September 10, 2018
Field Test

Speed Up Life in Post with the New eGPU from Blackmagic

Developed with Apple, Blackmagic’s new eGPU enhances workflow for post finishing in Resolve.

Waiting on renders remains one of the more frustrating aspects of post-production life. We would all like to spend more time working and less time watching a progress bar.

To help address that annoyance, Blackmagic Design has released the new eGPU, an external graphics processing unit designed in collaboration with Apple. An external GPU is a piece of hardware that is designed to add processing power, specifically for video and VR applications, to your machine and to speed up your workflow.

Like all of Blackmagic’s products, the eGPU is super sleek and beautiful. Though it is larger than other external GPUs, it’s certainly not meant to be tucked away when you’re not using it.

Credit: Charles Haine

I recently worked on a short film in Detroit where I was DIT and Assistant Editor on set before bringing the project back to New York with me to edit. During production, I was responsible for data management, applying LUTs, transcoding footage, and project set-up, all of which I did in Davinci Resolve 15 with my eGPU.

With 4 USB ports, two thunderbolt 3 ports, and an HDMI port, I was able to have four external hard drives connected through the eGPU for super fast simultaneous data transferring and cloning, and I didn’t have to bring a Macbook charger to set with me. It was the cleanest set-up I’ve ever experienced, eliminating the need for computer chargers, extra extension cords, and external USB hubs.

The most valuable feature on set for me was its silence. The eGPU’s ultra quiet thermal design is advertised right on the packaging and rightfully so; it doesn’t make a sound.

Requires Thunderbolt 3Credit: Charles Haine

Though I didn't see a major difference in the final export time for my transcoded dailies on the 2018 15” Macbook Pro with vs. without the eGPU (only a few seconds of time saved), I would imagine that it would be beneficial for larger projects finishing with raw .r3ds.

When tested on a 2018 13” Macbook Pro however, the results were more substantial. A 15-second sequence of RED footage with noise reduction running with the eGPU rendered in 56 seconds, versus 2 minutes and 29 seconds running without the eGPU.

No Film School's Charles Haine and I tested out two eGPUs on a short sequence of RED footage with noise reduction. Our test showed that there was a more significant difference between 2 eGPUS vs. 1 eGPU than there was 1 eGPU than without. Though with only a short, ungraded sequence, I would imagine there would be a more dramatic difference for longer exports.

Redshark was able to get 4 eGPUs together and found that they had incredible results, which you can read about here.

Overall, I found the eGPU to be most effective for finishing workflow in Resolve. The 2018 15” Macbook Pro already has such a powerful internal graphics processor that I did not see a drastic difference for my transcodes or test exports. It's likely that certain tasks (like generating dailies) just aren’t that GPU hungry.

I did however, see a difference in performance while color grading and using temporal noise reduction in Davinci Resolve 15. I found that my computer was able to better handle my graded and noise corrected footage, render my grades more quickly, and enhance playback performance. The key to being happy with this eGPU is knowing where it will help and where it won’t.

At a DIT station, it will not add speed, only cleanliness, to your set, but for a final finish colorist working to deliver projects under deadline, grading, FX and especially noise correction see real improvements.  For noise correction alone, it enables the freedom to never have to think, “Should I noise correct this shot? Is it worth it?” and instead to use NR whenever you feel like it.

As a side note, I let my creative coder boyfriend play with the eGPU for 3D modeling. Here’s what he had to say: ”I ran a few Blender modeling tests from their benchmark files and was impressed with the speed the 230 MB Production Benchmark rendered. The entire scene, rendered in Cycles in GPU Compute mode, took 1:15:24. The GPU worked alongside the onboard GPU well, sharing the memory load, though most of the processing work happened on the board. Rendering my own work of just a few objects per scene was almost instantaneous and the rest of my workflow was super smooth as well. Given a decent CPU, the eGPU makes an effective complement, though don’t expect it to fix your entire setup.”

This unit is Thunderbolt 3 only, so those of you hoping that this can extend the life of your 2013 Mac Pro (or your pre-2016 Macbook Pro) will be out of luck.

Just to be sure, we tried using it with our 2013 Macbook Pro and got no support.

It's so quiet the bottom LED is the main way to know its onCredit: Charles Haine

Overall, for those who need the eGPU, it will be an appreciated tool. We dream of the day where there is an NVIDIA option, or one with a built in SDI output similar to an UltraStudio Mini Monitor, but maybe those will come in the future. For now, it’s an attractive, useful accessory at an affordable price.

Check out the Blackmagic site for more info.

Tech Specs:

  • Built-in Radeon Pro 580
  • 4 built in USB hub ports
  • 2 high speed 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • HDMI for extended desktop, but not image monitoring, up to 4K
  • 85W power for full charge for Macbook Pro
  • Quiet thermal design ≅ 18 dB
  • Power cable included
  • Dimensions: about 11.5-inches high-by-6.5-inches wide

Your Comment

5 Comments

Does anyone use anything similar for PC systems? I mostly work in Blender, After Effects and Premiere, but something like this would be really great.

September 11, 2018 at 12:01AM

20
Reply
Seth Deming
Editor
36

There are chassis that let you externalize additional GPU's over Thunderbolt 3 and/or USB-C. Consider looking at resources like https://egpu.io/. There are a lot of downsides to the eGPU reviewed here... it's built around a mid-level GPU and is not upgradable. Also consider which software and which processes within are optimized around additional GPU's; Resolve in general loves extra GPU's where as Premiere and AE could care less for the most part.

September 11, 2018 at 3:46AM

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Jamie
86

Why buy this, when I can get a 32 core, 64 Thread AMD Threadripper CPU, Nvidia RTX 2080Ti, 64GB Quad Channel DDR4 RAM and 1TB Samsung 970 PRO NVMe SSD? All watercooled and silent and in a moderate size mid-tower case and still cheaper or equal to overpriced Apple products and way way faster at everything than best Apple can offer!!!

September 12, 2018 at 4:56AM

6
Reply
Çağan
89

I would ask why you're posing that question on a story about an Apple-specific product if you (1) don't care for Apple products, and (2) indeed have such a set-up to use.

Perhaps you have a lot of spare time waiting for it to render your files...

September 13, 2018 at 9:09PM

2
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Zan Shin
493

Neat idea for those that want something they can just plug and play. Cubix has offered, along with several other companies, external GPUs for years. Also with newer GPUs coming at what seems like every 6 months now, being able to upgrade the card is a huge bonus.

September 12, 2018 at 3:16PM, Edited September 12, 3:17PM

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