Black­magic eGPU

£599 inc VAT from

Macworld - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple at last has an ex­ter­nal graph­ics pro­cess­ing unit on the hal­lowed shelves of the Ap­ple Store, and as you might ex­pect, it’s a looker. The Black­magic eGPU (from Black­magic De­sign) was de­signed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ap­ple. With its brushed alu­minium cas­ing and the spo­ton Space Grey colour­ing, the Black­magic eGPU,

MacBook Pro, and iMac could pass for cousins in a fam­ily por­trait. It be­longs.

It also fol­lows many of the same de­sign philosophies that make Ap­ple’s own prod­ucts so beloved. It’s quiet and sleek, with its noise reach­ing only around 15dB at peak per­for­mance, thanks to a tan­gle of cool­ing tubes. It’s in­con­spic­u­ous and easy to set up, to the point that it doesn’t even have a power switch. You sim­ply plug it into your a Mac’s Thun­der­bolt 3 port and it works. At the mo­ment though, you get only get it from the Ap­ple Store.

And yet for all that, you’ll likely find that its magic fails to leave a last­ing spell.

Grey ghost

Per­haps in­ten­tion­ally, its de­sign some­what echoes the ma­ligned 2013 Mac Pro. The Black­magic eGPU is a softly an­gu­lar eight-faced con­trap­tion rather than Jony Ive’s of­ten-lam­pooned curvy rub­bish bin, but like that de­vice, its de­sign em­braces squat, 11.5in ver­ti­cal­ity rather than the deskhog­ging hor­i­zon­tal­ism of other eGPUs. In fact, Black­magic’s unit is slightly more in­ter­est­ing to look at, as a soft LED light il­lu­mi­nates the 1.7in gap be­tween the bot­tom grill and the sur­face it rests on when it pow­ers up.

A se­lec­tion of ports runs along its spine in the style of the Mac Pro, rang­ing from four USB-A 3.1 ports and an HDMI slot to two Thun­der­bolt 3/USB-C ports for con­nect­ing it to your Mac or hook­ing up to an ex­ter­nal mon­i­tor like the of­fi­cially sup­ported LG Ul­traFine 5K dis­play. Con­sid­er­ing it

can also charge your Mac with 85W of juice, that’s an im­pres­sive se­lec­tion. The only draw­back in this re­gard is the roughly 20in Thun­der­bolt 3 ca­ble, which means you’ll al­ways have to keep it close to your MacBook. In a way though, that’s the point, as the shorter ca­bles help with the 40GB/s data trans­fer speeds to your MacBook Pro.

But, of course, the chief le­gacy of the Mac Pro was its fa­mous re­sis­tance to upgrades and al­ter­ations, and these same trou­bles carry over to the Black­magic eGPU. Black­magic’s de­vice comes with a non-re­mov­able 8GB AMD Radeon Pro 580 tightly packed in-be­tween the alu­minium shell and

the grills on the unit’s top and bot­tom, and you can see the mas­sive tan­gle of cool­ing tubes when you peek through the hon­ey­comb lat­tice­work. There are no vis­i­ble screws, so if you want to get into this thing you’re go­ing to have to force your way in (and we don’t rec­om­mend that). It’s a sturdy beast though, and it’s easy to get the feel­ing that none of the unit’s 4.49kg were wasted.

Plug and play

I un­der­stand why some­one would want a de­vice like this. There’s a lot to be said for a de­vice that can sig­nif­i­cantly boost the graph­ics per­for­mance of a MacBook Pro sim­ply by plug­ging it into a Thun­der­bolt 3 slot. And it re­ally is that sim­ple, as macOS High Sierra (and Mo­jave) comes with all the driv­ers needed to sup­port most AMD cards built right into the OS it­self. When you need to un­plug it, you sim­ply right-click an icon on the taskbar.

Most eGPUs are easy to set up, but this de­vice avoids even the (very mi­nor) has­sle of slip­ping a sup­ported graph­ics card into the en­clo­sure’s slot and screw­ing it in. The Black­magic eGPU is about as plug-and-play as you get.

But it’s just not that pow­er­ful, which means it’s not a fu­ture-proofed as it could be. The AMD Radeon Pro 580 is cer­tainly more pow­er­ful than the Radeon Pro 560X you’ll find in the 2018 15in MacBook Pro, but it still doesn’t hold a can­dle to AMD cards like the RX Vega 56 and the RX Vega 64. And it’s not like in­clud­ing these would have been out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity (although they

may have boosted the price by a cou­ple hun­dred pounds), as the iMac Pro al­ready comes with Ve­gapow­ered graph­ics. For that mat­ter, the Radeon Pro 580 is al­ready over a year old at this point. As it stands, you’re go­ing to get the ab­so­lute most out of a unit like this if you’re us­ing a Mac that doesn’t have a dis­crete graph­ics card, such as the 2017 13in MacBook Pro with­out Touch Bar I some­times use.

Dou­ble your fun

First off, it’s not bad. You’re al­most cer­tainly go­ing

to get a sig­nif­i­cant 3D boost re­gard­less of which

Thun­der­bolt 3 MacBook Pro or non-Pro iMac you’re

us­ing, although the boost will nat­u­rally be stronger

for older and smaller units such as the 2017 13in

MacBook Pro. The big ques­tion is whether it de­liv­ers enough of a boost to make it worth £599.

Nat­u­rally, I wanted to check out how it works with our decked-out 2.9GHz 2018 15in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which is packed with 32GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon 560X graph­ics card. Our graphs re­veals how it checks out.

As you can see be­low, it soundly trounces Ap­ple’s lat­est and great­est lap­top in a se­ries of Geek­bench 4 bench­marks for both Me­tal and OpenCL. Im­pres­sive, yes, but I was es­pe­cially

im­pressed with how well it per­formed with the 2017 15in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar that I use on a daily ba­sis. It al­lows the Check out the per­for­mance gains in that ma­chine with Geek­bench 4 bench­marks.

As im­pres­sive as these re­sults are, I found that they are usu­ally not pow­er­ful enough to de­liver the kind of per­for­mance in games that you might ex­pect. In other words, just be­cause you have this £599 eGPU hooked up to your MacBook Pro, you shouldn’t ex­pect the kind of per­for­mance that you’ll get from a proper gam­ing PC.

For test­ing, I ven­tured into the crowded hub of Baro­lus in World of War­craft’s new Bat­tle for Aze­roth ex­pan­sion on the 2017 MacBook Pro, and I found I could only reach a steady rate of more than 40 frames per sec­ond (fps) by di­alling down the over­all graph­ics set­tings from 10 to seven (on a scale of 10) on an ex­ter­nal 25in Asus Preda­tor XB2 gam­ing mon­i­tor. For com­par­i­son, my 2017 MacBook Pro rec­om­mends a set­ting of 4 with­out the eGPU.

I gathered more con­crete re­sults with the bench­mark­ing tool for the re­source-de­mand­ing game Rise of the Tomb Raider. As you can see op­po­site, I was never able to reach the de­sired 60fps while run­ning it on Very High set­tings at a 1,920x1,080 res­o­lu­tion, although it still gives a big boost over the 2017 15in MacBook Pro’s dis­crete Radeon Pro 555 card.

I saw sim­i­lar re­sults in Uningine’s Bench­mark Val­ley tool while run­ning it on Ul­tra set­tings at

1,920x1,080 res­o­lu­tion on the Asus mon­i­tor. You can see how the frame rate ba­si­cally dou­bles, but we’re still not reach­ing 60fps.

I’m fo­cus­ing so much on gam­ing be­cause video edit­ing still lags be­hind with eGPUs, which is a bit of a shock be­cause I’d as­sume this would be the mar­ket eGPUs work with. For­tu­nately, Black­magic De­sign’s own DaVinci Re­solve 15 works well with the eGPU, but more pop­u­lar suites from other com­pa­nies present more prob­lems. Fi­nal Cut Pro X ap­pears to use it for video edit­ing, for ex­am­ple, but there’s lit­tle dis­cernible dif­fer­ence when pro­cess­ing videos. And Adobe apps sim­ply don’t use sup­port

eGPUs at all, which is a ma­jor blow con­sid­er­ing Pre­miere Pro’s mas­sive pres­ence on the mar­ket. For that mat­ter, you still can’t use eGPUs to play PC games through Boot Camp.

The Radeon Pro 580 is a good card, but you shouldn’t be un­der any il­lu­sions that it’s the best. For a com­par­i­son, I hooked up an AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 to a cus­tom­iz­a­ble eGPU and ran the same Geek­bench 4 tests. The Vega 64 is es­sen­tially top-of-the-line now, and it’ll re­main a good card for a few years to come. It’s ba­si­cally what you want if you con­sider your­self a ‘pro’ user. Here’s how it per­formed on the 2018 15in MacBook Pro in com­par­i­son to the on-board cards and the Black­magic eGPU.

I wouldn’t say the Vega 64 blew the Radeon Pro 580 out of the wa­ter, but the im­prove­ments

were un­de­ni­able. As for the Radeon Pro 580? I worry that Ap­ple’s own ma­chines could over­take it within a cou­ple of years.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

If you’re look­ing for the ab­so­lute min­i­mal has­sle when set­ting up an eGPU, the Black­magic eGPU isn’t such a bad buy. It’s beau­ti­ful and it com­ple­ments the aes­thetic of Ap­ple’s own de­vices, and it de­liv­ers clear (if oc­ca­sion­ally dis­ap­point­ing) per­for­mance boosts over the graph­ics cards built into many Macs, and it’s im­pres­sively quiet. It ef­fec­tively dou­bles the graphic pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the 2018 MacBook Pro. Leif John­son


• Re­quires macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra or later

• Com­pat­i­ble with Mac with Thun­der­bolt 3 ports

• Radeon Pro 580 graph­ics pro­ces­sor with 8GB of GDDR5 mem­ory

• 2x Thun­der­bolt 3 ports

• 4x USB 3 ports

• 1x HDMI 2.0 port

• 85W power delivery

• 294.4x176.8x176.8mm

• 4.49kg

Not quite pot and ket­tle, but it’s pretty close

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