Apple adds external GPU support, now selling $599 VR development kit

Apple today announced that, as part of its updated Metal 2 graphics tech in macOS High Sierra, that Macs would soon support external GPUs via the Thunderbolt 3 port. This paves the way for virtual reality development on lighter-weight laptops and also opens up the possibility that Mac users will some day be able to plug in and play with VR headsets. Steam owner Valve also announced today that it’s made SteamVR available for Mac in beta.

To help developers get started, Apple has also started selling its very own external graphics enclosure to developers. The idea is to give Mac owners who’ve always wanted and needed a bit more horsepower the extra juice required to work on graphically intensive VR and 3D applications and games. This all seems to work only in the beta version of macOS High Sierra, which is now available. However, an Apple preview page for the new OS says external GPU support might not arrive for everyday consumers until spring of 2018.

That said, the Apple-approved enclosure on the company’s website is a Sonnet external GPU chassis with Thunderbolt 3 support and a 350-watt power supply. The package comes with a AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card, which is a VR-ready GPU. Developers will also get $100 toward a HTC Vive headset to use for VR purposes. You have to be a member of the Apple Developer Program to even be eligible to purchase the kit.

This is all a promising start to bringing the Mac platform up to speed for the VR community. But there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before developers, and especially consumer, can look at Apple’s platform as a viable place to create and consume VR content. At least in the short term, when external GPU support does launch, the MacBook and iMac line might just become more viable gaming machines.

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