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Old Mar 14, 2014, 06:07 PM   #1
monty77
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External GPU for TB equipped Macs?

..was reading this:

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1668514

Was considering building a mini PC gaming rig but this got me thinking perhaps it's not necessary. According to the above thread an external Nvidia 660 solution can be had for around 500 - hard to build a PC rig with that potential for the same kind of money and I'd much rather not have yet another PC to maintain.

So who's got an external GPU solution for their Mac?
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Old Mar 15, 2014, 02:42 AM   #2
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It's not worth it. Thunderbolt doesn't have the necessary bandwidth--you can make a much faster PC for that much. Turn it into a Hackintosh and you have a fast Mac as well.
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Old Mar 15, 2014, 09:18 AM   #3
monty77
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Originally Posted by Cougarcat View Post
It's not worth it. Thunderbolt doesn't have the necessary bandwidth--you can make a much faster PC for that much. Turn it into a Hackintosh and you have a fast Mac as well.
It's not just about the $$$$

I have a Haswell rMBP which just about runs a few games at medium settings and comes with me everywhere. When I'm home it's docked and hooked up to a couple of large screens/keyboard etc.. and it'd be extremely useful if I could dock it into one of these GPU enclosures at the same time to enjoy far better gaming performance while at home.

I've yet to see a hackintosh laptop (with a decent GPU) that's appealing and I really don't want yet another box to look at / maintain.
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Old Mar 15, 2014, 09:24 AM   #4
ElderBrE
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It's possible, I've seen a few solutions working well. But there's really no support to look to, so you have to pretty much put the money and hope you are able to make it happen.

I was of the same thought about the bandwidth, but apparently how games work, it is not an issue as they aren't using the bandwidth constantly, but rather loading onto the GPUs RAM. I am not sure if it'd work well for other purposes though, depends on how much use they make of the bandwidth.

Here's a good place to start:

http://forum.techinferno.com/diy-e-gpu-projects/
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Old Mar 15, 2014, 10:50 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Cougarcat View Post
It's not worth it. Thunderbolt doesn't have the necessary bandwidth--you can make a much faster PC for that much. Turn it into a Hackintosh and you have a fast Mac as well.
The external TB/TB2 GPU option would not be for people building a system from scratch. It would be for folks who already HAVE a Mac and are looking for a dramatic way to extend the useful life of that Mac via TB/TB2 and newer GPUs.

I hope that explains the potential use case for external GPUs via TB/TB2. It basically prevents the Mac owner from having to buy a new Mac once their current Mac can no longer perform graphically to its owner's demands.
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Old Mar 15, 2014, 11:48 AM   #6
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The external TB/TB2 GPU option would not be for people building a system from scratch. It would be for folks who already HAVE a Mac and are looking for a dramatic way to extend the useful life of that Mac via TB/TB2 and newer GPUs.

I hope that explains the potential use case for external GPUs via TB/TB2. It basically prevents the Mac owner from having to buy a new Mac once their current Mac can no longer perform graphically to its owner's demands.
I realize that, I still don't think it's worth it because of what I've stated. If you can buy a much better performing PC for the same price, I don't see the point. Maybe in ten years when we have Thunderbolt 4 (and laptops with much bigger SSDs) I'll be interested.

Now, if you take your laptop everywhere, travel a lot, and want to bring your eGPU with you--might be worth it. For me, personally, my Hackintosh + MBP setup is the best of both worlds. I've got enough low-req indie games thanks to humble bundles to last me years, so my gaming needs are set when travelling.

Last edited by Cougarcat; Mar 15, 2014 at 11:53 AM.
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Old Mar 17, 2014, 07:06 AM   #7
Janichsan
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While basically possible and in theory also able to achieve decent performance (though slower than GPUs hooked to internal buses), the whole thing won't work due to one thing: driver support under OS X.

Last thing I heard was that it's not possible to use an external GPU attached to a Thunderbolt port under OS X since the system simply does not support that.

Under Windows on the other hand, you could have success with that. The few examples I know where someone managed to get an external GPU to work via Thunderbolt all stressed they had to use Windows for that.
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Old Mar 17, 2014, 02:38 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Janichsan View Post
While basically possible and in theory also able to achieve decent performance (though slower than GPUs hooked to internal buses), the whole thing won't work due to one thing: driver support under OS X.

Last thing I heard was that it's not possible to use an external GPU attached to a Thunderbolt port under OS X since the system simply does not support that.

Under Windows on the other hand, you could have success with that. The few examples I know where someone managed to get an external GPU to work via Thunderbolt all stressed they had to use Windows for that.
This guy did it, though it is a bit hack-y. Unplug and you get a kernel panic, and you have to modify a few files after every OS update.
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Old Mar 17, 2014, 10:42 PM   #9
ElderBrE
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Janichsan View Post
While basically possible and in theory also able to achieve decent performance (though slower than GPUs hooked to internal buses), the whole thing won't work due to one thing: driver support under OS X.

Last thing I heard was that it's not possible to use an external GPU attached to a Thunderbolt port under OS X since the system simply does not support that.

Under Windows on the other hand, you could have success with that. The few examples I know where someone managed to get an external GPU to work via Thunderbolt all stressed they had to use Windows for that.
As posted above, there's a few guys who have done it with OS X, and apparently it is easier to setup than with Windows (although with certain limitations).
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Old Mar 17, 2014, 11:16 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Cougarcat View Post
This guy did it, though it is a bit hack-y. Unplug and you get a kernel panic, and you have to modify a few files after every OS update.
That's because it's not designed to be hot pluggable. There might be some way to hack a better solution, but to truly fix that problem requires drivers designed to be hot pluggable. The potential returns may not be enough to really interest gpu vendors. If you could get an out of the box solution with a really nice current gpu, say something like a 780 for $600 or so, many people would buy them. I don't know if a solvent product of that type is really feasible though.
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Old Mar 17, 2014, 11:44 PM   #11
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That's because it's not designed to be hot pluggable. There might be some way to hack a better solution, but to truly fix that problem requires drivers designed to be hot pluggable. The potential returns may not be enough to really interest gpu vendors. If you could get an out of the box solution with a really nice current gpu, say something like a 780 for $600 or so, many people would buy them. I don't know if a solvent product of that type is really feasible though.
They exist for windows, but yes, I don't see it coming out for the Mac. And Apple isn't going to care enough to make it happen.

Unfortunately, I don't see out of box solutions appearing because thunderbolt is so niche and expensive. It's only prevalent on the Mac, and in PC land it exists only on high-end motherboards. It's more niche than FireWire ever was.

Btw, I may be wrong, but wouldn't a beefy card like the 780 be a waste over thunderbolt 1?
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 12:45 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Cougarcat View Post
They exist for windows, but yes, I don't see it coming out for the Mac. And Apple isn't going to care enough to make it happen.

Unfortunately, I don't see out of box solutions appearing because thunderbolt is so niche and expensive. It's only prevalent on the Mac, and in PC land it exists only on high-end motherboards. It's more niche than FireWire ever was.

Btw, I may be wrong, but wouldn't a beefy card like the 780 be a waste over thunderbolt 1?
It probably would be. Thunderbolt 2 may be a bit better, but it may still throttle on some things. I was referring to many people on the Mac side of things, which I suspect is too small a potential market to be worth the risk for these companies. The reason I mentioned a 780 is because I think it would be worthless on the lower end. You need customers that care enough about the gpu to both put down money for it and be willing to have an extra brick hanging off their notebook. Your biggest market would be gamers. Considering the prices we've seen for a PCI chassis alone, I don't see much potential in the way of $200 eGPUs. I don't see these things as being that likely overall, but they would be a lot more likely if thunderbolt was as ubiquitous as usb.
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 04:07 AM   #13
Janichsan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cougarcat View Post
This guy did it, though it is a bit hack-y.
Cool, didn't knew that.

Quote:
Unplug and you get a kernel panic, and you have to modify a few files after every OS update.
Well, of course. Try ripping out the GPU while your Mac is running. See what happens. :P
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 05:01 AM   #14
ElderBrE
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Here's a mini how-to if anyone wants to try, for OS X.

http://www.journaldulapin.com/2013/0...-a-mac-how-to/
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 09:18 AM   #15
Cougarcat
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Originally Posted by Janichsan View Post


Well, of course. Try ripping out the GPU while your Mac is running. See what happens. :P
Well, ideally it would switch to the internal one, like it does in windows with the drivers.
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 08:09 PM   #16
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Hey man, I've got a 2012 Mac Mini connected to a ViDock 4 and a nvidia 670 GPU inside. I've got a dual monitor setup (one 27inch 1080p, one small 15inch screen). The GPU works in both Windows 8 and OS X Mavericks. In Windows, I use it to play games like Battlefield 4, Titanfall, DayZ, etc. and it works great. I play at a constant 60fps with a mix of medium and high settings at 1080p in bf4.

For me, I already had a Mac Mini and didn't want to buy a completely separate system just for gaming/video editing. Now, I've got an extremely capable gaming system thats about twice the length and width of the Mac Mini (pretty damn small if you ask me).

It does take a while to setup, but works like a charm once you get it working. For Windows, theres a boot sequence you have to do on startup (pretty much unplug, then plug back in) and for OS X you just leave everything as is and it boots up fine). I've also got a HP 4530s that I hackintoshed and the eGPU works fine with that system too.

And I'll be the first to tell you that most of the people who bash on external graphics have never used them/dont really understand them. I've been using external GPU enclosures with several systems and GPUs for over two years now so if you have any questions, feel free to ask

----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by Janichsan View Post
While basically possible and in theory also able to achieve decent performance (though slower than GPUs hooked to internal buses), the whole thing won't work due to one thing: driver support under OS X.

Last thing I heard was that it's not possible to use an external GPU attached to a Thunderbolt port under OS X since the system simply does not support that.

Under Windows on the other hand, you could have success with that. The few examples I know where someone managed to get an external GPU to work via Thunderbolt all stressed they had to use Windows for that.
Works flawlessly in 10.9 Mavericks. The tutorial actually makes it seem more complicated than it is, it takes about 5 minutes to copy/paste text into three files. The hardest part is finding the files lol.
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 08:35 PM   #17
Irishman
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Originally Posted by ElderBrE View Post
Here's a mini how-to if anyone wants to try, for OS X.

http://www.journaldulapin.com/2013/0...-a-mac-how-to/
This is remarkable, and seems to be something everyone could do.

I'm wondering what one could expect from a GTX 660 coupled with a late 2012 iMac?
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Old Mar 18, 2014, 09:10 PM   #18
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This is remarkable, and seems to be something everyone could do.

I'm wondering what one could expect from a GTX 660 coupled with a late 2012 iMac?
I've got a 2.3ghz quad i7 in my mac mini and have used a 660; works surprisingly well. Keep in mind that with an imac, youd need to use an external screen as you could not relay the image back to the internal screen (Macs that do not have discrete GPUs dont have this problem).
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 04:11 AM   #19
ElderBrE
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Originally Posted by EpicBlob View Post
I've got a 2.3ghz quad i7 in my mac mini and have used a 660; works surprisingly well. Keep in mind that with an imac, youd need to use an external screen as you could not relay the image back to the internal screen (Macs that do not have discrete GPUs dont have this problem).
Great feedback.

Have you tried with a rMBP with a dGPU? I've been on and off tempted to pu some money into this and test, as I've got several external monitors, but I haven't got around to it since I'm not really gaming lately. Eventually I want to move forward using an eGPU with a laptop.
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 08:54 AM   #20
Irishman
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I've got a 2.3ghz quad i7 in my mac mini and have used a 660; works surprisingly well. Keep in mind that with an imac, youd need to use an external screen as you could not relay the image back to the internal screen (Macs that do not have discrete GPUs dont have this problem).
That's unfortunate. Until this is fixed, eGPU won't be a solution for me, (nor most interested iMac owners).
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 09:43 AM   #21
sundragon
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You all realize there is a turn key solution...

3 GPUs to Thunderbolt...

http://www.magma.com/expressbox-3t

They also have a 1 to 1...
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 09:55 AM   #22
Irishman
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You all realize there is a turn key solution...

3 GPUs to Thunderbolt...

http://www.magma.com/expressbox-3t

They also have a 1 to 1...
Only for Thunderbolt 2. I guess if you can afford a $3000+ nMP, you can afford a $1000 eGPU solution. Also, the 1T unit only uses up to half length GPUs installed, preventing you from using the better GPUs out there.

Last edited by Irishman; Mar 19, 2014 at 10:01 AM.
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 10:20 AM   #23
Janichsan
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Originally Posted by sundragon View Post
You all realize there is a turn key solution...

3 GPUs to Thunderbolt...

http://www.magma.com/expressbox-3t

They also have a 1 to 1...
Nope. None of these external PCIe Thunderbolt chassis support the use of graphics cards (at least not officially and out of the box). See for yourself.
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Old Mar 19, 2014, 06:00 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by sundragon View Post
You all realize there is a turn key solution...

3 GPUs to Thunderbolt...

http://www.magma.com/expressbox-3t

They also have a 1 to 1...
As of now, software limits the use of cards in SLI that are external (enough bandwidth, but wont work.

The only official vendor that officially supports GPUs is VillageTronic, but to get their ViDock working with a Mac you need to use the Sonnet Echo TB/Expresscard adapter.

Honestly, it's definitely easier if you don't have a discrete GPU. It's definitely possible to get it working though and can still prove very valuable. Honestly, I'd try to find a native thunderbolt enclosure because without the use of the iGPU, you'll need the extra bandwidth.
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 05:50 PM   #25
khaledmga
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Hey there EpicBlob, I have a late 2013 rMBP with GT750M, It's an okay graphics card but I'd love a stronger one. Can you please tell me if an external GPU solution would be possible for my laptop, and if there is any way in which i can use the LCD screen on the laptop instead of an external monitor? If both are possible, what would i need and what's the average cost that you've paid for such a solution?
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