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Apple on Thursday launched new, upgraded versions of its 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. The changes are mostly under the hood, and will likely please some power users, though they leave plenty to be desired.
Alongside the new laptops, Apple also launched its first standalone external graphics unit for the MacBook, designed in collaboration with video tech company Blackmagic Design. And if you’re a power user, it’s definitely an upgrade you should consider.
The Blackmagic eGPU is a pretty hefty, oddly shaped gadget designed, first and foremost, for people who crave more graphics power than their MacBook Pro can muster. It comes with a Radeon Pro 580 graphics card with 8GB of video memory, and — at $699 a piece — it’s definitely not cheap.
If you can stomach the price, however, the Blackmagic eGPU is a pretty awesome upgrade. First of all, it’s not just an eGPU; it’s also a USB hub with four USB-A 3.1 ports and a charger with 85 watts of power delivery. This means you’ll probably be able to connect your MacBook to this baby and hook up all your “legacy” USB peripherals to it, be it a mouse, keyboard, printer or a secondary monitor. You can also take your standard MacBook Pro charger and put it in your travel bag, as you won’t be needing it at your desk anymore.
As someone that uses two different (both quite pricey) USB hubs to connect all my USB-A gadgets to my 13-inch MacBook Pro, I’d be happy to be able to replace all that clutter with a single device, even one as big as the Blackmagic eGPU.
In terms of video connectors, Blackmagic eGPU has an HDMI port which you can use to connect monitors up to 4K in resolution, as well as two Thunderbolt 3 ports, both with 40Gb/s throughput.
Now this might seem like a minor detail, but it’s actually pretty huge. When I first got my 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro, I was hoping to connect it to an external monitor or an eGPU with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which would allow me to daisy chain another monitor or connect whichever power-hungry Thunderbolt-friendly device I desired. Guess what: It still hasn’t happened. Monitors with two Thunderbolt 3 ports just don’t exist yet. And Razer’s Core V2 eGPU, which is the closest competitor to the Blackmagic eGPU I could find, only has a single Thunderbolt port.
UPDATE: July 12, 2018, 6:23 p.m. CEST I’ve checked with Blackmagic, and a company rep told me that connecting two displays to the Blackmagic eGPU is supported. It’s also worth noting that the company doesn’t recommend daisy chaining two or more Blackmagic eGPUs; instead, if you have more than one, you should connect each to the computer directly.
This doesn’t mean the Blackmagic eGPU is perfect. For one, it’s not upgradable. Also, the Razer Core V2 has an Ethernet port and the Blackmagic eGPU doesn’t. But again, that additional Thunderbolt 3 port lets you connect pretty much whichever gadget, including another powerful hub, directly to the Blackmagic eGPU.
All of this means that even very demanding users can, finally, plug a single USB-C cable into their MacBook Pro and instantly get all the benefits of a desktop computer: powerful graphics, huge external monitor (or two), and a bunch of peripherals. And that just might be worth spending seven hundred bucks on (though, of course, you’ll have to purchase the monitor separately).
The Blackmagic eGPU is available directly from Apple for $699.