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

    it's not, he/she's a mac user which in 95% of most cases means they've been mislead by apple PR and are simply ignorant to the reality of most situations when it comes to technology (even though they may in fact be an intelligent person in real life). The mac pro failed for three reasons:

    Absurd, ridiculous pricing
    Lack of co processing enabled apps, due to the lack of machines out there using co processors.
    Dongle mess, a mac pro on your desk means wires everywhere.
  • HomeworldFound - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    I am not a MAC user. You make wild assumptions and crap all over someone you don't know on a single comment? you're a really bad person inside aren't you? I can tell. You need to go outside more.

    The limiting factor I always find is the slot itself. Look at an ITX motherboard, you get one slot to insert a card into, then you have to mount that card in the case (we're talking without using risers and ribbons) so then the size of the case is going to limit you to either full height or half height. Then you have the bracket limit and the width of the card. Like my ITX 1070 cards are taller and reach into a third slot a bit and have less chance of fitting.

    Additionally you're only ever going to have a single card. So if the slot and bracket is done away with. You get a new connector perhaps with a cable. You think outside the box with the GPU design, perhaps having it mounted to a radiator, a cable connector down to the board, the monitor ports are fed through the motherboard.. you can do almost what you want.
  • HomeworldFound - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    I will add that I wouldn't rule out anything if I enjoyed using it, heck I used to use BeOS on dual boot.
  • zohozer - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    Oh, thanks GOD, finally I can use my shiny GTX 1060 with the MacBookPro!

    I have an external eGPU setup, and after buying a brand new GTX 1060 last year, I realized that there is no driver support for this graphic card on MacOS, so I needed to buy an used GTX 970 and make a downgrade!
  • tipoo - Friday, April 7, 2017 - link

    New Mac Pro is not this year and probably no time early next year...Could this indicate external GPU support instead? Or a Geforce/Quadro iMac "pro" that they were talking about?
  • prisonerX - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    Nvidia worked out that most of their driver downloads were to Hackintoshes. Well done!
  • ruthan - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    Drivers are only for Titan or all 10xx cards are now supported?
  • yhselp - Saturday, April 8, 2017 - link

    "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?"

    A friend of mine is a big-time film editor - mostly does TV series and commercials. Started out with an iMac, moved onto a Mac Pro, and as of relatively recently had no choice but to go Hackintosh, because of performance. If that doesn't qualify as "real professional work" I don't know what does.

    The Hackintosh market might be niche, but it's not as small as this article tends to make it seem. And, as you've said, professionals and enthusiasts tend to spend big bucks on hardware.
  • benzosaurus - Sunday, April 9, 2017 - link

    At least they're admitting their power users aren't buying their hardware anymore.
  • sonicmerlin - Monday, April 10, 2017 - link

    Can we go back to the design of the Powermac G4? That thing was so curvy and futuristic looking.

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