Over on the Techinferno forums, an enterprising MacBook Air owner, “kloper”, has posted how they successfully connected a GTX 570 graphics card to their MacBook Air:
By buying around $250 in commonly available parts, plus a video card, you can make the graphics of your 11″ Macbook Air from 5X to 7X faster. Demo video at end of post. Step-by-step, here’s how to exactly do it. Warning: not for the faint of heart!
In simple terms, the setup involves using a Thunderbolt-to-PCIe adaptor to connect the graphics card to the MacBook, with additional components for providing power, and software to make it work with Windows 7. The guide is very thorough, covering everything from how to install Windows, as well as the potential pitfalls, and the reasons behind the complexity:
Yes, you might have read in the news that real commercial solutions are just around the corner. We’ve been promised by these companies over-and-over again, with youtube videos, hands-on reviews, press releases, etc, but nobody is releasing anything. It’s been like this for over a year. Intel even openly admits its bias against GPU usage where it’s listed as unsupported in their Thunderbolt Certification Application.
The final setup is not exactly pleasing to the eye, but it can be unplugged and used as a sort of docking station. Other posters in the thread also suggest using different parts, such as a “PE4H 3.2 instead of PE4L 2.1″, which works out about $100 more, but results in a more self-contained system.
Previously, Mac GPU hacking guru Netkas theorised that such a setup might be possible, but wasn’t sure how the performance would measure up. Kloper did include some benchmark results from actual games in the post, which suggests an improvement of 4x over the stock Intel HD5000, but they all were using the small 1366×768 built-in display, so they can’t be considered definitive.
Given that the reveal of the next Mac Pro looked like the GPUs will not be replaceable, but that the system will feature Thunderbolt connectivity, this setup might be the only way for Mac gamers to get good gaming performance in the future. The problem for now remains that the setup doesn’t work in Mac OS, remaining viable for Windows gaming only.