My eGPU experiences so far with a Macbook Pro (Mid/2017)

The current GPU I use (2020)

I think when it comes to buying high-end laptops it doesn’t matter if it is MacBook, or a Dell XPS, or a Razer laptop. Most of the cost can easily range from $2,000 to almost $3,000 and that alone could be a crazy price if you don’t have a job good enough to tackle that type of price.

I really never thought I would do this type of setup. The thought of using an eGPU was intriguing at best. It’s a technology that is still in diapers and it makes you wonder what sort of future it holds for Thunderbolt/USB-C for these types of scenario. I do believe there’s a market out there that wants eGPUs to evolve to the native speeds a GPU would run attached to a motherboard.

On a personal taste, I’d rather use a laptop, because it’s portable and I can leave with it at any time and do my things both on a professional and personal level. Then I can just come back home, put my MacBook Pro on the desk and just simply plug in the eGPU. And that’s all you really have to do. I haven’t found myself to be frustrated with it, some operative system issues aside.

Truth be told using a really good GPU and putting it inside a eGPU enclosure can limit your GPU power of what it can really do. You will never see the true potential of a video card you purchase compared to plugging it to the motherboard. In fact some games, mostly old ones with really archaic structures won’t detect an external eGPU even if its life depends on it. And here are some examples:

Soul Worker

Soul Worker is an old MMORPG (if we can call it that) released a few years ago to the west. When you try to run this game it just literally fails initializing.

Select Compile Heart games

For whatever reason Compile Heart games struggles to even use eGPUs. The performance is worse compared to the built-in dGPU my MacBook Pro has to offer.

Final Fantasy 8 Remaster

It seems that once again the team has sort of failed to detect more than one GPU apparently? I don’t really remember well the issue I was having and all I know is that the launcher didn’t even want to start. And this is just to name a few of the notable issues with the eGPU setup. However, I should note that it seems that people with normal setup and a normal computer have ran into this issue so hopefully Square Enix will fix it someday… probably not.

And I’m sure there’s many more games that aren’t quite as compatible with eGPUs. Internally I don’t know what the code does under the hood, but because we are talking about games that were developed 5-6 years ago I can’t simply be hard on them for the fact that they are underperforming because developers didn’t know eGPUs were going to be a thing.

And let’s be real a lot of the operative system layers have changed and we can’t really expect developers, especially game developers to keep up giving support to already released products. That’s not viable in any way.

The experience so far

So the experience so far is that it’s been pretty good but there are a lot of really rough corners, especially in macOS (OSX). For example, sometimes I connect the eGPU while I’m booted into OSX, and the operative system won’t even pick up the eGPU and I know it tries to because the eGPU icon shows up but then mysteriously exits. Anyhow, let us begin!

The macOS Experience with eGPU

I would say that it started really good. Initially I didn’t have a lot of problems compared to what I’m confronting now. There’s a really weird bug that would make the kernel literally hog the CPU. I assume that it is a driver issue that doesn’t know how to handle certain scenarios but no matter what I do it just always shows up eventually.

Basically all you have to do is plug in your eGPU and maybe the first two hours it works well, but if you trigger the bug you’ll notice that your system slows down to a crawl, your macbook gets worryingly hot, and the Activity Monitor is just tell you the CPU is on fire.

As to why this happens, I have no idea. I have exactly no one to reach out to about this nor do I know any Apple developer. Even if there was a Apple developer that I knew about I doubt everyone would have access to GPU drivers or even have the knowledge.

All that said, when OSX isn’t giving me heartburns with the eGPU it works incredibly well to the point I just love using it because it how well it works with multiple displays.

The Windows 10 Experience with eGPU

I would say that my setup with Windows 10 is quite…. unique in many ways that would make any decent human being question my ways.

I have Windows 10 running on a NVMe storage enclosure. It works blazingly fast except when the storage overheats, which it does, then Windows 10 will throttle it down the best it can to prevent damage.

Storage issues aside, and honestly the storage issue isn’t even an issue unless you have a setup like mine.

The best eGPU you can get is with Windows 10. I say this after playing games to completion like Trials of Mana and I’m almost done with Tales of Berseria as well… I have ABSOLUTELY almost no complaints about Windows 10 handling eGPUs.

Microsoft did an amazing job, minus some…….. issues with how it handles PCIs that would fail the detection of the eGPU or even fail to load it. However, once you overcome the issue you can play a lot of games at a decent framerate speed.

Overall eGPUs just performs better with Windows 10, for me.

In conclusion, this was a rather short and to the point sort of post. I’ve revised the post many times to the point I just wonder “what else can I really talk about eGPUs?” while the concept may be hard to wrap around your head, especially to technical people who would just question “who would plug a GPU through a USB port?”, turns out that there’s quite a big community behind the idea and it doesn’t surprise me.

The idea of having a laptop that is capable of running an external GPU is baffling even today. But, when you consider that you don’t have to spend and additional $2,000 or $3,000 then the math would work out in your favor.

Now, if you are an streamer then this is a completely horrible idea. The 40Gbps connection is being blasted away transmitting data with the game you are currently running on 4k, why would you think it’d be a good idea to stream on a eGPU? It isn’t. I have tried it. Those frames will never make it to Twitch through OBS.

All that aside. I’m rather complacent with the setup. It’s the most absurd setup one could have, suiting me completely.

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