CES 2012: MSI Shows Off Thunderbolt-Connected External GPU

MacRumors

macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
46,752
8,952



Last August, we reported that Village Tronic was working on a Thunderbolt version of its ViDock PCI Express expansion chassis that serves as a docking hub complete with external graphics card for high-end performance. With Thunderbolt-equipped peripherals making a big splash at CES this week, it should come as no surprise that progress on the expansion hub concept is continuing.




AnandTech reports that MSI is the latest entrant into the category, showing off an early demonstration model of just such a product with its GUS II. While the external graphics card (GPU) featured in the demonstration currently works only under Windows, AnandTech suggests that Mac support should be easily achievable for those GPUs supporting the platform.
The external chassis features a Thunderbolt interface and an internal PCIe slot. Despite running on a MacBook Pro there is currently no OS X support for the solution, but it does work under Windows. Presumably if there's OS X support for the GPU inside the enclosure it would work under OS X as well.

The only limitation to the GUS II is the internal GPU has to be powered by PCIe alone (there are no aux PCIe power connectors inside the chassis).
A release date and pricing for the GUS II have yet to be announced, but it certainly seems as though the Thunderbolt standard championed by Apple and Intel is gaining momentum as it seeks to lead the next generation of multi-purpose connectivity technologies.

Article Link: CES 2012: MSI Shows Off Thunderbolt-Connected External GPU
 

BanterClaus

macrumors regular
Feb 19, 2011
195
25
UK
I'm rather excited over the possibility of this.

How well it actually works while gaming I can't wait to see. I see driver issues developing here though...
 

FSMBP

macrumors 68020
Jan 22, 2009
2,492
1,347
It would great if Apple simply included a GPU in its Thunderbolt Display. That way, you have your portable MacBook Air be great on the road & have it be 'decent' graphics machine when you hook it up to the display.
 

D.T.

macrumors G3
Sep 15, 2011
9,415
7,547
Vilano Beach, FL
*This* is where I think Thunderbolt could (and will eventually) really shine. Highly portable machines with low power consuming GPUs for "on the road" (like an Air), with high performance outboard GPU at your desk.
 

Hellhammer

Moderator emeritus
Dec 10, 2008
22,166
580
Finland
It would only work with external monitor under OS X though. The GPU doesn't have access to the display so some serious software would definitely be needed so that the eGPU would work in parallel with the internal GPU (kind of like CrossFire/SLI).

Also, that's PCIe slot powered so say goodbye to high-end GPUs (MSI claims 150W but PCIe slot is limited to 75W. That's confusing.)
 

shurcooL

macrumors 6502a
Jan 24, 2011
920
70
I like this direction.

I hope within a year the solutions will be much better (more affordable, supporting GPUs that use aux power input, and Mac-compatible). :D
 

Elijahg

macrumors 6502
May 23, 2005
269
173
Bath, UK
Also, that's PCIe slot powered so say goodbye to high-end GPUs (MSI claims 150W but PCIe slot is limited to 75W. That's confusing.)
It'd be easy enough for MSI to include a power cable inside the case for beefy graphics cards. Hell, you could hack your own together without much bother if you had a powerful enough PSU sitting around.
 

dagamer34

macrumors 65816
May 1, 2007
1,359
101
Houston, TX
It would only work with external monitor under OS X though. The GPU doesn't have access to the display so some serious software would definitely be needed so that the eGPU would work in parallel with the internal GPU (kind of like CrossFire/SLI).

Also, that's PCIe slot powered so say goodbye to high-end GPUs (MSI claims 150W but PCIe slot is limited to 75W. That's confusing.)
Considering the MacBook Pro AC adapter is only 80W, any external GPU will be an upgrade. It also means ditching a dedicated GPU in a hypothetical 15" MacBook Air so that cooling can be entirely focused on the CPU.
 

SvK

macrumors 6502
Jan 12, 2005
285
0
San Diego
Can I simply opt to stick an audio card instead of a GPU card into this chassis?
As in a Protools card or similar?

best,
SvK
 

OrangeSVTguy

macrumors 601
Sep 16, 2007
4,114
54
Northeastern Ohio
This would be nice for the upcoming Quad MBAs if it gets fully supported. Especially if they make a model capable of supporting high end cards like a GTX580. Would be cool to have 2 slots for SLI.
 

SockRolid

macrumors 68000
Jan 5, 2010
1,560
114
Almost Rock Solid
Thunderbolt could be the reason why Apple hasn't updated the Mac Pro in a year and a half. Soon there won't be any need for a big all-in-one tower. For ultra-high-performance, you'll be able to build a cluster of Mac minis, with an external GPU and storage. All connected with Thunderbolt.

Just a crazy theory, but it could happen. Especially after optical Thunderbolt is available.
 

nagromme

macrumors G5
May 2, 2002
12,546
1,186
Great! Progress toward exactly what I want: to own ONE ultra-portable computer with ALL my stuff, that meets all my need. My work and my play.

Even if I can’t equal top-end bragging-rights tower graphics, I can still, in theory, have my ultra-portable 11” Air when I want to sit on the couch or go to a coffee shop. But when I’m at my desk, I can have a big screen and much better GPU power than a subnotebook alone can have. Enough to meet my gaming requirement: fun! Maximum possible detail levels? That would be cool—but I’d settle for something less than that. Just as most gamers do even if they have a tower.

My Air plays TF2, Quake Wars, etc. quite well, and the games look great—but they could look even better, and I’m a 3D game junkie. I’d like to be able to turn up the detail some and get a more consistently smooth result.
 
Last edited:

KPOM

macrumors G5
Oct 23, 2010
14,504
3,050
It would only work with external monitor under OS X though. The GPU doesn't have access to the display so some serious software would definitely be needed so that the eGPU would work in parallel with the internal GPU (kind of like CrossFire/SLI).
Hence the reason it would make a lot of sense to incorporate it into a display like the ATD. Perhaps Apple could seel an "Apple Thunderbolt Display S" with a discrete GPU like the one that they put into the base iMacs. It wouldn't tax the PCIe bus, but would still provide a decent boost for gaming.
 

GekkePrutser

macrumors 6502a
Aug 18, 2005
960
232
Barcelona, Spain
This would be great for a Mac Mini. Although I don't feel as good having gone for the discrete GPU model now :) It's a decent card but nothing like what a desktop card can do of course.

I'm a bit worried about the price though, if it's like the other TB products it'll probably be similarly priced to the mini itself.
 

hchung

macrumors 6502a
Oct 2, 2008
689
1
So we know that hackintoshes can use traditional PC video cards in OSX by adding strings. Can this knowledge be used to make PC video cards work on real Mac Pros (and this dock?)
 

tasslehawf

macrumors 6502
Jun 13, 2003
468
0
Austin, TX
I really really hope to see some more products, even at the development stage, to bring 2+ monitor support to Thunderbolt equipped Macs.

I'm not buying two $1k displays to get two external monitors on a Macbook Pro. The only other solution involves tricking the Mac into thinking two displays are one, which is a pretty old solution.
 

redscull

macrumors 6502a
Jul 1, 2010
773
730
Texas
Hence the reason it would make a lot of sense to incorporate it into a display like the ATD.
Until 1-2 years later when that integrated card would be considered a dinosaur yet the display itself is still perfectly awesome. If the card can't be swapped, it's really not a good deal. Monitor lifetimes are a lot longer than video cards.
 

bryanck

macrumors member
Jan 18, 2008
35
10
WOW this is just what I am looking for! There will be almost no reason to get a desktop computer if performance of this equals that of a PCIe card. I think PCIe bandwidth maxes out at 16gbytes/sec, and Thunderbolt is 10gBITS/sec, so it will be interesting to see how it performs.
 

Elijahg

macrumors 6502
May 23, 2005
269
173
Bath, UK
So we know that hackintoshes can use traditional PC video cards in OSX by adding strings. Can this knowledge be used to make PC video cards work on real Mac Pros (and this dock?)
It works that way because the Hackintosh motherboard uses BIOS, which is compatible with PC graphics cards. OS X uses EFI, and communicates with the cards through an EFI -> BIOS emulator, so PC cards can talk to the OS in BIOS mode. Standard PC graphics cards aren't compatible with the Mac's EFI, so they need special firmware. If Microshaft pushed EFI a bit harder, then the PC graphics cards would work in Macs, as they'd have EFI and BIOS firmware.
 

Hellhammer

Moderator emeritus
Dec 10, 2008
22,166
580
Finland
It'd be easy enough for MSI to include a power cable inside the case for beefy graphics cards. Hell, you could hack your own together without much bother if you had a powerful enough PSU sitting around.
I think the problem is that it would need a beefier PSU which obviously costs extra and may need more cooling as well.

Considering the MacBook Pro AC adapter is only 80W, any external GPU will be an upgrade. It also means ditching a dedicated GPU in a hypothetical 15" MacBook Air so that cooling can be entirely focused on the CPU.
Definitely, but it's questionable whether it's worth it to pay hundreds of dollars for this enclosure and then be stuck with low-end GPUs. I would want at least AMD 68xx or NVidia 56x or equivalent.

Can I simply opt to stick an audio card instead of a GPU card into this chassis?
As in a Protools card or similar?

best,
SvK
It's just a PCIe slot so theoretically you should be.

This would be nice for the upcoming Quad MBAs if it gets fully supported. Especially if they make a model capable of supporting high end cards like a GTX580. Would be cool to have 2 slots for SLI.
1. We won't see quad core MBAs until Haswell at the earliest, most likely Broadwell (2014). 15" MBA is the only chance but it doesn't exist yet.

2. SLI is only functional under Windows and your CPU would definitely be a bottleneck if you SLI'd two GTX 580s.

Hence the reason it would make a lot of sense to incorporate it into a display like the ATD. Perhaps Apple could seel an "Apple Thunderbolt Display S" with a discrete GPU like the one that they put into the base iMacs. It wouldn't tax the PCIe bus, but would still provide a decent boost for gaming.
I think the problem would be price. Sony asked ~$500 for the Power Media Dock for Vaio Z and it had AMD 66xxM GPU. Personally, I wouldn't be ready to pay more than a hundred extra for low-end GPU. 27" display has a lot pixels to push anyway so number crushing power is needed if you want to do any serious gaming.

WOW this is just what I am looking for! There will be almost no reason to get a desktop computer if performance of this equals that of a PCIe card. I think PCIe bandwidth maxes out at 16gbytes/sec, and Thunderbolt is 10gBITS/sec, so it will be interesting to see how it performs.
Thunderbolt = 20Gbit/s
PCIe 2.0 x16 = 64Gbit/s
PCIe 3.0 x16 = 128Gbit/s
 

Ausn

macrumors member
Jul 29, 2010
43
0
That would help me hapes with playing games on my iMac 27".
Too bad that I have the late 2010 Model without TB. Wait, I'll have to shoot myself daaaaaaaaaarn
 

jmcgeejr

macrumors 6502
Oct 7, 2010
460
7
Seattle, WA
It works that way because the Hackintosh motherboard uses BIOS, which is compatible with PC graphics cards. OS X uses EFI, and communicates with the cards through an EFI -> BIOS emulator, so PC cards can talk to the OS in BIOS mode. Standard PC graphics cards aren't compatible with the Mac's EFI, so they need special firmware. If Microshaft pushed EFI a bit harder, then the PC graphics cards would work in Macs, as they'd have EFI and BIOS firmware.
I am pretty sure I read that ever since 10.6.8 mac has now been addressing video using bios and not EFI. I could be wrong.
 

Elijahg

macrumors 6502
May 23, 2005
269
173
Bath, UK
I think PCIe bandwidth maxes out at 16gbytes/sec, and Thunderbolt is 10gBITS/sec, so it will be interesting to see how it performs.
You are correct, though 16gigabyte/sec PCIe (v2.0) is 32 lane, which is uncommon. Most motherboards have a maximum of 16 lanes per PCIe port, which is about 8gigabytes/sec.

There are some tests showing the difference between 8 and 16 lane PCIe, and the results are negligible. Thunderbolt is only 4 lane however, which is about 2gigabytes/sec. It remains to be seen what performance is like.


Thunderbolt = 20Gbit/s
PCIe 2.0 x16 = 64Gbit/s
PCIe 3.0 x16 = 128Gbit/s
Thunderbolt is only 20Gbit/sec when two channels are used. I don't know if you can use two channels to one PCI slot, if not, you're limited to 10Gbit/sec.
 

george-brooks

macrumors 6502a
Oct 31, 2011
732
16
Brooklyn, NY
All of these new thunderbolt accessories are pushing me more and more towards an iMac over a mac pro, but I wonder, is it cost effective? First you have to buy the thunderbolt peripherals (2 or 3 in my case for eSATA, this one for GPU, et al) and then on top of that, you have to buy what you actually want to connect with them! Maybe it will actually end up being cheaper to get a mac pro with expansion slots already in it.