By Larry Jordan
You may have heard of the new support for external Graphics Processing Units (eGPUs) in the 10.13.4 update to the High Sierra version of macOS. What these promise to do is provide much faster image processing by transferring calculations from the internal GPU to an external GPU connected to a Mac via Thunderbolt 3.
NOTE: Only Thunderbolt 3 is fast enough to provide the performance necessary for eGPUs to be worthwhile. “eGPUs are supported on MacBook Pro notebooks released in 2016 and later, iMac computers introduced in 2017 and later, and iMac Pro. Your Mac must also have macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 installed.” (Apple)
Because external GPUs are not bound by the same size, heat and battery restrictions that govern what can be put inside a laptop, or even an iMac, theoretically, an external GPU should speed compute-intensive tasks like rendering.
However, while OS support is critical for this new technology to take off, it is not, in itself, enough. Here’s a quick status report on where stand, from the point of view of video and filmmaking.
WHO NEEDS THIS?
I can’t think of a single office application that would benefit from an eGPU. As well, simple media import, editing, a few dissolves and exporting won’t benefit enough from an eGPU to justify the cost.
Rather, eGPU technology is geared toward the power user. For example:
- Visual artists creating either stills and video
- Filmmakers creating effects-heavy projects or VR
- Scientists working with extensive data sets
- Anyone who needs to process a LOT of data in order to get their work done
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH IT?
Apple’s release notes state that we can use eGPUs to:
- Accelerate applications that use Metal, OpenGL, and OpenCL
- Connect additional external monitors and displays
- Use virtual reality headsets plugged into the eGPU
- Charge your MacBook Pro while using the eGPU
- Use an eGPU with your MacBook Pro while its built-in display is closed
- Connect an eGPU while a user is logged in
- Connect more than one eGPU using the multiple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports on your Mac2
- Use the menu bar item to safely disconnect the eGPU
- View the activity levels of built-in and external GPUs. Open Activity Monitor, then choose Window > GPU History.
WHAT’S THE CURRENT STATUS OF THIS?
The good news is that the macOS now supports eGPUs and companies like Sonnet and OWC are currently shipping eGPU chassis.
The bad news is that the software we use also needs to support eGPUs. And, as of today, that’s a mixed bag.
You can read more of Larry’s thoughts on eGPUs here.