Mac egpu gaming. Gaming on a Mac: Part 1

Radeon 5700XT in PowerColor eGPU with MacBook Pro Review

Yes, the Radeon 5700xt is plug-and-play with MacOS Catalina and delivers performance on par with an Nvidia 1080ti or 2070. That’s probably all you care about if you’re reading this post. Having received some bad information from a well-meaning salesperson at the Houston MicroCenter, I thought I’d put my experience out there for your Google/Bing satisfaction.

The quick backstory is that I have a 2016 MacBook Pro 15″ laptop:

  • 2.9 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 6920HQ
  • 16 GB 2133 MHz LPDDR3 RAM
  • Radeon Pro 460 w/ 4GB VRAM Integrated 530 Intel HD Graphics

2020 MacBook Air eGPU. Fortnite Gaming at 60FPS?

These specs are still pretty high end 3-years later and perfectly sufficient for my daily revenue-generating activities, but no match for a 1200 Windows gaming rig with a medium-level 400 graphics card.

PowerColor Gaming Station with Mac Review

So in order to get desktop-level graphics performance on your Mac laptop or Mac Mini, you just need to acquire two things:

I bought the PowerColor Gaming Station at Microcenter because of its availability, specs, and price:

  • 550W power supply with 87-watt charging
  • 5 USB-A ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 185 open-box, grab-and-go at MicroCenter

I had initially ordered a Razer Core X Chroma from Amazon for 399, because the Razer is widely praised as the best EGPU for Mac users, it looks good, and it had all of those aforementioned ports, which would allow me to dump my USB hub.

��Mac EGPU NVIDIA��Доказано!☝️

But Amazon Prime was suffering from unusually slow delivery estimates (4 calendar days), I had a lot of time on my hands over the winter holiday, and I really didn’t want to pay 400 for what’s basically a box with a power supply and LED lighting that I neither wanted nor could even control.

A 10-minute drive later, Microcenter not only had the Gaming Station in stock, but they also had an open-box unit for an even bigger discount, and I’m a sucker for discounts. I inspected the goods in the store and decided it looked fine. FWIW, they also sell a 20 2-year warranty with same-day exchanges if you’re squeamish about open-box stuff.

The PowerColor ended up being basically a Razer Core X Chroma for half the cost (minus the 700w power supply and uncontrollable LED lighting).

PowerColor Gaming Station Pros

  • It’s relatively cheap at less than 250
  • The USB ports and Gigabit Ethernet are really nice to have
  • 87-watt charging via USB-C
  • It just works

Powercolor Gaming Station Cons

  • 310mm max graphics card length (aka 2-fans and NOT 3-fans)
  • Get your screwdrivers out
  • Ethernet didn’t work out of the box (see below)
  • Dorky branding

The PowerColor Gaming Station just works and all of those ports allowed me to shelve my dongle/hub (except when I need an SD card reader for my camera).

But the box was relatively difficult to open up and install the card in. The metal (some sort of steel?) was really hard to pull apart initially. And I had to fiddle with at least 3-screws to get everything open and the card seated properly.

While this frustration only required about 30-minutes, I did need my specialized screwdriver set (tiny Philips-head screws); FWIW, the Razer gets by with 0 screws.

egpu, gaming, part

Radeon 5700 XT with Cities Skylines

For my graphics card, I bought the Sapphire Radeon 5700 XT Pulse Overclocked from Microcenter. This AMD card was basically the most powerful, reasonably priced card available at the time with Mac compatibility. Also I couldn’t get the 3-fan “Nitro” variant, because it was too long for the PowerColor.

Remember, Mac native support for the 5000-series AMD cards only started with Mac OS Catalina 10.15, so if you haven’t updated yet, you will have to in order to get plug-and-play with the latest cards like this one.

I started going down this EGPU route in earnest when I realized that CitiesSkylines has the capability to run smoothly on a better machine. Specifically, my 850k-population city ran silky smooth on my partner’s HP Omen X (i7-6700k, Nvidia 1080i, 32gb RAM, 32″ QHD monitor).

Cities Skylines City Specs

With that city and the new EGPU, I’m averaging 35-45 frames per second (FPS) with max graphics settings at 3440×1440 full screen resolution (34″ QHD).

And I can barely tell that the Mac, EGPU, or 5700XT is running. In fact, the noise and heat are probably less than when I used the Mac’s discreet graphics card.

I installed GeekBench 5 and was pleasantly surprised to get a Metal Score of 69,157, which is apparently on par with an NVIDIA GTX 1080ti!

Ethernet Driver for Mac EGPU

The only part about the PowerColor EGPU that was not plug-and-play was the gigabit ethernet port. It simply did not work even after multiple restarts.

I e-mailed PowerColor and they responded within 24-hours saying to ask Apple for a driver–not helpful.

Anyhow, a little internet sleuthing led me to the support website of ASIX, which is a Taiwanese company that apparently makes a lot of these Ethernet adapters. On their website, I downloaded the AX88179/AX8817A driver.

Read the on-screen prompts during installation! MacOS will ask you to go into Security Privacy (page 14 of the installation guide) and click on some buttons to allow the driver to work. If you do not click on those buttons, installation will fail, and you’ll get stuck in installation limbo. The only way I got out of installation limbo was to manually power cycle my laptop with the power button.

After I properly installed the driver, I’m getting about 935 Mbps download on my ATT Fiber connection, which is way better than the 135 Mbps I was getting on my Nest Mesh router.

Constant Crashing in April 2020 (Fixed)

Beginning in early April 2020, my Mac started to crash regularly, like every day or multiple times a day (it was previously stable). The mouse cursor would become very laggy and input response would be similarly laggy and slow. Unplugging the EGPU and opening up the MacBook Pro could sometimes prevent a full-on crash, but usually the machine had to be physically powered on and off or it would automatically restart itself.

This crashing seemed to coincide with a security update to Mac OS to 10.15.4 and an Adobe Photoshop update–using Photoshop almost always resulted within a crash within 5-minutes. However, the Mac also full-on crashed while playing Cities Skylines (albeit after about 5-hours of play; make sure you have auto-save turned on)!

A solution seems to be to connect the Mac directly to the monitor versus connecting the monitor to the EGPU. After I switched to this setup, the crashing has ceased. However, the Mac now runs much hotter and louder when being taxed in Cities Skylines as if it were doing some heavy lifting (although the game still runs smoothly on my 34″ curved QHD monitor with half a million sims).

Update June 15, 2020 – The update to Mac OS Catalina 10.15.5 seems to fix the crashing issue. I have reconnected my monitor using a DVI-HDMI cable direct to the video card (instead of the Mac) in the Gaming Station and haven’t crashed in nearly a week! I’ve also turned off automatic OS updates for the future.

Update February 27, 2021 – A little over one year after setting up the EGPU, I’ve dismantled the setup and switched to a Mac Mini M1 for my revenue-generating activities and a Lenovo Legion 7i for my portable gaming needs. Apple just never really seemed to fully support the EGPU. Every new OS update seemed to break something. And iMovie never worked at all with it. The death of my 2016 MacBook Pro battery gave me an excuse to try the new M1 Macs, and I realized it was just easier to play my games on a Windows machine.

Gaming on a Mac: Part 1

How many times have you heard, “You can’t game on a Mac! You need a PC for that!” That’s been the mantra I’ve heard for several years now. It was somewhat true. You could play games on a Mac, you just had to use lower settings and the gameplay wasn’t as enjoyable. But then Apple introduced the Thunderbolt 3 port on their newer Macs and :gasp: support for external GPUs!

With my utopia finally a possibility I ordered my eGPU from Sonnet Technologies. Sonnet was the first approved eGPU vendor announced by Apple. After much research I decided on the AMD Radeon Vega 64 card from MSI, which according to Sonnet’s documentation required the eGFX Breakaway Box 650.

With the eGFX Breakaway Box and the Vega 64 delivered, I turned my attention to the computer. I ordered one of the newer Mac Mini’s with a 6 core i7 processor, 64 GB of RAM and a 2 TB SSD drive.

Here in Part 1, I will cover the installation and setup of the card into the box, and then the connection to the Mac Mini.

Part 2 we will look at World of Warcraft, my favorite MMORPG to see if there is a noticeable boost in performance.

Installing the MSI-branded AMD Radeon Vega 64

Installing the AMD Vega 64 was a breeze. You remove three thumbscrews to open the case, and one more to remove the shield over the screw holes where the video card is secured. The Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box has a PCIe slot and card popped right in. The power supplied by the box was perfect, I didn’t need the adapter that came with the card. Once the card was screwed in and plugged in, I took a few pictures. Here is a front and top view of the card in the eGFX Breakaway Box.

The cover popped right back on and I tightened it down with the three thumbscrews.

Connecting the eGFX Breakaway Box to the Mac Mini

Connecting the box up to the Mac Mini was super easy. I hooked up the DisplayPort cable from my monitor to the DisplayPort on the Vega 64, and I connected the Thunderbolt3 cable between the Mac Mini and the eGFX Breakaway Box. After that, I powered on the Mac Mini and the display came up with no issues.

Verify that the eGFX Breakaway Box and the Vega 64 are recognized on the Mac Mini

When MacOS sees an external GPU, the eGPU icon (left most icon in the picture) shows up in the top bar. You can click on it to safely eject the eGPU if needed…I have a feeling this is more useful on laptops than desktops.

You can also check the System Report screen. This will show you that the card is recognized and that the external GPU enclosure is recognized as well. You can get to this screen by clicking on the Apple – About this Mac – System Report – Graphics/Displays.

Setting applications to prefer the external GPU

Last but not least…in MacOS 10.14 Mojave, you can set applications to prefer the external GPU. This option only shows up if you have an eGPU installed. Right-click on the application in Finder and choose Get Info. Check the “Prefer External GPU” option and you’re all set!

Join me for Part 2 tomorrow where I fire up World of Warcraft and compare the two experiences…one with the internal graphics :shudder: and then with the eGPU in the mix.

How to set up your Mac with an external GPU

External GPUs are in the news lately, what with NVIDIA’s announcement offering macOS drivers for its Titan Xp and Apple offering an eGPU Developer Kit for High Sierra, so we thought we’d take a second to explain what, exactly, an external GPU is — and how you’d go about getting one.

External GPUs: Supercharging gaming and video production

All Macs have a CPU, which provides the primary processing power for your computer. But in addition, they have a GPU — a graphics processing unit — designed to drive your computer’s screen, external displays, and visuals.

GPUs are what sell high-end Windows gaming laptops and desktops: They keep your favorite game flawless, your external display running smoothly, and visual effects rendering speedy. They’re also very important in rendering VR experiences.

But all that power comes at the expense of battery and optimization: Heavy-duty GPUs are frequent power hogs with lots of fan noise and problematic battery life. As such, Apple has historically trended toward putting in GPUs that balanced power with optimization: great for your laptop’s battery life; not so great for gamers, VR, or visual effects artists.

Enter external GPUs: Like external hard drives, these essentially allow you to stick a GPU in a Thunderbolt housing, where you can then connect it to your computer; from there, when you run games, VR, and visual apps optimized for that GPU you should see significant performance improvements. Awesome, right? Well, almost.

The cons of an external GPU on your Mac

Here’s the issue: Macs won’t officially support external GPUs until macOS High Sierra. That’s not to say you can’t use an external GPU on older operating systems — only that Apple Support won’t bail you out if you do something that doesn’t agree with your Mac. Proceed at your own risk, here be dragons, et cetera.

In addition, should you decide to use an external GPU, there are only a handful of Thunderbolt enclosures and graphics cards with appropriate Mac drivers — you can’t just pick an arbitrary graphics card you’d like to attach to your Mac.

How to use an external GPU with your Mac

Thankfully, you don’t have to venture into the void without guidance: The eGPU.io community has put together a huge array of helpful how-tos and setup guides for interested users — I’m looking forward to using their startup guide and forums to make a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU for my MacBook Pro.

Questions?

Other questions about external GPUs? Let us know below.

How to use an external graphics processor (eGPU) on your Mac

Macs equipped with Thunderbolt 3 can boost graphics performance using an external graphics processor (eGPU). Here’s a rundown of how this technology works, what it’s good for, and how to get a Mac eGPU.

Over the past few years eGPUs have moved from fringe devices for bleeding-edge early adopters to mainstream peripherals that anyone can use to enhance the performance of their Mac. In this overview, we’ll break down the basics of eGPU use to give you a better understanding of what this tech means for you.

What is an eGPU?

An eGPU gives the Mac additional graphics performance. It’s an external box that houses a PCI Express-based graphics card. The device connects to the Mac using a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Thunderbolt 3 has the bandwidth needed to offload graphics processing to an external processor without creating delays or latency which affect on-screen performance.

eGPUs work with applications that support Apple’s Metal graphics API, as well as apps that support OpenGL and OpenCL. By installing an eGPU, you can help your Mac speed up video frame rates in demanding applications, increase the performance of rendering of complex visual effects and 3D scenes, decrease the amount of time your Mac spends exporting videos or complex image files, and even speed up performance in some games.

Which Macs support eGPUs?

Any Mac equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 port, running macOS 10.13.4 or later, can support an eGPU. Which ones it actually makes sense to use will depend on a few factors, including your specific needs and your budget. With starting as low as 250, there’s an eGPU rig in almost everyone’s budget.

If you’re working with a Mac laptop with limited graphics horsepower, such as a MacBook Air or a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an eGPU can provide with you with much more powerful graphics processing capabilities than you’d be able to otherwise manage. An eGPU chassis gives you a way of hooking up powerful graphics support when you need it, while maintaining lightweight portability when you don’t.

egpu, gaming, part

This also makes an eGPU chassis suitable for the Mac mini, which also comes with limited integrated graphics processors. But eGPUs work with any Mac that includes Thunderbolt 3 – so if you’re looking to give your iMac Pro or your 16-inch MacBook Pro a big shot in the arm for graphics performance, it’s worth a look.

What eGPUs work on the Mac?

An eGPU chassis equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports will work on the Mac. Apple maintains a list in a support document on its web site. eGPUs mentioned on Apple’s site include:

Different makers emphasize different features. Most include additional display support either using HDMI or DisplayPort interfaces, USB ports for additional peripheral connectivity, and other capabilities. There are a couple of things to look out for when shopping for a Mac eGPU. If you’re planning to work with a Mac laptop, for example, you want to make sure that the eGPU provides sufficient power to run both the graphics card and charge the Mac.

How much power you’re going to need will depend on which model of Mac laptop you’re using. As long as the eGPU chassis can provide up to 100W of power for a connected computer, you’ll be covered regardless of which Mac laptop you connect.

Some vendors sell eGPU chassis bare, so you can use your own graphics card. Others will install one so you’re all set and ready to go once it arrives. Just make sure the card will work with the Mac. That brings us to our next topic.

What eGPU cards work with the Mac?

One important thing to know when you’re shopping for a Mac eGPU – you’ll see a lot of sites hawking eGPUs populated with Nvidia cards. Unfortunately, they’re not a good choice for the Mac. Apple explains:

The GPU drivers delivered with macOS are also designed to enable a high quality, high performance experience when using an eGPU, as described in the list of recommended eGPU chassis and graphics card configurations below. Because of this deep system integration, only graphics cards that use the same GPU architecture as those built into Mac products are supported in macOS.

While Nvidia-based graphics cards are broadly popular on the Windows platform, Apple is much more closely aligned with Nvidia rival AMD. The eGPU configurations Apple recommends all support AMD Radeon graphics cards.

The good news is that you don’t need a specialty card made expressly for eGPUs. You just need one with macOS eGPU driver support. Any commodity Windows graphics card that uses these AMD chip architectures should work, according to Apple:

  • AMD Polaris architecture, including Radeon RX 470, RX 480, RX 570, RX 580, and Radeon Pro WX 7100
  • AMD Vega 56 architecture, including Radeon RX Vega 56
  • AMD Vega 64 architecture, including Radeon RX Vega 64, Vega Frontier Edition Air, and Radeon Pro WX 9100
  • AMD Navi RDNA architecture, including Radeon RX 5700, 5700 XT, and 5700 XT 50th Anniversary. Apple notes that support for these cards requires macOS Catalina 10.15.1 or later.

How do apps work with an eGPU?

Apple bakes its own eGPU driver support into macOS, and has since macOS 10.13.4. Apple’s eGPU drivers can accelerate apps that support Apple’s Metal Application Programming Interface (API), OpenGL, and OpenCL as well.

eGPU support varies from app to app, so it’s wisest to check with the makers of the apps you depend on before assuming an eGPU will work. But an increasing number of apps for creative professionals, gamers, architects, scientists and engineers benefit from eGPU support.

egpu, gaming, part

Some apps will require that you use a display connected directly to the eGPU to accelerate. Others will optionally accelerate on an eGPU while still using the built-in display. This is thanks to a new Finder option available in macOS 10.14 or later: Prefer External GPU.

How to use the Prefer External GPU option

With macOS 10.14 and later, Apple has made it possible for apps to offload graphics procesIf your app supports the Prefer External GPU option, here’s how it works:

1) Make sure your Mac is running macOS 10.14 or later.

2) Select the app in the Finder.

3) Press Command and I to show the app’s info window.

4) If the apps supports the preference, you will see a Prefer External GPU option. Click the checkbox to set.

This checkbox will not be visible if your eGPU is disconnected, if you’re running macOS 10.13, or if the app manages its GPU selection itself.

Wrapping up

By now you should have a clear idea of how eGPUs work on the Mac and what you’ll need to get started. Are you going to get an eGPU for your Mac? If so, which one? Or are you already using one? Tell me how you’re doing in the Комментарии и мнения владельцев, and fire away with any questions, too!