Blackmagicdesign eGPU Snap Verdict

Need a graphics boost? Then look no further than the Blackmagic Design eGPU. This external graphic’s card will boost your computer’s video processing without the need to upgrade your Mac.

Installation is quick, simply plug it into a spare Thunderbolt 3 port (not to be mistaken for USB-C) and after a couple of seconds, it’s ready to go.

At present, the eGPU has full support for Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve but applications such as FCPX aren’t yet supported, at least not officially.

Likewise, at present, Adobe product support is limited. But again, with eGPU support having been written into the latest MacOS release, software support is likely to be along very soon.

Until then… Davinci Resolve. When I use it on my MacBook Pro, it’s actually faster at rendering than my desktop. Maybe time for an upgrade to the desktop, or is it just time dump the desktop and get the performance boost from the eGPU with the laptop?

After running a quick script that same performance benefit can also be assigned to FCPX and Photoshop. FCPX output will see a good 33% performance boost – impressive.

If you deal with large file formats that require plenty of GPU processing, then the Blackmagic design eGPU becomes an absolute essential.  And it looks good too.

For Blackmagicdesign eGPU

  • Boost GPU processing
  • Increases DaVinci Resolve render speeds
  • Huge potential

Against Blackmagicdesign eGPU

  • Limited application support at present
  • Fix graphics card, can’t be upgraded
 

Until the Blackmagic design eGPU arrived I’d dismissed external graphics cards as something for the Linux or PC user to get excited about.

I’d seen the performance boosts that they offered gamers but had never really considered using one for video, photo or graphics work, mainly due to Mac compatibility issues.

I understand that software like DaVinci Resolve and Final Cut Pro can be GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) intensive, but do I really need more power on this front. After all my MacBook Pro features a 4GB Radeon Pro 560X and seems fast enough.

OK, this is the latest MacBook and it absolutely rips through video and processing like I’ve never seen before. However, I have a slightly older 13-inch MacBook Pro and whilst good, it has issues with speed – especially render times.

I also have a Mac Pro. It’s quite old now and retirement is imminent. But as it’s been with me for years, I have a misguided loyalty to the old thing. But it does need to be replaced.

What I wanted to know at the start of this test is, can I forget about the desktop upgrade and get the performance I need from my laptops?

There are of course limitations with the eGPU, it requires the latest technology to work, so it is only compatible with the Thunderbolt 3 Mac’s which have been produced since 2016.

That rules out my old Mac Pro as an older generation machine, a 5.1, there is at present no Thunderbolt 3 card with the right chipset support to enable eGPU compatibility.

Features

Blackmagic Design has been careful with the design of this eGPU so that it fits in with the studio environment and reflects the Apply style.

Size wise it’s roughly the same as a Mac Pro. That’s the new style, not the glorious old towers. If you’re already measuring up the desk space its dimensions are 176.9×176.9×294.4mm.

It’s also finished in a stunning gunmetal grey and is minimalistic in its design. At 4.5Kg, it’s also not too heavy.

The outer aesthetic is stunning but really it’s what’s inside that matters. The internal GPU is the AMD Radeon Pro 580, this features 8GB of onboard video memory, double that of the top spec MacBook Pro.

Specifications

This card packs some impressive specifications; 36 Compute Units, 2304 Stream Processors, 144 Texture Mapping Units, 32 Raster Operation Pipelines, a 1200MHZ Base Clock, 1693 MHz Memory Clock, 256-bit Memory Bus Width and 217 GB/s Memory Bandwidth.

What this all means in real terms is that it has the graphics processing potential to outstrip the latest MacBook Pro’s which feature 4GB Radeon Pro 560X.

On the back of the box are all of the connectors, including the power.

As well as being an eGPU these ports enable you to use the device as a powerful docking station so you can leave monitor, mouse and keyboard all plugged in while you and the laptop are busy on location.

These ports include 4 x USB 3.1 which can be used for the built-in hub, 2 x Thunderbolt 3, one of which is required to plug into the computer and then there’s an HDMI for monitoring 4K.

One of my early fears was that card noise was going to be an issue. After all, when rendering video on the laptop I’m often surprised it doesn’t levitate with all that fan activity.

Thankfully, there is little noise, in fact on the Blackmagic Design website, they state that the audio volume is ≈ 18 dB. In context that’s considerably less than the Mac Pro’s fans when they kick in.

Build quality and handling

The main body of the unit is made from aluminium which is beautifully finished. The top features fan vents are nicely designed to enable a steady cooling airflow through.

The chassis is slightly raised to enable an air gap underneath and a light shines directly down to highlight whether the device is on or not.

Setup is exceptionally easy. Simply plug in the power, connect the Thunderbolt 3 cable to the eGPU and then into the Mac. Then connect the monitor cable directly from the eGPU to the monitor and you’re done.

There’s no additional software, drivers or faffing about.

If you’re using it without a monitor, then it can simply be plugged directly into your machine through the Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Once connected and switched, on a small icon appears in the Menu bar at the top of the screen. There are no adjustments or settings that need to be altered it just works as everything Apple should.

When it comes to using it with applications, things become a little more complicated. That’s because although OSX now has full eGPU support, not all applications do.

In this test, I used DaVinci Resolve to see the performance boost. As this is also designed and made by Blackmagic Design, it makes the most of the eGPU support.

However, applications like Final Cut Pro and Premiere have yet to have full support added. This support can’t be too far off, but there is a workaround.

Performance

First up using the15-inch 2017 MacBook Pro. There were instantly some differences to the overall performance. The Mac also seemed to run cooler and there were generally fewer issues.

Since starting the review the15-inch MacBook Pro proved to have a fault. Actually quite a few, and the test was restarted with a15-inch MacBook Pro  2018.

In general use, the GPU is rarely pushed, so there really is little or no difference to the general use. Opening the Activity monitor and looking at the GPU History shows a few peaks as it kicks in, but all is much the same as ever.

However, switch over to DaVinci Resolve and load up a project with a few effects and you can start to see the eGPU flex its muscles and take on some of that graphics processing.

Render Times

I created a couple of sample movies of 14 minutes in length with a few transitions thrown in for good measure.

The Render time for these without the eGPU connected was 5 minutes 52 seconds. With the eGPU connected, this dropped to 4 minutes 40 sec, a decrease of around 20%. A second movie with slightly different transitions produced render times of 4:43 without and 4:09 with, an decrease of around 12%.

In both cases, there was a definite increase in speed and performance.

Get the Script

Switching over to FCPX, which is my application of choice for video editing, and it was all a very different story. At present Apple hasn’t added full support for eGPU, so there was little if any difference.

The same was true for Adobe products that I tried although there was evidence that both Photoshop and Lightroom were making use of the eGPU, just not to its full potential.

However, after installing a script, the power increase from the eGPU was far greater and gave a real insight into what this card will offer in the near future.

If you have an eGPU then check out the following if you haven’t already github.com/mayankk2308/set-egpu

This script and its use are outside of the review remit, yet I really wanted to see what the overall potential of the device was.

Using a selection of fades, overlays and effects I configured set-eGPU to channel the GPU preferences for FCPX to the eGPU and clicked share to see the results.

Without the eGPU, the first render took 45 seconds and then with 28 seconds. I re-ran the test and sure enough, similar speed gains have had across the board.

In summary, on the performance, the Blackmagic Design eGPU has so much potential which is shown in the use of DaVinci resolve and with the set-eGPU script. But at present, it doesn’t have the mainstream app support it needs.

After a hard day’s work, it was time to sit back and play a game or two. Here’s where the big difference kicks in, but we’re not a gaming site so I’ll leave that for another day.

Benchmark Results

To highlight the potential let’s take a look at some benchmark Compute results from Geekbench 4.

MacBook Pro (15-inch Mid 2017)
AMD Radeon Pro 560 44144
Intel(R) HD) Graphics 630 21062
AMD Radeon Pro 580 110602

MacBook Pro (15-inch 2018)
AMD Radeon Pro 560X 57466
Intel(R) HD) Graphics 630 22028
AMD Radeon Pro 580 111966

These results are conclusive, the eGPU offers applications a huge boost in video processing if the software is optimised to use it.

Verdict

It’s early days for the eGPU market on Apple systems and the Blackmagic Design solution is an attractive offering.

At present, software support is limited although there is a script based workaround. Once this is applied you can really see the potential and the speed increase for FCPX output was impressive.

It also brings huge performance boosts for video work using DaVinci Resolve, especially rendering. This alone makes the eGPU a worthwhile spend.

If you’re more of a Photoshop or Lightroom user, then at present the boost in performance is limited.

It feels like we’re just seeing the start of what the eGPU will be the future.

The Blackmagic Design eGPU boosts laptop video performance to that of a desktop, enabling fast editing and rendering. It also acts as an ideal dock for the studio, enabling all accessories and monitors to be plugged in while you’re away on location.

In addition, its line through power enables you to charge your laptop directly from the unit.

There’s certainly a lot going for the eGPU.  But at present, it needs that bit extra before it becomes an absolute must have.

Once Apple fully integrates FCPX, and Adobe updates its product line-up with eGPU support, I’ll be first in the queue to pick one up.

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Blackmagic Design eGPU
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