Quantcast Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

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  1. #1
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    Default Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    External Graphics Performance: Gaming : Echo Express Pro: Desktop Graphics In A Thunderbolt Chassis

    Seem like a pretty good summary of the capabilities and limits of thunderbolt driving an e-gpu. I only wish Tomshardware actually provide more detail about his software setup, and if he was able to drive the Macbook Pro internal display with the e-gpu or not.

    But regardless something to look forward to.

    Also one last observation, it seem that the bandwidth limit of the thunderbolt won't be able to feed a high end gpu. So a Nvidia 560ti or a newer model GTX660 (none ti) would be the upper bound for performance.

    Still a NVIDIA GTX660 is nothing to sneeze at.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Interesting. I've been able to get an ATI card to power on, albeit an really old radeon. I have not had success getting win7 to recognize the 560GTX. The ATI card could only be powered on after the macbook air initialized the sonnet adapter. I had to power on the card manually via the 12V line through a PCIE cable interposer. When I try to do this with the Nvidia card, it doesn't work, and the diy EGPU setup software cannot enumerate it at all.

    My next step was to splice the pcie interposer cable and use the 3.3V lines from my external ATX PSU to power both 3.3V and 12V lines. The GTX560 must need the 3.3V lines, whereas the older Radeon might not.

    The macbook air, and I think even the macbook pros, won't come up with the thunderbolt graphics plugged in. In both cases with either the expresscard->tbolt adapter or the sonnet echo adapter, this always led my macbook air to freeze.

    I wonder how they were able to get the macbook pro to boot up completely and get it to recognize the card without freezing using an nvidia card. or maybe it just works with the ATI card if they power on the external power supply after the win7 boot menu comes up.

    If anybody has any other info on this, I'd be interested in duplicating this. Otherwise I'll just forge ahead and create the 3.3V rails on my cable.

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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    I'm putting together a more "mobile" config and will post up a review when the last part gets here(Tomorrow or Friday).

    Setup:

    Macbook Air 2011 11"
    Sonnet Echo Express SE(with Fedex!)
    Geforce GTX650

    You need to use a Palit family(so Gainward etc) 650 with the SE, as they're the only ones that use a single slot bezel.


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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kryzaach View Post
    I'm putting together a more "mobile" config and will post up a review when the last part gets here(Tomorrow or Friday).

    Setup:

    Macbook Air 2011 11"
    Sonnet Echo Express SE(with Fedex!)
    Geforce GTX650

    You need to use a Palit family(so Gainward etc) 650 with the SE, as they're the only ones that use a single slot bezel.
    WOOT,

    So excited that you are doing this. I am thinking of sonnet echo express SE with Sapphire HD 7750 low profile on the Macbook Air 11" 2012.

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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    It's Alive!

    Well, mostly... There are still a few things to tweak. Getting to this point was non trivial and (needlessly) more expensive than it needed to be.

    It's now the middle of the night, so I'll give a run down tomorrow and start some proper testing.


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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    I'm looking forward to the results!

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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Ok, time for an update.

    First off, i'm taking a long time to investigate various options around certain elements of functionality.

    The main thing that I've spent time on is trying to get optimus working.
    That is still a work in progress as there are some issues with the Intel integrated graphics/Apple's EFI implementation.
    I consider this whole venture an experiment until I can get this running, as this is the only reason I went down this path in the first place.

    What is working:
    Internal LCD monitor on integrated graphics(with no driver/HD3000 disabled)
    External monitor attached to GTX 650 over thunderbolt
    Gaming(no real benchmarks yet, but i have had this running Borderlands 2 on max settings @ 1680x1050, 30 FPS+)

    what is not working:
    Optimus

    **Build pics to come

    What had to be done to get this to work:
    The PCIe slot of the Expressbox SE only supports an 8x card, so I had to carve out the end of the slot. This was time consuming but not difficult.
    The card draws 64 Watts at full load and the chassis will provide 60Watts(and will probably stretch the whole way), however the card needs PCIe 6 pin power.
    To this end I used a molex ended power brick and ran a molex to 6 pin power cable into the Expressbox.

    You can't bootcamp the machine, as it won't even boot into windows with the card installed.
    I thought it might be a memory allocation issue, so I bought a GT210(1GB) and and Ati 5450(512MB)
    This turned out to be a dead end and is likely just not supported in the BIOS emulation.
    There is a pending line of investigation to be picked up here if I can't make any further progress, which is to configure;
    Apple EFI -> BIOS Emulation -> SYSLINUX -> DUET -> EFI Shell -> Windows.
    This will allow modification of the appropriate registers to set VGA Enable on the PCIe bus behind thunderbolt, assuming that it is presented to the system as a PCIe Hub.
    However, this is a lot of work for possibly no gain and is ugly, so has been relegated to "Last Resort" status.

    Instead, I have installed OSX into the first half of the SSD and rEFIt in front of that.
    Booting into rEFIt's EFI shell allows you to directly boot the Windows 8 installers in "EFI mode".
    From here you can install into the GPT disk behind the partition that OS X is living on.
    This stops the Mac from setting up a hybrid MBR and hence using BIOS emulation.

    Once you're running windows directly against the EFI, hardware is appropriately presented to the OS and the external card is detected perfectly.

    Where to go from here:
    If you're just after high speed in a dock at home scenario, then this would be quite usable in this state.
    If you want optimus(which I imagine most of us do), then there is still work to be done

    Having had a poke at the registers and memory from the EFI shell, it has become fairly clear that the Graphics card is "running fine".
    It just can't detect the monitor. This could just be an artifact of the BETA state of Intel's current Windows 8 Drivers.

    The reason Windows 8 was chosen is that it is a lot more friendly with EFI booting.(allegedly)

    This leaves 2 obvious choices.

    Wait for intel to release a new driver(not ideal).
    Test EFI booting on Windows 7 and go from there(current line of investigation).

    Also, there is the horrifying cludge option that I outlined earlier, however, I'm not in a hurry to set that one up.

    There is another school of thought, which is being investigated by people a lot more dedicated than me, over at macrumors.com and that is poking directly at EFI to massage the GPU into a more normal looking shape, but that is a deep dark rabbit hole that I'm not going to dive down.

    I'll keep updating as I uncover more.

    Also, I'll post up some real benchmarks and videos soon.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Made a video showing an indication of performance of this setup as is.

    Just to give a worst case kind of impression, I ran this at 1920x1080, with everything set to maximum.

    Gaming on a Macbook Air over Thunderbolt (Borderlands 2) - YouTube

    The build photos..

    EchoExpress SE



    Plenty of space for a double width card



    Need to cut out the back of the 8x slot



    Even though I was careful, still slightly bent a pin, electrically ok though



    You could probably fit a double slot card in, if you cut a groove in the bracket



    Clear of the PCB when seated



    For a 650, you need a molex to PCIe adapter




    Molex extenders so the card fires up



    Running both displays



    The party box



    Card runs perfectly and the so does the gigabit nic

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Well done Kryzaach, your setup looks sweet. If I have the time and the money, i will try something similar with the sonnet echo express and a GTX650.

    But quick question (might be a really stupid question). Since thunderbolt is plug and play in windows (or atleast as far as i know in window7), couldn't you just boot into windows 7, and after boot complete, plugin in the graphic card. In theory the Nvidia optimus driver should be able to run the card after the driver is properly install, shouldn't it?

    By the way congratulation on your sweet setup, hopefully you have better luck with windows 7, without having do all the work around like you did for windows 8.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Thunderbolt e-gpu setup with Sonnet Echo Express Pro review (Tomshardware)

    Thanks Gordon1hd1,

    It's not a silly question, that is exactly how I wanted to run things myself. I will have a look at it again, but I suspect that the issue is with the way Apple do their BIOS emulation. The machine just won't detect anything plugged in like this(not correctly anyway) and if you boot in BIOS mode with the chassis connected and a graphics card in the slot, it just hangs(although I have some additional understanding around this now, so might be able to try a few things).
    I have access to the 2012 Macbooks(Air and Pros) at work, so I'll do some extended testing with them as well as my own machine over the next few weeks.
    I've also asked for an eval unit of an Acer Aspire S5, it will be interesting to see how a non apple thunderbolt machine handles it.

 

 
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