Apple has released the 10.13.4 update for macOS. This update adds external graphics card (eGPU) support for most recent Macs, implements Apple’s new approach to privacy that we already saw in iOS 11.3, and adds Business Chat in the United States.
Business Chat allows users to seek customer support and perform transactions with participating businesses using the Messages app. You can chat live with a representative, book appointments right inside Messages, and also pay for products and services with Apple Pay in the course of your conversation. The feature also launched on iOS.
Apart from eGPU support, the only other major feature is Apple’s new approach to privacy issues. As in iOS 11.3, Apple has added a special image that appears each time its software or services access what Apple deems to be personal data. This image is accompanied by a short summary of what information Apple is using and how, and you can click a link to see a much more detailed explanation.
Apple executives have leveraged recent controversies at Facebook and Google by doing press appearances for weeks with the goal of positioning Apple as the tech giant that respects your data and privacy. This update doesn’t make any significant changes to how Apple handles your data—although some of that is coming in the future—but it makes the point about Apple’s differentiation abundantly clear to users.
Further changes in 10.13.4 include three new Safari features—the ability to jump directly to the tab on the far right by pressing Command and 9, new bookmarks sorting options, and a warning in the Safari Smart Search field that appears when you’re entering in certain personal information on websites that are unencrypted.
The update fixes a few bugs, including one for graphics corruption that affected “certain apps on iMac Pro.” An iTunes update rolled out at the same time as macOS 10.13.4 to add the Music Videos browsing feature that was added to the Apple Music app on iOS. A handful of enterprise updates were also included—check them out in the full update notes at the bottom of this article.
Now, let’s talk eGPUs.
Preliminary eGPU performance tests
Apple announced official eGPU support for macOS High Sierra at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last year. eGPUs have been positioned as the upgrade path for professionals using the iMac Pro; for many users, the longterm viability of that machine depends on it. But eGPUs can also solve a key, longstanding disadvantage to Apple’s entire Mac lineup: not a single Mac has an upgradeable GPU.
GPU upgrades will likely be possible in the promised-but-not-yet-revealed Mac Pro overhaul, but for the rest of the lineup, this is the only path forward. Apple’s work on its Metal 2 graphics API to improve performance on the Mac doesn’t mean much if users don’t have access to more powerful GPUs for tasks like gaming, 3D modeling, and video editing. In theory, eGPU support could make a 13-inch MacBook Pro with only an Intel integrated GPU capable of playing VR games, for example.
This dream has been around for decades now, but Apple hopes it is approaching viability thanks to Thunderbolt 3, which has a theoretical 40Gbps transfer rate. It won’t match the speeds of a PCI-e card, of course, but it could be enough for most use cases. macOS 10.13.4 adds support for eGPUs on “MacBook Pro notebooks released in 2016 and later1, iMac computers introduced in 2017 and later, and iMac Pro.”
Apple has a support page dedicated to eGPUs, and it lists the enclosures and graphics cards that are currently supported. Currently, only AMD graphics cards are supported—you’re in for a rough ride if you’re hoping to hook up an NVIDIA GPU. There are unofficial drivers out there, but it likely will not be an optimal experience. eGPUs are also not supported in Windows via Boot Camp.
It’s been a while since we’ve explored eGPUs, and this is the perfect time to do it. We will be doing more robust benchmarks and analysis of eGPU performance in 10.13.4 and publishing our findings in the near future, but we have some initial test results to share in the meantime. We ran four tests today:
- GFXBench Metal
- GFXBench OpenGL
- World of Warcraft (Metal)
- Civilization VI (OpenGL)
We tested on a 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, connected to a Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box enclosure and an external LG 27UK850-W 4K monitor.
|OS||macOS High Sierra 10.13.4|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6820HQ at 2.7GHz|
|RAM||16GB 2133Mhz LPDDR3|
|Internal GPU||AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB GDDR5|
|External GPU||AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB GDDR5|
Here’s what we found:
This looks promising for most use cases, especially gaming (as long as Metal is in play) but Apple cautions that it won’t work in all applications. Further testing—including for stability—is needed for a verdict.
Apple’s full update notes
These are the update notes Apple has provided for 10.13.4:
- Adds support for Business Chat conversations in Messages in the U.S.
- Adds support for external graphics processors (eGPUs).
- Fixes graphics corruption issues affecting certain apps on iMac Pro.
- Allows jumping to the rightmost open tab using Command-9 in Safari.
- Enables sorting of Safari bookmarks by name or URL by Control-clicking and choosing Sort By.
- Fixes an issue that may prevent web link previews from appearing in Messages.
- Helps protect privacy by only AutoFilling usernames and passwords after selecting them in a Web form field in Safari.
- Displays warnings in the Safari Smart Search field when interacting with password or credit card forms on unencrypted webpages.
- Displays privacy icons and links to explain how your data will be used and protected when Apple features ask to use your personal information.
Additionally, Apple lists the following updates specifically for enterprise:
- No longer disables User Approved Kernel Extension Loading on MDM-enrolled devices. For devices with DEP-initiated or User Approved MDM enrollment, administrators can use the Kernel Extension Policy payload.
- Improves Spotlight search results for files stored on network mounts.
- Properly evaluates ACLs on SMB share points.
- Adds the
--eraseinstallflag to the
startosinstallcommand in the macOS Installer app at Contents/Resources/startosinstall. Use this flag to erase and install macOS on a disk. For details, run
- Updates System Image Utility to allow creating NetInstall images that erase and install macOS to a named target volume.
Details on the security contents of 10.13.4 are available at Apple’s security hub.