Quiet, cool and powerful, The Blackmagic eGPU provides serious graphics oomph for your MacBook Pro
- Major 3D performance boosts
- Built to match the MacBook Pro
- All that power comes with a price tag
- No upgrade potential
When Apple recently refreshed its MacBook Pro lineup, many (myself included) were initially rather taken aback by how much the price of the various configurations would put off potential pundits. A prodigious £6,300 for a 15in MacBook Pro that doesn’t even have a dedicated GPU? Pah, I baulked, what on earth is the point?
Well, if you did perchance fork out over six grand for a monster of a laptop – it is rather good as it turns out – and you did require more graphics grunt, there’s something you might have missed that’s well worth considering.
Blackmagic eGPU review: What you need to know
External Thunderbolt 3-powered GPU enclosures aren’t new. We’ve already seen, and tested, these graphics-upping devices from a wide range of manufacturers including Razer, Gigabyte and HP. That said, Blackmagic’s eGPU is particularly special, in that it’s built entirely for your MacBook Pro.
If you didn’t already know, the Blackmagic eGPU is an external graphics accelerator powered by an 8GB GDDR5 Radeon Pro 580 graphics card, which is clocked at 1.2GHz. This might not be the speediest card on the market, but it’s a serious step up from the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 chip inside both the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros.
Its chassis is constructed from a single block of aluminium with an anodised finish. It certainly looks rather sci-fi, matching the MacBook Pro’s gunmetal aesthetic. The thermal grill on the top dissipates heat (more on that later), with a super-quiet variable speed fan inside. A soft pool of light lights up the underside of the eGPU when it’s plugged in and powered on.
On the back of the device, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports – one of which is used to connect to your MacBook – with transfer speeds of up to 40Gb/s. There’s also an HDMI 2.0 output for hooking your laptop up to an external display, and a total of four full-fat USB 3.1 connections. Likewise, the Blackmagic eGPU is powered by a regular kettle lead connection.
Blackmagic eGPU review: Performance
Putting it through its paces, then, it’s clear that the Blackmagic eGPU provides serious oomph for your MacBook Pro. Despite the flashy internals inside our top-end configuration – a 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor and 32GB of DDR5 RAM – the 15in MacBook Pro is seriously let down when it comes to graphics-heavy processing tasks, but not anymore.
Plugging in the Blackmagic eGPU and running the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 benchmark test, our 15-inch MacBook Pro reached an average of 40fps, which is up from the 20fps with the GPU unplugged. Effectively, this doubles the MacBook’s graphics capabilities.
It’s a similar story when running Unigine’s suite of OpenGL graphics tests, upping the framerate by 83% in the Heaven benchmark at native resolution and maximum graphics settings. Likewise, Unigine’s Valley test displayed an average of 32fps, compared to the not-so-impressive 18fps without the eGPU.
Not only does it provide a serious graphics upgrade, but the Blackmagic eGPU is whisper-quiet. Generating noise of roughly 15dB, according to our Dr Meter sound level meter, the eGPU can barely be heard over the humdrum of office chatter and the whirr of air-con. It stays nice and cool in operation, too.
There are a few notable downsides, however. For one, the supplied USB-C Thunderbolt 3 cable is only 0.5m in length; perhaps a little too short for many office desk setups. This can be rectified if you buy a longer 2m cable for roughly £50 from Amazon, but this isn’t ideal if you’ve just splurged on a brand new GPU.
Second is that the Blackmagic eGPU takes up a fair amount of space on your desk, and isn’t all that portable. Weighing 4.5Kg with a footprint of 177 x 177 x 294mm, you won’t be slipping the Blackmagic into your rucksack anytime soon. You wouldn’t be faced with these issues if you’d just decided to buy a laptop fitted with one of Nvidia’s Max Q graphics chips like, say, Dell’s recent XPS 15. In fact, you would have saved more than a few quid, too.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this external GPU can’t be upgraded. While other graphics enclosures can be fitted with practically any graphics card on the market, you can’t open this one up and tinker with it. This presents serious issues for future-proofing, especially since the included Radeon Pro 580 graphics card is well over a year old at the time of writing. Likewise, if you try to plug it into another Thunderbolt 3 port on any other device, it simply won’t work – it’s locked to the MacBook Pro.
Blackmagic eGPU review: Verdict
If this is the price to pay to double your MacBook Pro’s graphics capabilities then, well, I’m all for it. Despite these issues, the Blackmagic eGPU is an essential tool for anyone with Apple’s MacBook Pro in their office arsenal, especially if you’re handling graphic-intensive work on a day to day basis. It’s also a cracking purchase if you wanted to play the odd game or two at higher frame rates, too.
Sure, the lack of upgradability options will put many people off – that, unfortunately, is the reason why I’ve had to knock a star off – but the Blackmagic eGPU, by default, is the best external GPU enclosure you can buy for your MacBook Pro.