Gaming on a Mac with an eGPU

Processed with VSCO

Macs can’t game. Or can they? This is an iMac. An iMac powered by an NVIDIA GTX 980Ti – an iMac playing Grand Theft Auto V at an UltraWide 1440p resolution with Ultra settings. Macs can game. Kinda.

External GPU solutions for Windows laptops and desktops, like the Razer Core, are becoming increasingly popular. While, theoretically, the Core could support Macintosh computers in the future, no Apple computers at the time of this video, support Thunderbolt 3, which is what the Razer Core requires. Enter BizonBox. Think of it as a less-pretty, yet equally expensive Razer Core that supports Macs because it uses the now-antiquated Thunderbolt 2 instead of Thunderbolt 3. BizonBox is a modified Akitio Thunder2 PCIe box. The Thunder2 converts PCIe accessories like SSDs, video capture cards, etc to Thunderbolt for use on your Mac. However, it doesn’t officially support GPUs. That said, with a few minutes of research, a soldering iron, and an ATX power supply, it’s pretty easy to convert the Akitio Thunder2 to a ghetto Razer Core. BizonBox is designed to be a slightly less ghetto modified Thunder2. They CNC out the side for ventilation, they replace the cheap 70W Akitio power supply with a beefier 200W or 300W PSU and they do that all for the not-so-small price of $350.

Performance $550 better bring awesome performance

Price aside, how well does using an external GPU work on a Mac? My buddy Tomas Villegas has a great video which you should definitely check out about how BizonBox performs in Mac OS X using Adobe Premiere for CUDA acceleration and the results favor the eGPU quite a bit… but I want to talk about gaming. Naturally, most modern games are Windows-only. So I installed a Boot Camp Windows partition on my Mac Pro, plugged the eGPU in, and nothing happened. The machine would not boot. Turns out, there’s a bit long list of compatibility issues. Some machines are unstable in Mac OS X but fine in Windows. Many machines, like my Mac Pro, won’t boot into Windows, and some machines, flat out, won’t work in either OS. In fact, nearly all recent Mac computers have at least some kind of issue. The only one that seems to have little-to-no issues is the 2014 5K iMac.

In Windows, the 5K iMac requires that you use a secondary display in order to take advantage of the graphics card. So if we ignore the impracticality, enormously high cost, and compatibility issues… can a Mac game? Yes. Kinda. I tested two cards, the GTX 1060 and the GTX 980Ti. On GTA V, with the settings maxed on 1080p, the GTX 1060 performed a 96FPS average on PC and an 82FPS average on the Mac. So, less performance, but not bad. Much better than the unplayable 22FPS average I was getting on the Mac’s AMD M295X GPU. The GTX 980Ti, however, tells a different story. With the same game on the same settings, the 980Ti clocks in at 147FPS on the PC and a mere 88FPS on Mac. That’s only 60% of the performance I was getting on my PC. And the same story holds true through all the benchmarks I did.

So, you can technically game on a Mac, but I sure don’t recommend it. Not only is Thunderbolt 2 clearly a bottleneck for any mid-to-high range GPU, but with terrible compatibility issues, janky driver support, and a ridiculously high $550 price tag on top of the GPU price, you’re better off putting that $550 into a PC that with both perform better and experience less issues.

Other Freaking Dope Videos