There are many criticisms of Apple’s Mac products, but one of the most commonly cited is that they often don’t have graphics power that’s comparable to what you’d see in similarly priced Windows machines. Unfortunately, the company currently offers no desktop tower in which you could, say, slot two super-powerful gaming graphics cards, either.
Some of that could change soon when Apple moves to its own silicon on Macs or when it introduces a new Mac Pro. But for now, the company’s official answer to this line of criticism is doubling down on external GPU support in macOS. Support for this began during the High Sierra cycle and was expanded upon in some helpful ways in last year’s Mojave OS release.
In addition to providing software support for eGPUs, Apple has developed what is more or less its official-ish eGPU solution, in much the same that a couple of LG’s monitors have been Apple’s recommended external displays for a while now. The company did so by partnering with hardware-maker Blackmagic Design, an Australia-based company that specializes in products for video professionals. The first eGPU from Blackmagic included an AMD Radeon Pro 580 and was priced at $699. We reviewed it late last summer and found that—while it was quiet and easy-to-use, and the GPU was a big upgrade over the integrated graphics in many Macs—we wished a higher-end GPU option was offered for creative professionals and hardcore gamers who needed more.
Enter the Blackmagic eGPU Pro. At $1199, it includes a Radeon RX Vega 56. And in theory, that’s a big upgrade. So we recently ran some basic benchmarks to see if this new offering justifies the gigantic leap in price and satisfies wishes for a higher-end version of the previous model.
As noted already, the most important spec to consider here is the GPU itself: a Radeon RX Vega 56 with 8GB of HBM2 memory. That’s a high-end workstation GPU designed for tasks like video editing and 3D modeling, and it’s faster than even the top Vega GPUs available in the MacBook Pro or iMac (the mid-range Radeon Pro Vega 20 and 48, respectively).
It’s the same GPU (memory included) as you’ll find in the base iMac Pro, which starts at a wallet-busting $5,000. The only way you’re getting a faster GPU than this in today’s Macs without an eGPU is by buying that iMac Pro and adding on another $550 or $700 for the Radeon Pro Vega 64 or 64X with 16GB of HMB2.
The Blackmagic eGPU Pro will work with any Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac, and it has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3 ports (Type A), an HDMI 2.0 port, and a DisplayPort 1.4 port. It’s capable of 85W of power delivery to the attached Mac, which is good enough to keep any Mac laptop running. For a hot minute, some macOS releases supported eGPUs over Thunderbolt 2. But that brief moment has long passed.
The box includes the eGPU itself, a half-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable, and a power cable—there’s no external power brick. As for dimensions, the enclosure itself comes in at 11.59 x 6.96 x 6.96 inches (29.44 x 17.68 x 17.68 cm) and weighs 9.92 pounds (4.5 kg).
There’s not much new to add here on top of what we said about the Blackmagic eGPU last August. As far as we can tell, the chassis is the same. It’s just the GPU inside that’s different.
The Blackmagic eGPU Pro attempts to minimize its footprint on your desk by being tall. Its obelisk-like design is unusual; folks passing by your desk might have to venture a few guesses before figuring out precisely what it is. The Pro’s design can definitely be described as minimalist, but it’s at the same time just a touch too flashy for my tastes. That’s subjective, though. Despite these efforts to lower its footprint, the overall volume is a little bulkier than we’d like. There are actually smaller eGPU enclosures on the market. But Blackmagic prioritized quietness above all else.
And as was the case with the slower model last year, Blackmagic has succeeded on that front, and that’s really what you’re paying for. If there’s a eGPU enclosure that runs quieter than either of Blackmagic’s eGPUs, I’ve never seen it myself. The eGPU Pro is only audible in an otherwise silent room, and even then, it’s subtle. In fact, it’s appreciably quieter than a MacBook Pro with fans fully revved up. Chances are, if you’ve got a desk covered in computers and peripherals, this is going to be one of the quieter devices sitting there.
There’s another positive to consider here. This thing has a ton of ports, and the Thunderbolt ports can be daisy-chained to a point. So odds are you’ll end up having only one wire connected to your Mac: the Thunderbolt 3 port from this eGPU. That makes this not just an eGPU enclosure but a decent port hub.
Given that the best powered Thunderbolt 3 and USB hubs can run more than $300, that value proposition softens the blow of this eGPU’s price just a bit. That’s obviously no consolation if you’ve already invested in a setup that already works for you.