Blackmagic Design eGPU review


Digital Arts

  • Price: £599

  • We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

The Blackmagic Design eGPU is very much a companion product to the MacBook Pro (you can read our new 15-inch MacBook Pro review here). It launched at the same time, was shown off for the first time at the same event, and is available only through Apple for £599/$699.

The eGPU is an AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics card sealed inside a geometric tower whose design matches the MacBook Pro’s rather pleasingly.

It connects to the MacBook Pro over Thunderbolt 3, boosting the graphics capabilities of its built in Radeon Pro 560X graphics chip as well as charging the laptop, allowing Thunderbolt 3 passthrough to other devices (such as the excellent 32-inch Lenovo P32u monitor we tested it with) and helpfully providing a bunch of USB ports and an HDMI port that Apple’s laptop lacks (though no DisplayPort).

Having a single cable to plug into your MacBook Pro when you arrive at your desk is rather nice, though the provided Thunderbolt 3 cable is rather short, so you can't have the unit any further away than this (below) unless you buy a longer cable.

 

Blackmagic’s eGPU is different from other eGPUs from the likes of Sonnet in that it’s sealed – others you can generally put a wide choice of cards inside. The reasoning behind this, say both Apple and Blackmagic, is that this makes it quieter as they can use a smaller power supply that works with the Radeon Pro 580 – rather than needing a higher-specced, noisier unit to allow for cards up to a Nvidia Quadro P6000.

The downsides are that you can’t upgrade, and that the Radeon Pro 580 isn’t the most powerful card out there – for pro-graphics, we’d expect a WX series board or a Vega 64.

Application support for the eGPU is limited too. Of course, Blackmagic Design’s own DaVinci Resolve editing/grading application supports it, as does AMD’s ProRender realtime rendering engine within Cinema 4D.

In the benchmark graph below, you can see that it gives ProRender a massive boost – but that's because it's use both eGPU's Radeon Pro 580 and the MacBook's Radeon Pro 560X. Using different GPUs for dual processing is frowned upon as it can causes errors and crashes, so you won't see many apps using it but we didn't see any, and the performance boost is great.

Strangely though, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X can’t use the eGPU unless you deploy a hack. After Effects doesn’t see the eGPU either, and Premiere Pro runs more slowly with the eGPU connected. This appears to be that Premiere is able split GPU processing across both internal graphics systems: Intel's and AMD's – while when the eGPU is plugged in it uses that GPU alone.

So unless you're a Resolve or Cinema 4D user, it's hard to recommend the Blackmagic eGPU.

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