The idea that Apple could release an external GPU enclosure box isn’t as crazy or stupid as you might think. With Apple’s penchant for designing around compressed thermal enclosures in its ultra-thin computers, much of the fastest graphics kit available on the market isn’t going to be found in any new Mac.
Poor Mac Users
And Apple’s Mac customers are the poorer for it. Why? Here’s an example: no Mac user can partake in virtual reality (for fun or critical work!) using Oculus Rift or similar devices. (see: Architosh, “irisVR CEO and Co-Founder Talks About Pro VR Industry—Oculus versus Vive and More,” 25 Feb 2016) The GPU hardware requirements for VR are too high. As a result, even some of the hottest VR software companies who have written award-winning VR software on Macs (yeah, they can write the code on a Mac…) can’t actually test their VR products on the Mac.
This is a sad and embarrassing reality. But perhaps Apple can fix this mess by releasing a cool looking Apple device called a Thunderbolt 3 enabled graphics enclosure. The devices look like tiny computers but just hold standard sized graphics cards…the hardy, fast powerful kind. One such device is the Razer Core. And this baby is a beauty. Could Apple do something like this? Absolutely. Will they? Hmm…one wonders.
Razer Core—Mac Users Not Welcome
The Razer Core features support for full-length, double-wide PCIe desktop graphics cards. And of course these contain support for the kind that support Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, et cetera. The device was the first to market around an emerging standard for external graphics enclosures known as eGFX. Intel developed the Thunderbolt 3 standard with the idea of external graphics systems in mind, among other purposes.
Imagine your super sexy new Apple MacBook supporting the capability to tap into the power of AMD Radeon R9 Fury or the Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X? What do you think the GPU will be on the rumored upcoming MacBook Pro? Will Mac users get a computer that can partake in VR goodness?
According to PC enthusiasts website ExtremeTech, the x4 PCI Expression 3.0 connection is not as fast as a full desktop slot. And the average performance hit is about 10%. That’s not bad all things considered. And a 10% hit should still get you over the line with VR requirements; imagine how this could serve Mac users with their virtual reality needs for games, support for industries from science, engineering, architecture and construction.
So, for Apple—and many of its competitors—whose customers love ultra-thin laptop computers, the idea of an external high-performance GPU system that by-passes all the heat and thermal issues associated with jamming ultra-high performance GPUs into mobile computers is a smart idea.