Plug-in hardware for a Mac that boosts performance?
December 12, 2020 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Recently I learned of hardware that is used with an Apple computer (namely Macbooks and Macbook Pros) that you plug in via USB (or the like) and acts like an external CPU and/or GPU, giving a boost so that you can do graphics-intensive things like games and video rendering. But I don't know what it's called!

I think a few companies make these items, but I don't think Apple does. I forgot what it's called, and unfortunately it's a Google-proof product; I can't find one of these things anywhere online...searches just turn up articles on optimizing settings and so forth.

All I need is a name--what is this thing I'm looking for called?
posted by zardoz to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is known as an eGPU

Apple support article here.

FYI the newest macs, switching to an all-Apple silicon chip design, do not support these. So they are only good for the last generation of Intel-based macs.

Also - if the eGPU is compatible with your mac, it does not automatically mean that any software will take full advantage of it. I would search your specific program (game, rendering software, etc.) and look for eGPU support.
posted by sol at 5:04 AM on December 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'd word that even more strongly -- the fact that you didn't know exactly what to look for is a nearly foolproof indicator that you don't need one. This is an extremely specialist bit of hardware that only works with very limited, specialized bits of software.
posted by dmd at 7:44 AM on December 12, 2020 [12 favorites]

My response is pretty much what dmd said. If you're looking for an overall boost to your everyday computing, upgrading your RAM and replacing your mechanical hard disk with an SSD are the two biggest quality of life improvements one can generally make. (With Macs, the availability and difficulty of these upgrades varies greatly between models.) For system memory, I usually recommend 8GB as a bare minimum, and 16GB for everyday use. 32GB+ if you can swing it.
posted by xedrik at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just buy a new M1. You don't likely need the eGPU.
posted by terrapin at 8:21 AM on December 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

>Just buy a new M1. You don't likely need the eGPU.
Almost the same price, Mac Mini M1 and a Thunderbolt 3* eGPU enclosure, cables and one of the select few graphics cards that make a difference.

*: older Thunderbolt 2 devices exist but are rare second-hand things.
posted by k3ninho at 10:33 AM on December 12, 2020

Response by poster: That's it, sol, thanks! I am planning to buy an iMac in April (if I wait then work will pay for it), but I don't know what the situation is with the M1 and iMacs at that point. Plus, I live in Japan so the M1 rollout might be on a different schedule.

Anyway, dmd you said it's used in specialized software, but if it's for games and for rendering video in iMovie, then yes that's just what I would use it for.

If I could ask a follow-up? I am wondering if eGPUs only work with MacOS, or if they work on a Windows partition as well. Of course, this would assume that I get an Intel-based iMac.
posted by zardoz at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2020

eGPU is a thing and many eGPU will work fine with Bootcamp.,Updates%20may%20break%20eGPU%20compatibility.

However, personally, if you want a gaming machine, and tethering your Mac to play games with an eGPU, keep in mind that eGPU is like 300 in itself, THEN you'll need a video card, which is several hundred in itself for a decent one. You may as well just buy a Windows gaming machine for a little more, with almost ZERO worry about compatibility.,bottleneck%20involved%20with%20the%20EGPU.
posted by kschang at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2021

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