16″ MacBook Pro with Razer Core X eGPU Enclosure
Does it make sense to use an eGPU with the 16″ MacBook Pro for a DAW setup?
I recently acquired a 16″ MacBook Pro (i9/32GB/2GB/AMD Radeon Pro 5500M) with the intention of using it as a replacement for my 2018 Mac Mini (i7/32GB/256GB/Intel UHD Graphics 630) in my project recording studio. The idea was to have all of my sound libraries and project files in a single location to make managing my data a more streamlined process. Can the MacBook Pro with an eGPU replace my Mac Mini recording setup?
I spent the better part of a week setting up the MacBook, installing applications, and plugins. I’ve been using it on the go and in the studio with a Universal Audio Arrow or Apollo thunderbolt interface. One thing I noticed right off the bat was the amount of heat and fan noise generated by the i9 when using Cubase 10.5, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, and Logic (most efficient DAW on OSX out of the bunch). The fans were ramping up almost immediately. I did some googling and discovered a useful utility call Turbo Boost Switcher that allows you to disable CPU turbo boost for cooler operation with minimal performance penalties. It seems counter-intuitive to purchase a fast i9 computer only to throttle it by disabling turbo boost but I digress.
The day arrived and I connected my laptop to my dual monitor setup which consists of an LG 34 UW display and a 27″ LG, both at 1440p. The fans on the 16″ MacBook Pro immediately ramped up to over 4000rpm with minimal load, with iStat reporting 20w use by the MBP’s dedicated GPU. In comparison, the 2018 Mac Mini is able to quietly drive this setup without excessive fan noise using the lower-powered integrated intel graphics. I checked out the MacRumors forums and discovered a 70+ page thread of MacBook Pro users experiencing the same poor performance. Apparently Apple considers this normal behavior so there’s no telling if a fix is on the way as of the time this article is being written.
I decided to add the Razer Core X with a Saphire RX580 GPU to confirm if externalizing the GPU duties will allow the machine to run cooler and quieter.
Enter the Razer Core X – The good news is the MacBook Pro is reporting lower memory usage of 5w down from 20w with the external eGPU, the fans remain between 1800 and 2200rpm during production and mixing sessions. The noise from the MacBook pro driving two monitors has been greatly reduced. The not so good news is the eGPU has fans on the power supply and side of the enclosure, the RX580 card also has fans that kick in when taxing the GPU but they generally remain silent during normal day to day recording and mixing, but can ramp up if rendering video or performing any GPU intensive tasks.
In a quiet room, I can definitely hear the fan noise of the Razer Core X unit. I was happy to discover there is a healthy community of Razer users that have taken to upgrading their fans and power supplies for the quietest operation possible.
TLDR; The Razer Core X eGPU enclosure can help reduce the GPU load on your MacBook Pro. The power supplies and fans of the eGPU do add to the noise floor of the room as shipped from the factory but can be upgraded cheaply to perform as quietly as the Blackmagic eGPU units with the added advantage of having an upgradeable GPU.