To enable your Mac to handle the demands of Virtual Reality (VR) games or Augmented Reality (AR) and work with a VR Headset on your Mac, an External Graphics Processing Unit (eGPU) is essential.
Even if you’re not interested in VR gaming or apps, an eGPU is a modest investment that makes a massive improvement to the performance of your Mac.
Super compact eGPUs like our top rated choice the amazing Sonnet Puck are portable too so you can take them with you and your MacBook wherever you go.
In the past, the only way to upgrade the graphics performance of your Mac was to update the graphics card but this isn’t always possible on all Macs and it’s a complicated process.
However, with the advent of super fast Thunderbird 3 connections on Mac, you can now connect powerful external graphic upgrades like eGPUs without opening up your Mac.
You May Also Like:
- The Best VR Headset For Mac Users
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- Sonnet Breakaway Box Review
Any Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 port running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or above can connect to an external graphics processor.
Especially if you’re into gaming, an eGPU opens up a whole new world of gaming possibilities on macOS.
Although there are other innovative gaming solutions like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, they don’t compare to the advantages of having an eGPU box connected to your Mac.
An eGPU allows you to play graphics intensive games such as Apex Legends on Mac at maximum frame rates just as if you were playing it on a PC – even on older Macs.
However, not all eGPUs are compatible with the MacBook Pros or iMacs – you have to be very careful which one you choose.
Apple officially endorses the Blackmagic Design eGPU but it’s expensive and there are other options available which are cheaper and do just as good a job.
So we’ve done the hard work for you and looked at the best eGPUs for Mac users in 2020.
What Is An eGPU?
An eGPU is basically an external unit that houses a powerful graphics card which will allow your MacBook Pro or iMac to deal with graphic intensive applications.
Not only this but an eGPU unit turns your humble MacBook Pro or MacBook Air into a powerful desktop gaming system or 4K video editing system capable of competing with the very best.
Advanced 3D graphics platforms such as NVIDIA CUDA, which are way beyond the capabilities of current Macs, suddenly become accessible with an eGPU. It also means that highly demanding games can be played at maximum resolution on Mac – something that current Macs struggle with or can’t handle.
Most exciting of all however, is that eGPUs open-up the world of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to Mac users.
The great thing about an eGPU is that because it’s external, you can leave it at home for gaming or VR use and still enjoy the portability of your MacBook if you want to take it with you somewhere.
eGPUs are not all about gaming though.
They can also provide much greater number crunching power when it comes to analyzing data with complex statistical software, forecasting, 3D modelling for CAD design, big data and more.
The advantages of an eGPU can be summarized as:
- It can accelerate apps that use Metal, OpenGL, and OpenCL
- It enables you to connect additional external monitors and displays such as powerful 4K monitors
- You can virtual reality headsets plugged into the eGPU
- You can charge your MacBook Pro while using the eGPU although you need to make sure that the enclosure you use to house the graphics card is powerful enough to do this. All of the eGPUs featured in this top list can charge your Mac.
- You can use an eGPU with your MacBook Pro even when the built-in display is closed
System Requirements For eGPUs
Unless you’re lucky enough to own one of the latest $4,999 iMac Pros which can handle VR out of the box without the need for an eGPU, you’ll need to make sure your Mac meets some basic minimum requirements.
The main requirement Mac users should be looking for in an eGPU is that it supports Thunderbolt 3 as it requires the high data speeds of up to 40Gps that only Thunderbolt 3 connections can deliver to your Mac.
This means ideally you need a MacBook Pro from 2016 onwards or an iMac from 2017 as they are the only Macs which have Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Specifically, the following Macs have Thunderbolt 3 ports and are definitely compatible with eGPUs:
Mac Pro (T2 Chip, Late 2019)
MacBook Pro (16-inch, T2 Chip, Late 2019)
MacBook Air (13-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2019)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2019)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2019)
iMac (5K, 27-inch, Early 2019)
iMac (4K, 21-inch, Mid 2019)
MacBook Air (13-inch, T2 Chip, Late 2018)
Mac mini (T2 Chip, Late 2018)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2018)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, T2 Chip, Mid 2018)
iMac Pro (5K, 27-inch, T2 Chip, Late 2017)
iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2017)
iMac (Retina 4K, 21-inch, Mid 2017)
iMac (21-inch, Mid 2017)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2017)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2017)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
There are some users that have been able to get eGPU’s working on older Macs via Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapters but it’s very hit-and-miss and doesn’t work with all eGPUs.
We therefore do not recommend daisy-chaining an eGPU unit via a Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter.
Connecting an eGPU via a Thunderbolt adapter is definitely not officially supported in High Sierra, Mojave or Catalina and so our advice is if you haven’t got one, upgrade to a Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 port.
To use a VR helmet, you’ll also need a Mac with an Intel Core i5 chip or higher.
This is because the best VR headset for Mac that officially supports macOS is the HTC Vive which requires an Intel Core i5 or higher present in 2015 Macs.
The following Macs only have Thunderbolt 2 ports although those made before 2015 do not have the Intel Core i5 chip:
- MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015) and later
- iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
- iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2015)
- iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) through 2015
- Mac mini (Late 2014)
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) through 2015
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) through 2015
- Mac Pro (Late 2013)
You can however connect more than one eGPU using the multiple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports on your Mac.
You can connect an eGPU while a user is logged in – you don’t have to shut down and restart. Simply use the eGPU menu bar icon to safely disconnect the eGPU such as you would with an external hard drive.
You can also monitor the activity levels of an eGPUs by opening Activity Monitor and then choosing Window > GPU History.
eGPUs & Graphics Cards
The other major thing you’ll need of course is a graphics card to put inside the eGPU unit (unless you buy an all-in-one solution like the excellent portable Sonnet Puck).
You have to be careful with this because not all graphics cards are supported by macOS High Sierra, Mojave or Catalina yet. At the moment, AMD graphics cards based on Polaris are the safest bet which includes the Sapphire Pulse and WX range.
In particular, the AMD Radeon Sapphire Nitro works perfectly and is a safe option for Mac users if you want to save yourself compatibility headaches. Mac users should think twice before using NVIDIA cards for now as although NVIDIA has updated its graphics cards drivers recently and has issued Pascal drivers for the ultra powerful Titan X Pascal graphics card to work on Mac, there are still some issues with them working with eGPUs on High Sierra.
Most users have found more success with AMD cards but as High Sierra is updated and the price of the Titan X comes down, there will be better support.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you’re using a MacBook Pro, you’ll need to make sure that the eGPU unit can provide enough power to power both the graphics card and charge your Mac.
The eGPU chassis needs to provide at least 85 watts of charging power to achieve this. All the eGPU units reviewed in this article all provide enough power to do both but if you choose a different model, double-check this with the manufacturer.
You’ll also need to be running the very latest version of macOS 10.13 High Sierra, macOS 10.14 Mojave, or macOS 10.15 Catalina so make sure you’ve updated through the App Store.
Throughout early 2018, Apple slowly updated High Sierra to perform better with eGPUs as initially there were various bugs and stability issues such as having to log in and out of macOS when you connect and disconnect eGPU units.
Mojave provided much better support for eGPUs with fixes for connection issues, acceleration for Metal, OpenGL or OpenCL and support for more VR headsets.
Catalina didn’t introduce any major changes in eGPU support but did make improvements to performance in terms of better support for Metal 2, app-level optimization and improved internal display acceleration.
The beta versions of macOS are always at the cutting edge of VR development but you can only install them if you’re a member of the Apple Beta Software Program.
Although the beta versions offer enhanced VR support earlier, it’s recommended that you wait for the final releases as beta versions can be unstable and conflict with other apps on your Mac.
macOS Mojave/Catalina & eGPUs
macOS Mojave brought the best ever eGPU support to Macs and this has been continued in macOS Catalina which has enhanced support for Metal 2.
The biggest improvement is that Mojave and Catalina allow you to use your MacBook Pro or iMac display as your main monitor.
Previously, the full benefits of using an eGPU were only fully realized with an external monitor connected to your Mac. Even better, it also allows you to choose which applications benefit from eGPU acceleration.
There are however some teething issues with the new version of macOS Catalina and eGPUs.
eGPUs containing AMD Radeon 570 and 580 graphics cards have been reported to be note working properly by some users although AMD will probably release fixes for these soon.
Some users have found that Catalina is causing these Macs (mainly Mac Minis) to crash and freeze when the eGPU is connected.
This includes our top pick the Sonnet eGFX although it should be noted that not all users are affected and Apple will surely roll out an update to fix any glitches soon.
Overall though, Catalina has brought better app-level optimization, improved internal display acceleration and an eGPU Boot Screen for Mac Minis.
In particular, Catalina has made it much easier to simply plug-and-play with almost all eGPUs. In addition, Catalina now allows you to select the eGPU to handle all of your monitor graphic card acceleration needs which is far superior to what your Mac’s internal card can deliver to your display.
Unfortunately, not all apps – such as many graphic design packages – support this but Adobe packages such as Photoshop do (see below) and more will surely adopt it as eGPUs become more popular on Mac.
Can You Use NVIDIA Cards With eGPUs & Macs?
Unfortunately, NVIDIA graphics cards still aren’t supported in Mojave or Catalina and our advice is to stick to AMD cards for now.
NVIDIA no longer makes drivers for its graphics cards for the latest versions of macOS.
This is simply because NVIDIA and Apple are competing when it comes to gaming on Mac.
NVIDIA is trying to get a foot hold in the Mac gaming market with its own gaming platform GeForce Now For Mac which has recently come out of beta and is now available to everyone (depending on your region).
GeForce Now delivers games from the NVIDIA’s gaming servers in the Cloud so you don’t need an eGPU to play them. However, it costs $4.99 per month and the selection of games available is still very small.
So make sure that you don’t buy any kind of NVIDIA eGPU or graphics card for your Mac until NVIDIA officially start supporting macOS again.
Now you’re better informed, here is our list of the best eGPUs for Mac of 2020 in order of ranking.
There are three things that make the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon the best eGPU for Mac currently available: convenience, size and Apple endorsement.
Convenience because it’s an all-in-one setup. It’s an eGPU unit with a Radeon RX 570 graphics card built-in – there’s no need to buy and fit a separate graphics card to go in it.
We like the fact that because the graphics card is built-in, there’s no extra expense and there’s no need to mess about buying one and installing it inside the unit.
There are a few other eGFXs that are “ready-to-go” like this such as the Gigabyte RX 580 Gaming Box and BlackMagic eGPU but neither offer the same performance or value for money like the Sonnet Puck does.
We also love the size because it’s the only portable eGPU for Mac on the market. eGPUs are pretty large units and take quite a bit of space on your desk – they’re certainly not designed to be portable.
The Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck is the exception because at 6x2x5.1 inches, it’s small enough to put in your rucksack or laptop bag and take with you.
Finally, Apple officially endorse both Sonnet’s Puck and Breakaway Box (see review below) as recommended eGPUs for macOS.
Despite it’s size, you don’t need to carry your MacBook Power supply with you either because it can charge your MacBook. This is why we think the Sonnet Puck is definitely the best eGPU for a MacBook Pro because you not only get the performance benefits, but it charges your MacBook too.
The other impressive thing for an eGPU this small is that there are ports three DisplayPorts and one HDMI port meaning you can connect up to four 4K displays.There used to be both a Radeon 560 and Radeon 570 version of the Sonnet Puck but now there’s only the Radeon 570 version.
The Radeon 570 card is more than powerful enough to handle what’s coming over the next few years time as VR apps and games on Mac really take off.
You can check out our full review of the Sonnet Puck for more.
No need to purchase a graphics card – it’s all included
The only portable eGPU for Mac
Charges your MacBook battery
Connect up to four 4K displays
Power Pack is quite large
The Sonnet eGFX is officially endorsed by Apple to developers so you can safely say that it provides rock solid compatibility with Macs.
In fact, Apple are selling the Sonnet eGPU as part of its External Graphics Development Kit for $599 for those that want to develop VR apps and games on Mac.
The kit is only available to members of the Apple Development Program however and includes the Sonnet eGFX Breakway Box, AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card and Belkin USB-C to 4-port USB-A hub.
This is actually a very good deal because although you can buy the Sonnet eGPU cheaper on it’s own, the Radeon RX 580 graphics card will set you back several hundred dollars plus you’ll need to purchase the Belkin Thunderbolt Hub.
However, if you’ve already got a graphics card, it’s cheaper to buy the Sonnet eGFX and Thunderbolt Hub. If you’re not part of the Apple Developer Program though, you can’t take advantage of the Apple deal anyway and have to purchase everything separately.What we like about the Sonnet is that it’s extremely quiet. In fact even under extensive use and heavy load we’re yet to hear the fans whir.
It comes with its own 350W power supply and the neat thing is that once connected to your Mac via Thunderbolt 3, it actually provides power to your Mac too – useful if you don’t have access to a power supply.
Like most eGPUs, it’s extremely easy to slot in a graphics card and your Mac will automatically detect it when you connect the Thunderbolt cable.
If it doesn’t for any reason, try logging in and out of your Mac as High Sierra is still a bit temperamental when it comes to eGPU plug and play although the latest updates to High Sierra have improved this.
On the downside, it does feel like a big unit especially if you don’t have much space on your desk. It dwarfs most external drives and it needs to be fairly close to your Mac due to the rather short 0.5m Thunderbolt 3 cable.
There used to be a few minor bugs with High Sierra such as the device not appearing in the “About This Mac” Menu but these also have been fixed with the latest High Sierra updates.
Some Adobe applications don’t appear to utilize the full GPU memory though and this may take longer to fix if Adobe need to issue a fix.
Note that the Sonnet also does not support running Windows through Boot Camp. We don’t recommend this anyway now that High Sierra supports eGPU units but if you are thinking of running Windows on your Mac, bear this in mind.
You can watch an interesting setup of a Sonnet Breakaway being used with an HTC Vive Headset to play VR games on High Sierra here.
You can also watch here how the Sonnet Breakaway eGPU makes some impressive improvements to 4K video editing on Mac.
For a more in-depth look, you can check out our full Sonnet Breakaway Box review.
Supports Thunderbolt 3
Easy to plug and play graphics card
Also charges your MacBook Pro (both 550W and 650W Models)
Size – extremely big if you’ve got a small desk
Thunderbolt cable length (0.5m)
Some bugs with High Sierra but improving
Does not support Boot Camp
The Akitio Node is currently the biggest competitor to the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box and retails for around the same price.
Akitio is based in California and specializes in doing everything in-house designing and creating new Thunderbolt peripherals such as external hard drives for Macs and now eGPUs.
The products are extremely reliable, functional and are quickly gathering a dedicated following.
Like the Sonnet, the Akitio Node is very easy to set up and use with plug and play support for graphics cards. The Akitio Node has a PCIe (x16) slot that will take full-sized and also double-width cards.
The Node also has a built-in power supply which can help if not enough power is getting to your graphics card.
The Akitio Node is pretty quiet although the extra power supply makes it slightly noisier than the Sonnet. On the downside, like the Sonnet it’s also a very big unit and takes up a lot of space on your desk.
It’s also quite soft at the front of the unit so be careful when moving it around not to dent it. It does however have a useful carry handle on the back which makes it a bit easier to transport and move around than the Sonnet.
If you want to try installing Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp, the Akitio does support running Windows in Boot Camp too but as mentioned earlier, there’s really no need to do this now that High Sierra supports a growing number of eGPUs.
Easy to set up and use
Accepts all sizes of graphics card
Includes extra power supply
Supports running through Boot Camp
Power supply makes more noise than Sonnet
Thunderbolt cable length (0.5m)
The main attraction of the Akitio Node Pro is that it has an extra Thunderbolt 3 Dedicated DisplayPort to add another monitor to your display setup.
Other than that, there aren’t many differences between it at the standard Akitio Node although it has a metallic finish and a handle on the top rather than on the sides.
It’s also a bit noisier than the Akitio Node which in itself is a bit noisier than the Sonnet although nothing that becomes too disturbing or disruptive.
There is a mesh panel which helps dissipate the heat from the fans too. Unless you need an extra monitor, you don’t really need the Akitio Node Pro which retails in the region of around $350 – almost $100 more than the standard version.
However, it’s definitely well worth the extra dollars if you’re going to be doing VR video editing because of the added 4K monitor support
Extra Thunderbolt 3 port for connecting external monitor
Handle on top rather than at the back
Noisier fans than the Akitio Node
Thunderbolt cable length (0.5m)
The Mantiz Venus is a Thunderbolt 3 compatible eGPU unit with an extra 5 USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet connection port. There’s also room for a SATA connector if you want to add an external hard drive to it.
Setup of the Mantiz Venus is very easy as your Mac will automatically detect and install the necessary drivers to run graphics cards in it. On the downside, the HDMI refresh rate seems to be quite low for VR gaming although it’s not clear if this is an issue with a box or High Sierra. Like the Akitio Nose, it also supports both VR gaming in Windows via Boot Camp and macOS High Sierra.
The Mantiz Venus is also almost twice the price of the Akitio Node and Sonnet at just under $400 but will mainly appeal to those that want plenty of USB 3.0 ports.
5 USB 3.0 Ports
Sleek metallic finish
Easy to setup
No carry handle
Thunderbolt cable length (0.5m)
The OWC Mercury Helios FX eGPU works with both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards. The Helios FX is a good option for video editors as it supports PCIe cards including Red Rocket and AVID Pro Tools for video editors.
It’s quite a big unit and log enough to accept full-sized, double width GPU cards and provides enough power to run both the eGPU and charge your MacBook Pro at the same time.
The OWC Mercury Helios FX is endorsed by Apple to be fully compatible with High Sierra. Although OWC state that it’s fully compatible with NVIDIA cards, Mac users should stick to AMD for now as there are still incompatibility problems with NVIDIA cards and High Sierra.
AVID Pro Tools support
Fully compatible with both AMD and NVIDIA cards
Accepts full length and width GPU cards
Lack of ports
NVIDIA support not much use on Mac at the moment
These are currently the best eGPUs for MacBook Pros and iMacs on the market.
The Razor Core X Thunderbolt 3 external graphics card enclosure is actually optimized for Razor laptops but it works fantastically with Macs.
It’s also extremely good value for money at just under $300 although of course, you’ll need to buy a graphics card to go in it.
The Razor Core X isn’t exactly portable but it’s reasonably compact measuring about a foot long, half a foot tall and a few inches wide. It does however include an internal 650W power supply which explains why it’s a bit beefy.
It’s also pretty quiet – you can hear the cooling fan but it’s barely audible and not bothersome with 4 cooling vents to let heat escape.
If you want tot utilize multiple 4K displays then the Razor Core X is perfect especially if you pair it with a Radeon AMD Vega 64 or Radeon VII.
You’ll definitely notice that the Razor Core X takes the heavy load from your Mac and performance is generally very impressive whether it’s gaming, video editing, rendering or running 4K monitors.
There’s also the Razor Core X Chroma which is $100 more as it supports RGB but unless you need it, the Razor Core X is fine.
Includes built in 650W power supply
Fast, quiet performance
Takes up quite a bit of space
What About The Blackmagic eGPU Pro on Apple’s website?
Finally, you might be wondering why the Blackmagic Design eGPU for sale on Apple’s website doesn’t make this list. Since Apple are selling it, you’d expect it to at least be a contender right?
Unfortunately, considering it costs around $1,199 there are too many issues to justify the cost.
One basic problem is that the Blackmagic eGPU tends to freeze quite a lot and requires unplugging and reconnecting again. This can even happen when doing something simple like viewing a video on YouTube.
In addition, one of the main reasons people get an eGPU is to enhance gaming and the performance of the Blackmagic eGPU is very hit and miss despite the claim of “super smooth gaming”.
It does depend on the game but if you try and play games like Fortnite at its maximum frame rate, it doesn’t always perform well.
When it comes to video editing in apps like Final Cut Pro, the Blackmagic Pro does definitely speed-up rendering but not enough to justify the initial outlay.
Finally, it’s frustrating that you can’t upgrade the Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics card in the Blackmagic eGPU. Some of these performance issues could surely be fixed with an NVIDIA card for example but it’s not an option.
On the positive side, it’s a very quiet eGPU which really fits the Apple aesthetic when it comes to looks.
You’ll also find very many satisfied customers that use it but our take is that the eGPU units featured in our top list offer better performance, reliability and value for money.
How To Make Apps Use Your eGPU
Some games and apps won’t recognize your eGPU by default. You have to instruct your Mac that you want certain applications to use the eGPU in some cases.
Note that this is only possible in macOS Mojave and above.
To do this, select the app in Finder, right click on it and select the “Get Info” option in the pop up menu. Select the checkbox “Prefer External GPU” and then open the app.
Thunderbolt Cables For eGPUs
One common practical problem we noticed with all the eGPus reviewed here was the length of the Thunderbolt 3 cable that comes with them.
Since most manufacturers only provide a 0.5m cable, it means you must have the large units close to your Mac which isn’t always convenient if you haven’t got much space or want to connect to a Mac-mini.
However, for an extra 50 bucks you can get 2 meter Thunderbolt 3 cables which are definitely worth the investment so that you can store the units on the floor or away from your Mac.
Can You Force an eGPU to Work With Windows On A Mac?
Unfortunately, there’s still no easy way to do this.
For those Mac users that run Windows on their Mac using a virtual environment or Boot Camp, an eGPU won’t make any difference to it or enable you to play better games on it.
If you have any questions about the eGPUs featured here or have problems using them with your Mac, let us know in the comments below and we’ll try to help.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in our review of GeForce Now for Mac – NVIDIA’S impressive solution to gaming on Mac (although it doesn’t support VR).
You can also see below what an eGPU can do when connected to your Mac.