External Graphics Processing Unit

What is an EGPU? Who needs one? And why are the Sonnet eGFX BreakAway Box 550 through 750 incredible? In this article, we want to bypass all the geek bench references and the misunderstandings of speed test comparisons with graphics cards, and just get down to what it does and why users (specifically Mac Users) may want to purchase one. 

As nice as it would be to purchase a new computer every year, most people do not have the funds to do this. So as a reference example, I’m using a 15 inch 2018 MacBook Pro with some of the standard upgrades, such as more ram, bigger hard drive, and the Radeon Pro 560X 4 GB Intel UHD Graphics Card. In the beginning, when my laptop was brand new, it ran flawlessly. However, after some time has gone by and the majority of my clients have upgraded video quality from 1080p editing to 4K, I started to notice extreme stuttering. This was very noticeable in Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve after a few render passes. At first it didn’t affect me too much, but as my work continued, things got more bogged down. Sometimes FCPX would close abruptly and I’d lose an hour of editing due to graphic intense rendering. I watched many tips and tricks videos and tutorials on YouTube to counter any issues I came across. Most of them helped in some way, but at the end of the day, no amount of cheats could fix the main problem. My MacBook’s internal GPU and graphics card could not efficiently handle the load and needed more processing power to speed everything up. Users, including myself, come to a crossroad. Do we purchase a new computer or look to an alternative solution? This is where an external GPU comes into play.

With technology advancing and changing drastically, sometimes overnight, we can only hope our computers can keep up. An External GPU can take the pressure off your computers internal GPU and allow for a seamless transition of power using a different graphics card altogether. How many times have users installed new games and realized they can either barely run them or not at all? This is because their computers graphics card didn’t meet the minimum specs or it was just barely at the minimum. With the eGFX BreakAway Box from Sonnettech, we can finally harness the power of the most advanced graphics right into our laptop using a single Thunderbolt 3 port.

The graphics card recommended to us by Sonnettech for the eGPU Expansion System was the Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB. This card has proven to be one of the best all around in performance and stability within the price range we wanted to spend. The specific card used in our eGFX BreakAway Box in this review is the “Sapphire 11293-03-40G Radeon NITRO+ RX 5700 XT 8GB GDDR6 Dual HDMI / Dual DP OC (UEFI) PCIe 4.0 Graphics Card” – Our purchase was in November 2020 and the cost was around $450. You can find a compatibility list of supported graphics cards on Sonnettech’s official website HERE.

No matter which card you go with, be sure to check all the information prior to purchasing. Some of these cards have very similar names, but show as being Windows only on the list or not compatible at all. So if you’re a Mac user, be aware of the abbreviations at the top of each manufacturing brand (MW, M3W, M1W). These markings give assurance that the graphics card works with some Macs or All Macs as well as Windows. The (W) alone means it is only compatible with Windows.

Installing this Beast of power into the BreakAway Box is a bit challenging, since some of these cards have a very tight fit. For this specific branded card, I’d definitely recommend watching this installation video (specifically starting at 8:04) which shows the correct angle of getting it into position.

Once the graphics card is installed properly, it’s time to take it for a spin! Some users (including me) verified that their MacBook shut down immediately after turning on the eGPU. If this is something you ran into trouble with or the fans started running extremely high immediately, it most likely means you need to adjust the vBIOS switch that is physically on the graphics card. Follow the steps below to fix the potential issue.

Switching the BIOS is very easy. 

  1. First be sure to turn off your eGFX BreakAway Box and Computer. 
  2. Next locate the BIOS selector. The 5700 XT switch is located at the top corner of the card near the mounting bracket.
  3. Switch the vBIOS selector to the desired BIOS position. (Could be one or two over)
  4. Boot up your computer and log in.
  5. Turn on your BreakAway Box.

With everything setup correctly, you should see a new symbol at the top right corner of your MacBook menu bar. This shows that you are connected to the external GPU and running the desired BIOS. Depending on the manufacturing model and type of graphics card you purchased, will also determine how loud the fans are. As for the Sapphire Radeon NITRO+ RX 5700 XT 8GB, it is very quiet.

When working in DaVinci Resolve and slowing down finished footage using optic flow, specifically the speed warp setting, my MacBooks internal fans would start screaming and it would take 10 minutes just to start showing any progress in the bar. A ten second fully composited and colorized clip, would take up to around 35 minutes to render. Now with the BreakAway Box connected and in use, this same rendering took less than a minute. Users can expect this same outstanding performance when it comes to games, 3D modeling, animation, virtual reality, and music software. Anything that needs more GPU power to run, the BreakAway Box has you covered.

In Conclusion

The Sonnet eGFX BreakAway Box eGPU Expansion System is one of the very best solutions for anyone in need of some enhanced graphical power without breaking the bank. Sonnettech has been around for a long time and is staying on track with new upgraded models continually. They have just announced the new BreakAway Box 750Ex with some price adjustments throughout their product line. No special software to run it. Users can easily use the same Breakaway Box with another Apple or Windows based computer on the fly, and switch out the graphics cards again in the future when needed. If you’re looking for an easy solution to keep your computer setup as is, but need that extra boost, you’ll find it with Sonnettech. Check them out to see which model is best for you. SONNETTECH

If you need any parts or looking for a new graphics card on the list, you can check if available HERE