eGPU or Apple Silicon? M2 Max and Mac + RX 6600 XT compared
Continue with an eGPU or upgrade to Apple Silicon? That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself ever since Apple released the M1-based Mac Studio.
I had been running an Intel-based MacBook Pro with an RX 6600 XT eGPU for a while. Before the RX 6600 XT, I’ve also used an RX 580 and RX 5700 XT with the Razer Core X. The setup worked great for me and if there was anything to complain about, it was the power consumption of the whole setup. As my 2017 MacBook Pro no longer gets support for MacOS Sonoma, I figured it is high time to finally transition to Apple Silicon. I got myself a Mac Studio powered by an M2 Max with 12-cores CPU, 38-cores GPU and 64GB RAM.
A beautifully simple and compact design
I do not consider the Mac Studio the be small. But when compared with a MacBook with an eGPU enclosure, you can see how much more compact the it is. The Razer Core X is also heavy as it houses a 650W PSU. And when you include the MacBook, or Mac mini to complete the eGPU-powered Mac setup, one would easily appreciate the compact design the Mac Studio offers.
eGPU or Apple Silicon: Gaming performance compared
Gaming is obviously one of the main reasons why I decided to get the Razer Core X a few years ago. Started with an RX 580, RX 5700 XT and then the RX 6600 XT, I’ve been able to play Witcher 3, Battletech, Divinity: Original Sin I and II and more without sacrificing on graphics quality, even when using CrossOver to get DX11 games to work on MacOS via DXVK.
This was one of the main consideration I was making when deciding to take the plunge on a fairly powerful M2 Mac Studio, or just go with the cheapest Mac mini setup and save the rest to set up a Windows gaming PC. Well, you already know what I finally decided on. One of the biggest factor that made me decide to stick with the Apple Silicon option is Apple’s D3DMetal that came with the Game Porting Toolkit.
I’ve read how good D3DMetal is at running Windows games on the Macs but I was still blown away when I finally got to experience it. The following are some screen recordings I took of games I’ve tried so far.
CrossOver 23.5 which supports D3DMetal out-of-the-box makes a real treat to run DX11 and DX12 games on a powerful enough M2-based Mac.
Even when using Parallels Desktop 19 which is generally much slower since it is a full emulation layer, the performance (when the games do run) is respectable!
The M2 Max can run games and record the full screen without breaking a sweat
It is also worth noting that all these screen recordings were recorded using SnagIt that was running on the same Mac Studio. There was no noticeable lag or stuttering on both the game or in the recorded video itself.
Best of all is the amount (or lack of) heat the M2 Max produces. Even when under load when running 3DMark Solar Bay benchmark, the CPU temperature hovered around 60°C and the GPU around 55°C. At these temperatures, the built-in fan hardly needs to spin any higher than 1000+ RPM.
Here’s an unfair comparison using Unigine’s Valley benchmark. I have to use anti-aliasing at 4x only as setting it to 8x will cause Valley to crash on the Mac Studio. So instead, I benchmarked the Mac Studio at 1440p resolution instead to “punish” this handicap. The M2 Max achieved 80.5 FPS.
The M2 Max was able to achieve 116.3 FPS at 4x anti-aliasing at 1080p,
In comparison, my RX 6600 XT GPU achieved 74 fps @ 1080p. Unscientifically, I feel that the M2 Max’s 32-cores GPU is around 1.5x the speed the RX 6600 XT.
The M2 Max with 64GB is plenty of power for local LLM too
I’m hardly running a setup to compete with the complexity and speed of OpenAI. But the M2 Max with 64GB of RAM is proofing to be a rather fun platform for a simple experimentation with local LLMs. There is plenty of room to load a 13B model like the speechless-llama2-hermes-orca-platypus-wizardlm-13b.Q4_K_M.gguf fully in the 64GB of RAM I have on my Mac Studio. With this setup, I can get up to about ~20-30+ tokens/sec. Not the speediest, but fast enough to not be frustrated when experimenting with LLMs.
When using 7B models, I was able to get above 40+ tokens/sec. My old MacBook Pro and 6600 XT eGPU setup does not even come close to these results.
Do I regret the Mac Studio?
The worth of anything is always a subjective matter. But short answer for me is yes. I found myself thinking that I could have gotten the M2-based Mac Studio as soon as it was released. There are a few points that makes it so for me: –
- Lag? What lag? Everything runs on the M2 Max like I fed it simple arithmetic. I could be writing this article on Safari, while having Handbrake in the background consuming all the CPU cores encoding an hour long video at 120fps. At the same time, I have a 13B LLM model loaded fully into RAM, and having Music blasting hard-rocking BAND-MAID in my eardrums. And I can still get Excel to load up instantly to get some financial matters recorded. I’ve never had a machine this responsive before.
- Performance per watt ratio of the M2 Max: I really hate a noisy machine. The ambient temperature here in Singapore is relatively hot so it’s hard to keep things cool with the powerful GPUs of today. I downgraded to an RX 6600 XT on my eGPU for this reason.
- The M2 Max is a video and photo processing beast. The M2 Max’s ability to capture screen recordings and post-process videos in DaVinci Resolve is amazing. Editing photos on Capture One also finally feels smooth. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to stress the M2 Max but I’m happy that I no longer feel any lag.
- LLMs runs well enough on the M2 Max. I don’t intend to buy multiple GPUs. Nor do I want to manage the heat output those Nvidia GPU generates. But the unique Apple Silicon architecture makes having 64GB of RAM an interesting platform to run such workflows. It’s probably the easiest way to get 32GB+ RAM on a GPU.
- 3D3Metal on Sonoma makes gaming on MacOS fun again. I never thought I would ever play Control on my Mac. But here I am enjoying it over the last few days. I do think there will be a shift in gaming on the Mac. It would probably never get to where Windows gaming is today. But as the world transitions to ARM architecture, I hope more studio would produce AAA games that runs on MacOS.
- I’ll probably get a console if I have time to game. I already mostly game on my Switch. I love the minimal hassle of consoles and I still remember the trouble managing a Windows-based PC. Publishers have to optimise for consoles making it lasts longer too. Unlike PC releases of games that go crazy on hardware requirements just because they can.
It is obvious I really enjoy my Mac Studio so far.
Would a M2 Pro Mac mini been enough?
I’m not sure. The M2 Pro configuration maxes out at 12-cores CPU, 19 -cores GPU and 32GB RAM. 1080p gaming should be sufficient on this configuration. However, I was also hoping to be able to play around with local LLMs. That made the 32GB RAM a little too limiting. The cost of this configuration with a 1TB SSD is about $1K from the M2 Max 12-cores CPU, 38-cores GPU, 64GB RAM and 1TB SSD configuration. I expect this Mac to last me for years as with all my older Macs. So I figured I would just go with the better configuration.
I won’t compare with a Windows PC option. I simply do not use Windows as a daily driver. If I want to use any Windows-only application, Parallels Desktop is always there to pick it up.
If you are using an eGPU, your Mac setup is no cheap to begin with. The Razer Core X costs about US$300+ today and you still have to get a GPU to install in it. Apple no longer sells n Intel-based Mac mini, but you can probably find a certified refurbished Mac mini 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 under US$2000. The total cost will come close to US$3000.
Just this math alone makes the Mac Studio with an M2 Max a good alternative. And with everything else I’ve discovered so far, the choice is an obvious one to me.
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