MacBook Pro 2016 with a Thunderbolt 3 EGPU

There is finally a good guide to the setup steps required to get Thunderbolt 3 EGPUs working on different MacBook Pro 2016 machines.

mac-egpu

You lost about 10% of the maximum performance, but a 980 Ti for example in a Bizon 2 enclosure will give you macOS-compatible VR capability beyond the 460 in the top 2016 MBP for the least cost.

David Lee has the video guide laying to rest the compatability issues you can expect to deal with to get it to work for different Macs, enclosures and GPUs.

Fully Mac OS compatible setup: Akitio Node + Radeon

There’s finally a released Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 enclosure that works natively in macOS. 9 to 5 Mac has a great tutorial.

Radeon cards work best as there are no native 10×0 series NVIDIA drivers for Mac yet. A Radeon RX 480 would be the least expensive VR-capable option at around $200 plus the $300 Akitio Node for a total system cost of $500 to upgrade any Mac or other Thunderbolt 3 laptop to VR ready power. Radeon won’t do some CUDA, GameWorks, FLEX physics and other NVIDIA exclusive things, but it will work natively in macOS.

What kind of MacBook works with Thunderbolt EGPUs?

MacBook Pro 2016

The 2016 MacBook Pro is the most versatile game development machine.

  • Multiplatform: MacBookPro can run and develop both Mac, Windows, Linux*, iOS and Android software.
    • *(Linux drivers were not available when this was written but that will change, virtual machine Linux until native tri-boot support drivers are available).
  • Best processor: 2.9GHz i7 6930 processor
    • Unmatched in a 15″ laptop, 15% faster than 6700 2.6ghz in Razer/MSI
    • Non-upgradeable: an’t upgrade processor later, so get the fastest CPU.
    • FWYH about it not being 7th gen: quad-core 7th gen processors aren’t out yet. They might update to include them next year in a small feature bump, but the difference will be minimal.)
  • 2nd best SSD: The 2TB SSD option is superfast, beat only by the Samsung 960s.
    • Non-upgradeable: Get the 2TB if you can afford it.
  • 10 hour battery life: fastest portable config available when paired with an EGPU.
  • 16GB memory saves 30% battery life: 16GB low voltage memory is standard for 15″ laptops for a reason. MSI’s GS63VR has a 32GB option but short battery life.
  • Radeon GPU ideal for EGPU pairing: Apple’s top Radeon Pro 460 graphics option is less powerful and more battery-life friendly than the NVIDIA GTX 1060s available from Razer and MSI but even those will become obsolete in a year or two and graphics should be upgradeable in an EGPU anyways.
  • Touchbar is not a touchscreen: The touch bar is cool but it doesn’t have a touchscreen.
    • Pair with a tablet: iPad or iPhone Plus you can use a bluetooth stylus with Astropad software to draw directly into your Mac’s graphics apps.
    • New touch bar which may prove useful in many pro app interfaces and especially timelines like audio, video and animation.

You’ll also want to get a multi-port docking dongle with Mini Displayport (if you already have the HDMI/DVI/VGA adapters for that) or HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3 ports and an SD card reader if you use those.

MacBook Pro + EGPU = most versatile, expensive config available

You can pair a 10 hour battery life MacBook Pro on the go with an EGPU on your desk to get future-proof upgradeable full desktop GTX 1080 and soon 1080 Ti peformance rather than settling for a non-upgradeable 1060 compromise. Bizon Box

Older MacBooks

If you primarily develop on a Windows machine and just need a Mac to do iOS versions, you can get by with an older used MacBook for  cheap, but you could also get a new MacBook and dual boot to keep all your Windows and Mac development on a single good machine rather than lugging around two.

MacBooks with Thunderbolt 2 can use the Akitio Bizon 2 EGPU enclosure to add VR-ready graphics that work in mac OS (with a Radeon card that has drivers).

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