Price US$
$440
$399
$330$249
$300
$336
$349
$500$599
$699
PSU type-location2
fATX-int SFX-intAC-extSFX-intATX-int
SFX-intSFX-intfATX-int AC-extcustom-int
PSU max power450W 650W
330W400W650W500W 550W 500W 220W400W
GPU max power3
225W475W
300W375W500W
400W375W375W
Power delivery (PD)4
100W87W15W15W100W
60W x287W65W45W85W
USB-C controller
TI83TI83TI83TI83TI83
TI83TI83 TI83TI83TI83
PCIe slots @ link width1 @ x4
1 @ x41 @ x41 @ x4
1 @ x4
1 @ x4
1 @ x4
1 @ x4
1 @ x4
1 @ x4
TB3 USB-C ports / eGFX?51 ✔
1 ✔
1 ✔
1 ✔
1 ✔21 ✔
1 ✔
1 ✔
2 ✔
I/O ports bandwidth6 5Gbps 10Gbps
10Gbps5Gbps 5Gbps 5Gbps
Included GPU portsAMD: 3xDP,HDMI 3xDP,HDMIHDMI, TB3
Size (litres) [ compare ]
3.30
12.71
8.2314.09
14.45
12.8211.567.651.019.64
Max GPU len (in/cm)
6.65/16.9 12.20/31.012.24/31.1
12.60/32.012.99/33.012.60/32.013.00/33.0
11.81/30.0
Weight (kg/lb)2.35/5.193.20/7.102.95 /6.50
4.90/10.786.48/14.293.40/7.403.60/7.92
4.95/10.892.38/5.254.60/10.20
Updated firmware7F1.125.2✔25.133.1✔25.126.1✔ 25.1✔26.3✔
TB3 cable length (cm)850501505050
5050505050
Vendor pagelinklinklink linklinklinklinklinklinklink
Reviewlinklinklink linklink
linklinklinklink link
User builds
linklink linklink linklinklinklink linklink

 

All Thunderbolt 3 enclosures released in 2018 are macOS compatible. The bigger compatibility unknown rests on the graphics card. Apple only provides native eGPU support to select AMD GPUs shown below. They are currently the latest generation of Radeon Polaris 10/20 and Vega 56/64 cards. As a precaution, Vega 64 GPUs demand a lot of power and therefore the eGPU enclosure should have at least a 650W power supply. Polaris GPUs such as the RX 570 are more efficient and can work with almost all eGPU enclosures.

Radeon ProRadeon RX
Pro WX 9100RX Vega 64
Vega Frontier EditionRX Vega 56
Pro WX 8200RX 480/580
Pro WX 7100RX 470/570

 

Once you have the whole kit together, it’s plug-and-play with a Thunderbolt 3 Mac. Hot-plug and surprise removal of the external GPU has been working since 10.13.4. Occasionally the system may notify you it has to force-eject the eGPU. I’ve seen less of these notifications in Mojave 10.14. This macOS version also has much better support for multiple eGPUs. In High Sierra, there appeared to be a limited number of eGPU the system could handle based on the host computer’s Thunderbolt 3 controllers. macOS Mojave 10.14 raises this multiple eGPU support to four units.

The most exciting feature is the ability to accelerate a Mac’s internal display with the eGPU. In previous macOS builds, the external GPU could only provide acceleration to OpenGL tasks rendered through an external monitor. There’s now a checkbox to set the eGPU as the preferred graphics card for all tasks in 10.14 regardless of whether an external monitor is attached. This mode forces eGPU loopback to the internal display of a MacBook Pro or iMac. In my opinion, an eGPU pane inside System Preferences would be a better tool.

Community Support

What’s the status of native eGPU support in macOS for Nvidia graphics cards? What about those of us with older Macs that are not Thunderbolt 3? Apple’s support is dead in the water. As a long-time Mac user and owner of a 2013 Mac Pro trashcan and 2015 15″ MacBook Pro, I’m disappointed by this. So are thousands of others in the same situation. Our community has been relentlessly providing unofficial eGPU support for these Macs Apple deemed unworthy. The main developers are Goalque, Mac_Editor, and Fr34k. Without their selfless contributions eGPU for Macs would not be as popular as it is today.

There are currently two primary approaches to facilitate eGPU support on older Macs and Nvidia graphics cards. One solution is to make a Thunderbolt 1/2 Mac behave like a Thunderbolt 3 Mac. The other solution is to make an eGPU behave like an internal PCIe graphics card. Thunderbolt 3 Mac users that want to use Nvidia cards can also benefit from these two community solutions. Keep in mind Mac computers with the Apple T2 chip (iMac Pro and 2018 MacBook Pro) have tighter security in place. In order to implement these solutions, Secure Boot must be off and external source booting must be enabled.

Purge-Wrangler by Mac_Editor is currently the easiest solution to enable eGPU access to your Thunderbolt 1 or 2 Macs. This workaround also incorporates patches that enable compatibility with Nvidia and older AMD graphics card. The prerequisites are for SIP to be disabled and modifications made to system files. The table below lists the Thunderbolt version of Mac computers built from early 2011 to late 2015. You can either use a Thunderbolt 2 enclosure for external graphics or use a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure via a Thunderbolt 2 cable + Apple Thunderbolt 3/USB-C to Thunderbolt adapter.

Unsupported MacsPCIe Speed
Thunderbolt 216 Gbps
Mac Pro (Late 2013) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2015) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2015) *
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) *
iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2015)
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2014)
iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2015)
Mac mini (Late 2014)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2015)
 

Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt connector

 

Thunderbolt logo

 

Thunderbolt10 Gbps
iMac (27-inch, Late 2013) *
iMac (27-inch, Early 2013) *
iMac (27-inch, Late 2012) *
iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011) *
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2013)
iMac (21.5-inch, Early 2013)
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2012)
iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011)
Mac mini (Late 2012)
Mac mini (Mid 2011)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Late 2011) *
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2011) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Early 2013) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2012) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2011) *
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011) *
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2013)
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2014)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2013)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2011)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2014)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2013)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2012)
MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2011)
 

 

Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter

 

* Indicates a Mac with discrete graphics card as standard equipment

 

EFI automate-eGPU solution by Goalque is a cleaner approach in that all patches happen on the fly during macOS booting process. The software can be installed on an external boot volume such as a USB thumb drive or a small partition of your Mac’s internal hard drive. The former is strongly encouraged so that there’s no risk of corrupting your drive and losing data. Using an external drive for each boot is not convenient, but it’s well worth the effort if you’re not willing to disable SIP and modify system files for eGPU support.

The table below shows some of Nvidia and unsupported AMD graphics cards that can work in external mode once you implement one of the two community eGPU solutions. While AMD cards have drivers in macOS Mojave 10.14, we still need Nvidia to provide web drivers for their GeForce cards. We have tested these solutions extensively and are confident they will work as long as compatible drivers are available in a timely manner. The typical turnaround for Nvidia web drivers is 24 hours from when Apple releases a new macOS update to the public.

Nvidia GeForceAMD Radeon
GTX Titan XpPro WX 5100
GTX 1080 TiPro WX 4100
GTX 1080R9 Fury X
GTX 1070R9 Fury
Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Gpu Table
GTX 1060R9 Nano
GTX 1050 TiRX 460/560

 

Boot Camp Support

Many Mac users who are interested in eGPU want to use it for gaming in Windows. We were hoping eGPU improvement in macOS Mojave 10.14 would also mean better support for Boot Camp mode. The reality is that Apple still considers eGPU use in Windows a non-priority. We had seen beta builds of macOS Mojave 10.14 directly affect the way eGPU worked in Boot Camp. Unfortunately there’s no one clear solution. It’s easier to set up an eGPU with Boot Camp in iGPU only Mac computers; dGPU-equipped Macs such as the 15″ MacBook Pro pose a challenge. My Boot Camp eGPU setup guide provides more technical information and the step-by-step process for Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro users.

While both AMD and Nvidia have made great strides in eGPU support for Windows, Apple does not adhere to the ways Windows computers interact with Thunderbolt 3 eGPUs. I’ve been testing the 2018 15″ MacBook Pro. The Mac firmware and Apple T2 chip are big hurdles to successfully set up an external GPU in Boot Camp. The only saving grace is that it has Large Memory allocation to help with error 12 when adding an Nvidia eGPU. As seen in the screen capture, adding an AMD eGPU in Boot Camp can wreak serious havoc to the system. Both the Radeon Pro 555X dGPU and RX 580 eGPU got yellow-banged with driver conflict and lack of resource issues.

2018 15 Macbook Pro Akitio Node Duo Rx 580 Egpu Device Manager Error 12

2018 15 Macbook Pro Error 12 on RX 580 eGPU & Error 43 on Pro 555X dGPU

Microsoft has done Apple a huge favor with Windows 10 Spring Update. Version 1803 introduced Windows Hybrid Graphics that allows the external GPU to work with a discrete GPU for internal display acceleration. This is beneficial for Mac computers because Apple firmware has a tendency to disable the Intel-integrated GPU in favor of the AMD Radeon discrete GPU. Without an active iGPU, AMD XConnect and Nvidia Optimus can’t leverage eGPU acceleration to the internal display. As seen in the Graphics Settings of Windows, you can set your preference for a given software or game to use the higher-performing external graphics card.

2018 15 Macbook Pro Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Device Manager Large Memory

2018 15 Macbook Pro Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Device Manager Large Memory

2018 15 Macbook Pro Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Graphics Settings

2018 15 Macbook Pro Asus Xg Station Pro Gtx 1080 Ti Egpu Graphics Settings

Closing Thoughts

Mojave 10.14 has shown positive progress for eGPU Mac users. Hot-plug capability, internal display acceleration, and multiple eGPU support can truly transform an ultra-portable MacBook Pro into a powerful workstation. Our community remains committed to providing eGPU support for Nvidia and older Thunderbolt Mac users. We’re also hopeful Apple will improve its Mac firmware to make eGPU in Boot Camp a more straightforward process.