Does MBA 2012 Dream of GTX 980?

5 years ago, I bought my first MBA (Mac Book Air), which is the 2011 model. It was light and powerful enough to run Unity. I loved it and had been carrying it in my bag anywhere. I had been developing my games on the MBA and showing the games at parties. However, the MBA said suddenly goodbye. A young woman spilled beer all over the MBA. Of course, it was broken.

It was time to buy my second MBA. Because I knew MBA was great machine, I bought MBA 2012 model with the highest options; the highest CPU, the largest SSD and memory. The second MBA inherited all data of first one and became my new partner.

4 years later. Today, I can’t say the second MBA is powerful enough. The SSD does not have enough space. And the GPU is low spec and can’t run Unreal Engine 4 and recent video games. But I paid a lot of money to get the MBA. So I decided to extend its life by strengthen SSD and GPU.

SSD

Transcend released JetDrive series, which is compatible SSDs for MBA and MacBook Pro owners. It was so expensive, but their avaiable maximum SSD was 960GB! I bought JetDrive 520, which is 960GB SSD, and then replaced my default SSD with the JetDrive.

To transfer my previous environment to the current environment smoothly, I had to buy two software; Carbon Copy Cloner and Winclone.

GPU

I can’t replace the GPU on the MBA, because it’s a chipset. So I planned to install an external GPU. I had a spare GPU, GeForce GTX 980, which was one of most powerful GPUs and not installed to any PCs. I googled “eGPU for Mac” and found an interesting equipment, BizonBOX 2, which was an external GPU solution for Mac by Bizon Tech. It was a fairy expensive, but satisfies my wants. So I imported it from the U.S. However I made two mistakes.

At first, my GeForce GTX 980 was too long for BizonBOX 2.


So I couldn’t insert the GPU to the box. I was very surprised and checked BizonBOX website. It warned that 980 stuck out of the front panel. I had to choose “Remove front panel”, but I didn’t pay attention to this option.


So I removed a board from the box and installed 980 to the board outside of the box.

Next, I ordered 200W Power Supply, but the output was 15A12V, 180W!


It’s the lowest power for my GTX 980, so it was unstable. To solve it, I had to use a power unit of Alienware Graphics Amplifier, which was an only unused power unit in my home. I bought a switch board and connect it with the power unit, to control the power unit physically. (A power unit is usually controlled from a logic board of PC).


Finally I built my life support equipment for my MBA.

  1. Use thunderbolt cable to connect between my MBA and the 980 wearing a board came from BizonBOX 2 steel box.
  2. Connect PCIe power cables of Alienware Graphics Amplifier to the 980.
  3. Connect three power cables for MBA, BizonBOX 2 board and Alienware Graphics Amplifier.
  4. Turn on the switch board to supply energy to the 980.
  5. Turn on my MBA.


It was too complex, but MBA got power of external GPU. However, thunderbolt in 2012 was narrow bandwidth for 980. It means that the MBA could not use full of 980 power.

And I couldn’t go out with this large system including MBA, BizonBOX 2, Alienware Graphics Amplifier and three power cables, so finally bought an used GPU, which is short enough to install to the steel box.

Conclusion

The MBA with GTX 980 benchmarked the following score in 3DMark. Consider the resolution is 3440 x 1440 (ultra wide), which is larger than standard full HD.

GPU Test

The result satisfied me. But, how much I spent? If a USD was 100 JPY,

  • JetDrive 960GB SSD was around $770.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner is about $50.
  • Winclone is $40.
  • BizonBOX 2 was just $549 and I paid shipping cost and tax to import from the U.S. to Japan. A total price was about $750.
  • An used short GPU was about $200.

A total price was over $1,800! I could buy a new ultra book which has higher spec than the MBA!

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