Gamer Hacks Together Franken-Rig to Improve Graphics for MacBook Air

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Uses multiple adapters for Thunderbolt Port

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

If you’ve got a 11″ MacBook Air and want to do some high performance gaming, or in our case editing, the video card in the slim Mac can leave you a bit wanting.  There’s no denying the portability of the Air is ideal if you’re traveling or in school, but what good is it if you want to do something that requires some beef in the video card?   A gamer obsessed with getting better frame rates has found a way around Apple’s low power GPU by harnessing the high speed of the Air’s Thunderbolt port and a series of adapters to a PC video card.  And the results are quite impressive, and could be good for video editors and graphics artists.

It has become very clear that gaming is not only high-performance, but super practical on an 11″ Macbook Air. There’s so much going against it: this hodgepodge of adapters, it has a low voltage CPU, disaster of wiring and exposed sensitive parts, crazy boot-time chainloading software, Intel killing companies producing adapters and products left right and center via legal threats, etc. but somehow, with the right parts and some patience, it works spectacularly. And is quite cheap too! – Kloper, TechInferno Forums

Kloper is a gamer who bought an i7 powered MacBook Air, but wasn’t all that impressed with the Intel HD Graphic 5000 chip that was built into the Air’s logic board.  And while he’s been waiting for third party solutions to achieve what he’s set out to do, he’s discovered that Intel and Apple‘s unwillingness to certify a third party, off-board Thunderbolt solution has left him to take matters into his own hands.  As such, with a $250, a copy of Windows 7 and a series of adapters, he’s created the rig above which he says was easy to build and provides the high performance frame rates that are required for online first person shooter games.

A more elegant option …

Kloper put together a frankenrig that included a Sonnet ExpressCard Pro Thunderbolt to Expresscard adapter, which he then daisy changed to an ExpressCard adapter to PCI Express Adapter.  Then, he plugged that into an NVidia GTX 570 video card powered by a 400w power supply, and with some external GPU software, was able to get the Mac Air to bypass its own on board Intel HD graphics and accept the external video card signal.   The result is 2-5 times improvement in frame rates and graphic performance at a resolution of 1366 x 768.

The resolution is the same without the rig, but the frame rates are vastly improved because the graphics processing is handled off board by a separate video cache.  It’s pretty trick, and you can read his tutorial/writeup here.   And because it’s easily broken down, it can be used while traveling quite easily (especially when Kloper gets an all in external casing so he doesn’t have to endanger that video card).  The only downside is that you lose 50% of the Thunderbolt’s speed going through the adapters.  But it doesn’t seem to bother the video signal in the least.

Now, granted, no self respecting CGI guy or video editor is going to use an 11″ MBA to get their work done.  There’s just not enough real estate there.  But if you’re on the road and you’re looking to improve your frame rates as you edit high def video into a rough cut or animatic, something similar to this setup could be worth exploring.  Although we can pretty much guarantee bypassing the on-board video card would stretch your warranty to the breaking point should something go wrong.

Then again, the new Mac Pro is so small, you could just pack that.  If you could afford it.

Hat Tip – Mac Rumors

About doddle 16509 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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