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I am using a MacBook Pro 13" (pre-Thunderbolt) and was wondering if there is such thing as an external GPU? Possibly over FireWire or so, something that I could plug a monitor (or two) into but ideally does some of the work that would normally all be lumped onto the laptop CPU/GPU.

Probably a far-fetched idea, but it would save me buying a desktop PC as well as my laptop. I am currently using a cheap USB to DVI adaptor, which works ok, but is noticeably slower and obviously adds a bit of load on to my laptop.

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Even if there were such a thing, given it's niche product placement, it'd be cheaper to sell your MBP and buy a newer one with Thunderbolt. –  EmmEff Apr 26 '12 at 0:17
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3 Answers 3

The answer is no (correctly answered by @JFW), this is not possible using Firewire because the protocol simply does not provide the required bandwidth. However, when the day comes you purchase a machine equipped with Thunderbolt, continue reading.

Sonnet recently announced the release of several "add-on" components that make use of a Mac's thunderbolt port. These include a RAID assembly, an ExpressCard, and even a PCIe expansion bay, that can accept any PCI Express 2.0 adapter card.

Sonnet's product listing: http://www.sonnettech.com/product/thunderbolt/

Village Instruments one-upped them by committing themselves to manufacturing exactly what you're in the market for. However, before you jump for joy, you might want to head over and have a read. While the card will outperform integrated cards provided by the lower end MBPs, they still aren't up to snuff compared to some of the bigger cards available for PCs.

Head on over and have a gander: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/92160-external-thunderbolt-graphics-card-for-macs-will-not-blow-you-away

So even with Thunderbolt, it is possible, it may not give you the bang for your buck you're hoping for.

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He said he has a pre-Thunderbolt Mac. –  CajunLuke Sep 2 '11 at 14:51
    
This is awesome news - its going to be a fun 2 years as the reality of what having a pair of PCIe channels opens up. –  bmike Sep 2 '11 at 15:10
    
Sorry guys, I failed to read the "pre" :( I'm embarrassed... Will edit my post accordingly (and in all actually @JFW has the correct answer (no). –  cksum Sep 2 '11 at 19:18
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@cksum I like this answer (with the edit) for the future-proofing. +1 –  CajunLuke Sep 2 '11 at 19:34
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No external GPUs currently that are (fast enough) for gaming. Monitor is possible, but you need an express card for that, and only the 2008 unibody versions of the 15" MacBook Pros have it.

I don't think FireWire is fast enough, and Thunderbolt is probably the only interface right now that would realistically be possible for an external GPU to run from.

Sorry. :(

(I also researched into this subject myself a few years back, looking for a way to increase the gaming capabilities of my MacBook Pro. No solution, unfortunately.)

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Xcode features a distributed build architecture. The Final Cut software uses QMaster distributed rendering for this sort of acceleration. It's very doable based on the software you have installed and what particular problem you are attacking.

It would be hard to beat a hardware solution you mention as not so good, though. A FireWire or powered and Ethernet link would be faster, but your mac still has to juggle all the bits which is why all the solutions are slow. Nothing short of thunderbolt will allow something to be faster than your GPU.

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