Capping off a crazy week for Apple-related GPU news, we have one more important development for the week. Buried in their announcement of the NVIDIA Titan Xp, NVIDIA has also made a rather surprising revelation: that they will be releasing macOS drivers for their Pascal architecture GPUs. This comes despite the fact that Apple hasn’t sold a Mac Pro that can officially accept a PCIe video card in almost half a decade.

When Apple released the trash can shaped and highly customized Mac Pro design in 2013 – one, coincidentally enough, they’ll be walking away from for the next iteration – Apple also sealed the fate for end-user video card upgrades on the Macintosh platform. Every Mac now uses a customized, integrated video card of some kind, from the soldered-on MacBook Pro up to the custom format cards of the Mac Pro. This has meant that as the old, Westmere-based Mac Pro towers have aged into retirement, so has the market for Mac video card upgrades.

For NVIDIA, this is a bit of a double-whammy. NVIDIA owns the bulk of the discrete video card market, and at the same time, Apple hasn’t integrated an NVIDIA GPU in some time now; the last NVIDIA-equipped Mac was the 2014 MacBook Pro, which included an NVIDIA Kepler GPU. As a result, NVIDIA has been locked out of the Mac video card market entirely for the last couple of years, and consequently makes NVIDIA’s announcement so surprising.

So why is NVIDIA releasing a Mac driver to a market that, officially speaking, is essentially dead? It’s telling that this is a question NVIDIA doesn’t even bother to address, simply stating that they’re “making the new TITAN Xp open to the Mac community with new Pascal drivers” in order to give “Mac users access to the immense horsepower delivered by our award-winning Pascal-powered GPUs.” At best, the official market is the remaining handful of Mac Pro Tower owners.

Instead it’s the off-label use that makes this announcement interesting, and indeed gives NVIDIA any reason whatsoever to make a Pascal driver release. Within the Mac community there are small but none the less vocal user groups based around both unsupported external GPUs and not-even-Apple-hardware Hackintoshes. In the case of the former, while macOS doesn’t support external GPUs (and isn’t certified as eGFX complaint by Intel), it’s possible to use Macs with Thunderbolt eGFX chassis with a bit of OS patching. Meanwhile with a bit more hacking, it’s entirely possible to get macOS running on a custom-built PC, leading to the now long-running Hackintosh space.

The fact of the matter is that neither of these groups is very big relative to the much bigger Mac user base – who wants to do real professional work on an unsupported video card setup? – but they are vocal, and they do need increasingly powerful video cards, like the rest of the PC market. But more to the point, given Apple’s announcement that they’re going to eventually fix the Mac Pro’s GPU woes, but not for at least another year, this is a chance for NVIDIA to take a low-risk pot shot at Apple for their dGPU follies. At a minimum, it’s a nice gesture to Mac users (whom tend to spend big on hardware), and perhaps, it makes for the start of a grassroots campaign to get an NVIDIA GPU in the next iMac or Mac Pro. And while only NVIDIA knows for sure if they planned this before this week’s Mac Pro announcement or they just got lucky, it comes across as a clever move by the company.

Otherwise, from a technical perspective, there’s little reason for NVIDIA not to do this. The company needs to keep Mac driver development for new architectures alive regardless so that they can compete for future GPU contracts, meaning NVIDIA already has the drivers in-house, though perhaps not in an end-user ready state. Given how the whole endeavor is essentially unsupported from the Apple side of matters, this may make for a bumpy ride at the start. But I think it will be interesting to see where the NV-GPU equipped Mac user base stands in a year or two when Apple readies their next Mac Pro, and if NVIDIA’s gesture has any real impact on the number of NVIDIA users out there.

Source: NVIDIA

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  • Sarah Terra - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    Agreed, but connectivity is the issue for the older model, no USB 3 or thunderbolt...and prior to this announcement, display connectivity. However a brand spanking new nvidia card solves that problem and makes it much more appealing to me
  • Kevin G - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    You can get USB 3 via add-in card. Actually pretty much anything you'd want TB3 for you can get an add-in card for too.
  • Filiprino - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    Probably Mac users are a target for that card. Easy milking.
  • madwolfa - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    For me it was really an indication that Nvidia is aiming a shot at the new Mac Pro.
  • Krysto - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    This could have happened for either one of these two reasons:

    1) Apple will use Nvidia GPUs for its next Mac Pro, and it forced Nvidia to provide its own drivers for the whole Mac OS and all Mac devices.

    2) Apple chose AMD again or is about to, and Nvidia is all "Hey, look at us how much we love Mac OS! - Pick us! Pick us!"

    Personally, I'd much rather Apple chose AMD for both GPUs and CPUs. Imagine the (rumored) AMD 16-core Ryzen "threadripper". It would be the absolute BOMB if it went into the Mac Pro, even if they kept a $4,000-$5,000 price tag. As long as it would have tremendous value/pack, the final price tag won't matter that much for professional workshops.
  • HomeworldFound - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    I'd rather just have the option to shove anything I want in there, Apple can choose the CPU and I'll pick the GPU. At least with the option there's a chance for competition and better prices.
  • Sarah Terra - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    agreed. it makes no sense to buy a one time appliance in the professional space at an absurd price. The ability to upgrade is a must, hence the existence of the hackintosh scene.
  • jabbadap - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    Hmm wonder if it includes vulkan...
  • HomeworldFound - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    I would like to see a new standard for graphics cards, the PCIe slot is very limiting. I can see why Apple designed that computer and the innovation in having everything fit, but unless they have upgrades ready in that form-factor.. it's going to fail.. and it did.
  • prisonerX - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    PCIe is limiting how, exactly?

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