Real World Test of eGPU on 2018 MBA?

- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
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Oakland, CA
I'm curious if anyone has hooked an eGPU up to the new macbook air.

I'm not looking for miracle gaming, but for when the machine is docked for it to support dual 4K monitors in true 4k or a large 5k. Having slightly higher graphics settings on a game here or there is a bonus, but I'm talking more about raw desktop graphics performance.

One reason I'm curious about this is that I'm hopeful an ARM based macbook is on the 18 month horizon. And it would be nice to get stronger graphics capability when docked now, that can also be leveraged by a follow-on machine.

Edit: I found 9to5mac demonstrates an epu with the new macbook air, but they do it more from a docking convenience of a single usb-c:

I actually think there's a lot to this, given how much discussion has gone on here regarding dongles.
 
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- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
I looked up graphics benchmarks on the Macbook Air 2018 Intel UHD Graphics 617 and compared it with the AMD Radeon RX580 which I believe is what is in the $700 Apple / Blackmagic eGPU unit.

I am not sure, but it looks like adding this would offer 10x graphics performance on this machine when docked.

Here is the comparison from Notebook Check, a site I'm admittedly not generally familiar with for benchmarking:



This must not be a popular area of discussion. I primarily use the MBA in docked mode but need its portability. I currently use a 4k Dell P2715Q monitor with edifier speakers. It is a nice workstation!

However, it does feel like the new MBA 2018 still doesn't zip in a 4k desktop environment, like moving between spaces for example. And fwiw, I am interested in just somewhat better performance in the occasional 3D game. Believe it or not on low settings the MBA is powerful enough to have an enjoyable time.

That said, I am very curious about the Blackmagic eGPU particularly because it is silent. My workspace is essentially silent which is great and I do not want to add a big box that makes a bunch of noise. I also don't want to deal with incompatibilities or making a GPU upgrade a project. I have many other projects to tinker with that I already enjoy.

I am not a benchmarking pro, and I don't know if the CPU used in the above 580 test is comparable with the MBA 2018 7W or not.

Can anyone give me feedback on this comparison? I'm mostly interested in people who primarily dock the MBA (or even a recent MBP) I'm not interested in hearing "go build a PC it is cheaper" or "go build your own eGPU it is cheaper"
 
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- rob -

macrumors 6502a
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Apr 18, 2012
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Sorry to keep topping this, but I convinced myself of the potential of this pairing.

I ordered the Blackmagic eGPU for my 2018 MBA today! Should be here in a week or so.

I'll perform my own benchmarking and post review when I have it. I'm kind of surprised there isn't more info on this setup but I think eGPU is still a bit of the wild west right now.
 
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0014

macrumors 6502a
May 23, 2016
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Sorry to keep topping this, but I convinced myself of the potential of this pairing.

I ordered the Blackmagic eGPU for my 2018 MBA today! Should be here in a week or so.

I'll perform my own benchmarking and post review when I have it. I'm kind of surprised there isn't more info on this setup but I think eGPU is still a bit of the wild west right now.
I'd be interested to see your real world results. I have a MBA too and toying with the idea of giving this to my wife and getting a MBP after WWDC. Or just buying her a MBA of her own and keeping mine but adding an eGPU.
 

- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
I'd be interested to see your real world results. I have a MBA too and toying with the idea of giving this to my wife and getting a MBP after WWDC. Or just buying her a MBA of her own and keeping mine but adding an eGPU.
Ya, I'm looking forward to this test also. The shipping time on it is pretty slow, with a note that it is longer than normal:



I'm going to try and brush up on benchmarking in the meantime so I can get some decent results to share.
[doublepost=1547139823][/doublepost]One more thing: I tried to get this at my local Apple Store and they did not carry it. I was kind of surprised.
 
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- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
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Oakland, CA
I know nothing about this field, so I'm looking forward to hearing about your experience.
Ya, I'm going to learn a fair amount in the process.
A google unearthed the following, which sounds, er, interesting:
https://mashable.com/review/blackmagic-egpu-review/
This review follows a common trope around upgradeability and price.

A few other things that affected that review were that supposedly mojave has improved the eGPU experience a fair amount. I'm hopeful that software revisions both in the OS and relevant applications since this review have reduced the bugs.

I'm planning to use it only with an external display. I get that the writer had trouble, but it is a little over the top to talk about wanting to smash the product to pieces and cursing the companies that made it. My review will be drama free in this regard.

I've been working with a Macbook Air in clamshell mode at quiet workstations for maybe 4 or 5 generations of the machine. Across cinema displays and now the P2715Q. I believe I'm in the target market for this product so I am expecting it to "just work" in many ways.

Thanks for sharing this, i did not see it before. I will definitely a link to your results and consider trying to mirror them with the Blackmagic.
 
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- rob -

macrumors 6502a
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Apr 18, 2012
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Oakland, CA
Minor update that I'm still waiting on shipping of this item. It hasn't moved from processing yet. This makes me think it is not a very popular product because supplies are so constrained. I can only imagine it is being built right now.
 
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- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
The eGPU shipped and should arrive Tuesday.

One of my key questions is how much impact the BlackMagic can have on the Valve game, DOTA 2. It took me a bit to figure out how to benchmark this under MacOS.

But I found what appears to be a possibility, which is the Phoronix Test Suite coupled with a Dota 2 specific test from OpenBenchmarking which I was already able to test at 4k on the UHD 617.

If anyone is interested in benchmarking tools, Phoronix is worth a look.

Download here

Decompress and from the command line you just install a test and run it.

Presuming you've already installed the Steam client and Dota 2, you would just run:
  • ./phoronix-test-suite install pts/dota2
  • ./phoronix-test-suite run pts/dota2
It does the rest of the work on an automated basis, even allowing you to selectively upload the results anonymously to openbenchmarking. There are a lot of other benchmarking tests that run on a mac. Worth a look.

Anyhow, I am more interested in how the eGPU and its ports affect normal day-to-day use of a clamshelled macbook workstation. But am interested to find this stuff about benchmarking along the way.
 

Silver Idaten

macrumors 6502a
Jul 31, 2015
572
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Stratford, CT
I’m buying a 2018 MBA today (16GB/512GB), while I’m looking to get one of the new Razer Blades later this year for gaming, I’m going to follow this because I’m curious what happens! Back when I had a 2013 MBA I was able to do some light gaming on it, namely Empire at War and Civ V, so that was cool.
 

- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
I’m buying a 2018 MBA today (16GB/512GB), while I’m looking to get one of the new Razer Blades later this year for gaming, I’m going to follow this because I’m curious what happens! Back when I had a 2013 MBA I was able to do some light gaming on it, namely Empire at War and Civ V, so that was cool.
Nice. It is a good machine. I used to build PC gaming rigs but only used them when I was playing games--which is not all that much compared to my main workhorse (now a loaded 2018 MBA)
 

Silver Idaten

macrumors 6502a
Jul 31, 2015
572
861
Stratford, CT
Nice. It is a good machine. I used to build PC gaming rigs but only used them when I was playing games--which is not all that much compared to my main workhorse (now a loaded 2018 MBA)
I feel pretty comfortable with the 512GB, I just wanted something larger than my iPad Pro which is 256GB. I couldn't justify the cost of an additional $800 for the 1.5TB, especially since I have lots of external storage.

I may get the new Razer Blade, but we're also considering building our own rig finally when we move into our new house next month. I did just drop $2,100 on this after AppleCare, so it's probably time to cool it for a bit. I just wanted to be rid of the Dell 7577 I bought last year that I can't stand.
 
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Acronyc

macrumors 6502a
Jan 24, 2011
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The black magic looks like a very nicely designed, quite eGPU and I’m curious as to your experience. If it doesn’t meet your expectations or you aren’t happy with it there are lots of enclosures out there that offer more future upgrade possibilities (most take standard desktop GPUs). Check out eGPU.io if you haven’t already. It’s a great eGPU resource.
 

- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
I got the Blackmagic eGPU an hour ago or so and got rid of a ton of cords and cables and plugged it in. It worked immediately with no configuration whatsover. The box looks sick and the entire workstation area is now much cleaner.

My initial impression is that this product, or at least the idea of eGPU in general on a MBA is highly underrated. Especially if you're trying to run the machine in clamshell on a 4k. It is way, way better. From the Dock animations to Messages you can tell the difference from driving these things with a Radeon 580 compared to the laptop's Intel graphics.

Because it was queued up, I also ran my benchmark from before and saw a big leap in performance in DOTA 2. The eGPU is virtually silent.

I am going to a full post about this so I'm going to hold back the findings until I can do clean boot comparisons of each and more tests.

But I can say right now if you use an MBA in clamshell w an external 4k monitor, the standard BlackMagic eGPU is a game changer.
 
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mtectail

macrumors newbie
Mar 27, 2019
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Germany - North sea
I started it but need to pick it up again. I settled into using it and lost the edge. I still intend to publish. I’ll try to drop it this week.
Anything in progress you made so far, I've a BM + BM Pro for testing ~ from my day to day work and some games in MacOS I would like to stay with the BP Pro, but its twice the price in Germany, compared to BM non-Pro - with the 14 Days return policy in Apple Store Europe I had time to test the Pro ... the non-Pro is on the way... shipped

I, for my personal experience with the Pro, I'll stay with this box but the non-Pro BM arrived today @ my neighbor ... so I have to wait when he is back... Tomorrow maybe...

So far I can provide any information about the BP Pro, its very fast and silent when under pressure and in normal use, the fan will shut down later than your Mac as it does some "after-work-recooling-process". that's the thing I was curious about but shut down in a couple of minutes...
 

WickedPorter

macrumors 6502
Sep 28, 2012
271
211
I'm using the 2018 13" MBP, so slightly different "host" ... but thought I'd chime in. I'm running the Razer Core X with a Sapphire AMD Vega 56 GPU. In MacOS, no configuration, all works well and drives dual external 4K monitors with no issue (Dell P2715Q).

I've installed Win10 on an External Samsung X5 TB3 SSD primarily for gaming. Win10 runs very smoothly and gaming is fantastic, however the internal/MacBook display does not work in this configuration. I simply run it in clamshell mode when booting in to Windows ... don't need all three displays for gaming.

Overall very happy with this configuration.
 

- rob -

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 18, 2012
564
327
Oakland, CA
Anything in progress you made so far, I've a BM + BM Pro for testing ~ from my day to day work and some games in MacOS I would like to stay with the BP Pro, but its twice the price in Germany, compared to BM non-Pro - with the 14 Days return policy in Apple Store Europe I had time to test the Pro ... the non-Pro is on the way... shipped

I, for my personal experience with the Pro, I'll stay with this box but the non-Pro BM arrived today @ my neighbor ... so I have to wait when he is back... Tomorrow maybe...

So far I can provide any information about the BP Pro, its very fast and silent when under pressure and in normal use, the fan will shut down later than your Mac as it does some "after-work-recooling-process". that's the thing I was curious about but shut down in a couple of minutes...
Hey my apologies for the delay in this report. I have thought about it and still intend to offer it.

I have had a lot of other stuff come up including a big art project for Burning Man and you know how when you get used to good equipment it sort of becomes part of your “normal” workflow.

I’ll try to get it shared. I still really dig the BM, but I am very curious about it’s ability to drive this mythical 6k monitor. I’ve been posting about this in that MR thread.

My biggest concern with the BM right now is that sometimes it fails to display on my Dell P2715Q perfectly coming out of sleep. I occasionally have to unplug and replug th hdmi cable.

Also, this isn’t on the BM but some video tasks are reliant on CPU, particularly h.264. And the BM doesn’t seem to help that, apart from possibly reducing some overhead from the onboard gpu’s use of the cpu. This is something of an issue on the 2018 MBA which has a pretty weak cpu.
 
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