Apple Macbook 13" 2017 + AMD Vega 64

Disclaimer: This by no means is a technical review or benchmark of the Akitio Node Pro or Asus AMD Vega 64 on macOS.

Back in 2016, Razer announced the Razer Core; an external GPU that connected to the Razer's 'Blade Stealth' laptop over a Thunderbolt 3 connection. This was to offset the graphical computational from the laptop to the eGPU. This removed the limitations of crappy laptop GPUs, laptop cooling and the need for bulky 'gaming' laptops and desktop PCs.

It was a cool concept at the time, something I wished that came to the macOS platform since macOS is infamously known to not support gaming.

In comes macOS Mojave and a Apple Macbook 2017 13" without Touchbar. A device that has been used primarily as a macOS admin / dev machine (Munki, Parallels etc) This is the device that has a 2nd revision of the click-y butterfly keys (not the one with the dust membranes) and only 2 thunderbolt 3 ports. Both which are on the left side to my dismay.

It's a great laptop overall but lacks a sufficient graphics card to power anything graphically intense such as my 4K monitor at home. I ended up scouring the internet in search of an eGPU that suited my needs:

  • Supported macOS 10.14.2 Mojave without driver installation
  • Has 2 Thunderbolt 3 i/o ports (for daisy chaining purposes)
  • Can fit a full size graphics card (An ASUS ROG Strix Vega 64 Left over from a regretful Windows 10 PC build)
  • Doesn't look like it was designed by Michael Bay
  • Has additional ports for peripherals
Can an eGPU provide sufficient power to a base Macbook Pro 13" for everyday needs?

After spending some time reading the eGPU.io website and forums, I've ended up with the Akitio Node Pro, an eGPU that meets most the above needs and then some. It's an aluminum box that has aesthetic remnants of the Apple G5 and compliments the overall set-up at home.

eGPU Set-up

  • Akitio Node Pro $520
  • Asus ROG Strix Vega 64 8GB $899
  • Noctua NF-A9 92mm fan (2200RPM) $29
  • Corsair SF600 Platnium (600W) $190
  • Additional Corsair SF Modular 6+2 PCIe Cable
eGPU Total Cost: $1,638 AUD

The Node Pro is a cinch to set-up, easily fitting a full-sized graphics card such as the Vega 64. I un-boxed it and connected it my Macbook Pro in under 5 minutes. The main issue of set-up was working out the cable situation since this was a Macbook Pro with only 2 thunderbolt ports.

This was all fine and dandy until I tried to play some DotA 2, the eGPU PSU was not powerful enough to push the Vega 64 card. I unfortunately ended up forking out some additional cash to get the card working with this enclosure.

A SFX based 500W+ PSU was recommended to power the Vega 64, I'm using the Corsair SF600 platinum as it is sufficient for my needs and comes with fancy braided cables as standard. I unfortunately didn't plan ahead and needed to buy an additional 6+2 PCIe modular cable as the stock ones from the Akitio PSU are soldered (I mean you could if you knew your way around creating cables)

The Noctua NF-A9 was purchased to replace the stock mag-lev fan which was audible at all times (idle + load) which I'm very disappointed in.

Installation was a bitch, you need to dismantle the whole eGPU, it's not a delicate process, just a tedious one. If you're looking for instructions, please refer to this one: Akitio Node Pro PSU Replacement Guide

After that whole debacle, the customised Akitio Node Pro works completely fine. It fires up and is silent when idle thanks to the Noctua fan. The Vega's fans spin up only during fights in Dota 2 which is fine as the triple fan on the card is not the quietest solution.

The eGPU increased the framerate from 20-30fps @1080p to 60fps @4K in Dota 2 (Vulkan Exclusive Full Screen mode)

Last words:

I'm not happy with the state of eGPUs on MacOS or generally. The amount of bottlenecking and untapped potential over Thunderbolt 3 means I'm not taking advantage of the card.

Hardware wise, I wish Akitio either provided a better PSU and a silent exhaust fan with the Node Pro. Retrospectively, I should've bought the Sonnet Breakaway 650W eGPU.

Pros

  • Has an additional Thunderbolt 3 post for expansion via daisy chaining
  • More value than a Blackmagic Vega 56 Pro eGPU
  • MacOS seems to run faster
  • Ease of use for macOS devices
  • Slim and aesthetically pleasing case

Cons

  • Stock 400W PSU can only support GFX cards under 200W
  • Stock 92mm exhaust fan is audible at all times
  • Installation of PSU & exhaust fan requires full dismantling of eGPU enclosure
  • eGPUs are still expensive for what they deliver
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