The Blackmagic eGPU is an external graphics enclosure sold exclusively (for the time being) at the Apple Store. It’s a notable product for several of reasons. First and foremost, it’s the first time that Apple has sold an external graphics enclosure in its store. This makes sense, considering that macOS was recently upgraded with official eGPU support in version 10.13.4 back in the spring.
Another reason to take note is that the Blackmagic eGPU is the first external graphics chassis to include official support for the LG UltraFine 5K display (hands-on), a monitor that Apple recommends as a replacement for its now discontinued Thunderbolt Display.
But perhaps the most appealing feature of the Blackmagic eGPU is its silence. Blackmagic advertises its ultra quiet status right on the product packaging, and it’s not joking, this enclosure is extremely low noise.
With a launch alongside highly anticipated new MacBook Pro hardware, the Blackmagic eGPU is now available exclusively at Apple Stores. Is this the eGPU that you should consider for your Mac? Watch our hands-on video for the details.
- All-in-one design
- Ultra-quiet ≅18dB
- Built-in Radeon Pro 580 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
- Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Four USB 3 ports
- One HDMI 2.0 port
- 85W of Power Delivery for full speed MacBook Pro charging
- Built in PSU
- Officially supports LG UltraFine 5K Display via Thunderbolt 3
- Thunderbolt 3 Cable (0.5 m) included
- Power cable included
- Dimensions: roughly 11.5-inches high-by-6.5-inches wide
- Price: $699.00
The Blackmagic eGPU is pricey at $700 before tax. That cost largely stems from the fact that it comes with a non-upgradable AMD Radeon Pro 580 GPU built in. Still, it’s a lot of money when you consider that another all-in-one eGPU, the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box (review) provides similar graphics acceleration at a significantly cheaper price.
Designed to show off
There’s another reason, though, why the Blackmagic eGPU demands the price it does, and it boils down primarily to design. Unlike most external graphics boxes, the Blackmagic eGPU features a look that’s meant to be shown off, and it uses high quality aluminum in doing so. Not everyone will agree with the design, and some may argue that it’s over the top and too large, but it’s not just a black rectangle meant to be tucked away in a shadowy office corner.
The Blackmagic eGPU features an 8-sided shape made up of an aluminum outer panel. The panels that make up the unit are quite tall, with the overall height, including the built-in stand, coming in at just under a foot. The enclosure is over 8-inches at its widest point. Other than a small Blackmagicdesign logo on the front of the enclosure, the outer shell is just a solid piece of space gray aluminum.
The top of the eGPU features a unique faux-metal wave design that rests above a mesh metal material in a honeycomb pattern. Right underneath the mesh is a large fan to help keep the GPU that lies beneath cool. It’s difficult to see, but if you look closely through the mesh layer, you’ll see the large heat pipes that are there to help prevent the Radeon Pro 580 from breaking too much of a sweat when under load.
On the bottom of the eGPU, you’ll find the familiar wave pattern, along with a built-in stand with rubber feet to keep it planted firmly on your desk. It’s not like the unit will be moving much anyway, because as you might imagine, it’s quite hefty.
On the rear of the eGPU you’ll find all of the I/O ports. I can’t help but get trash can Mac Pro flashbacks when looking at the way the I/O is laid out, and you likely will too.
The last little design detail is a single down-firing LED light that rests above the stand on the bottom of the enclosure. Because the stand is designed in a way that features four openings on each side, the LED light helps to illuminate the footprint of the device in a dark environment.
A Thunderbolt 3 hub
The Blackmagic eGPU provides users with full charging capabilities up to 85W, four USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, and a single HDMI 2.0 port. The HDMI port can be used for accessories, such as VR headsets, or an HDMI-enabled display.
But there’s one thing that’s particularly special about the Blackmagic eGPU, and that is its extra Thunderbolt 3 port. This additional port can be used to drive the LG 5K UltraFine display with additional power. Under the right circumstances it can be a true set-it-and-forget it solution for professionals.
For those opting to connect to an HDMI display, the extra Thunderbolt 3 port can be used to daisy chain additional peripherals. For example, I like the idea of connecting CalDigit’s TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 dock (review), which gives me all sorts of nifty I/O.
There is no power button on the Blackmagic eGPU that you’ll need to mess around with. When you connect the Thunderbolt 3 cable to a Thunderbolt 3-enabled Mac running macOS 10.13.4 or later (Blackmagic says in its documentation that their unit requires 10.13.6), your Mac will automatically recognize the eGPU, performing all the necessary configuration on the fly. To remove the eGPU, you’ll notice a special eject eGPU button in your Mac’s menu bar, it works similarly to ejecting USB flash drives.
Conspicuously missing from the Blackmagic eGPU is DisplayPort connectivity. It’s pretty clear that Apple and Blackmagic are aiming this eGPU at professional users with the ideal MacBook Pro + LG UltraFine 5K setups. Thankfully, the HDMI 2.0 port allows you to connect to a 4K-enabled display at 60Hz. The HDMI connection is also targeted at those who wish to use VR headsets like the HTC Vive.
Blackmagic is far from the only company to provide users with inadequately short 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cables, but I wish this trend would stop. A 2-meter active Thunderbolt 3 cable like this one from CalDigit (review) costs more, but provides so much more flexibility when it comes to chassis placement.
A quiet operation
It’s easy to lament over the non-upgradable nature of the enclosure, but such a design does have its advantages. The biggest advantage is that it can be customized specifically for the graphics card contained inside. This allows for thermal engineering that can eclipse do-it-yourself eGPU setups and results in much quieter operation.
Although eGPUs have obvious gaming applications, the sort of person willing to drop $700 on this particular eGPU is likely a creative professional. These users, more often than not, desire quiet work spaces. The Blackmagic eGPU, because of its end-to-end design, is much quieter than typical enclosure setups where the user provides their own GPU.
Generating noise at approximately 18dB, you’ll have to put your ear up to the Blackmagic eGPU in order to hear fan noise, even when it’s under load. Along with this, Blackmagic did a great job of keeping the unit cool, with outer surfaces that remain cool to the touch during use.
All of that acknowledged, the benefit of a whisper-quiet eGPU is somewhat lost when you have a MacBook Pro with fans running at a high RPM. Many of the applications that take advantage of the eGPU, such as Blackmagic’s own DaVinci Resolve, will, if pushed hard enough, cause the MacBook Pro fans to kick into high gear. So yeah, the eGPU might be super quiet, but this benefit can be negated when the fans in your MacBook Pro spin up.
Thankfully, however, this doesn’t always happen. I was very impressed to run the Unigine Heaven and Unigine Valley benchmark tests — known for making the fans inside my MacBook Pro sound like they’re preparing for take off — in complete and utter silence. With the super-quiet Blackmagic eGPU handling the graphics load, it provided a quiet workspace, even with highly taxing computation work occurring before my eyes. This is something that no other eGPU solution on the market can currently claim, as off-the-shelve graphics cards come with cooling setups that won’t hesitate to make their presence known when under load.
Playing with power
With RX Vega graphics powering Apple’s high-end iMac Pro, some may scoff at the idea of a lesser RX 580-powered eGPU. Yet, as benchmarks have shown, the RX 580 can noticeably increase the graphics performance of machines like the MacBook Pro, as long as your expectations aren’t too high.
Note: all tests, except where noted, were performed with a 15-inch 2018 Retina MacBook Pro with 6-core Core i9 CPU. Longer bars are better unless otherwise noted.
Starting off with GeekBench 4 OpenCL and Metal tests, you can immediately see the potential that an eGPU brings to the table. For both OpenCL and Metal performance, the Radeon Pro 580 inside of Blackmagic’s external graphics chassis provides a clear 2x boost.
If you own a Mac without a discrete GPU, like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the performance difference will be even more apparent. Below is a DaVinci Resolve export using the base model 2018 MacBook Pro with integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655.
Blackmagic’s own DaVinci Resolve stands to gain a big performance boost from external graphics, and is arguably one of the key reasons to consider this eGPU. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the company has been very forward-thinking with wielding external graphics to their advantage. DaVinci Resolve Studio is one of the few apps that I know of that can use multiple GPUs at the same time, external or otherwise. If you primarily work in DaVinci Resolve, then an external GPU can provide a major upgrade to your workflow.
OpenGL benchmarks from Unigine performed better with the eGPU, but not enough for it to really matter to gamers looking to play AAA titles. Games like Rocket League will play great at high settings, but don’t expect to max out settings on graphics-intensive modern titles using OpenGL. Titles using the Metal API will usually perform better on the Mac.
Above is F1 2017, a very demanding Metal title that I had running at maxed out settings. As you can see, it’s at least playable via an external display powered by the Blackmagic eGPU. A stronger card would do a lot better, though.
You’ll also see measurable OpenCL benefits, as shown from our LuxMark benchmark above. The Radeon Pro 580 provides double the performance of the Radeon Pro 560X discrete GPU in the upgraded 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Speaking of OpenCL, Final Cut Pro X can reap benefits from an eGPU, but there is a major catch. Out of the box, the Mac won’t provide eGPU resources to Final Cut Pro, so even if you run the app on an external display connected to the Blackmagic chassis, it won’t make any difference compute-wise. This is sure to be a disappointment to anyone who uses Final Cut and is considering an eGPU assisted workflow.
The good news is that there is a rather simple-to-use workaround. To take advantage of an eGPU in Final Cut Pro X, you’ll need to use the Set-eGPU script we reported on at the beginning of this month. This script uses functionality that’s already baked into macOS, but has yet to be exposed to the user via a GUI.
With Set-eGPU enabled, the popular BruceX 5K benchmark yields somewhat modest benefits from the Radeon Pro 580, and a 4 minute and 30 second project with effects exported at 4K did as well. The gains here aren’t incredible, but added up over time they could prove significant. Apple’s eGPU support is still very much in its infancy; I expect pro apps like Final Cut Pro X to better take advantage of external graphics in future updates.
At $699, the Blackmagic eGPU will have limited appeal to the masses. The thing that strikes me the most is that it’s an all-in-one eGPU that can’t be upgraded. In other words, you’re stuck with a Radeon Pro 580 for the lifetime of the device.
For gamers in particular, the lack of upgrade potential is unappealing. There are already better graphics cards available, like the RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64, and there will be even better cards available in the future.
Yet, there remains something very appealing about a pre-configured box that you can connect directly to your MacBook Pro, and instantly have better graphics performance. It’s worth reiterating again that this isn’t just some bulky eye-sore of a rectangle, but it’s almost like a piece of art that happens to charge your MacBook Pro and help you connect to USB peripherals while providing a graphics boost. For LG UltraFine 5K Display users, it’s especially appealing because it’s so easy to just plug and play.
If you’re a professional creative, and you want a good-looking eGPU unit that you can unbox, plug in, and start using, then the Blackmagic eGPU may be for you. But if the idea of having an upgradable external graphics enclosure sounds more ideal, there are better options available.
- Beautiful design
- Zero configuration
- Works with LG UltraFine 5K Display
- Four USB ports
- Can daisy chain other Thunderbolt 3 devices, like hubs
- MacBook Pro fans may negate silence of eGPU
- No official Final Cut Pro X benefits yet
- No DisplayPort
What are your thoughts on the Blackmagic eGPU? Would you consider it for your Mac? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts and opinions.
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