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GPU Docks Could Bring Gaming And VR To MacBooks; Wolfe Kickstarter Paves The Way

GPU docks have been appearing from major manufacturers over the past year or so, with companies including MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, PowerColor and Razer developing external graphics enclosures intended as companions for lightweight mobile PCs. However, the new products have been receiving mixed reactions from the enthusiast community, with some espousing the opinion that a GPU dock has no purpose in a world where desktop-class graphics cards are available in mobile devices.

In the arena of Windows-based PCs, this point does bear an aspect of truth. Unless you’re using a thinner and lighter device such as the Razer Blade Stealth (an Ultrabook), most laptops can now support desktop-level graphics power without the need for an external enclosure. However, one untapped market for the GPU dock phenomenon is the MacBook, where price tags are high and the GPU horsepower is considered low. Although many of the aforementioned PC-based GPU docks claim compatibility with any device sporting a Thunderbolt 3 interface, Mac support is not part of the package. A Kickstarter campaign from Cambridge-based Wolfepack Inc. seeks to change that with its Wolfe GPU Dock, which specifically targets MacBooks, where an eGPU device could be the missing link for high-end gaming and VR in a macOS-based device.

The Wolfe Among The Sheep

The Wolfe is an external graphics enclosure that supports half-length GPUs powered by a 220-watt power supply, and it focuses on Mac compatibility (though it’s also capable of connecting to Windows-based devices). It comes with a software package that enables plug-and-play support for the dock, and it can also be used to choose the specific applications you want to run using the eGPU.

The Wolfe DIY kit allows users to equip the dock with their GPU of choice, but the Wolfe can also come preloaded with either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 (the Wolfe) or a GTX 970 (Wolfe Pro). The company also said support for the GTX 1060 (in place of the GTX 970 in the Wolfe Pro) is a likely option.

“As of right now, The Wolfe Pro includes an NVIDIA GTX 970,” stated the Kickstarter campaign. “However, it's more than likely that Wolfe Pro level backers will be able to opt for the new GTX 1060 in our post-campaign survey for even better performance.”

Like all GPU docks, the Wolfe is designed to bring desktop-level performance to a mobile device. However, MacBook users in dire need of more horsepower could use it to power AAA game titles and VR applications, which previously wasn’t plausible in Apple devices due to their limited GPU horsepower. A device like the Wolfe could make Palmer Lucky eat his infamous words on the subject of VR-capable Mac products:

“It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs,” said the Oculus founder. “We’d love to support Mac, but right now there’s not a single machine out there that supports it [VR].”

Your move, Oculus.

Compatibility

The Wolfe is compatible with Thunderbolt 1-, 2- or 3-enabled devices, but only Kickstarter backers will get the backwards compatibility, with the company stating it will use the Thunderbolt 3 standard moving forward. The company stated the following MacBooks (built in specific date ranges) should be compatible with the Wolfe DIY kit, Wolfe and Wolfe Pro:

MacBook Air 11-inch, Mid 2011–2015MacBook Air 13-inch, Mid 2011–2015MacBook Pro Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012–2015MacBook Pro Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012–2015MacBook Pro 13-inch, Early 2011–2015MacBook Pro 15-inch, Early 2011–2015Mac mini, Mid 2011–2015iMac, Mid 2011–2015Mac Pro, Late 2013-2015

The Wolfe GPU docks are built on the eGFX standard, so they will also work with any Thunderbolt-enabled Windows-based device. In addition, the dock is compatible with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (Mac users will have to use Bootcamp to get the HMD-specific software to work).

Multiple GPUs? Sort Of…

Wolfepack Inc. claimed the number of Wolfe docks you can use is limited only by the number of Thunderbolt ports you have, meaning you can connect multiple GPUs to a single device. We’re not sure how this is implemented and whether or not this could be considered a true SLI configuration, but the company was quick to point out that multi-GPU support was dependent on the applications you use, and that full support “isn’t quite there yet.” However, if this comes to pass, the troves of enthusiasts pining for multi-GPU graphics docks could have an answer in the form of the Wolfe.

Pricing And Availability

The Wolfe GPU docks are available on the company’s Kickstarter page. The Wolfe DIY kit appears to already be sold out, but it was going for a reasonable $269 (much cheaper than other GPU-less alternatives). The GTX 950-equipped Wolfe is available for $449, and the Wolfe Pro (GTX 970 version) is priced at $599. The Wolfe and Wolfe Pro start shipping in February and March 2017, respectively.

The company already reached its $50,000 goal, and is currently exceeding $215,000 in support. For all intents and purposes, the Wolfe could be the must-have companion device for Macbooks in the age of virtual reality.

ProductWolfe DIY KitWolfeWolfe Pro
GPUNoneGeForce GTX 950GeForce GTX 970
Power Supply220 Watts Mobile PSU
MaterialInjection Molded PC-ABS
Dimensions (L x W x H)7.8 x 5.4 x 2.6 inches
WeightUnder 2 lbs2 lbs3.2 lbs
Price$269$449$599
  • Robert Cook
    but you have to run boot camp, at that point why even have a mac? frankly I want the technology to bring PCIE through thunderbolt 3 to drop in price so that anyone can build their own. Also Laptop CPUs really need to get better.
    Reply
  • NightLight
    The only way to play games on a mac is by using it as a mouse pad for your pc.
    Reply
  • Jeff Fx
    $600 to add what is now a low-end video card to a Mac to attempt to use it as a PC for VR? Why not get an actual PC, where you can get a Geforce 1080 for the price of this 970?
    Reply
  • Robert Cook
    not only that there is the price of the Mac in the first place...
    Reply
  • jjbtexas
    External GPUs are niche products at best. I'm actually shocked they reached their kickstarter goal. I've also lost faith in Kickstarter. With the proclivity for Kickstarter campaigns to be late on their rewards (seriously, it's probably well over 75% of campaigns with physical rewards), I bet they receive these around the time the 1100 series arrives...
    Reply
  • 3ogdy
    scaM users should never be able to play PC games. Oh you want something that's available on PC only?
    Should've been smart in the first place and bought a PC, not CrApple "products".
    Reply
  • wifiburger
    lol omg they haven't stopped with these GPU docks for notebook
    Reply
  • kewlguy239
    All of these are valid points. GPU docks seem like a niche product, especially to PC enthusiasts. Why couldn't a Mac user just buy a powerful desktop if they want to run VR games? However, try for a moment to understand the mindset of a Mac user. For the most part, price-to-performance ratios PC enthusiasts live by don't affect a Mac addict, who generally doesn't have a problem spending the money and LOVES their device. Ever try having that conversation with a Mac enthusiast? You can't get them to stray from their brand loyalty, and they often can't defend the performance of the device but still profess to love it regardless. Professionals who spend the big bucks on a Mac workstation for their video projects get the performance they need in an Apple device, but average consumers that want to use it for VR are out of luck. A GPU dock really could be the answer for that, especially if Apple decided to go into production of such a device itself. It makes sense to a Mac user to buy a plug-in device to give their notebook or iMac better performance, regardless of the cost. Although this doesn't make sense to PC users, it could really hit with Mac users.
    Reply
  • yszk_ysk
    Such a niche product. If all PC games were fully compatible on a mac I would buy this, but...
    Reply
  • falchard
    GPU docks tend to not perform as advertised because the interface and latency are no where near as quick as a dedicated motherboard lane. Going through a single path from CPU to GPU over less than 5" of board is just better then going through a USB interface to pci-e interface to GPU over 3'.
    Reply