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Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box Review

April 28, 2017, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

Sonnet Technologies gave us a preview of their eGFX Breakaway Box. As with other eGPUs we tested, it is designed to connect to the Thunderbolt 3 port of the 2016 MacBook Pro. However, using Apple's Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, it also works with Thunderbolt 2 Macs like the 2013 Mac Pro cylinder.

GRAPH LEGEND
nMP>Break>1080Ti - GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (11GB) GPU installed in the eGFX Breakaway Box and connected to the Thunderbolt 2 port of a 2013 Mac Pro 3GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon E5, 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 memory, 1TB Apple (SM951) flash storage
nMP>D700s - Apple factory Dual FirePro D700s GPUs (6GB each) installed inside the 2013 Mac Pro 3GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon E5, 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 memory, 1TB Apple (SM951) flash storage
rMBP>Break>1080Ti - GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (11GB) GPU installed in the eGFX Breakaway Box and connected to the Thunderbolt 3 port of the 2016 MacBook Pro 15-inch with 2.9GHz Intel Quad-Core i7, 16GB of 2133MHz LDDR3 memory, 1TB flash storage
rMBP>Pro460 - Radeon Pro 460 (4GB) GPU inside the 2016 MacBook Pro 15-inch with 2.9GHz Intel Quad-Core i7, 16GB of 2133MHz LDDR3 memory, 1TB flash storage

The GPU in the Breakaway Box was connected directly via DisplayPort cable to the Dell UP2715K 27" display; In some cases, we also used a Thunderbolt port to connect to the LG UltraFine 5K display; Scaled resolution for both was 2560x1440.

Blender - Lets you choose one or more GPUs to render a 3D scene with OpenCL or CUDA. As you can see from the graph, rendering with CUDA using just one high-end NVIDIA was much faster than even three AMD GPUs rendering using OpenCL.
(LOWER time in seconds = FASTER)

OctaneRender
This is a "GPU only" standalone renderer that can process scenes created in Maya, ArchiCAD, Cinema 4D, etc. -- and does so in a fraction of the time it takes with a CPU based renderer. However, it only runs only on CUDA capable NVIDIA GPUs. We used a test scene called octane_benchmark.ocs and selected RenderTarget PT (Path Tracing).
(LOWER time in seconds = FASTER)

DaVinci Resolve - Candle 1080p project playback renders Noise Reduction Node (1NR) on-the-fly. Preferences > Video I/O and GPU > GPU Processing mode set to OpenCL or CUDA. GPU selection mode was set to Manual allowing selection of GPUs to be used including the ones in the eGFX Breakaway Box.
(HIGHER frames per second = FASTER)

LuxMark 3 OpenCL - This benchmark lets you chose which devices are doing the rendering regardless of what display they are connected to and regardless of whether they are internal or external.
(HIGHER KSamples per Second = FASTER)

Valley OpenGL Benchmark - This animation uses advanced OpenGL extensions as it 'flies' through 18 detailed landscape scenes.
(HIGHER frames per second = FASTER)

Tomb Raider OpenGL game. We ran built-in Benchmark using High preset.
(HIGHER frames per second = FASTER)

WHAT DID WE LEARN?
The eGFX Breakaway Box with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and connected to a Mac can...
...speed up multi-GPU rendering in apps like Blender and Resolve (Noise Reduction render on the fly during playback).
...add CUDA support to your AMD equipped Macs thereby enabling 'CUDA only' apps like Octane Render to function and 'CUDA capable' apps like Blender to function faster than the "OpenCL only" AMD GPUs provided by Apple.
...provide a surge in the OpenCL render rate as well as combine with factory AMD GPUs to double the render rate.
...triple and quadruple the frame rates of OpenGL apps like Valley and Tomb Raider.

There are some tasks that the pair of factory FirePro D700s in the 2013 Mac Pro do best without the aide the GTX 1080 Ti in the eGFX Breakaway Box. We illustrate this with the Resolve 5K RED Playback in the graph below. (HIGHER frames per second = FASTER)

Sonnet Technologies came up with their own unique eGPU design. It includes all the best eGPU features such as quiet exhaust fan and the ability to send power to your 2016 MacBook Pro laptop. An nice touch was the PCIe Card Bracket Locking Plate.

Unlike other eGPUs, the eGFX Breakaway Box does not require you to run the tb3-enabler in order to be detected as a supported Thunderbolt device.

There will be two models shipping in June:

  • eGFX Breakaway Box 350
    350W Power supply
    15W charging power (for 2016 MacBook Pro)
    6pin + 8Pin PCIe power cables
  • eGFX Breakaway Box 500
    500W Power supply
    87W charging power (for 2016 MacBook Pro)
    8pin + 8Pin PCIe power cables

"DOES THE eGFX Breakaway Box REQUIRE AN EXTERNAL DISPLAY?"
It depends on the apps you run. DaVinci Resolve, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Blender, Octane Render, and PhotoZoom all detected and allowed us to choose the Breakaway's GPU without a display connected to it.

However, Tomb Raider and Valley only used the GTX 1080 Ti in the Breakaway Box if we connected the Dell 5K directly to it.

RELATED ARTICLES
To see other eGPU articles we posted, go to our INDEX page.

Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to email me,
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WHERE TO BUY Thunderbolt 3 GPU expander boxes
You will be able to order the eGFX Breakaway Box direct from Sonnet Technologies starting in June of 2017. Pricing starts at $299.

The AKiTiO Node eGFX Box can be ordered from B&H Photo Video ($269). Here is a list of other Resellers.

Bizon Tech sells the BizonBOX 2S (works with all Thunderbolt 2 Macs). The BizonBOX 3 (designed for Thunderbolt 3 Macs).

WHERE TO BUY MACS and OTHER APPLE products:
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Live outside the USA? No problem. We are affiliated with these Apple Stores:

OTHER SOURCES FOR MACS

WHERE TO BUY FACTORY REFURBISHED MACS
Apple Store USA has refurbished Macs with 12 month warranty.

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copyright 2017 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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