Thunderbolt Device Promises Desktop-Class GPU Performance for MacBooks [Updated]

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A Kickstarter project for a high-performance desktop GPU that can plug into a MacBook via Thunderbolt and is compatible with the Oculus Rift VR headset has raised its backing target of $50,000 in less than 24 hours.

The Wolfe is a portable box that contains an Nvidia desktop-class graphics card and connects to a MacBook or other laptop via Thunderbolt 2 (or potentially Thunderbolt 3), and promises vastly improved performance for gaming, virtual reality, graphic design, and video editing.


The team behind the Wolfe claims owners of newer laptops can expect performance increases up to 500 percent when using a Wolfe box, or up to 1000 percent with the Wolfe Pro, while older computers are said to see even more dramatic performance gains.
[*]The Wolfe contains an NVIDIA GTX 950 GPU - 768 cores operating at 1024MHz, for a peak compute power of 1.57 TeraFLOPS.
[*]The Wolfe Pro runs on an NVIDIA GTX 970 GPU - 1664 cores operating at 1050MHz, for a peak compute power of 3.49 TeraFLOPS.What about NVIDIA's 10-series GPUs? As of right now, The Wolfe Pro includes an NVIDIA GTX 970. However, it's more than likely that Wolfe Pro level backers will be able to opt for the new GTX 1060 in our post-campaign survey for even better performance.
The box runs off a 220W PSU and has three DisplayPort 1.2 connections, one HDMI 2.0 and one DVI-I port. The Thunderbolt connection also offers the potential for more than one Wolfe box to be used with one laptop, for building a render farm or for a multi-monitor setup, say the makers.

Kickstarter early-bird pledges of $399 or more get backers a Wolfe box powered by a GTX 950 with the option of Thunderbolt 2 or 3 connectivity, while a standard pledge costs $449. An early-bird pledge for the Wolfe Pro is $549 ($599 for a standard pledge). A Wolfe DIY pack for modders who want to use their own GPU costs $269.

The makers note that while the Wolfe will increase laptop display performance, the best results are expected to come with using an external monitor or VR headset, due to the inherent bandwidth restrictions in Thunderbolt 2.

The project was conceived by a group of Harvard computer science graduates and Mac-owning gaming enthusiasts, after they hacked together a prototype GPU box in a DeWolfe dorm room at Harvard.

The team has continued to improve the hardware and software at the Harvard Innovation Lab, with the aim of making Macs "performance powerhouses" and "to stop big companies from charging outrageous prices for minuscule upgrades" by letting users take control of their computer's performance. The Kickstarter project page quotes a shipping aim of February 2017.

The project comes five months after Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey suggested VR headset support for the Mac was "up to Apple," and that the company needed to "prioritize higher-end GPUs." If Apple builds a machine that can handle the hardware, Oculus VR would "love to support Mac," said Luckey.

Update September 23: The Wolfe team has canceled its Kickstarter campaign and refunded all pledges due to uncertainty over product certification.
We're writing today to share some important news: we are going to be cancelling our Kickstarter campaign, and refunding your pledges in full. Our success has attracted the attention of some big players in the industry, who recently reached out to us about the Wolfe. Through these conversations, it became clear there would be some uncertainty in attaining the product certifications essential for the Thunderbolt 2 (and thus macOS) versions of the Wolfe.
The team notes it remains committed to the project and is working with "new partners in the industry" to develop "an even better product."

Article Link: Thunderbolt Device Promises Desktop-Class GPU Performance for MacBooks [Updated]
 

keysofanxiety

macrumors G3
Nov 23, 2011
9,534
25,264
We've hoping for external GPUs for so long now; I remember when Thunderbolt first came out, that was one of the ideas MR readers were really excited about. A thin, light laptop with great battery life for portability - then just plug in an external GPU if you want to do high end gaming. Shame it never really materialised.

I really hope Apple are considering this. They wouldn't even have to really do any work. Just release an SDK to allow this functionality on OS X and 3rd party graphics manufacturers can do the hard part of releasing the hardware. I know it would be massively popular.
 

scottylans

macrumors regular
Aug 31, 2008
139
17
Really? You're marketing to the Apple crowd with money and doing all this work on a external box, cabling, power and what have you and putting in a 950 series nvidia card? Wow. 1060 in the very least.
 

SandboxGeneral

Moderator emeritus
Sep 8, 2010
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Pretty neat. It reminds me of the Alienware graphics amplifier as an external device for boosting performance.

I can see how this would be quite useful for many people.
 

obiwan

macrumors 6502
Jun 7, 2004
351
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There are a number of products and solutions out there that already do this. However, they are extortionately expensive - and require a bit of hacking to get working.

I've never really understood why external thunderbolt enclosures are SO expensive. It's basically a box with a power supply and a thunderbolt controller card inside. The majority of them are not big enough to fit a full length/size graphics card, and also often don't have a power supply capable of driving the heavy power requirements of some of the beefiest graphics cards.

This is a welcome development though - and I hope it succeeds. I trust that the startup company will stand behind their product with full support, and keep maintaining the graphics card drivers, for a seamless user experience. I'm not quite sure how this will be achieved in practice though, as it seems Apple have made things difficult for the existing solutions to work. (Eg - it seems not possible to have an external GPU to power the built-in laptop display in OSX, it will only work with an external display on MacOS). On the demos I've seen, it requires a user to boot into Windows to get the external GPU to drive the built-in laptop display. It's not really a huge issue though, as I imagine the target audience for these type of devices will want to boot into Windows for some of the latest gaming titles, or be using an external display anyway.

I was considering building one of these myself with my son (who is an Avid gamer) but when I looked into the cost of such a unit (with existing components) it looked prohibitive. It would be cheaper to build a Hackintosh or a custom-build PC.
 
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moep

macrumors member
Jun 9, 2004
66
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The enclosure seems quite small for a full size card. I wonder if they use MXM modules?

Really? You're marketing to the Apple crowd with money and doing all this work on a external box, cabling, power and what have you and putting in a 950 series nvidia card? Wow. 1060 in the very least.
OS X has no Pascal drivers yet so an enclosure with a 1060 would be an expensive paperweight at this point.
 

mw360

macrumors 68000
Aug 15, 2010
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1,600
Really? You're marketing to the Apple crowd with money and doing all this work on a external box, cabling, power and what have you and putting in a 950 series nvidia card? Wow. 1060 in the very least.
950 or 970. Gives them an easy differentiator between the models. One is below Oculus spec and one above. Nice, clear and Apple-like up-selling.
 

flyinmac

macrumors 68040
Sep 2, 2006
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24-hours after the product ships its first unit, Apple announces it is abandoning the obsolete and embarrassingly outdated Thunderbolt support in all of their computer devices and operating systems. Announcing the new Apple interface "iScream", which eventually becomes affectionately known as "rush hour".

Their new marketing slogan "we know you're all in a hurry, but it's important to enjoy some idle time in the queue."
 

simonmet

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Sep 9, 2012
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Average choice of GPUs. Asus are putting real versions of the GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 in their laptops and others will soon follow. They're only lower clock speeds from the desktop versions.

Thunderbolt 3 should support 1080 and better high performance GPUs. I guess that explains the poorer choice in cards, TB2 probably can't utilise a 1080 to its maximum potential. But I'm only guessing on that.

Also, none of those cards available are any good for 4K or VR so that picture of the guy wearing the headset is kind of misleading.
 
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multipasser

macrumors member
Dec 11, 2010
70
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I wonder if apple even looked at the new nvidia pascal gpu's? As the mobiles are almost at desktop level speeds! Which would make the macbooks again top of the market. Especially with the new i7's. Finally we would have CUDA on mac..
 
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blackcrayon

macrumors 68020
Mar 10, 2003
2,055
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Certainly an easy way to modernize a 2013 Mac Pro a little, since Apple won't!

A little surprised Apple hasn't gotten on the external GPU train since they're so involved with and invested in Thunderbolt. I know they don't like selling "upgrades" other than a new machine, but they could sell a ton of these even to new buyers, Macbook Pro, Mac Pro, iMac - extra radio buttons in the online store for how many external GTX 1080 Thunderbolt 3 boxes you want to add ;)
 
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wheelhot

macrumors 68020
Nov 23, 2007
2,080
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Really? You're marketing to the Apple crowd with money and doing all this work on a external box, cabling, power and what have you and putting in a 950 series nvidia card? Wow. 1060 in the very least.
Guess you didn't read the article, Nvidia 10 series card was mentioned
[doublepost=1472036493][/doublepost]
I wonder if apple even looked at the new nvidia pascal gpu's? As the mobiles are almost at desktop level speeds! Which would make the macbooks again top of the market. Especially with the new i7's. Finally we would have CUDA on mac..
Well I just hope Apple would release the new MacBook Pros with Pascal GPUs, and in 13"/14" and 15"/16" variants, that'll make it a easy sell
 

Ries

macrumors 68020
Apr 21, 2007
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TB1/TB2 doesn't really support eGPU 100% due to some issues for GFX cards, you have to jump through hoops abit to get it to work somewhat. TB3 added official support for eGPU.
 
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alvindarkness

macrumors 6502a
Jul 11, 2009
560
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This is a welcome development though - and I hope it succeeds. I trust that the startup company will stand behind their product with full support, and keep maintaining the graphics card drivers, for a seamless user experience. I'm not quite sure how this will be achieved in practice though, as it seems Apple have made things difficult for the existing solutions to work. (Eg - it seems not possible to have an external GPU to power the built-in laptop display in OSX, it will only work with an external display on MacOS).
nvidia themselves supply the driver, they have a "web driver" on their website that supports kepler and maxwell cards. Been used by many a mac pro owner, and hackintosher, to allow more modern nvidia gpu's on OSX with great success. Unfortunetly no support for Pascal yet, hence no 1060/1070/etc support. Traditionally there has been a decent (6 month plus) delay between a new architecture coming out and nvidia supporting it on macOS. I'm hoping once sierra is out properly and their sierra drivers are out of beta that Pascal support will be added, can only hope!

I was considering building one of these myself with my son (who is an Avid gamer) but when I looked into the cost of such a unit (with existing components) it looked prohibitive. It would be cheaper to build a Hackintosh or a custom-build PC.
Yeh with the right hardware, you can get a very capable/compatible hackintosh and pc gaming combination that works out really well.
 
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JOLoughlin

macrumors member
Aug 20, 2008
39
42
I assume these dudes are running Bootcamp. VR software for macOS just doesn't exists. Gaming on macOS? Come on? Seems useful though but a little misleading, No?

I think the idea is to encourage future support for macOS in these sectors.
 

Cindori

macrumors 68040
Jan 17, 2008
3,523
372
Sweden
For all of you complaining about the choice of GPU: There is no GTX 1000 series driver support in macOS. These guys can't change that. It's why they are stuck with 900 series.

I assume these dudes are running Bootcamp. VR software for macOS just doesn't exists. Gaming on macOS? Come on? Seems useful though but a little misleading, No?

I think the idea is to encourage future support for macOS in these sectors.
www.vrdesktop.com
 
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