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.