Today Apple released macOS 10.13.4 to the public, bringing official external graphics support to the Mac. Apple has published a new document to help users navigate the ins and outs of eGPU support, including a list of eligible Mac hardware, external graphics enclosures, and GPUs. If you’re considering adopting an external graphics setup, then you definitely want to be familiar with Apple’s published requirements.

iMac Pro: The most powerful Mac ever

Why use an external GPU?

External GPUs provide extra graphics processing power for graphics-intensive applications. eGPUs are able to accelerate apps that use Metal, OpenGL. and OpenCL. Games are the obvious application, but machine learning applications also stand to heavily benefit. What’s even more interesting is that the Mac can support multiple eGPUs simultaneously, which opens up lots of possibilities for applications that can take advantage of the processing power provided by such a setup.

One notable use case of an eGPU is for connecting one or more external displays, especially a high resolution display with a high refresh rate. eGPUs are also useful for connecting supported VR headsets, like the HTC Vive, to the Mac. Final Cut Pro X now supports VR headsets, and an eGPU allows editors to monitor 360-degree video via an HTC Vive.

Internal display support

The internal display on a MacBook Pro or iMac can be accelerated by games and apps that choose to support built-in display acceleration. Apple notes that this capability is opt-in, and will need to be enabled by the app’s developer. This is very good news for those of us who don’t wish to connect an external display, but your favorite app’s developer will need to get behind eGPU support.

Officially supported Macs

The following Macs support eGPU setups:

  • 2016 MacBook Pro
  • 2017 MacBook Pro
  • 2017 4K iMac
  • 2017 5K iMac
  • 2017 iMac Pro

The common thread here is that each of these Mac computers feature Thunderbolt 3 support, a requirement for eGPU setups. Hence, support for Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt eGPU enclosures is not officially supported.

13-inch MacBook Pro users need to make sure that they utilize the Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side of the machine for best performance.

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Recommended eGPUs

Apple recommends a variety of GPUs, but these only include offering from AMD. Supported cards include:

Note: Graphics card prices are kind of insane right now, and the blame can primarily be placed on cryptocurrency miners. If you were able to get in early with a card like the RX Vega 64, then good on you.

Recommended external graphics enclosure

Although we’ve tested and successfully used a variety of external graphics boxes over the last few months, including the Akitio Node, Akitio Node Pro, and Mantiz Venus, none of these enclosures are included in Apple’s recommended list of enclosures.

The Akitio Node Pro, not recommended by Apple, but it works

If you’re looking for an enclosure that will have the best compatibility across all recommended cards, then the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650W seems like the one to get. It’s compatible with the RX 5xx series, along with the RX Vega 56, RX Vega 64, etc. Because this card provides a plenty of power, it’s able to work with more power hungry cards, like the RX Vega 64, with no problems. The 650W also provides 85W of Power Delivery, which means it can recharge a 15-inch MacBook Pro at full speed. This external enclosure will likely enjoy a longer life and greater compatibility than lesser enclosures.

That said, there are quite a few additional enclosures that Apple recommends. If you’re not using a Vega 64, Vega Frontier Edition Air, or Radeon Pro WX 9100, then you’ll be fine with with either of the following:

If you’re sticking with cards from AMD’s Polaris architecture — the EX 570, 580, and Radeon Pro WX 7100, then, in addition to all of the previous enclosure mentioned, you can also use the following:

Budget-minded customers may appreciate these two options.

Lastly, Sonnet offers and all-in-one end-to-end eGPU enclosure with a built in graphics card. The Sonnet Radeon RX 570 eGFX Breakaway Puck is an external graphics enclosure with a RX 570 GPU built in.

Some not so good news…

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but Boot Camp installs are not officially supported when it comes to external GPUs. Apple also says that eGPU support is not available when performing system updates, or while your Mac is in macOS Recovery mode.

Nvidia GPUs are not officially supported

Obviously, Nvidia fans are kind of left in the lurch, at least officially. Here’s hoping that we’ll see updated macOS drivers for Nvidia cards that work with eGPU boxes on macOS 10.13.4 sooner than later. The good news is that we’ve seen Nvidia web drivers for Pascal-based cards in the not too distant past.

More to come

I have to give Apple props where props are due. It promised eGPU support for spring, and we’re just a few days into spring and eGPU support is here. Not only that, but it provided an in-depth document outlining the ins and outs of eGPU support, instead of leaving users with a vague outline of how to figure it all out. I also really appreciate that developers can opt to support internal display acceleration, which is a big deal for those who don’t want to bother with an external display.

eGPU support on the Mac is still in its infancy, but this is an exciting time to be a Mac user. We’ll be back with much more in future posts. Do you plan on adopting an eGPU setup for your Mac? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts.

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