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Apple and eGPU adventures

TL;DR Apple + eGPU + 27″ Thunderbolt display probably needs a dummy HDMI dongle in the GPU and performance sucks.

Early in the pandemic I got hooked on Minecraft. My daily driver is a MacBook laptop which doesn’t have a lot of graphical horsepower for fancy shaders. A friend suggested using an eGPU, so I bought a Razer Core X enclosure and an XFX GPU card, a long-ass Thunderbolt cable to my laptop and life was grand. I could run the Sildur shaders with¬†volumetric lighting like a champ and it really made MC pop.

(Yes I chose to tether my laptop to the eGPU, but the 12′ long cable gave me some movement options)

Then the eGPU enclosure stopped working. It took forever to get a response from Razer coz covid and they wanted a lot of details. Eventually I RMA’d it and they apparently replaced the PSU. Life was grand again.

Then I upgraded to either High Sierra or Mojave (or maybe it was to my 13″ MacBook, I forget) and life got a little sad. If I gracefully disconnected the eGPU and re-connected it, Minecraft stopped working. The Launcher would launch, I’d get a white screen, and the game was clearly running because I heard the music. Rebooting fixed it.

When the M1 14″ MacBook Pro came out, I bought one immediately because the 13″ MB was pretty long in the tooth and the battery was shot, and I despised the Touch Bar. Unfortunately this sunk my eGPU plans, the M1 just did not support them at all. Even with an upgraded model with the fancy integrated Apple GPUs it could not handle fancy Minecraft shaders at all. The system was fast as hell but the Sildur “enhanced default” shader was the best I could do.

 

Fast forward to this week. I have a Mac Mini with a 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display as a desktop computer, so I thought ah ha I’ll just move the eGPU to it and get some use out of it. Nope. The Mini was too old and only had Thunderbolt. The Mini also was a dog at running X-Plane and Lightroom anyways so I said screw it and eBay’d a 2013 Mac Pro trashcan.

(Also the first time I fired up the eGPU after several months there was an electrical pop when I hit the power switch. Dead PSU. I had to track down a replacement. Me and the Razer Core X just aren’t getting along.)

After buying a Thunderbolt 2 -> 3 adapter, cable, hooking it all up, installing the Kryptonite boot loader to enable the eGPU, fired up Minecraft and white screen in the launcher.  Game was running, utilizing the XFX GPU, music going but white screen in the launcher. Fired up X-Plane, process was running, on the XFX GPU but there was no X-Plane window at all. Note this was with the Thunderbolt display plugged into the Mac Pro and not the GPU.

I plugged a shitty monitor into the GPU with a DVI->HDMI dongle, MacOS instantly recognized it and put a desktop on it. I fired up Minecraft expecting it to show up on the shitty monitor, lo and behold the launcher launched and the game screen appeared on the Thunderbolt display, using the XFX GPU. Interesting! It would seem you need something plugged into the GPU like another monitor or a dummy HDMI dongle for it to haul the video back to the eGPU and back over Thunderbolt.

Unfortunately this takes a performance hit. With the high end Sildur shader the best I could do was around 30 FPS in MC. So I’m back to using slightly less fancy until I can buy a new monitor that has HDMI or DisplayPort on it so I can plug directly into the eGPU.

Update: I bought a Dell 4k display and plugged it directly into the eGPU. Life is grand again, and the display is way more sharp than the trusty old Thunderbolt display.

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