Apple wants developers to be onboard with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) development and has released a cost-effective external graphics processing unit (eGPU) to help with just that. The eGPU kit allows you to connect an HTC Vive VR headset to your Mac running macOS High Sierra for virtual reality game and application development.
What you need to know about the Mac, Thunderbolt 3, and external GPUs
There's no denying that graphics performance in current Macs isn't the best. There are always tradeoffs to make, and Apple tends to err on the side of battery life and heat management over raw performance. That led to the new MacBook Pro being equipped with the latest AMD GPUs, even if there were doubly-more-powerful NVIDIA chips available.
But there's another option, at least in theory: the external GPU. Plug in an enclosure via a Thunderbolt 3 cable and voilà you've got desktop-class graphics performance for your slim MacBook. This is especially important for folks in the 3D industry who rely on NVIDIA's CUDA system — something currently unsupported in any Mac available on the market today.
How to set up a MacBook Pro and eGPU for VR
Apple's many, many hardware announcements during WWDC made one thing abundantly clear — 2018 will be the year VR comes to the Mac, and AR to the iPhone and iPad. To help prepare for the coming storm, Apple is offering VR developer kits with an eGPU box capable of driving the most intense experience on any Thunderbolt 3-capable Mac. Here's how to set up your eGPU on a MacBook Pro.
How to use your Apple VR Dev Kit eGPU enclosure with a separate display
Not only can you attach your Vive VR headset to the eGPU, you can also connect a second (or third!) external display for extra desktop workspace. A secondary display will give you access to greater screen real estate for your workflow. It can also allow you to test various hardware configurations by outputting video to internal Mac graphic cards and external third party graphic cards. Here's how!
How much of a performance boost does the eGPU dev kit provide?
In spite of the reasonable cost of Apple's VR eGPU development kit, you may be wondering if the price ($599) is worth the added benefit of getting a full-sized desktop GPU. Here are some benchmarks to help you decide!
What the Apple eGPU development kit won't let you do yet
Seeing that VR is in it's fledgling stages, I'm certain that not all developers have $599 to just throw at a dev kit, especially if they don't already have an updated Mac with Thunderbolt 3 connections. There are those who also can't afford to run a beta OS on a separate machine just to see if they are inclined to make applications for the eGPU dev kit. So with these things in mind, I tried to see what I could get away with with as little tweaking as possible, knowing that I could be completely wasting my time using the enclosure beyond the supported features outlined in Apple's release notes.
If you have any questions or comments about Apple's VR Dev Kit eGPU enclosure, let us know in the comments below!