2016-06-15

Nvidia GTX 1070 and 1080

1080

Nvidia GTX 1070 review: Faster than the Titan, at a more reasonable price

In January, Nvidia's GTX 970 became the most popular graphics card on Steam. This was a remarkable feat, considering the next most popular chip at the time, the HD Graphics 4000, isn't really designed for gaming at all and is integrated into Intel CPUs. Today, the GTX 970 still commands a hefty five percent share of the Steam audience. Its successor, the GTX 1070—the second graphics card based on Nvidia's latest Pascal architecture following the powerful but pricey GTX 1080—has some big shoes to fill.

And it does fill them—for the most part. As Nvidia promised, the GTX 1070 is indeed faster than both the GTX 980 Ti and the Titan X, and by some margin: as much as 12 percent in some tests. Just a couple of months ago GTX 980ti cards cost upwards of £500/$650, but the GTX 1070 costs just £399/$449 at the high end.

In its Founders Edition form (Nvidia's new nomenclature for reference cards), the GTX 1070 is cool and quiet, too. The smaller, more efficient TSMC 16nm FinFET manufacturing process lets Nvidia ramp up performance to Titan-beating levels, while keeping the TDP down to a reasonable 150W.

From a price-performance standpoint, then, the GTX 1070 is undoubtedly better value than the GTX 1080. It offers around 80 percent of the performance for just 60 percent of the price.

But there are some issues. At £329/$379 for the OEM models (Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, etc.), the GTX 1070 is still a good £60/$50 more expensive than the GTX 970 launched at. That's not to mention that those partner cards aren't actually on the market yet. If you want a GTX 1070 when it's released on June 10 (today!), you have to buy a Founders Edition, which costs a hefty £399/$449.

Still, even at that higher price point, there's nothing in the same ballpark as the GTX 1070. Its closest competition, the similarly priced Fury Nano from AMD, only comes with 4GB of memory and is easily beaten by the GTX 1070, while the R9 Fury and R9 Fury X are both significantly more expensive. Nvidia may have moved the mythical graphics card sweet spot up a tad, but for now at least there's simply no better option for the gamer that wants high-end performance without the silly high-end price tag.

 

GTX 1070: Founders Edition 2.0

 

Those that do opt for the Founders Edition get the same gorgeous, multifaceted shroud made out of aluminium as the GTX 1080, along with a blower-style design that exhausts hot air out of a PC case. There are some concessions to cost under the shroud, though, with the vapour chamber solution being replaced with a simpler aluminium heat sink with three embedded copper heat pipes. The much-touted five-phase power supply of the GTX 1080 gets a downgrade to a four-phase dual-FET design too.

None of these changes have a large effect on performance, especially given the GTX 1070's lower 150W TDP. Overclocking ability (depending on the binning of your chip) is still impressive. Such a low TDP means there's just a single 8-pin power PCIe power connector on top to feed the GTX 1070, while on the rear are three DisplayPort 1.4 ports, one HDMI 2.0b port with support for 4K60 10/12b HEVC decode, and one dual-link DVI port for those still rocking older monitors.

Under the hood is the same GP104 GPU as the GTX 1080, which is built on a small 314mm² 16nm TSMC die and the new Pascal architecture. I won't get into the ins and outs of the architecture here—for that check out our GTX 1080 review—but essentially Pascal is a leaner version of Maxwell, with a focus on the FP32 performance that video games rely on. The key difference between the GTX 1080 and 1070 is that one of GP104's graphics processing clusters (GPCs) has been disabled, shedding five streaming multiprocessors (SMs) in the process.

That leaves the GTX 1070 with 15 SMs, 1920 CUDA cores (vs. 2560) and 120 texture units (vs. 160), but the same number of ROPs, which should avoid the memory snafus of the GTX 970 (remember the 3.5GB kerfuffle?). It doesn't feature the fancy GDDR5X memory of the GTX 1080, either, instead using standard GDDR5 on a 256-bit bus for 256GB/s of memory bandwidth. Clock speeds have been cut, too, down to a 1506MHz core clock and 1683MHz boost.

 

SPECS AT A GLANCE: GTX 1080 GTX 1070 GTX TITAN X GTX 980 TI GTX 980 GTX 970 GTX 780 TI
CUDA CORES 2560 1920 3072 2816 2048 1664 2880
TEXTURE UNITS 160 120 192 176 128 104 240
ROPS 64 64 96 96 64 56 48
CORE CLOCK 1607MHZ 1506MHZ 1000MHZ 1000MHZ 1126MHZ 1050MHZ 875MHZ
BOOST CLOCK 1733MHZ 1683MHZ 1050MHZ 1050MHZ 1216MHZ 1178MHZ 928MHZ
MEMORY BUS WIDTH 256-BIT 256-BIT 384-BIT 384-BIT 256-BIT 256-BIT 384-BIT
MEMORY SPEED 10GHZ 8GHZ 7GHZ 7GHZ 7GHZ 7GHZ 7GHZ
MEMORY BANDWIDTH 320GB/S 256GB/S 336GB/S 336GB/S 224GB/S 196GB/S 336GB/SEC
MEMORY SIZE 8GB GDDR5X 8GB GDDR5 12GB GDDR5 6GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5
TDP 180W 150W 250W 250W 165W 145W 250W

 

Up top there are two SLI interfaces that accommodate Nvidia's new high-bandwidth bridges. Those bridges work at a higher 650MHz speed (versus 400MHz) by using the second SLI connector traditionally reserved for three- or four-way SLI configurations. Older bridges will also work, but at the slower speed.

Like the GTX 1080, Nvidia is only officially supporting two-way SLI with GTX 1070. Previously, Nvidia said that more cards could be used by downloading an unlock key from its website. It has now nixed that requirement, but in the process has revealed that three- or four-way SLI setups won't be supported in games at all, and will only work in selected benchmarking applications like 3DMark. Two-way SLI has always made the most sense in terms of scaling—and given that GTX 1070 has only just been released, nobody will have bought more than two cards just yet—but it's a poor show on Nvidia's part not to be clear about its SLI plans from the start.

Finally, there's GPU Boost 3.0, Fast Sync, HDR, VR Works Audio, Ansel, and preemption (an alternative approach to asynchronous compute), all of which are excellent additions, but aren't unique to the GTX 1070. For more on those and the Pascal architecture, check out the GTX 1080 review.

 

GTX 1070 benchmarking setup

 

TEST SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
OS Windows 10
CPU Intel Core i7-5930K, 6-core @ 4.5GHz
RAM 32GB Corsair DDR4 @ 3,000MHz
HDD 512GB Samsung SM951 M.2 PCI-e 3.0 SSD, 500GB Samsung Evo SSD
MOTHERBOARD ASUS X99 Deluxe USB 3.1
POWER SUPPLY Corsair HX1200i
COOLING Corsair H110i GT liquid cooler
MONITOR Asus ROG Swift PG27AQ 4K

 

 

As with the GTX 1080, I've tested the GTX 1070 with a suite of games on the Ars Technica UK standard test rig, including three games that use DirectX 12. There's still no reliable way to capture frame data for DX12 games without a dedicated hardware setup just yet, but for everything else there's a 99th percentile score, which shows the minimum frame rate you can expect to see 99 percent of the time. This is a great way to highlight the comparative smoothness of games—the higher the gap between the average of the 99th percentile, the more jittery a game feels.

Each game was tested at 1080p, 1440p, and UHD (4K) resolutions at high or ultra settings, with a GTX 1070 at stock and overclocked speeds. The overclock was quick and dirty, but I still managed to ramp up the core clock to 2012MHz and the memory clock to 9000MHz while keeping the stock (read: reasonably quiet) fan speeds. It's worth noting that I tested the GTX 1070 in a large case with lots of airflow. Some users have reported throttling with GTX 1080, but I didn't see any of that behaviour during testing.

On the synthetics and science side there's the standard 3DMark Firestrike benchmark (again, run across three resolutions), as well as LuxMark 3.0, CompuBench, and FAHBench (the official Folding@Home benchmark) to test compute performance.

 

GTX 1070 performance

The GTX 1070 consistently beats the GTX 980 Ti and the Titan X in nearly every game. By how much varies, but it's as low as 3 percent in Bioshock Infinite at 1080p (a game that is basically running as fast as the engine allows at this point), all the way up to 53 percent in Battlefield 4 at 1440p. Averaged out across all games, it's around 10 percent faster.

The biggest gains come at 1440p, which is definitely the sweet spot for the GTX 1070, although it's a capable 4K card provided you're happy gaming at 30FPS with a few settings dialed down. As with the GTX 1080, SLI is still a requirement for 60FPS 4K gaming. Hopefully one day we'll be able to live the 4K HDR dream with a single GPU.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Overclocked, the gap between the GTX 1070 and the Titan X gets even wider, jumping up to 20 percent in Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1440p, and 26 percent inHitman at 1440p. If you're coming off an older card like the 780 Ti, the difference is huge. It's anything from 50 percent to 70 percent faster, providing noticeable improvements to minimum frame times and an overall smoother experience.

 

The AMD alternative at the Founders Edition price, the R9 Nano, is unfortunately quite a bit slower. While the gap is closed slightly at 4K, the GTX 1070's higher clock speeds win out over the Nano's higher number of cores. Even at £320—the price that GTX 1070 partner cards will launch at—the competition is the 8GB R9 390X, which numerous benchmarks on the Web show is a wee bit slower than the Nano.

Pascal without the price tag (sort of)

It's a sad state of affairs that, right now, there's no solid alternative to Nvidia's graphics cards at the upper end of the market. If you want the absolute best performance, you buy a GTX 1080. If you want the best performance at a slightly more reasonable price, you buy the GTX 1070.

It is, at this point, a complete no brainer.

That may change in the future, particularly if AMD's upcoming Radeon RX 480 can live up to the company's promises and deliver killer performance at a £160/$200 price point. Even if it's slower than a GTX 1070, that's a huge difference in price. If it's fast enough, it might just push down the price of Nvidia's cards.

For most people, the GTX 1070 could be overkill: you need to be running a 1440p monitor, multiple displays, or be an e-sports player that craves high FPS at lower resolutions in order to get the most out of it. After all, the most popular screen resolution on Steam remains 1080p, and is swiftly followed by the laptop-friendly 1366x768.

Such a lack of competition means Nvidia can charge a premium for Founders Edition cards before cheaper (although still more expensive than the GTX 970) partner cards are out, and set the boundaries for high-end performance. But hey, if you're in the market for a new graphics card and have around £330/$380 to burn—yes, unless you desperately need a blower-style cooler, wait for the cheaper cards to come out—the GTX 1070 is by far the best thing going. It's cool, it's quiet, and it'll churn through pretty much anything you throw at it, VR or otherwise.

 

The good

  • Faster than the previous performance champs the Titan X and GTX 980 Ti
  • Gorgeous reference cooler design with excellent cooling performance
  • Plenty of headroom for overclocking, particularly memory
  • Strong software and driver support with GeForce Experience
  • Double the memory of the GTX 970

The bad

  • Three- or four-way SLI only supported in certain benchmarking applications
  • Having to go buy a 1440p monitor to make the most of it

 

The ugly

  • Like the GTX 1080, the price hike over previous-gen cards and high price of Founders Edition cards are little more than early adopter taxes. Wait for partner cards and see how AMD does before dropping down hard cash.

 

This post originated on Ars Technica UK