eGPUs have recently started to become incredibly popular for MacBooks since they allow you to simply plug it in and get a boost in graphics power for things like video editing, 3d rendering and video gaming.
And at the same time, you get the flexibility of choosing your own eGPU enclosure and graphics card, which you can then upgrade in the future when a better one gets released. And even better, when you sell your MacBook, you can keep your eGPU for your new MacBook or for any device that supports Thunderbolt 3. Now all of this sounds great, but there are actually some cases where an eGPU system can slow down performance to the point where it’s faster with the MacBook by itself, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.
And in 2020, Apple has announced that they’re switching to their own ARM chips within the next two years, so I’ll discuss what that means for the future of using eGPUs for MacBooks.
The first MacBook I’m gonna talk about in terms of connecting to an eGPU is the MacBook Air, but first I want to quickly mention the eGPU components that we recommend. We like to use the Razer Core X which is currently $300 on amazon because it’s been the most reliable eGPU enclosure that we’ve tested. And as far as the graphics card, it’s hands down the AMD 5700 XT because it works for both Windows and Mac, and it performs better than even the Radeon VII because of the new Navi architecture, so I’ll have links to the best deals on both of these components down in the description below if you decide to buy them.
I hooked up this eGPU setup to the MacBook Air, which now has a pretty decent quad-core processor which you’d think would perform great, but when I tested out video gaming performance, I found that it really didn’t perform well at all, with very low and inconsistent frame rates. I discovered that the CPU was literally at 100 degrees Celsius the entire time that I was playing, throttling the performance, and by now, you should all know why. Of course, it’s the major flaw where the CPU’s heatsinks isn’t even connected to the fan, so it overheats almost instantly. Max also tried video editing with this MacBook Air eGPU setup, and he came to the same conclusion, the processor was at 100 degrees Celsius so it throttled the performance and was very slow.
So if you have a MacBook Air, absolutely do not buy an eGPU, it’s not gonna be worth it at all. Now let’s move onto the 13” MacBook Pro. We tried our eGPU out with both the base $1300 model and the new 10th-Gen CPU model for $1800, and since the cooling system works well, we should see some pretty decent performance gains. As you can see from this Geekbench 5 Metal test, we get a massive boost in RAW graphics performance when connecting an eGPU since the 13” MacBook Pro doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card to begin with.
We then tested gaming in League of Legends and we were able to get around 139FPS on each system with maxed out settings including 4K resolution, but in Fortnite, we saw a bigger difference of around 20 FPS on the $1800 MacBook Pro. We tested the BruceX benchmark in Final Cut Pro and it was clear that the eGPUs were really putting in work. And throughout all of the video editing tests we ran, we noticed that the eGPU system greatly helped both MacBook Pros, but it helped the $1800 model even more, with much better performance in a few of the tests.
We figured that part of the reason could be the 16GB of RAM on the higher-end model, but I think the bigger deal is that it has the 10th-Gen CPU which actually has the Thunderbolt controller integrated into the chip itself, compared to the base model which requires an external Thunderbolt 3 controller which can add extra latency to the process. So basically, an eGPU is definitely worth it for the 13” MacBook Pro in 2020, since it gives you great performance on both models, but the higher-end model gains more from an eGPU, especially for productivity tasks like video editing. And now finally, let’s discuss the 16” MacBook Pro, which surprisingly has much different results when using an eGPU.
We used the base $2400 model, which is currently on sale for only $2,150 on Amazon using the link below, and we found that for gaming, we got just around the same FPS as the high-end 13” MacBook Pro, so there wasn’t any real advantage there for the 16” model. As for video editing, we tested BruceX, and for some reason, the scores were lower than before, at around 15 and 16 seconds, which could be because of a new macOS update or something else, so it was only a couple of seconds faster than the base 16” by itself.
We then stabilized a 1 minute HEVC clip, and now we finally saw a decent improvement for the 16” with the eGPU, but it was surprising to see that the base 16” MacBook Pro by itself was actually faster than with the eGPU. And we saw the same thing in the 30 second C200 stabilization test, where the eGPU made the 16” MacBook Pro 10 seconds slower. And then we also exported a 5 minute 4K clip, and the 16” MacBook Pro by itself was once again slower with the eGPU. And then in the 5 minute 4.5K Red RAW test, we saw the same results, with the eGPU actually slowing down performance. We discovered that the reason we’re seeing this is because the 16” MacBook Pro already has a very efficient and decently powerful dedicated graphics card, and with the eGPU, the data has to travel from the CPU to the eGPU and then back to the CPU to finish processing, and it has to do all of that within a single Thunderbolt 3 cable, so it adds a lot of steps to the process.
And then there’s one more thing to consider, the 16” MacBook Pro now has a very expensive 5600M GPU option for $800 compared to at least $680 for the eGPU setup, but the benefit is that it’s built into the MacBook Pro so you get that performance everywhere compared to having to deal with the eGPU with possible driver issues and getting an external monitor to get the full performance out of it. As far as performance, the 16” MacBook Pro by itself with the 5600M GPU destroyed the eGPU setup in terms of gaming, getting a huge 180 FPS in league of legends, and 110 FPS in Fortnite with more consistent frame rates as well.
And for video editing, basically every single test was much quicker on this MacBook Pro by itself. The BruceX test took only 9 seconds compared to around 16 with an eGPU. The 1 minute HEVC stabilization test only took 10 seconds. The 30s C200 RAW stabilization test only took 39 seconds. And then both the 5 Minute 4K export test and the 4.5K Red Raw tests were quicker with the MacBook Pro by itself. Now this is a higher-end MacBook Pro with the 2.4GHz 8-core CPU and 32GB of RAM, but a lot of these tests are heavily graphics-dependent to where the 6-core base CPU wasn’t being a bottleneck at all. So basically, an eGPU really isn’t worth it for the 16” MacBook Pro for 3 different reasons.
1. You don’t get any real advantage over the 13” model for gaming performance.
2. The base 16” Pro by itself was faster in a few of the video editing tests.
And 3. The 5600M GPU option is actually much more worth it if you want high-end performance, since it beat out the eGPU in every single test, and it performed much better for gaming as well. Now let’s answer the original question, is an eGPU worth it for your MacBook in 2020? Well, it’s really only worth it for the 13” MacBook Pro since it has a proper cooling solution and it stands to gain the most from an eGPU since it lacks a dedicated graphics card.
Now if you want to buy a 16” MacBook Pro, I would highly recommend investing into the 5600M graphics option for $800, because it offers the absolute best performance for gaming and productivity work, and you don’t have to deal with the eGPU. But for those who already have a 16” MacBook Pro, don’t buy an eGPU if you’re doing things like video editing because it won’t really help you out. I would only recommend an eGPU if you already have the 16” and you would rather buy an eGPU for gaming performance instead of selling your current model and buying another 16” with the 5600M graphics card. And now let’s finally address the issue of Apple switching to ARM chips within the next two years. Apple has already mentioned that they’ll continue to support Intel Macs for years to come, so if you buy a MacBook Pro right now, you’ll most likely get full software support for the next 6 to 7 years, so you’ll be able to enjoy your eGPU for many more years.
Now as far as the new ARM-based Macs, there’s a good chance that Windows 10 in boot camp is going away, so if you want to continue enjoying gaming in Windows, it actually makes the most sense to buy an Intel-based MacBook right now before the switch. And if you don’t care about Windows 10 at all, I personally believe that eGPUs will continue to work in macOS after the switch to ARM happens, and I have two reasons for it.
Apple is currently selling both the LG ultrafine 5K display and their own 6K Pro Display XDR on their website, and both of those displays use Thunderbolt 3 exclusively to connect to Apple Macs, so Apple is gonna make sure their future ARM Macs support those displays, which means that eGPUs should work as well.
And the second reason is that Apple has sold Blackmagic eGPUs to customers in the past, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to completely ditch eGPUs going forward. So based on all of that, you should be safe to buy an eGPU in 2020, especially for the 13” MacBook Pro. But if you have a Macbook Air, don’t buy one, and if you’re thinking about buying a 16” MacBook Pro, then pay for the 5600M graphics option instead.