Hello. Good evening. And graphics. After a brief excursion into the delights of HDR screens, it’s back to This Week in Graphics in which I deliver my subjective, benchmarkless verdict some months behind almost everyone else in the Alpha Quandrant. Being first is so easy, so obvious, after all. This time around we’re filling in the final slot in Nvidia’s new Pascal family of GPUs. If you discount the crazy money Titan X, at least. Yup, it’s the GeForce GTX 1070. As it happens, the 1070 neatly fills what is normally my favoured slot in the overall hierarchy of any given GPU family, namely one rung down from the top graphics chip that’s actually bought in significant volumes. Except, Nvidia’s Pascal family isn’t entirely normal…
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, then. We’ve already touched base with the 1080 and the 1060. The GTX inevitably slots in between. But it’s much more closely related to the 1080. It’s based on the same GP104 GPU / chip / thingie as the 1080.
That means, you could argue, it’s a proper performance graphics chip with things like a decent 256-bit memory bus to the 1060’s cheapo 192-bit affair. It also sports 8GB of memory to the 1060’s 6GB and 3GB options.
Of course, it’s cheaper than the 1080, so something has to give. That something involves turning parts of the chip off. Specifically, the shader count drops from 2,560 on the 1080 to 1,920 for the 1070. The clock speeds are down a smidge, too.
All told, Nvidia reckons the computational clout drops from 8.9TFLOPs to 6.5 TFLOPs. TFLOPs are, of course, a theoretical metric with naff all relevance to gaming. But the measure does give a rough idea of the overall scale of loss in the transition from 1080 to 1070. And it certainly looks like the sort of hit you might actually feel in games.
In that sense, the 1070 is a little disappointing. Taking my trusty AMD Radeon R9 290 as an example of a card that dropped into more or less the same category three years ago, on paper that was much closer to its Radeon R9 290X sibling. Close enough, in fact, that you couldn’t tell the difference in games most of the time.
To put the difference into numbers, the 1080 packs about 37 per cent more TFLOPs than a 1070. A 290X cranks out just 17 per cent more TFLOPs than a 290. See what I mean?
Then factor in the 1070’s wallet pillaging price that starts around £350 in the UK and $390 Stateside (thank you, Brexit) and the appeal of the proposition hardly improves. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What is the 1070 like as a gaming weapon?
My muse for this assessment is MSI’s GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G, which is a pretty fancy pants variant of the 1070 and not exactly an obvious value play at £480. The extra cash buys you about another 100MHz in terms of stock clockspeeds, the promise of much more overclocking headroom thanks to improved power delivery and superior cooling, plus some very nice build quality. Ultimately, it’s a niche product aimed at a very particular kind of enthusiast. But it certainly won’t sell the 1070 short, that’s for sure.
I retraced most of the same territory as I have with the GeForce GTX 1080, the cheaper 1060 and indeed AMD’s Radeon RX 480. Comparing my notes from the 1080 in particular, the good news is that you’d have a hard time picking them apart.
Here’s what I said about the GTX 1080 while playing Witcher 3:
“As for Witcher 3, at first I thought the GTX 1080 had its measure at 2,560 by 1,440. But knock things down to ‘1080’ and there’s a tangible uptick in smoothness and response. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely there.
Speaking of response, that remains a relevant issue for the GTX 1080. There’s definitely noticeably more input lag running Witcher 3 at 4K than lower resolutions. Of course, some games, like Shadow of Mordor, simply have laggy interfaces at any resolution. But the new 1080 doesn’t banish input lag to history.”
And that’s completely true of the 1070, too. Of course, if the 1080 wasn’t quite a single-card 4K solution, the 1070 was never going to be either. But more important is that the 1070 feels subjectively every bit as effective as the 1080 as a card for gaming at the popular 2,560 by 1,440 pixel resolution.
That’s a general trend. The 1070 will handle relatively undemanding games like Shadow of Mordor at 4K very nicely indeed. Tougher titles run well if not always absolutely faultlessly at 2,560 by 1,440. I tried knocking down some settings from ultra to merely high in a few titles. But in truth the subjective impact in terms of both image quality and performance was minimal.
That puts those of you looking for a card to play games at 2,560 by 1,440 in a tricky spot. The Radeon RX 480 is priced aggressively, but it’s not quite the 2,560 by 1,440 killer I’d been hoping for. The 1070 hits the 1440p performance target but at a punitive price.
At something nearer £250 to £300, I’d be a lot happier getting behind the 1070. However, Nvidia has been gradually but relentlessly dragging prices up of late and I can’t quite stomach the £120 / $130 jump from the 1060 to the 1070. It’s enough to make a Radon R9 Fury for £290 look pretty interesting.
Ultimately, however, my hopes are pinned on AMD’s upcoming Vega graphics family, hopefully out no later than early next year, which might inject a little competition into the 1070’s segment. As it stands, my overarching recommendation is hold rather than buy. 2016 has seen a pretty decent jump in performance thanks to a long overdue process shrink from 28nm to 14nm transistors. But it’s increasingly looking like we’ll have to wait until 2017 for the value half of the 14nm proposition to kick in.