Stands for "External Graphics Processing Unit." An eGPU is a graphics processor that resides outside of a computer. It is attached via a high-speed connection, such as Thunderbolt cable, which provides sufficient bandwidth to process graphics in real-time outside the computer.

eGPUs can be used by both desktop and laptop computers. However, they are more commonly connected to laptops since desktop PCs often have internal expansion slots for graphics cards. In either case, the purpose of an eGPU is to provide the connected machine with higher graphics processing performance.

Historically, the graphics performance of a computer without expansion slots was limited by the speed of the built-in graphics card. The introduction of the high-speed Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 interfaces has made it possible to render graphics in real-time using an external GPU.

An eGPU setup requires four components:

  1. Computer
  2. eGPU enclosure or adapter
  3. Video card (GPU)
  4. Cable

While it is possible to use a rudimentary adapter to connect an external graphics card, eGPU enclosures are more commonly used because they protect the GPU and provide more reliable performance. An eGPU enclosure provides a connection for the video card (such as a PCI Express slot) and has an interface for connecting to the computer, such as a Thunderbolt port.

Most eGPU enclosures support several different models of video cards, which means you can upgrade the card at any time. Similar to an internal GPU, the graphics processor used in an eGPU must be supported by the operating system in order to work. This means you may need to install drivers for the eGPU before using it.

NOTE: Apple added operating system-level support for eGPUs in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4, which was released on March 29, 2018.

Updated March 30, 2018 by Per C.

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