Budget Graphics Update: AMD Radeon RX 460 VS Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050

Graphics. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. In 2016, at least. We’ve covered much of the pricier performance end of the market, cards like the new Radeon RX 480 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. But not all of us have made the leap from washing lettuce to assistant manager. Money, put simply, is an object.

With the launch of a new budget GPU from Nvidia, now looks like as good a time as any for a quick recap of the cheapest graphics cards that at least purport to be good for gaming and ask that crucial question – how cheap does proper 1080p gaming get?

The newbie here is Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti boards, which Alec mentioned earlier this week. In fact, they’re so new that they don’t launch until next week and nobody has had an official hands on, so far as I know. But they occupy similar space to AMD’s latest entry-level boards, the 2GB and 4GB iterations of the Radeon RX 460.

That space, more specifically, is what you might call bare-minimum-for-proper-gaming performance. I’m not talking about firing up an old, undemanding game on your laptop’s integrated graphics when away from home and crushing all the settings to zero. I’m talking about the absolute minimum you need to play recent and upcoming games at 1080p, with mostly smooth performance and a modicum of visual pop.

Let’s start with the known quantity, which is AMD’s Radeon RX 460. The headline specs involve 896 of AMD’s Polaris-spec shaders for making pretty pixels and 16 render outputs for spewing them in the vague direction of your monitor. It also has a modest 128-bit memory bus and clocks up to about 1,200MHz.

Price-wise the 460 clocks in at $109 for the 2GB version and $119 for the 4GB effort. Following the recent fire sale on the pound, those numbers in old money are if anything a tick or too higher. Yippee.

Anyway, to put that into context, that’s well under half the 2,304-strong army of shaders provided by the Radeon RX 480 and precisely half the memory bus with and render output count. The 460 is also clocked a little slower than the 480’s 1,266MHz boost frequency. Oh and its texture unit count of 56 looks pretty pitiful compared to the 480’s 144 textures.

AMD’s pitch for your puny dollars and pounds is the Radeon RX 460

In other words, the raw numbers peg the 460 at well, well, below 50 per cent of the 480’s potential. And if you recall, the RX 480 proved to be the perfect 1080p gaming companion and a passable but from impeccable 1440p effort.

Peruse the usual online benchmarks suspects and you’ll find the 460 delivers on that expectation – namely frame rates less than half that of the 480. Of course the critical question is whether less than half of the 480 remains playable at 1080p.

The simple answer is no, not at full detail. But the devil is in those very details, not just in terms of how many settings you need to crush in order to achieve fluid frame rates, but also how many settings you need to crush compared to the alternative from Nvidia.

That alternative is of course the aforementioned and recently announced Nvidia GTX 1050 and its 1050 Ti brethren. They’re based on the same new graphics chip, codenamed GP107, but they’re are a few differences reflected in official US pricing of $109 and $139, which also puts them right in the RX 460’s wheelhouse.

The CUDA core counts (shaders by another name) are 640 and 768 respectively and both sport 32 render outputs and a 128-bit memory bus. For context, a GTX 1060 has 1,152 cores, while a GTX 1080 rocks 2,650 of the little pixel prettifying beasties. But in some ways the biggest news with the 1050 boards involves process and clockspeeds.

First, the 1050s aren’t being made by TSMC, the massive Taiwanese chip foundry that’s making all the other new Nvidia chips that run such impressive clockspeeds. Nvidia hasn’t said who is making the new GP107 chip, only that it’s a 14nm process. But rumour has it, it’s Samsung.

Ultimately, the precise identity of the manufacturer isn’t the important factor. What matters is that it’s not the same manufacturer and therefore all bets are off re the overclockability of the new 1050 boards.

As standard, these new Nvidia boards are limited to 75W of power consumption, meaning they do not need supplementary power cables. Inevitably, board makers will add one to some versions in any case and the floodgates will open for overclocking. In theory, at least.

Nvidia’s official specs put the peak clockspeeds of the boards at 1.4GHz and 1.45GHz, respectively. That’s getting on for 200MHz slower than any other member of the new Nvidia Pascal family, including the 1060, 1070 and 1080 chipsets.

What’s not known is whether the relatively lowly clockspeed is purely down to keeping the boards within 75W or if that unproven manufacturing process is part of the explanation. Only when the boards escape into the wild will we find out but if the limitation is just about that 75W power budget, the overclocking results could be spectacular.

The Nvidia GTX 950: The entry-level GPU from yesteryear…

All of which should make for an interesting budget graphics contest. If you’re disappointed that we haven’t actually gone hands on with the boards here, well, it’s simply not possible until they’re released. But at least we can dispense with the speeds and feeds when I do bring you my impressions, hopefully in the next few weeks or so.

Normally, I sneer at this end of the market. But this time around I’m actually intrigued to know just how far entry-level graphics has come, whether it really makes for a viable 1080p gaming solution and whether it’s Nvidia or AMD who has the edge. The 2GB versus 4GB question will be worth a ponder, too, though the price premium for the latter is small enough to possibly make it moot.

Then there’s the question of how they compare to various end-of-line cards from the previous generation. You might just, for instance, be able to pick up something like an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 for not much more than the new 1050 Ti.

As it happens, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience served up by the Nvidia GTX 950 last year, so my hopes are pretty high for these new boards.

Anywho, if you’re gaming on a budget and fancy and graphics upgrade sometime soon, keep your scanners peeled.

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16 Comments

  1. Sakkura says:

    You mentioned that the GTX 1060 has 1152 shaders, but that only applies to the GTX 1060 3GB. The full-fledged GTX 1060 6GB has 1280 shaders. So the GTX 1050 has half the front-end of the 1060 (and two thirds the back-end). The impact of the much lower clocks will be interesting to see.

    As for the 75W TDP and the absence of PCIe power connectors, it looks like there will be many of these cards that do come with a 6-pin power connector to allow for overclocking. The 75W limit without a power connector looks like it may be a bit too constricting for GP107.

  2. Psychomorph says:

    Are 1050 and 1060 better than a 680 by a far stretch?

    • GenialityOfEvil says:

      On average the 1060 is about 33% better, so the 1050 will probably be somewhere between on-par and 20% better. The extra 2GB of RAM will certainly help in games these days, developers are getting pretty lazy with texture compression thanks to the unified memory on the consoles.

    • Premium User Badge

      PoulWrist says:

      The 1060 is much faster than 33% more. I just upgraded from a 4,5 years old 680 to a RX 480 8GB yesterday. The performance difference is around 100% when looking at raw frameoutput and the price of the 480 was just shy of half what I paid for the 680 4,5 years ago.

      To examplify: Doom ran at around 50-60 FPS at medium detail at 1440p and 90% res scale on the 680 (2gb, Asus Direct CU II top overclocked) (with Vulkan) and on the RX 480 it never dips below 60, sitting at around 70-100 in any situation at max + ultra everything (100% scale), including 8x TSAA.

      Killing Floor 2, which I’ve played a lot lately, could run at a a steady 60 when sitting at high with no reflections on the 680, on the 480 it runs at constant 60 with everything on ultra and maxed. 1440p too, ofc.

      Elite Dangerous sat at steady 60 as well with everything ultra max.

      Didn’t get to try BF4 because it didn’t want to start, but I will try to get a bit of gametime in on BF1 later today.

      Temperatures of the card never went above 72 degrees either (Sapphire Nitro+). And a 1060 sits at roughly the same performance as a RX 480 – it’s a huge boost in performance.

      But I only jumped the gun because the prices at a sale put it in the pricerange they are meant to be, not the inflated prices they sit at.

  3. stiffkittin says:

    It’s not always just about budget or the straight value proposition. It’s natural that buying big or bulk should improve the unit value of a commodity (unless it’s an Apple). Doesn’t mean you should necessarily buy that 12kg bag of almonds when you only need enough to make a single batch of cookies.

    I have a an mini-itx gaming/htpc in my lounge which is set up to play a selection of the vast Steam back catalogue that is compatible with couch+controller play on a standard HD television. What I’d like is the natural consumer impulse to get the biggest, rad-est pixel-murdering beast I can afford and be king of all I survey. What I need is a small, energy efficient card that will pump out a decent frame-rate in older titles at 720-1080p within a confined box, without also producing the effect of a 747 warming up in my living room.

    I’ll be watching this faceoff with great interest over the next few months.

    Edit: My first experience with the new edit function. The timer really is rather confronting isn’t it?

    • Premium User Badge

      PoulWrist says:

      Yea, these cards are perfect for such things or for younger gamers and students on a tight budget. They allow for some really good performance now compared to what this type of card managed just 5 years ago.
      Now you can actually buy this thing and play a new game at medium settings with decent framerates on a 1080p monitor. Hell, if you’re in to the e-sports titles like DOTA2, LoL, Overwatch and CS it’s a godsend card. Or playing the grindathons like Diablo 3, Path of Exile or MMOs – really great value proposition in these things. Makes it exciting to build low-end systems :)

      • geecen says:

        Seems great for a lot of games, not just those aimed at the young. I’ve been playing Crusader Kings II and Europa U IV recently on a crapped out laptop. They work slowly. I’d really like something that can handle them a bit better, plus a couple of the more recent (within 5 years) fancier games. A lot of us aren’t really into blockbusting action with animated hair.

  4. Premium User Badge

    PoulWrist says:

    You might mention that the Radeon RX 460 offers CrossFire support – for those who might find that interesting. AMD have been quite focused on fixing up the quality of Crossfire lately and the Polaris cards manage it well, from what reviews state.

    The Geforce 1060 and below do not support SLI – so that upgradepath is not available there.

    Not that I’m much of a proponent of multi-GPU, in my experience its’ much more of a hassle than the performance it might grant is worth.

  5. Shiloh says:

    I’m watching these hardware/GFX card articles with interest at the moment – all being well I should soon be in a position to upgrade to something significantly better than I’m running at the moment (AMD Radeon HD 6670). Of course, that’ll most likely mean upgrading my machine as well – I’ll probably ditch my current PC and build a new one from scratch, budgeting somewhere in the region of £1,600.

    • Sakkura says:

      £1600 is a heck of a lot of money. You might be better off spending “a little” less, say £1000, and keeping the rest for upgrades later on. Generally, the value for money when buying computer parts reaches a maximum at a medium-high price level, then goes down as you move towards the top of the line overpriced premium extreme edition stuff.

  6. Unsheep says:

    I prefer open systems over closed ones, and AMD has supported open standards whereas Nvidia has not.

    Nvidia also takes any opportunity it can to screw people over. Something most gamers seem to easily forgive and forget. It’s not a company I want to support because of the way it conducts its business. It’s the Donald Trump of the graphics card industry.

    I’m not claiming AMD products are better than Nvidia, but ethical principles alone remove Nvidia as a valid option for me. It’s a shame we don’t have more developers around because a strong market competition benefits the consumer.

    So for me the choice is easy: the AMD RX 460. It’s more than enough for my gaming needs.

  7. immaletufinishbut says:

    Trigger Warning

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