Should I get an external GPU

Use an external graphics processor with a Mac

With a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 and macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or newer, it is possible to use additional graphics performance by connecting an external graphics processor (also called eGPU).

With an eGPU, you can do the following on your Mac:

  • Accelerate apps that use Metal, OpenGL, and OpenCL
  • Connection of additional external monitors and displays
  • Use of VR headsets connected to the eGPU
  • Charge your MacBook Pro while using the eGPU
  • Use an eGPU with your MacBook Pro when the built-in display is closed
  • Connection of an eGPU while a user is logged in
  • Connect multiple eGPUs to the various Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C ports) on the Mac2
  • With the option Safely disconnect the eGPU in the menu bar
  • To see the activity levels of the integrated and external graphics processors, open the Activity Monitor and choose Window> GPU History.

eGPU support in apps

The eGPU support in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later is designed to help accelerate Metal, OpenGL, and OpenCL apps that benefit from a powerful eGPU. Not all apps support eGPU acceleration. Please contact the developer of the respective app for more information.3

Typically, an eGPU can accelerate the performance of the following apps:

  • Professional apps designed to use multiple GPUs
  • 3D games when an external monitor is directly connected to the eGPU
  • VR apps when a VR headset is directly connected to the eGPU
  • Professional apps and 3D games that accelerate the integrated display of an iMac, iMac Pro, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro (function must be activated by the app developer)

You can configure programs to use an eGPU using one of the following methods.

Use the option "Prefer external GPU"

From macOS Mojave 10.14 you can activate the option "Prefer external GPU" in the Finder in the "Information" area of ​​the respective app. With this option, the eGPU can accelerate apps on any display connected to the Mac. This includes displays built into an iMac, iMac Pro, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro:

  1. Close the app if it's open.
  2. Select the app in the Finder. Most apps are in the Applications folder. If you're opening the app from an alias or a launcher, Control-click the app's icon and choose Show Original from the pop-up menu. Then select the original app.
  3. Press Command-I to bring up the app information window.
  4. Select the check box next to "Prefer external GPU".
  5. Open the app to use it with the eGPU.

This option is not displayed if no eGPU is connected, if macOS Mojave or later is not installed on the Mac or if the app manages the GPU selection itself. Some programs, e.g. B. Final Cut Pro, directly determine which graphics processors are used and ignore the "Prefer external GPU" check box.

Set a display that is connected to an external eGPU as the primary display

If you have an external display connected to your eGPU, you can select this as the primary display for all apps. Since apps by default use the GPU associated with the primary display, this option works with different apps:

  1. Quit all open apps that should be accelerated by the eGPU on the primary display.
  2. Choose the Apple menu ()> System Preferences. Select "Monitors" and then the "Arrange" tab.
  3. Drag the white menu bar to the field that represents the display connected to the eGPU.
  4. Open the apps you want to use with the eGPU.

When you disconnect the eGPU, your Mac will default to using the internal graphics processor for the integrated display. If you then reconnect the eGPU, the external display is automatically set as the primary display.

GPU driver information for macOS

The Mac hardware and the software drivers for the GPU have always been part of a coherent overall system. The user experience of macOS, which relies on appealing graphic design, as well as many basic computing and graphic functions of the platform are based on this principle. These include the acceleration of the user interface, the support of modern display functions, the rendering of 3D graphics for professional software and games, the processing of photos and videos, the execution of powerful computing functions of the GPU and the application of machine learning. This close integration also ensures optimal battery life and improved system performance and stability.

Apple develops, integrates, and supports GPU drivers for macOS to ensure consistent GPU functionality across all Mac products, including powerful APIs such as Metal, Core Animation, Core Image, and Core ML. For the best possible customer experience, GPU drivers must be developed, integrated, tested, and implemented for each macOS version. Third-party GPU drivers are not compatible with macOS.

The GPU drivers implemented in macOS are also designed to provide excellent performance when using an eGPU. The following list describes recommended configurations of eGPU cases and graphics cards. Due to this close system integration, macOS only supports graphics cards with the same GPU architecture that is also used in the products built into the Mac.

Supported eGPU configurations

It is important to use an eGPU with a recommended graphics card and Thunderbolt 3 chassis. If you also charge your MacBook Pro with an eGPU, the eGPU housing must provide enough energy to supply the graphics card with power and to be able to charge the computer at the same time. Use the information from the case manufacturer to find out whether the case has enough power for your MacBook Pro.

Recommended graphics cards and housings that provide enough power are listed below.

Thunderbolt 3 All-in-One eGPU Products

These products contain a powerful integrated GPU and provide enough power to charge the MacBook Pro.

Recommended Thunderbolt 3 All-in-One eGPUs:

AMD Radeon RX 470, RX 480, RX 570, RX 580 and Radeon Pro WX 7100

These graphics cards are based on the AMD Polaris architecture. The recommended graphics cards include the Sapphire Pulse series and the AMD WX series.

Recommended Thunderbolt 3 enclosures for these graphics cards:

  • OWC Mercury Helios FX4
  • PowerColor Devil Box
  • Sapphire Gear Box
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 350 W
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 550 W4
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W4
  • Razer Core X4
  • PowerColor Game Station4
  • HP omen4
  • Akitio Node6

AMD Radeon RX Vega 56

These graphics cards are based on the AMD Vega 56 architecture. Recommended graphics cards include the Sapphire Vega 56.

Recommended Thunderbolt 3 enclosures for these graphics cards:

  • OWC Mercury Helios FX4
  • PowerColor Devil Box
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 550 W4
  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650 W4
  • Razer Core X4
  • PowerColor Game Station4

AMD Radeon RX Vega 64, Vega Frontier Edition Air and Radeon Pro WX 9100

These graphics cards are based on the AMD Vega 64 architecture. Recommended graphics cards include the Sapphire Vega 64, the AMD Frontier Edition with air cooling, and the AMD Radeon Pro WX 9100.

Recommended Thunderbolt 3 enclosures for these graphics cards:

  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W4
  • Razer Core X4

AMD Radeon RX 5700, 5700 XT and RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition

If you have macOS Catalina 10.15.1 or later installed, you can use the graphics cards that are based on the AMD Navi RDNA architecture. The recommended graphics cards include the AMD Radeon RX 5700, AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT, and AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition.

Recommended Thunderbolt 3 enclosures for these graphics cards:

  • Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W4
  • Razer Core X4

additional Information

  • Here's how to choose your GPU in Final Cut Pro 10.4.7 or later.
  • To ensure the best eGPU performance, use the Thunderbolt 3 cable that came with your eGPU or an Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cable. Also, make sure the cable is plugged directly into a Thunderbolt 3 port on your Mac and not daisy-chained through another Thunderbolt device or hub.
  • If you have any questions about Thunderbolt 3 cases or graphics cards, or third-party app support and compatibility, contact the hardware or software provider.
  • Software developers can find information here on programming their apps with regard to the use of macOS eGPU support.

1. If you're using a Mac mini (2018) with FileVault enabled, make sure your primary display is plugged directly into the Mac mini at startup. When you're signed in and see the macOS desktop, you can disconnect the display from the Mac mini and connect it to your eGPU.

2. If you have a MacBook Pro (13 ", 2016, or 2017), always connect eGPUs and other high-performance devices to the left ports for maximum data throughput.

3. macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 and later does not support eGPUs in Windows with Boot Camp. In addition, there is no support when the Mac is running macOS recovery or system updates are being installed.

4. These enclosures provide at least 85W of charging power, making them ideal for use with 15 "MacBook Pro models.

5. Playback of HDCP-protected content from iTunes and some streaming services is not supported on displays connected to Radeon 560-based eGPUs. You can play such content on the built-in display of the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac.

6. If you are using Akitio Node with a Mac notebook, you may need to plug your Mac into its power adapter to ensure proper charging.

Any information relating to products not manufactured by Apple or any independent website that is not controlled or audited by Apple is not a recommendation or endorsement. Apple is not responsible for the selection, performance, or use of third party websites and products. Apple makes no representations about the accuracy or reliability of any third party websites. Contact the provider for additional information.

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