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Apple’s M1-Based Macs Do Not Support External Graphics Cards

Apple
(Image credit: Apple)

We expected Apple’s Macintosh computers running the company’s own system-on-chips (SoCs) to be considerably different compared to systems powered by Intel processors due to all-new hardware and a revamped software stack. It appears that one of the changes for the Apple M1-based Macs unveiled this week is that the company dropped external GPU support (at least for now). 

When Apple announced its latest Apple Silicon-based Macs several months ago, the company officially revealed to software developers that they would only support its own ‘Apple family GPUs.’  More recently, the firm removed the Blackmagic eGPU chassis from the list of accessories compatible with the latest M1-based Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. AppleInsider now claims that the new systems will rely solely on integrated Apple GPUs and will not support any external graphics cards. 

The website doesn't reveal whether the information comes directly from Apple or sources close to the company. It also doesn't disclose whether Apple will drop support for external GPUs or all third-party GPUs in general, which might have some important ramifications.  

On a high level, eGFX technology allows you to connect a graphics card to a PC using a Thunderbolt 3 interface and a special chassis. Still, there are very specific hardware and software requirements to support an external GPU. First up, the system needs a Thunderbolt 3 or a Thunderbolt 4 port with a firmware version that can handle eGFX. Secondly, the system has to support external graphics by its UEFI (i.e., plug-n-play or similar technology and switchable graphics protocols). Thirdly, the GPU drivers have to support eGFX as well as a particular operating system. If one of these components is missing, eGFX simply won't work. 

It is unclear what exactly Apple’s new PCs are missing and whether this lack of support is temporary, or if there are no plans to support eGFX technologies on the latest 13.3-inch notebooks and the entry-level desktop in general.  

Supporting eGFX on certain systems may be complicated because of SoC limitations and other reasons. Meanwhile, Apple started to support external GPUs in general later than competing PC makers from the Windows camp anyway, meaning that it doesn't consider this technology a priority. Perhaps Apple’s more advanced desktops and laptops will regain eGFX support. 

It remains to be seen if the company will support third-party GPUs on its Arm-powered Macs at large or will rely solely on its own graphics solutions. Industry-standard GPUs are important to many professionals with iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro desktops, so dropping support might be a bad idea.   

  • mo_osk
    I wonder what will happen to other external hardware such as sound card... People that rely on macOs for their work process should really start to wonder what will happen to their workflow.
    Reply
  • gggplaya
    mo_osk said:
    I wonder what will happen to other external hardware such as sound card... People that rely on macOs for their work process should really start to wonder what will happen to their workflow.
    Sound cards aren't super high bandwidth like a GPU, so it'll probably be just fine on USB. Now, the problem is with drivers for ARM. That'll be Apple's biggest hurdle in terms of adoption. It the same problem people had when Windows switched from 32bit to 64bit. If the manufacturer of the 3rd party product didn't provide a 64bit driver, you basically had to dump it in the trash.
    Reply
  • sizzling
    gggplaya said:
    It the same problem people had when Windows switched from 32bit to 64bit. If the manufacturer of the 3rd party product didn't provide a 64bit driver, you basically had to dump it in the trash.
    That’s probably part of Apple’s business case for doing this. Force users to buy new devices. Apple have shown little regard for backwards compatibility for anything in the past.
    Reply
  • gggplaya
    sizzling said:
    That’s probably part of Apple’s business case for doing this. Force users to buy new devices. Apple have shown little regard for backwards compatibility for anything in the past.

    Many people have said this, but when I dive deeper into it, I've found actual technical reasons for loss of software updates.

    Like when iOS switched from 32bit to 64bit sometimes around the iphone5 to iphone 6. People lost all iOS updates and were understandably upset. But the fact was their cpu's didn't have 64bit instruction sets. So they technically couldn't upgrade, period. It just wasn't possible.

    Then more recently, I had to upgrade my friends iMAC with a Kepler GPU because Apple's latest OS's from High Sierra onward use a newer but significantly more low-level and efficient METAL graphics API. Which is why Mac's before 2012 could not be upgraded. Their GPU's didn't support the instructions needed to use Metal. Metal also unifies the graphics api between TvOS, iOS and MacOS. So there are technical reasons for dropping support for old hardware.
    Reply
  • MikeMK2
    gggplaya said:
    Sound cards aren't super high bandwidth like a GPU, so it'll probably be just fine on USB. Now, the problem is with drivers for ARM. That'll be Apple's biggest hurdle in terms of adoption. It the same problem people had when Windows switched from 32bit to 64bit. If the manufacturer of the 3rd party product didn't provide a 64bit driver, you basically had to dump it in the trash.

    Not a problem for sound card as they almost always use Apple plug and play low latency audio driver.
    The problem right now is driver for capture cards.
    Reply