Apple's eGPU work in High Sierra is impressive, but six more months will make it better

Posted:
in macOS
Looking at late betas of Apple's eGPU support in High Sierra, Apple has come a long way, and has made some of the technology changes and fixes that it needs for widest possible adoption -- but it's not quite there yet for the entirety of the Mac user base.


Previously, on AppleInsider

We're not going to go deep into what we've discovered about eGPUs and Thunderbolt 3 over the last few years here. As a general rule, putting a PCI-E graphics card into a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and connecting it to a Thunderbolt 3 host system will hit you for about 10 percent of any given card's maximum potential performance-wise except for the newest, highest-end cards under massive load, where the losses jump to about 30 percent.

Connecting through Apple's $59 bi-directional Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, Thunderbolt 2 will chop off about 20 percent more, and Thunderbolt 1 will kill nearly 50 percent.

Before High Sierra, using an eGPU took a series of relatively simple hacks to enable the technology. It also needed the user to make some concessions about limitations.

That changed when Apple announced High Sierra, and made some changes to how macOS deals with it.

What Apple's fixed and changed along the way

In early implementations, you'd better have the eGPU hooked up before you boot. That's been changed -- if you "hot plug" an eGPU now, macOS will ask you to log out, then back in again. A restart is fine too.
For "us," eGPU support is ready now. But, it's not ready for the "computer as an appliance crowd" just yet.
Worse yet, if you yanked the Thunderbolt 3 cable with early versions, the system would immediately kernel panic and crash hard. That's better now, with it forcing an instant logout. Unsaved data still gets lost, but it beats the alternative.

In a piece about the developer's kit, we noted that Apple needed to implement "clamshell mode" -- and we can report that it has returned, to some extent. If the user selects to "mirror" displays, and shuts the lid on the host computer, the MacBook Pro's display now does turn off.

But, it doesn't automatically shift over to one display. If you haven't selected mirrored displays, macOS still considers the shut MacBook Pro to have it as a functional display -- and you can lose windows or your cursor over there if the lid is shut.

What's still the same, and probably won't change

There is still a profound performance penalty if you "loop back" the video signal to the internal display on a MacBook Pro. It's possible with some hacks, but an already bandwidth-tight situation is made worse.

Thunderbolt 3's 40 gigabits per second is amazingly fast, but still not fast enough for a full-speed loopback without serious compromise. Maybe a future incarnation of the technology will be fast enough.

The financials behind eGPU enclosures

When AppleInsider first started in-depth examination of eGPU enclosures, cost was a major barrier to entry -- and the entry fee still isn't that small. But, it's gotten far better.

We've examined many, many Thunderbolt 3 docks at this point. Pricing varies between $189 and well over $300, just for "legacy" ports.





The Sonnet enclosure used in Apple's Developer kit isn't available at retail. However, one that only supplies 15W to host machines intended for lower-powered cards is $299, with the meatier one with 87W and enough power for the vast majority of cards will ship for $399.

The Sonnet enclosure isn't our favorite, though. The Mantiz MZ-02 sells for $389, provides full charging power to the 15-inch Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro, has five USB ports, and a High Sierra-compatible Gigabit Ethernet port.




So, for about $150 on the average, an eGPU enclosure gets you ports you may want back on the MacBook Pro -- plus the ability to plug in a PCI-e card to dramatically boost graphical acceleration.

The whole eGPU concept does work on an iMac. But, it's a harder sell. For the price of the enclosure plus the graphics card, just look at a better iMac instead.

In the spring...

What we don't want to see is anointed case and card combinations. An open case that adheres to the Thunderbolt 3 protocol, and a wide selection of compatible video cards to choose from will help the daring users who want to give it a shot.

That way, the Final Cut Pro crowd can get the optimized AMD cards, and the Adobe gang can get Nvidia, and everybody can live happily ever after in an environment optimized for what they need. But, regardless of manufacturer, a powerful video card is still faster than the Radeon Pro discrete chipset included in the MacBook Pro, even if not optimized.

And, finally, the technology isn't a kludge hacked together by the Mac faithful with too much time and money on their hands.

So, why not ship now?

AppleInsider readers are the tech savvy. Many of us have gone elbow-deep into an old aluminum slab-side Mac Pro, or crammed too many PATA drives in a G4 tower than the laws of thermodynamics should reasonably accommodate.

The entire computer industry has shifted to a less tinker-y mentality, though. Computing devices for the vast majority of users are now appliances like your toaster, or your refrigerator, and plunked down without thought of maintenance or tinkering.

For "us," eGPU support is ready now. But, because of the not-fully-implemented clamshell mode alone, it's not ready for the "computer as an appliance crowd" just yet.

It's still a long time until the spring of 2018. Let's wait and see what Apple has in mind.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    Hey AI Team,

    nice summary.
    But I have a question regarding the Thunderbolt GPU. I want to use a Nvidia-card for rendering complex computer generated scenes. As this is not a real-time rendering do I have to plug a monitor into the GPU to have the most power if it is just for crunching numbers? Does it even work with Cinema 4D and Vray? 
    My ideal setup would be just a MBP and use the external GPU as a sort local renderfarm. 

    thx
    xzu
  • Reply 2 of 12
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,732administrator
    MaxPower said:
    Hey AI Team,

    nice summary.
    But I have a question regarding the Thunderbolt GPU. I want to use a Nvidia-card for rendering complex computer generated scenes. As this is not a real-time rendering do I have to plug a monitor into the GPU to have the most power if it is just for crunching numbers? Does it even work with Cinema 4D and Vray? 
    My ideal setup would be just a MBP and use the external GPU as a sort local renderfarm. 

    thx
    The way the protocol is written right now, if the app allows it, so does the eGPU implementation. This may depend some on the card you've selected as well, as some won't go active (for lack of a better term) if it doesn't detect an external display connected downstream. This may be spoof-able with a loopback plug commonly used for headless servers, but I haven't tested it beyond an advanced user's perspective.

    A quick and dirty way to test this is GeekBench's openCL tests. In our case, the Sonnet enclosure, and the Mantiz one with the RX 580 works fine in the scenario you've postulated.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    greg_schildgreg_schild Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Great coverage of the eGPU improvements in High Sierra. I wish you would add one section on eGPU support in bootcamp windows. In Sierra, there are a lot of problems that require work arounds. egpu.io has threads on all of them. But what is with High Sierra?
  • Reply 4 of 12
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    I am an Apple user for close to thirty years.
    Through all those chBges. Remember Radius and Rasterops? Plugging in the cards on the Mac "slots?" Hard to imagine now, even when more recently, we could open a MacBook Pro and change out a a 2.5 " hard drive abs out in a newer, faster one, or expand ram.

    I am one of those radicals who love Apple but think their decisions will change the vonpsny slowly over the next ten years. True stock price roll drop. Crazy, I know.

    But they admit to dropping cate for the professional base, but they did blt solve the Nac Pro issue by creating a modular. Computer, but by making an iMac supercharged and still "THIN" chique.
     
    But this is the culture in the Mac woltd, and and a part of the new iPad/iPhone/appliance culture where Apple is actually moving to create consumer behavior instead of satisfy them as in the lack of the headphone jack.

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.

    Apple has made ports obscplete fast. I think USN had to upgrade, but not providing ports to the most used peripheral port on a flagship machine? Or Thinderbolt, upon introduction, never took off among peripherals because a) the simple price, where getting a USB 3.0 was just far cheaper, and B) they never provided two thunderbolt body's fur "daisy-chaining", the whole argument behind why thunderbolt meant people did not need pci expansion. 
    Well, you can pay a lot more for a few drives with Thunderbokt, RAID, abs 7200, day, but wait, it's now Thunderbolt 2, and it starts over, but wait! Here comes Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C! What about HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.4... etc.

    In old computer works these would be exciting developments, but after one pit hard one's little dream toy/tool, it's like finding out your obselete. Add this yo baby ituer actions, and people get angry. Entire industries are checking out Windows, not bevaysecits better, but because enough of enough. I like to joke I wish there was another Apple, branded to be the creative, innovating, and "always functional creative tool." Steve Jobs said he thought the Apple ethos was about liberal arts meeting technology. Now, it's about profit margins and consumers are not being listened to, but told what to like, how things will be because Apple has the marketing and cash to try to create the trend. Wireless headphones will be the new thing, despite headphones being on Sansumg's new devices and on the new iPads and all Macs, so what gives with the iPhone 7. Is the water/dust protection that big a deal?

    Tgis has gone on for years. I've written to well known pundits on the Apple world but I'm sure they are on a payroll to not Rick the boat. Daring Fireball is not daring. So much I predicted has already come true.

    I think your institution should write a serious gesture on this issue, despite its controversy. Apple will only improve abs get better when it has real competition and market forces and consumers it listens to, as well as professional users and experts informing them what is the real word on the street. 

    Think I am being hyperbolic? Try losing all of Hollywood (editing and music production) because they meee a red rocket card, or real workstations. Consumers who now know 15 MacBook Oroscate not the hippest laptops to own, but closer to upgraded Mac Airs. Even their desktop machines have anorexia issues. Cutting function fir aesthetics when possible.

    Could Apple make just one little tower, modular computer, with affordability on cheap end to workstation power on expensive end, but can they return power of upgrade and expansion to users and consumers?

    Or will all Macs go the way of the iPhone 7 and MacBook (with one port).
    could iPad Oros use mouse/trackpad functionality in iOS Or can they upgrade iOS to give more than two window multi-tasking? If they are going to create appliances, see how it is happening, and how it's not a function of our times, but a strategy of Apple and others to profit off certain business practices, and which have cultural effects.

    Thank you 
    J
    williamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,779member
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    I am an Apple user for close to thirty years.
    Through all those chBges. Remember Radius and Rasterops? Plugging in the cards on the Mac "slots?" Hard to imagine now, even when more recently, we could open a MacBook Pro and change out a a 2.5 " hard drive abs out in a newer, faster one, or expand ram.

    I am one of those radicals who love Apple but think their decisions will change the vonpsny slowly over the next ten years. True stock price roll drop. Crazy, I know.

    But they admit to dropping cate for the professional base, but they did blt solve the Nac Pro issue by creating a modular. Computer, but by making an iMac supercharged and still "THIN" chique.
     
    But this is the culture in the Mac woltd, and and a part of the new iPad/iPhone/appliance culture where Apple is actually moving to create consumer behavior instead of satisfy them as in the lack of the headphone jack.

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.

    Apple has made ports obscplete fast. I think USN had to upgrade, but not providing ports to the most used peripheral port on a flagship machine? Or Thinderbolt, upon introduction, never took off among peripherals because a) the simple price, where getting a USB 3.0 was just far cheaper, and B) they never provided two thunderbolt body's fur "daisy-chaining", the whole argument behind why thunderbolt meant people did not need pci expansion. 
    Well, you can pay a lot more for a few drives with Thunderbokt, RAID, abs 7200, day, but wait, it's now Thunderbolt 2, and it starts over, but wait! Here comes Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C! What about HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.4... etc.

    In old computer works these would be exciting developments, but after one pit hard one's little dream toy/tool, it's like finding out your obselete. Add this yo baby ituer actions, and people get angry. Entire industries are checking out Windows, not bevaysecits better, but because enough of enough. I like to joke I wish there was another Apple, branded to be the creative, innovating, and "always functional creative tool." Steve Jobs said he thought the Apple ethos was about liberal arts meeting technology. Now, it's about profit margins and consumers are not being listened to, but told what to like, how things will be because Apple has the marketing and cash to try to create the trend. Wireless headphones will be the new thing, despite headphones being on Sansumg's new devices and on the new iPads and all Macs, so what gives with the iPhone 7. Is the water/dust protection that big a deal?

    Tgis has gone on for years. I've written to well known pundits on the Apple world but I'm sure they are on a payroll to not Rick the boat. Daring Fireball is not daring. So much I predicted has already come true.

    I think your institution should write a serious gesture on this issue, despite its controversy. Apple will only improve abs get better when it has real competition and market forces and consumers it listens to, as well as professional users and experts informing them what is the real word on the street. 

    Think I am being hyperbolic? Try losing all of Hollywood (editing and music production) because they meee a red rocket card, or real workstations. Consumers who now know 15 MacBook Oroscate not the hippest laptops to own, but closer to upgraded Mac Airs. Even their desktop machines have anorexia issues. Cutting function fir aesthetics when possible.

    Could Apple make just one little tower, modular computer, with affordability on cheap end to workstation power on expensive end, but can they return power of upgrade and expansion to users and consumers?

    Or will all Macs go the way of the iPhone 7 and MacBook (with one port).
    could iPad Oros use mouse/trackpad functionality in iOS Or can they upgrade iOS to give more than two window multi-tasking? If they are going to create appliances, see how it is happening, and how it's not a function of our times, but a strategy of Apple and others to profit off certain business practices, and which have cultural effects.

    Thank you 
    J
    You really need to kill that auto correction. I'm slightly 'lysdexic' but that was a trip!  :)
    edited September 2017 SpamSandwichedred
  • Reply 6 of 12
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,732administrator
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    ...

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.
    This isn't actually the case, though. The vast majority of windows PCs sit on a desktop, even at Fortune 500, and Hollywood, and never get opened, never get tinkered with.

    The same companies are perfectly fine with buying 3000 machines, and plunking them down on desks with identical specs. It saves money on IT costs, and cuts down on offline time. It's not labor-effective to upgrade processors, or PCI-E cards over time.

    I understand what you're saying, but the times, they are a-changing. AI readers like to tinker. Hell, I like to tinker. But, business and most homes do not, and we are outnumbered 100 to 1.
    edited September 2017 williamlondonrandominternetpersonmcdaveSpamSandwich
  • Reply 7 of 12
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,005member
    Is Apple prepping for new displays with built-in GPUs?  A 27" 5K with Radeon Pro 580/RX Vega/AppleGPU would go well with an MBP and this move would optimise software for that too.
    edited September 2017
  • Reply 8 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,779member
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    ...

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.
    This isn't actually the case, though. The vast majority of windows PCs sit on a desktop, even at Fortune 500, and Hollywood, and never get opened, never get tinkered with.

    The same companies are perfectly fine with buying 3000 machines, and plunking them down on desks with identical specs. It saves money on IT costs, and cuts down on offline time. It's not labor-effective to upgrade processors, or PCI-E cards over time.

    I understand what you're saying, but the times, they are a-changing. AI readers like to tinker. Hell, I like to tinker. But, business and most homes do not, and we are outnumbered 100 to 1.
    We are out numbered by 10000 to 1 at least like but I agree with the premise.  

    I confess my love of tinkering going back to Apple ][s  has been somewhat sated by the connectivity of the nMac Pro, I depend on my large desk/table for all the peripherals I plug in and out, if it had USB-C and TB 3 I'd be all set for many years.  

    My eyes lit up at eGPU until I read the 20% hit on TB2-TB3 also they all seem to be single slots, I'd want dual GPUs for Windows use hence like the reader above I wonder if these external cards will work on a Mac running Windows 10?  I guess I should be looking at eGPU boxes for Windows except they don't ned them lol.   BTW,are there any semi-credible rumors I've missed about the next Mac Pro yet?
  • Reply 9 of 12
    tipootipoo Posts: 976member
    Supporting this at all is a positive step. Though, on the same hardware and the same eGPU, you still lose 30-40% of your graphics performance over Boot camp, even on a native metal macOS title, not a wrapper. 

    I hope they can address this. Metal 2 may help, but it has a ways to go, as Metal 1 was a wash whether it even helped over OpenGL. 
  • Reply 10 of 12
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,732administrator
    MacPro said:
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    ...

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.
    This isn't actually the case, though. The vast majority of windows PCs sit on a desktop, even at Fortune 500, and Hollywood, and never get opened, never get tinkered with.

    The same companies are perfectly fine with buying 3000 machines, and plunking them down on desks with identical specs. It saves money on IT costs, and cuts down on offline time. It's not labor-effective to upgrade processors, or PCI-E cards over time.

    I understand what you're saying, but the times, they are a-changing. AI readers like to tinker. Hell, I like to tinker. But, business and most homes do not, and we are outnumbered 100 to 1.
    We are out numbered by 10000 to 1 at least like but I agree with the premise.  

    I confess my love of tinkering going back to Apple ][s  has been somewhat sated by the connectivity of the nMac Pro, I depend on my large desk/table for all the peripherals I plug in and out, if it had USB-C and TB 3 I'd be all set for many years.  

    My eyes lit up at eGPU until I read the 20% hit on TB2-TB3 also they all seem to be single slots, I'd want dual GPUs for Windows use hence like the reader above I wonder if these external cards will work on a Mac running Windows 10?  I guess I should be looking at eGPU boxes for Windows except they don't ned them lol.   BTW,are there any semi-credible rumors I've missed about the next Mac Pro yet?
    TB3 Bandwidth is the issue, which would only be aggravated by multiple cards. This is the same reason I'm not expecting an external display by Apple to have its own GPU embedded in it. Thunderbolt 3 is great, but it is still only PCI-E x4.

    Windows support for eGPUs is a little shaky. High Sierra has eclipsed it. They work fine, with similar bandwidth hits -- but this is offset somewhat by more mature drivers.
    cgWerks
  • Reply 11 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,779member
    MacPro said:
    Great, informative article from a fellow adept. I think I might disagree, however, about how "these times" are not about "tinkering", because of the said "appliance computer" culture.

    ...

    if you go to the PC works, building your own and "tinkering" is still very much the main pulse of the industry with magazine and a culture that understands  onputetscatt modular, that you upgrade things as they improve, and not buy 3000 machines with no ports every three years.
    This isn't actually the case, though. The vast majority of windows PCs sit on a desktop, even at Fortune 500, and Hollywood, and never get opened, never get tinkered with.

    The same companies are perfectly fine with buying 3000 machines, and plunking them down on desks with identical specs. It saves money on IT costs, and cuts down on offline time. It's not labor-effective to upgrade processors, or PCI-E cards over time.

    I understand what you're saying, but the times, they are a-changing. AI readers like to tinker. Hell, I like to tinker. But, business and most homes do not, and we are outnumbered 100 to 1.
    We are out numbered by 10000 to 1 at least like but I agree with the premise.  

    I confess my love of tinkering going back to Apple ][s  has been somewhat sated by the connectivity of the nMac Pro, I depend on my large desk/table for all the peripherals I plug in and out, if it had USB-C and TB 3 I'd be all set for many years.  

    My eyes lit up at eGPU until I read the 20% hit on TB2-TB3 also they all seem to be single slots, I'd want dual GPUs for Windows use hence like the reader above I wonder if these external cards will work on a Mac running Windows 10?  I guess I should be looking at eGPU boxes for Windows except they don't ned them lol.   BTW,are there any semi-credible rumors I've missed about the next Mac Pro yet?
    TB3 Bandwidth is the issue, which would only be aggravated by multiple cards. This is the same reason I'm not expecting an external display by Apple to have its own GPU embedded in it. Thunderbolt 3 is great, but it is still only PCI-E x4.

    Windows support for eGPUs is a little shaky. High Sierra has eclipsed it. They work fine, with similar bandwidth hits -- but this is offset somewhat by more mature drivers.
    Thanks, that explains everything clearly.  I guess I might need to build a DIY PC for gaming one of these days.  That said the nMac Pro running dual GPUs in Windows is pretty impressive of a 2014 Mac.  Well I guess we will have to wait and see what nMac Pro Mk II has to offer, next year hopefully.
    cgWerks
  • Reply 12 of 12
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 1,765member
    Thanks again for your coverage of this, Mike. While I maybe haven't as thoroughly checked out every other Mac-news venue, I haven't noticed this kind of coverage on eGPUs anywhere else.

    Here's the thing though... I don't think there really is a reason it shouldn't get near plug-and-play level, at least for a reasonable range of cards. Anything short of that and Apple has failed, IMO (or is purposely keeping it rough).

    re: "But, regardless of manufacturer, a powerful video card is still faster than the Radeon Pro discrete chipset included in the MacBook Pro, even if not optimized."

    Exactly. While a high end user might try to squeeze as much performance out as possible, or as you noted, Adobe people can choose nVidia, etc, the big deal is that even a Mac mini owner (assuming they go TB3, but I guess even currently) can move their machine from GPU-sub-par, to quite adequate for a reasonable cost - AND keep it GPU-current - once the price of the enclosure is covered.

    Mike Wuerthele said:
    This isn't actually the case, though. The vast majority of windows PCs sit on a desktop, even at Fortune 500, and Hollywood, and never get opened, never get tinkered with.

    The same companies are perfectly fine with buying 3000 machines, and plunking them down on desks with identical specs. It saves money on IT costs, and cuts down on offline time. It's not labor-effective to upgrade processors, or PCI-E cards over time.

    I understand what you're saying, but the times, they are a-changing. AI readers like to tinker. Hell, I like to tinker. But, business and most homes do not, and we are outnumbered 100 to 1.
    Hmm, I wonder though if it's ever really been that different, considering consumer vs pro market segments. People rendering the next CGI film aren't really the corporation plunking down 3000 identical systems. And, while IT departments of the past used to build machines... that was a LONG time ago, well before Apple's recent trend.

    I think for a lot of modern machines and demands, making them mostly non-upgradable makes perfect sense, even though I love to tinker. What's really to tinker with anymore, especially for portable machines. There's hardly any moving parts... maybe the SSD or RAM. And, same with iMacs. However, I don't think it applies so well when we get to Mac Pro type machines, unless lego-like system building via a port like TB makes sense.

    Otherwise, I don't think the pro market is much different now than it was when the cheese-grater was first introduced. Now, Apple's target market... it just might be a changing. But, as I've stated many times here, I think that would be a long-term mistake. I'm *hoping* Apple has realized this and course-corrected a bit.
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