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Long-time video card supplier Gigabyte now has an all-in-one package for Mac users looking to get into Thunderbolt 3 eGPU technology, and AppleInsider is testing the latest version.
What it is
Instead of a routinely user-serviceable enclosure Gigabyte has gone for the absolutely smallest package they can muster for the RX 580 Gaming Box, without resorting to an external power supply. As a result, the all-in-one package is surprisingly dense.
The enclosure itself houses an AMD 8GB RX 580 video card with one HDMI 2.0 port, and three full-size DisplayPorts. On the rear are a trio of USB 3.0 type A ports, and a single USB charging port, marked in orange.
On macOS High Sierra, plug the enclosure into any available Thunderbolt 3 port, and a display to the eGPU. Simple as that. It can be used on Thunderbolt 2 Macs as well, but that takes a hack. We have not as of yet tested it on Sierra — but given that with some more hacks the developer's kit worked on the 2016 operating system, we're pretty certain that it will work as well.
As with the rest of the eGPU enclosures we've examined, plan on spending $50 for a full-speed longer Thunderbolt 3 cable. Short, 18-inch ones like the one included with the enclosure don't cut it.
During the course of our testing, we connected the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 350 to a Acer CB281HK and B286HK 4K displays by DisplayPort downstream of one of several of Thunderbolt 3 docks we have on hand, and assaulted the chain with network, USB, and video work. We didn't see any performance issues or bandwidth limitations with USB calls to the docks, with the Gigabyte kit seeing nearly the same performance that the RX580 from the 2017 Apple eGPU developer's kit.
The performance was steady both after installation, and after putting the enclosure under load, suggesting that thermal considerations have been addressed.
Nicely, the enclosure provides 87W to any connected 15-inch MacBook Pro, more than enough to keep it topped off during heavy use.
But, we're seeing some USB issues with inconsistent transfer speeds with the ports in the enclosure as shipped. It's not a show-stopper for mass storage assuming peak performance isn't your goal, but we don't recommend plugging in input devices through those USB ports at this time.
For the full review we'll look into a firmware revision that needs to be applied through Windows that rectifies this, but at the cost of some video card speed.
There is customizable lighting, but at present, you can't configure it within macOS.
We'll look more at all of this in the future — especially as the macOS High Sierra 10.13.5 update arrives.
As with nearly all of our review products, we aren't allowed to disassemble a non-user serviceable piece of gear, and the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box isn't designed to be upgradeable.
But looking through the ventilation holes, it's apparent that the bridgeboard uses a PCI-e connector. So, in theory, the enclosure is upgradeable with a short video card once the RX580 falls out of favor. However, what we suspect is a limit of 250W power for the card and what appears to be a single 8-pin power connector to supply that power may be an issue for upgraders.
The Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box retails for $599. In the heyday of the GPU price excursions caused by crytptocurrency mining, this is a decent deal. Now that prices are going down, it's a bit less clear.
A Gigabyte card with the same performance and the same quantity of DisplayPorts — but minus DVI — is currently around $350 from Newegg. Other user-upgradeable enclosures range from $249 that supports 300W of video card power and 15W of host power, to $449 for one with 650W of power and full charging power for a connected MacBook Pro. In exchange, you get a much smaller enclosure in return.
So, in this regard, it's a close call. Upgradeability or small size, pick one.
AppleInsider will be continuing its examination of the enclosure in the coming weeks.