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UPDATED: 2013 13" or 15" MacBook Pro - Thunderbolt 2 - eGPU Plug and Play - Optimus

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This is the updated guide for the 2013 13" and 15" MacBook Pro eGPU configurations regarding Plug and Play and/or Optimus capabilities. Some new discoveries have been made after additional testing with various combinations of MacBooks, Sonnet chassis, and GPUs.

Optimus disclaimer: Optimus consistently reduces performance 10-20% due to bandwidth being partially saturated with video signal. However, it's still insanely awesome. Retina native-resolution gaming is pretty much the best thing ever. For all intensive purposes, it's 4K gaming on your notebook. My 780 Ti running games on Ultra @2560x1600 is an experience I cannot put into words.

Requirements for Thunderbolt 2 plug and play with external display:

- 2013 13" or 15" MacBook Pro w/Iris-only graphics (*with a condition) OR models with discrete graphics (e.g. 750M)

- Sonnet SEL (w/x16 riser), Sonnet SE II, or Sonnet III-D

- Any GPU

- External PSU for 8-pin and/or 6-pin auxiliary power (Corsair RM450 recommended for it's silent feature. Also compact and fully modular)

* 2013 13" or 15" MacBook Pro w/Iris-only graphics may possibly require one hot-plug during windows boot (plug card into PCIe slot when windows logo appears). Check card detection in Device Manager, install Nvidia drivers, plug and play from that point forward.

Requirements for Thunderbolt 2 plug and play and out-of-the-box Optimus internal display support:

- 2013 13" or 15" MacBook Pro w/Iris-only graphics *15" models with discrete graphics do not work

- Sonnet SEL (w/x16 riser) or possibly Sonnet SE II (unconfirmed). *Sonnet III-D does not work

- EVGA GPUs (confirmed) or other internally power-controlled card. MSI is confirmed to not enable Optimus out-of-the-box *See below

- External PSU for 8-pin and/or 6-pin auxiliary power (Corsair RM450 recommended for it's silent feature. Also compact and fully modular)

Follow these steps:

1. Shutdown MacBook (not a restart)

2. Plug or re-plug eGPU into Thunderbolt port

3. Boot into Windows (confirmed with 8.1 only). Optimus should work every time

*If it fails and screen is black, boot with eGPU disconnected, shutdown from Windows menu, reconnect eGPU, try again.

*MSI and likely other manufacturer's cards remain partially powered from auxiliary power (fan always spinning) and will not enable Optimus without these specific steps.

Provided by @Relentless (confirmed with MSI 760 + Sonnet SE II):

1. Shutdown Macbook (not a restart)

2. Power off Sonnet (I actually pull the power out of the unit). This seems to reset the state of the chassis board

3. Switch off power supply to GPU

4. Power on Sonnet and plug in Thunderbolt cable

5. Power on MacBook holding alt/option key to reach OS selection

6. When startup chime is heard, switch on power supply

7. Boot into Windows

Configuration Summary:

Pre 2013 MacBook Pro

- No plug and play

- Figuring out a way to do a Bootcamp w/GPT install could then provide PnP over TB1

2013 15" MacBook Pro with discrete graphcis

- Fully plug and play with external display

- No Optimus

2013 13" and 15" MacBook Pro with Iris-only graphics

- Plug and play after driver installation *See above requirement

- Optimus capable with Sonnet SEL or Sonnet SE II and proper boot steps

Note:

50% performance drop was occasionally seen when Iris was deactivated on Iris-only MacBooks (may have been resolved with latest Nvidia drivers). This was only experienced when not booting properly and Optimus was not enabled. When Iris graphics and eGPU are both active, graphics performance nearly matches 15" w/quad-core (*See below). External display required for max FPS.

Bioshock Infinite Benchmark (external display):

15": 108FPS

13": 106FPS

- - - - -

13" w/Optimus: 86FPS 19% performance drop

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Sonnet SEL (w/x16 riser) or possibly Sonnet SE II (unconfirmed). *Sonnet III-D does not work

I reviewed @scubahalo's 17.3" Asus G750-JW + Sonnet Echo Express SE II + R9 280X + Win8.1 UEFI undocumented PnP eGPU implementation.

The PCI dumps show his Echo Express SE II incorporates the same PLX PEX 8613 12-lane 3-Port PCIe Switch (10B5:8613) as used in your Echo Express III-D. That switch required when splitting off a TB pci-e link across two or more pcie slots. The SE II has two x8 2.0 slots, the III-D has three - one x16 and two x8.

I'm assuming your III-D wasn't PnP because of that switch and so the SE-II would face the same problem. It then makes the most inexpensive Sonnet solution, the Echo Express SEL as the most useful one for eGPU purposes. It's has a single x8 pci-e slot with no intermediate switch. It gives a PnP solution once the x8 slot is extended to x16 using a extender/riser.

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I reviewed @scubahalo's 17.3" Asus G750-JW + Sonnet Echo Express SE II + R9 280X + Win8.1 UEFI undocumented PnP eGPU implementation.

The PCI dumps show his Echo Express SE II incorporates the same PLX PEX 8613 12-lane 3-Port PCIe Switch (10B5:8613) as used in your Echo Express III-D. That switch required when splitting off a TB pci-e link across two or more pcie slots. The SE II has two x8 2.0 slots, the III-D has three - one x16 and two x8.

I'm assuming your III-D wasn't PnP because of that switch and so the SE-II would face the same problem. It then makes the most inexpensive Sonnet solution, the Echo Express SEL as the most useful one for eGPU purposes. It's has a single x8 pci-e slot with no intermediate switch. It gives a PnP solution once the x8 slot is extended to x16 using a extender/riser.

@Tech Inferno Fan I think you are absolutely spot on. I've been thinking about these boards lately (although the SE II now ships with an x4, x8, and x16 like the III-D) and I had concluded that the switching or interface delegation on the SE II and III-D thwart easy Optimus activation.

@Relentless has shown there is a way to enable Optimus with additional steps and that's good. However, like you stated, the Sonnet SEL which I'm now using has proven to be both the most affordable and capable chassis. Stay tuned for some updates from my end but I'll just say, for those interested in high-performance solutions and/or Optimus out-of-the-box, the Sonnet SEL is the way to go.

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@Tech Inferno Fan @Relentless By the way, the TB port closest to the magsafe thing, completely not true. I updated the steps which are essentially: shutdown, plug or re-plug eGPU, boot into Windows.. Optimus enabled!

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@Tech Inferno Fan I think you are absolutely spot on. I've been thinking about these boards lately (although the SE II now ships with an x4, x8, and x16 like the III-D) and I had concluded that the switching or interface delegation on the SE II and III-D thwart easy Optimus activation.

@Relentless has shown there is a way to enable Optimus with additional steps and that's good. However, like you stated, the Sonnet SEL which I'm now using has proven to be both the most affordable and capable chassis. Stay tuned for some updates from my end but I'll just say, for those interested in high-performance solutions and/or Optimus out-of-the-box, the Sonnet SEL is the way to go.

The x4 slot on the SE II shown here is very likely just to interface it back to the 4 TB pci-e lines. Can you see a PLX chip on your III-D's equivalent board ?

Here's an interesting spin on things. If that is a PLX switching/bridging board then that board could very likely accept a US$68 Asus ThunderboltII EX to give full TB2 capability. Wonder if Sonnet would be willing to sell us just that part? Would be useful for a III-D or SE II owner to test the ThunderboltII EX in that board :) Of course, would need to contend with workarounds to the PLX switch that prevent a PnP solution.

REF: http://forum.techinferno.com/diy-e-gpu-projects/6903-%5Bguide%5D-making-us%2468-thunderboltex-ii-pcie-based-tb2-egpu-adapter.html#post94832

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@Tech Inferno Fan Wow. That's a very interesting part there. Not sure what I'm look for on the III-D board. The proprietary ASUS connector is a bit worrisome but if it works.. and if a PCIe board was obtainable from Sonnet, it would make for an interesting project. Any takers out there? : )

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Hi @Nando.

I wish you had asked a couple of days ago before I threw out the broken PCB (for some reason they sent it back to me?).

I am 95% sure there was a PLX chip on the bottom of the motherboard but I could open it up if you really have to be sure.

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Hi @Nando.

I wish you had asked a couple of days ago before I threw out the broken PCB (for some reason they sent it back to me?).

I am 95% sure there was a PLX chip on the bottom of the motherboard but I could open it up if you really have to be sure.

Yes, please do check. Does the 80W AC adapter plug into that board as well? If so, would be ultra convenient. We could just plug in the Asus card and it should all work. There's still the question as to what the header on top of the THunderboltEX II doe which juniordiscart is investigating here.

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@Tech Inferno Fan

Just confirmed the III-D does indeed have a PLX chip. Not easy to peak under but at the right angle, there it is clear as day, "PLX". The SEL does not as you would imagine. Both the III-D and SEL have the appropriate slot for the ASUS ThunderboltEX II. Only question is what that header is for. Is it for power? Why is a PLX chip necessary if used with the SEL board? Either way, my guess is Sonnet could not sell you a PCIe board legally and even if they did, it would not be cheap.

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@Tech Inferno Fan

Just confirmed the III-D does indeed have a PLX chip. Not easy to peak under but at the right angle, there it is clear as day, "PLX". The SEL does not as you would imagine. Both the III-D and SEL have the appropriate slot for the ASUS ThunderboltEX II. Only question is what that header is for. Is it for power? Why is a PLX chip necessary if used with the SEL board? Either way, my guess is Sonnet could not sell you a PCIe board legally and even if they did, it would not be cheap.

Your III-D board could then certainly electrically wire through the Asus THunderboltEX II PCIe card. Even better, the SEL could do it without introducing the PLX PCIe-PCIe bridge. Yes, there is a header on the Asus board that looks suspiciously like a mechanism that only ensures it works on certified Asus systemboards. A hardware based protection to prevent what is suggested here. Could be wrong. Only way to get a definite answer would be for someone to try.

According to ASUS ThunderboltEX II Add-on Thunderbolt 20 Gbps Cards Now Available | techPowerUp:

a special header that's used for timing, and low-level system interface

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@Tech Inferno Fan Interesting. Yes, someone would have to test it. So that leads me to ask, what is the advantage then over a Sonnet SEL?

Sonnet Echo SEL + pcie riser definitely works and as has been discussed, is better for eGPU than the III-D or SE II use since has no PCIe-to-PCIe bridges.

The Asus ThunderboltII EX PCIe card + some sort of PCIe extender via 2xfemale PCIe slots is an unproven, experimental proposition. If it worked, only advantage would be cost and depending on the female-female pci-e riser size and angle, may give a more compact final footprint. User could elect for their own enclosure or do without. The Asus card could act as a piggyback gateway for non-certified Thunderbolt manufacturers to get a foot in the door too.

Still, the stumbling block with the Asus THunderboltII EX card is that proprietory header on top of the card. Given how protective Intel have been of Thunderbolt it's very likely that acts as a hardware protection dongle to protect against this. REF: http://forum.techinferno.com/diy-e-gpu-projects/6903-%5Bguide%5D-making-us%2468-thunderboltex-ii-pcie-based-tb2-egpu-adapter.html#post94832 .

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Yes, there is a header on the Asus board that looks suspiciously like a mechanism that only ensures it works on certified Asus systemboards. A hardware based protection to prevent what is suggested here. Could be wrong. Only way to get a definite answer would be for someone to try.

I have sent an e-mail to ASUS support, still waiting for a reply though. I also found that the HP Thunderbolt expansion cards (they are not listed on the certified Thunderbolt Products list by Intel, but can be bought on Amazon) also have a similar header. The HP website also mentions they are only usable on certain motherboards. So it could indeed be a whitelisting mechanism, or as prizm3d linked, that it is used for timing and low-level system calls.

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So does this config require a error 12 workaround or is that not an issue?

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Hi Squinks,

Just wanted to let you know that having given up on hope of a retail solution I have purchased your shopping list of parts on your recommendation. FYI I went for a EVGA 780ti superclocked 3GB.

Does anyone have some advice about the safest way to rest the card without an enclosure?

Jamie

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Hi squinks et al,

Hope you can help - i'm having trouble with my setup.

I have a Sonnet SEL, PCI x8 to x16 riser board, then a x16 to x16 cable to extend to my card - a 780TI SC 3GB with an ACX cooler.

The card is getting power over the TB2 port and Sonnet card - coming up when the TB2 cable is connected, however I can't under any boot sequence get the card to be recognised - using internal or external screen.

I'm using a RM450 PSU and I'm a bit at a loss whether it is working or not - as it is one of those silent ones where the fan won't necessary spin or show any signs of life when it is working - i'm not sure if it is or not. When you boot yours up does your RM450 immediately spring into life? Or does it remain stationary until you play games and the card starts sucking up power?

Would appreciate your guidance,

Jamie

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Hey Jamie

The RM450 PSU will start spinning its fan when the load is above a certain percentage (something between 50% or 70% I believe).

When using a PSU, and just connecting the necessary connections (the PCIe 6pin and 8pin plugs to your graphics card) will not start the PSU when turning on the Sonnet SEL. The PSU needs to be started "manually", that means, the ATX power connector (the big fat cable) needs to be given the signal to turn on, like when pressing a power button on a computer. You can achieve this with these kind of mechanisms.

This is what makes solutions like the SEL and SE II to be unelegant implementations. Products like the EXP GDC and BPlus PE4C v2.0 take care of this issue by allowing the ATX power connector to be connected to the board and putting in a time delay switch.

I hope this helps.

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Hi juniordiscart,

Thanks very much for your contribution.

Can you or anyone else confirm that this jumper pin needs to be in place to get the power to be supplied as I haven't seen that mentioned yet? I assumed the modular nature of the 450 meant it wasn't required.

Jamie

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Hi Jamie

I know you will probably wait for someone to confirm this, but just to give an idea to have a more neat solution than to bend a wire and stick it in the ATX power cable, you can buy these kind of switches.

This guy uses it as well. You can see it clearly in the second and third picture.

I assumed the modular nature of the 450 meant it wasn't required.

Yeah, but every PSU manufacturer assumes their PSU will be used inside a regular PC, connecting the necessary cables to the proper devices. ;)

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Thanks again juniordiscart,

That does make sense however I can not see it on squinks' pictures using the same power supply so I'm hesitant to try it without his final confirmation

If this doesn't work I am pretty convinced my issue is around drivers and OS as the card over Thunderbolt isn't recognised - I've attempted to fix the problem repairing bootcamp support drivers but to no avail - next step I feel is to do a fresh install of Windows - maybe try Windows 7 this time. It could be a problem that I am using a Windows 8.1 Pro volume license even though it is fully activated perhaps it only works with single licenses?

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Yeah you're right. Looking back at the pictures of squinks in his first setup, there is no ATX power cable coming from the PSU. Very curious. Lets hope he can clear this up soon then. :)

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Hey juniordiscart,

I've been speaking to squinks over PM - Actually it turns out there is the ATX power loop - it's a little white cable in there on the right pins. squinks is going to update his guidelines to include this.

Anyway - progressing well on this side - just trying to do the magical bootup dance to get Optimus to work!

Edit: The stars just aligned and it worked! The trick was to boot up and shutdown without it connected at all.

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All,

Everything is working great in my setup.

13" 2013 MBP i7 16GB RAM with GTX 780TI connected using SEL.

A big word of warning - do not use the thunderbolt cable shipped with the SEL - it's AWFUL. I was only getting approx 350MiB between host and device - and only PCI 2.0 x16 @ x1 2.0 !!!! When using the legit apple cable it increased to the bandwidths and bus speed you would expect.

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