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

2020-11-13

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  to software developers that they would only support its own ‘Apple family GPUs.’  More recently, the firm  the Blackmagic eGPU chassis from the list of accessories compatible with the latest M1-based Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.  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,  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.