One of the biggest compliments I can give a piece of tech is, “It just works.” That’s how I feel about the ASUS XG Station Pro eGFX Enclosure. This Thunderbolt™ 3-equipped box is easy to use and set up, even for those who may have been afraid to open a computer prior to this. And, when used on a Mac mini, in conjunction with the ASUS Dual OC Radeon RX 580—an Apple-certified card—it’s plug-and-play. It has never been easier to give your computer a graphical boost, and have room for more upgrades later.
An eGFX/eGPU Primer
Graphics cards have long required a direct connection to the motherboard but, ever since Thunderbolt™ 3, we have finally had an external interface that was fast enough to handle the needs of a GPU. Sure, you won’t get the same performance as if you had a card mounted on a full-size board, but previously you had no upgradeability at all if you wanted to upgrade a MacBook or Mac mini with boosted graphics. The use of an external graphics, or eGFX, enclosure, in this case the XG Station Pro, enables this setup by providing its own cooling, power, and PCIe slot to support full-size and full-power graphics cards.
The model we are working with has a PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, a good large option that will handle full-size cards with ease, especially since the box can hold full-length 2.5-slot cards. A built-in 330W power supply and dual 120mm fans will be sure to keep the card juiced up and cool without making too much noise. I will admit, this box is quite large and towers over the Mac mini with which I am testing it, so be sure there is room on your desk. Also, 330W may not be exactly as powerful as needed for future GPUs, but we must wait and see about that. Right now, installing an RX 580 is quite perfect. Take out a couple of screws, slide the card in, and you are good to go—just take the included Thunderbolt™ 3 cable and plug it into the back of the Mac mini. Immediately, the Mac mini should recognize that an AMD Radeon RX 580 GPU is connected and that it can make use of it.
For other computers, you should check eGPU support before investing. The latest Macs running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or Mojave 10.14 that have Thunderbolt™ 3 interfaces should have built-in support for many GPUs.
Using the XG Station Pro
At my desk, which is getting a bit cramped with all this extra computer equipment, the XG Station Pro needed to find a nice home, out of the way of things. It was a little difficult, considering its size, but the space-gray finish perfectly matches that of the Mac mini and the In Win collaboration gives it a slick aluminum chassis to show off. In the end, it does look great on the desk.
When you go to power it up, you will find a hefty power supply and cable. Luckily, the Thunderbolt™ 3 cable is quite thin. Alongside the Thunderbolt™ 3 port is a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port for connecting another device. The enclosure is quiet. I cannot hear it at all over the usual workplace sounds and, with headphones or speakers going, it is a non-issue. ASUS GPU Tweak II software is available for programming the fans and other settings, meaning you can even get it down to 0 dB when doing less intensive work.
To get things going on a Mac is as simple as plugging it into the computer and then plugging a monitor into the card. The display I had on was the ASUS ProArt PA32UC 32" 4K HDR Monitor. Using the Mac mini’s Thunderbolt™ 3 port to drive it is no problem; using the card was still much better. Before I get into some testing numbers, the Mac mini we used was a Late 2018 model, with 3.2 GHz Intel® Core™ i7 Six-Core Processor, 16GB RAM, Intel UHD Graphics 620, a 512GB SSD, and all the other basic specs. The Radeon RX 580 we picked features a conservative 4GB GDDR4 RAM, so using a better card should see even more gains.
Pulling up DaVinci Resolve and a quick test project I am working on, I did some quick edits and rendered to see the difference the eGPU makes. I could edit my XAVC S Sony a7R III footage in real time with a UHD 4K timeline without needing to use the proxy modes. I applied some small grades and still had real-time editing performance. Without the eGPU, I had to knock it down to Half-Resolution Proxy Mode and, then, once some grades and titles were added, I needed to use Quarter Resolution. The eGPU makes it possible to use the Mac mini as a full-fledged editing machine.
The next test came during rendering. This is where I would expect to see some major gains. Exporting a quick 41-second clip with a couple of cuts, transitions, and titles took 2 minutes and 10 seconds using the built-in graphics. With the eGPU activated it was shortened to just 39 seconds—a threefold increase in speed. This was a standard H.264 UHD 4K export at 23.976 fps, so nothing too taxing but, considering that is a common export setting, it is nice to see the changes. The addition of the eGPU transformed the Mac mini into a decent video-editing machine. I’m sure that these advantages can also be applied to gaming.
There are a few things to know if you want to apply this setup with your own Mac. Apple only certifies a few graphics cards, so double-check that list before you invest in something. However, you can usually install third-party drivers to get other cards working perfectly. Next, you can maximize performance with certain software by hitting “Get Info” on the application and checking the box saying “Prefer External GPU.” I did this with DaVinci Resolve, since that will most definitely want to make use of it. I then double-checked performance with the Activity Monitor and was surprised at how quickly and easy all this is to set up. Anyone can do this!
Are you curious about adding an eGPU to your setup? Wondering what graphics cards are the best options for you or if your computer supports it? Be sure to leave a comment below with your questions and thoughts on the use of eGPUs!
I can’t find accurate info about using this kind of eGPU with a Mac mini 2018 for improving Adobe Illustrator work. I have very big AI files with tons of objects. It’s not easy to find Benchmarks with Mac Mini and Illustrator with Intel integrated card and with eGPU... any idea ?
Hmm. This is a good question. I unfortunately don't use Illustrator all that much and no longer have this unit for review. However, the Adobe suite does benefit from eGPUs. How much of a benefit you will see I couldn't guess, but I would say it will likely give you a nice speed boost.
Thank you Shawn !
Can this item be used with a late 2014 Mac Mini running Mojave 10.14, Proc, 3 Ghz, Int. Core i7, Mem. 16GB, 1600 Mhz DOR 3, Graph.Disk Int.Iris 1536 Mb ?
Unfortunately the answer is no. It requires Thunderbolt 3 which is found only on the latest Mac mini models.