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At the moment, eGPUs do not support the latest Apple Silicon M1 chip Macs.

For this reason, many current Intel Mac users that rely on External Graphics Processing Units to run video editing software like Adobe Premiere, powerful graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator, complex CAD software like AutoCAD or just to play high end games, say they will not be upgrading to an M1 Mac anytime soon.

The main problem for eGPU manufacturers is that Apple Silicon is a very closed ecosystem.

When Apple decided to drop Intel chips in favor of manufacturing its own ARM M1 chips, it took even greater control of what Macs are and are not compatible with.

By doing this, Apple argues that it can make Macs which are prepared for the demands of VR on Mac, Artificial Intelligence software and other next generation technologies.

Here we look at whether there’s any chance eGPUs will support M1 Macs in 2021 and if an eGPU is even necessary for Apple Silicon M1 chip Macs.

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Why eGPUs Don’t Support M1 Macs

In theory, there’s no reason why eGPUs can’t support M1 chips.

M1 Macs have Thunderbolt 3 connections which can be connected to an eGPU PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) that are used on all the best eGPUs including the Blackmagic eGPU.

In fact, if you connect an eGPU to an M1 Mac Mini, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, it will recognize that it’s connected in macOS 11.

However, even if your M1 Mac recognizes the eGPU, it won’t work with it.

The problem is that the drivers to make eGPUs work with the Apple Silicon ARM M1 chip do not exist.

While eGPUs do work with widely used Intel chips in Mac built before mid 2021, the M1 chip is an entirely different architecture and there are no drivers which work with them.

There’s absolutely no motivation for Apple to developer eGPU drivers for M1 Macs since it would argue, the M1 chip delivers better performance than any eGPU out there.

Do You Even Need an eGPU With an M1 Mac?

egpu m1 chip

This is probably the most important question of all.

Firstly it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between a processor chip and a graphics card.

The M1 is a processor chip (also known as a CPUs) whereas eGPUs are graphic cards (also known as GPUs).

Processor chips like the M1 chip process the data the they receive whereas graphics cards are responsible for the graphics output.

However, the two work hand in hand and the faster and more efficient the processor at delivering information to the graphics card, the better the results.

In theory, the vastly superior performance enhancements made by the M1 chip compared to Intel chips should mean that your Mac’s internal graphics card should be far more efficient and you won’t even need an eGPU to super charge your Mac’s graphics handling capabilities.

If you run high end video editing applications like Final Cut Pro on an M1 Mac, it will handle it no problem without the need for an eGPU.

In fact, adding an eGPU would probably only breakdown the performance capabilities of an M1 Mac by placing a non-integrated graphics card into your setup.

The more external hardware you add into any setup, the more unstable it can become and prone to crashing as nothing beats a completely unified hardware setup.

However, if you’re using 3D rendering software such as Octane, the demands on the graphics card are such that you’ll still need an eGPU to deliver the boost your Mac needs to run such programs properly.

However, a more legitimate concern is M1 chip software compatibility.

Many big software packages such as AutoCAD, many Adobe products and 3D rendering tools like Unreal Engine are still not compatible with the M1 chip.

In addition, gamers often prefer Boot Camp to play Windows games on a Mac but Boot Camp does not work on M1 Macs. Parallels now runs Windows on M1 Macs but it’s not always powerful enough for some games.

So our advice is, it depends on what you’re going to use your Mac for when deciding whether to upgrade to an M1 Mac.

If the software you rely on is not compatible with M1 chips, you use 3D modelling software or you’re a hardcore gamer that needs Boot Camp to play Windows only games on your Mac then you’re much better off waiting for now.

In 2022, Apple will release the improved M1X or M2 chip and it would be no surprise if it were to also release it’s own M1 chip compatible Apple eGPU that would end the debate once and for all.

What’s The Future For eGPUs?

If you’re interested in learning more about whether M1 Macs really need eGPUs, check out the video below for an explanation of why from a performance perspective, in some cases they don’t.

In some cases, the days may be numbered for eGPUs but at the moment, there are definitely still some applications that require the graphics boost that only eGPUs can deliver.

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6 Responses

  1. Kay

    There are tons of applications that require the power for eGPU – in my industry rendering 3d work in Octane or Redshift, or game dev in Unreal Engine (the software Unreal Engine 4 cannot even run on M1). Im not sure why the author focuses on video content creation, there are probably more people working in 3d game dev work than there are youtube vloggers needing the modest power required to edit their videos.
    Also, there are practically no eGPU’s that the M1 can outperform contrary to the articles claim (‘eGPU’ btw is not a graphics card but a way to use ANY graphics card available), which make me think this author is either trolling, lying to sell more apple products, or simply doesn’t know what they are talking about. Even a 3 generation old 1060 gpu would wipe the floor with the gpu power of the M1. Strange article

    Reply
    • MacHow2

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. It’s true that M1s and eGPU can’t be directly compared as they do different jobs although they work together to a certain extent. In theory, the better the chip performance, the better the performance you get from the graphics card. You’re correct that some high end 3D rendering software demand the kind of graphics capabilities that only eGPUS can deliver but there’s been plenty of benchmark tests out there (such as the ones featured in the video) that show in certain circumstances (mainly gaming) an M1 Mac with an integrated graphics card outperforming Intel Macs with eGPUs connected to them.

      Reply

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