Alongside yesterday’s big update to iOS 11.3, Apple also quietly pushed out an update for macOS High Sierra. Included in the new update (version 10.13.4) are a number of helpful, but not super exciting improvements, such as the addition of new privacy icons and data management, additional sorting functions for bookmarks in Safari, and the usual assortment of bug fixes and stability enhancements. If you weren’t looking closely at the change log, you might have skipped over the line talking about new external GPU support coming to macOS.
This feature may not sound like much, but it’s a big change for professional video editors and VR developers, who can now increase their system’s graphics performance by hooking up a standalone graphics card, rather than replacing an entire computer. Less time spent rendering means more time creating something, which is a change I think everyone can get behind.
Currently, the cheapest Mac you can buy with discrete graphics is the $1,300 21.5-inch iMac. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something more portable, the least expensive MacBook with a real GPU starts at a whopping $2,400 for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, with both the iMac and MBP sporting last-gen Radeon Pro 555 GPUs with just 2GB of vRAM. If you want a Mac with actual oomph, right now, your only real choice is an iMac Pro, which starts at an eye-watering $5,000.
The ability to connect a GPU to your system with just a single wire can also help extend the life of older systems, as oftentimes components like the CPU and screen are still more than serviceable—they just need a little help in the graphics department. However, the caveat is that your system will need to have at least one Thunderbolt 3 port, which rules out most Macs made before 2016.
Last fall, when I was testing Sonnet’s cute little Breakaway Puck, it was frustrating to see that eGPU connect seamlessly to a number of Windows PCs. All I had to do was hook up the wires and update the graphics drivers, and off I went. But when I tried to use the Puck with a late model MacBook, the only thing I got in return was errors. Thankfully, that should be fixed now in macOS 10.13.4.
While it might be a stretch, this feature could even have a big impact on Mac-based gaming, which has long lagged far behind that of its PC counterparts. Either way, the added freedom to improve graphics power is definitely a good thing. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see what Mac users do with it.