The Wolfe is a new project about to hit Kickstarter that claims to offer a hardware solution to Macbook owners wanting to run virtual reality applications, an external Thunderbolt connected GPU.

Those with Apple computers may well feel a little left out in the cold when it comes to running the latest virtual reality hardware. In fact, Oculus founder Palmer Lucker famously quipped last year that even Apple’s desktop workstations lacked the grunt required to push VR experiences:

“It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top-of-the-line AMD FirePro D700 and it still doesn’t match our recommended spec. If they prioritize higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day… we’d love to support Mac. But right now there’s just not a single machine out there [from Apple] that supports it. So even if we can support on the software side, there’s just no audience of [Mac users] that can run the vast majority of [VR] software out there.”

Of course, Oculus had once supported the Rift on both Mac OSX and Linux with early builds of their SDK, but back in early 2015 that they indefinitely “paused” support for those platforms.

So are Apple computer users SOL when it comes to running VR? Until now the answer was a resounding ‘yes’, but a new crowdfunded project wants to try to help out. The Wolfe Pro is a new external, Thunderbolt connected GPU which claims to increase the average Macbook Pro’s GPU processing capability by up to 10x.

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the-wolfe-Wireframe-Dimensioned

Its comes as a neat, if sizable, enclosure that contains an NVIDIA GTX 970 GPU, the baseline for both the Vive and Rift in terms of rendering grunt. Connected to your Macbook with a single Thunderbolt connector, the team plan to offer the product to early bird kickstarter backers for $399 when the campaign officially launched on August 23rd. Right now, the team claim The Wolfe is compatible with the following Apple computers:

  • MacBook Air 11-inch, Mid 2011–2015
  • MacBook Air 13-inch, Mid 2011–2015
  • MacBook Pro Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012–2015
  • MacBook Pro Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012–2015
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch, Early 2011–2015
  • MacBook Pro 15-inch, Early 2011–2015
  • Mac mini, Mid 2011–2015
  • iMac, Mid 2011–2015
  • Mac Pro, Late 2013-2015

Of course, precisely what levels of performance you’ll get from your device will depend on which version of Thunderbolt you’re running.

the-wolfe portable

And do remember, this product only resolves the hardware issue by adding connected GPU grunt via Thunderbolt, there is still no support for the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive (for the most part) on OSX, which means you’ll need to dual-boot with a Windows operating system via Boot-camp in order to enjoy on your mac. Not that this is a major issue, just a point of clarity.

nvidia-10-series-pascal-mobile-gpu-vr-ready
See Also: Next-gen VR Ready Gaming Notebooks Will Start at $1,300 with NVIDIA 10-Series GPUs

For those expecting completely portable too, bear in mind you’ll need a power socket for the Wolfe enclosure. Finally, check out how many USB 3 sockets are featured on your Macbook. The Oculus Rift requires a minimum of 2 USB 3 sockets (one for the headset, one for the tracking sensor) and those sockets will ideally need to be on Oculus’ HCL. And that’s before any additional sensor is required for the forthcoming Touch controllers, which will need an additional USB 3 port and not to forget the Xbox ONE Wireless controller which requires a USB 2.0 port for the dongle.

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The Wolfe’s Kickstarter campaign begins on August 23rd (teaser above), and it does look like a potentially good option for those locked into Apple hardware—just please do your research before jumping headlong into the early bird support.

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  • Graham J ⭐️

    Vive only needs a single USB2 so that will ease connection woes. 400 is not bad if the card is included. I’m sure many would prefer a bring-your-own-card solution. These exist already but tend to be 400+ without a card.

    • PrymeFactor

      Alienware External graphics amplifier is sub $150 on Amazon. Only Razer sells theirs for crazy prices.

      An external amplifier attenuates the GPU power a little (i think some folks have benchmarked the effect at around 5%). A 970 in an external enclosure may not fully cut it for VR.

      • Graham J ⭐️

        Sure but then you need an Alienware machine. I meant ones that would work on a Mac like some have posted here now.

  • Sounds good… and could be ideal for my retina iMac… just googled and seen this.. same deal but currently already available. https://bizon-tech.com/us/bizonbox2-egpu.html/#about

  • Raphael

    I disagree.

    • I’m not sure why you’re posting this repeatedly across multiple stories, but please stop or I’ll begin removing your posts.

      Thanks

  • Steve Biegun

    I wonder if there would be a way to upgrade the GPU in the Wolfe enclosure. 970 isn’t top of the line, and a higher spec may be recommended for most games by the time this hits the market.

    • sambuev

      you will be able to use 1080 when it’ll be 2 years outdated, when 1180 will be released.

    • JustThink

      From the comments on the kickstarter it seems the only limitation to the graphics card to use is the size of the enclosure (GTX1080 is full length only at the moment), but would work fine otherwise and presumably also with future cards. Its basically just an external PCIe port and is not linked with any specific card.

  • Raphael

    GTX 970 is weak for VR. I made the mistake of buying one this year. Ditched it in favour of 1070 now.

    • J.C.

      Yeah, Somewhat. I’ve found that the games that ran poorly on my 970 also run poorly on my 1080. Specifically, Solus Project and Project Cars. Solus project has a hitching that happens every few seconds, and PCARS struggles at specific point on maps no matter how low the detail is set to. Neither game was built for VR, however, which makes these issues a bit more tolerable.

      • Raphael

        What processor do you have? My vintage i5 2500k is a bottleneck even at 4.8ghz so I know for a fact that when I had the 970 I was getting lower FPS with it than people with more modern processors. I’m due to upgrade mobo, cpu and ram soon. Strange with Solus project… I will install it and see if I get the same problem. Pcars I haven’t played for a while… it runs better now I have a 1070 but I know that it benefits from a modern CPU.

        • J.C.

          4790k. If it’s a bottleneck then there’s really not any CPU that isn’t.

          • Raphael

            No issues with that CPU. HTC Vive? Steamvr isn’t very efficient and the lack of ATW makes it worse.

          • That’s interesting. I run Solus Project without issues on a GTX970 and a 6600K, but then my games are on an SSD. What storage do you use for the games? Perhaps there’s some streaming off of the harddrive that causes the hitching… o_O that feels like the last bet.

          • J.C.

            Ok maybe I should just post my VR rig’s specs.
            4790k
            16gb ram
            240 gb SSD
            970 / 1080 depending on which machine I want the 1080 in.

            No software installed beyond what is absolutely necessary to make it run. The machine is for VR only. Solus Project devs have said the hitching can be from a reflection map update they do every few seconds. PCARS is likely just poorly optimized tracks that weren’t initially intended for VR use.

            Point is, the issues I have on the 970, I have on the 1080. Games will eventually start requiring more muscle than a 970, but probably not for a while. There’s already only a very small user base for VR, requiring beefier hardware cuts down your game’s market even more.

            As for what this discussion is actually about, running VR on Macs…seems pointless without software. People buy Macs for ease of use and style, neither of which is attributable to VR right now.

          • Raphael

            So which windows? 7, 8 or 10?

  • brandon9271

    FFS just buy a PC already..

    • James Friedman

      Yes it’s not hard, and you’ll save TON of money

      • brandon9271

        Not to mention you’ll actually have games to play once you’re done! lol

    • Graham J ⭐️

      I built a PC for my Vive but it would be handy to be able to use my MBP for road trips.

  • sambuev

    Hahahah no way!!! Too late Mac, I moved to Windows last year and never switch back to Mac. Same with iPhone, no need it anymore. As a result, I got amazing results on Windows. Mac OS good for browsing, but even this stuff can be done in WIndows actually :D hahah

    • Graham J ⭐️

      Most tasks can be completed in either ecosystem; congrats on figuring that out. This box makes that even more true.

  • Tom A

    Oh boy, these guys have missed the train with Thunderbolt 3.

    If they think they can get away with peddling Thunderbolt 2 (very limited number of devices, absolutely zero forwards compatibility as well, on account of Thunderbolt 3 replacing the old receptacle with the USB-C one), they should think again. I can’t see many Macbook touting gaming enthusiasts buying into already outdated technology, and for all the rest – will they really be clued up on Bootcamp and getting all the necessary drivers set up, nevermind when the blank screens, error 12s and kernel panics start happening.

    There’s a whole lot of updates that went into TB3 that made it far more appropriate for eGPU, not least the hot-plugging abilities and Intel’s official support for it at a driver level. Assuming for a second that Intel are even still supporting TB2, these guys are playing a dangerous game, using outdated hardware – you can just see a firmware update coming along and rendering their device useless, because it doesn’t support the features Intel mandates for eGPU use.

  • Ugur

    I first started with an Amiga, then bought Windows PCs for a good number of years and then for a while i bought Macs.
    First because initially the Unity editor was only available for Macs, then because as i focused on mobile dev for a good while, Macbook Pros seemed like a good choice since one can develop for both Android and iOS on them without going Hackintosh ways or similar.
    And yeah, some general OS usability sides are still to this day better on macOS than Windows.
    (Even laughably basic things like long path names for files/folders still lead to issues on windows, just to give one basic example for some things that should just work in an OS in 2016)
    And yeah, the whole MS push for UWP and free to play OS makes me queasy, too.

    But besides all that, as soon as i got more into VR dev, the Macbook was useless.
    The performance is just horrible on it for VR things, no better with the iMac and not much better even on a Mac Pro.

    And one can get a vr ready pc at so much lower price than a Mac Pro costs despite it being so poor in both graphics card and graphics drivers.

    I give these guys from wolfe some kudos for trying, but really, it’s not that much use on Macs right now, because until the built in graphics cards and graphics drivers of Macs are good enough for Oculus and Valve to officially support Macs for VR stuff, well, most VR content will not support Macs well or at all. Because Macs are a niche product to start with and then to on top support them with your VR content when only a fraction of a fraction would get such an external card to be able to run VR stuff on in extra finnicky way because Steam VR and Oculus don’t support it officially?

    Hm..

    • Graham J ⭐️

      VR support is about the OS not the machine. The idea with this box is to run VR on your Mac with Windows.

      • Ugur

        well, that then cuts down the possible audience even way more.
        Suddenly one is looking for users which have a mac (less than 5%), of those only ones who also run windows on it (a small fraction) and then on top have such an expansion graphics card (again a fraction of that fraction).
        I guess it’s cool for people who are hell bent on staying on mac and at the same time want to run windows and buy such an external card, but at that point, even the most hardcore mac lover should realise that it is way more convenient, more affordable and with better performance and overall experience to just buy a second desktop tower windows pc next to your mac then.

        I like companies making hardware targeted for VR, but i would far prefer it if this company for example made one of those backpack windows pcs for VR usage, i want to see that market blossom where i have a few good options for getting one of those.

        • Graham J ⭐️

          I don’t think having to dual boot Windows would be a big deal to potential customers of this device but totally agree that the number of those customers is probably pretty small already.

          Personally my interest in something like this would be for road trips where dragging my VR rig along would be a PITA and I’d be bringing my MBP anyway. I’d defile my Mac with Windows for that purpose ;)

          But even then I’m not sure dropping another couple hundred and swapping my card back and forth to make that one siuation easier would be worth it. Moving the Vive is already a PITA anyway.

          • Ugur

            yeah, i have a macbook pro, too and i like the portability of it and the usability of the OS itself still beats windows 10 on many ends.
            But, well, since doing VR stuff, the most i still use my macbook pro for (when not working on a client project for mobile in between) these days is working on my windows pc via remote desktop when doodling on a vr project while in the living room or somewhere and not testing vr motion controls in that moment..
            so yeah, doesn’t get much use right now.
            I feel like for the use cases you mentioned of wanting a portable VR rig, one of those backpack pc solutions coming up is a much better choice than a macbook+ this external card thing.
            I’m considering buying one of those backpack pcs at some point, too, at the very first the thought sounded ridiculous but the more i think about it, the more it makes a lot of sense, not just for bringing the VR gear somewhere else but also for being able to use it locally without the cable issues.

            Another thing macbook+external card for vr would suck for, sounds a lot to me like next to finicky to set up each time it would also be a finicky setup just adding more to the cabling and fiddling around stuff one would want to keep to a minimum or at least a one time endeavour for a while.

  • brandon

    Check out this guys : https://bizon-tech.com/us/bizonbox2-egpu.html/
    Much better solution! More options and already on the market for a year. Bought 3 BizonBox devices and absolutely happy with it.

    • Graham J ⭐️

      $500 on sale without a card. Yikes.

    • danielsdesk

      this is a great find for prosumer studio stuff; thanks

    • JustThink

      Nice to know it exists. But for 550 dollars I would expect a better solution than a cable sticking out the top and a powersupply that is taken from somewhere else. Its too expensive. I’ll wait for the Wolfe..

  • Nice idea!

  • Chris
  • Iliad

    A 970? That is, the minimum. To take the minimum requirement, then put that on a laptop, which would also be the minimum requirement, is going to be a stretch. I play with a 980ti that performs good, but not great in certain games. Upgraded to a Titan XP already, but more from choice then necessity. Regardless, the difference between the 980ti and XP is substantial. I can’t imagine going from a 980ti to a 970. I think a lot of backers (which they are doing pretty good already) are going to be disappointing when they have to dual boot to another OS, then get sub-optimal performance. Great though that there is a market for this as it means more and more people want to utilize virtual reality.

  • Jeff

    The new Mac is said to be VR ready and will be released late 2017 at a cost of about £2000.