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2019 Mac Pro meets Netstor PCIe Expansion Enclosure

February 28th, 2020 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

The 2019 Mac Pro has EIGHT PCIe slots -- four of which are x16. Is that enough? Maybe. Maybe not. In case you need more, Netstor has a solution: The NA255A Expansion Enclosure which provides FOUR more PCIe 3.0 slots.


PCIe-based flash RAID in 2019 Mac Pro

HOW DOES THE NA255A WORK?

The NA255A x16 Host PCIe card installs in an x16 slot inside the 2019 Mac Pro. Two cables are plugged into its connectors and run to the x16 Target card inside the NA255A enclosure. There are four PCIe 3.0 slots in the enclosure that can receive various PCIe boards. There are dual 6+2pin power cables available for GPUs. Install up to four PCIe cards. Power up the Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Enclosure. Power up the 2019 Mac Pro. Rock'n'roll.

Do the graphics cards run as fast as when inside the Mac Pro? And how about the M.2 PCIe-based flash RAID card? Take a look at the graphs below and then we'll comment.

GRAPH LEGEND FOR GPUs

Internal = single Radeon VII installed in x16 PCIe 3.0 slot inside 2019 Mac Pro
NA255A = single Radeon VII installed in PCIe 3.0 slot inside Netstor NA255A Expansion Enclosure connected to the host card in x16 PCIe 3.0 slot inside 2019 Mac Pro
eGPU = single Radeon VII installed in AKiTiO Node Pro eGPU enclosure connected to a Thunderbolt 3 Port of the 2019 Mac Pro

DaVinci Resolve 16 - Looping Playback of 4K RED
Temporal Noise Reduction (25%) applied. (HIGHER FPS = FASTER)

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion DaVinci Resolve Temporal NR

Blender 2.81 - Render Using Metal ProRender
Samples set to 512. (LOWER Seconds = FASTER)

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Blender ProRender Metal

Warhammer II - Skaven Benchmark
Set to 3840x2160 High. (HIGHER FPS = FASTER)

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Warhammer II

GRAPH LEGEND FOR FLASH BASED STORAGE

Internal = Amfeltec Squid PCIe 3.0 Carrier Board with six M.2 Samsung 970 Pro 512GB modules in RAID 0 config in an x16 PCIe 3.0 slot of the 2019 Mac Pro
NA255A = Amfeltec Squid PCIe 3.0 Carrier Board with six M.2 Samsung 970 Pro 512GB modules in RAID 0 config in the Netstor NA255A Expansion Enclosure connected to host adapter in an x16 PCIe 3.0 slot of the 2019 Mac Pro
eGPU = Amfeltec Squid PCIe 3.0 Carrier Board with six M.2 Samsung 970 Pro 512GB modules in RAID 0 config in AKiTiO Node Pro eGPU Enclosure connected to a Thunderbolt 3 port of the 2019 Mac Pro

PCIe-based Flash RAID 0 card
ATTO Disk Benchmark used 16 GiB test file size and I/O size range from 16 GiB to 64 GiB. (HIGHER Gigabytes per Second = FASTER)

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion ATTO READ Benchmark

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion ATTO WRITE Benchmark

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

The Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Enclosure adds four more PCIe slots to the 2019 Mac Pro's eight internal PCIe slots. However, do not expect the cards in the Nestor NA255A to always match the speed of those inside the Mac Pro. For one thing, the four NA255A slots are 8 lane, not 16 lane.

As you can see from the first three graphs, the Radeon VII in the 2019 internal slot was as much as 6% faster than the VII was in the N255A Expansion Enclosure. The fact that it was 'only' 6% faster than the N255A's x8 slot tells you that the GPU is not saturating the available bandwidth provided by an x16 slot.

FLASH! If the VII GPU is installed inside the 2019 Mac Pro, the VII fans go crazy when you put it to sleep. However, if you install the VII GPU in the NA255A box, when the Mac Pro is put to sleep the VII fans continue to spin but quietly at the minimum RPM.

I was excited about the potential of the 2019 Mac Pro running a total of 7 GPUs (3 internal and 4 external). However, though LuxMark happily renders with all available GPUs, sadly, DaVinci Resolve 16 only supports a maximum of 4 GPUs. And Blender 2.81 rendering with AMD ProRender add-on crashes when you mix models of GPU.

Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion ATTO WRITE Benchmark

In the case of the PCIe-based flash RAID card, there was a large gap in performance when it was moved from an x16 slot inside the 2019 Mac Pro to an x8 slot in the NA255A. That tells you that the bandwidth WAS saturated. Suggestion: install the flash RAID card(s) in the Mac Pro's internal x16 slot(s) and use the NA255A Expansion Enclosure for adding GPUs.

Also, if you fill all four slots in the NA255A, be mindful that they are sharing bandwidth with one x16 slot in the Mac Pro containing the NA255A x16 Host card. If all four cards in the NA255A are busily chatting over the bus, the performance of each card will drop significantly.

Notice the first five graphs include the use of an eGPU Thunderbolt 3 expansion box. It shows that even in cases where the NA255A Expansion Box is slower than internal slots of the 2019 Mac Pro, it is still much faster than the eGPU Thunderbolt 3 solution.

BOTTOMLINE: When you run out of PCIe slots inside the 2019 Mac Pro, the Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Enclosure provides you with a solution.

Considering what you paid for the 2019 Mac Pro, the Netstor NA255A 'feels' like a bargain at $2379 USD (discounted price at MyPCcase.com). However, they don't carry an inventory of NA255A Expansion boxes. It can take a while to receive the product from the factory in Taiwan.

BONUS: The Netstor NA255A PCIe Expansion Enclosure is compatible with the "classic" 2010-2012 Mac Pro tower. And since the classic Mac Pro tower is has half as many slots as the 2019 Mac Pro and has power issues when running multiple muscular GPUs, the Netstor NA255A is an easy solution. Though it only supports two GPUs when connected to the classic Mac Pro tower, if you eventually upgrade to the 2019 Mac Pro, the NA255A will easily migrate.

 

Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to email me, Follow me on Twitter @barefeats.

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