PC gaming for everyone, that's the rallying cry for the Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti. It’s the first genuinely affordable Pascal graphics card and is aiming itself directly at the section of the market AMD have been trying to monopolise. Let the budget battle commence.
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With a Pascal GPU at its heart the GTX 1050 Ti is still using the same graphics architecture as the rest of the GeForce GTX 10-series cards, but is using the efficient silicon to bring 1080p PC gaming to a broader audience than its expensive brethren.
There is a much lower power GT 1030 card on the horizon, sporting a cut-down Pascal chip, the GP108 core, but the GTX 1050 Ti is realistically the last word in budget graphics cards specifically designed for gaming.
And without a high-end GPU to call their own until they get Vega out the door, AMD have been relying on their Polaris architecture to give them ownership over the budget end of the graphics market. With the GTX 1050 Ti though Nvidia has gone right for the budget jugular.
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Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti architecture
Although the GTX 1050 Ti is using essentially the same graphics architecture as the previous Pascal cards it’s actually a rather difference beast. And that goes all the way down to the transistor level.
The GTX 1050 Ti’s GP107 GPU doesn’t use the same 16nm FinFET transistor lithography Nvidia have previously used. Instead of the TSMC manufactured process they have switched over to Samsung’s smaller 14nm node. Cue hilarious comment about GTX 1050 Ti cards not being allowed on planes due to self-immolating...though actually this card runs cool enough you could probably passively chill it.
On the marketing side that now evens up the AMD and Nvidia transistor scales at 14nm apiece, though realistically the difference between the 14nm and 16nm lithographies is going to be more apparent on the specs sheet than in real world performance.
It's not just the way the GP107 silicon is manufactured which makes it different, its core makeup is unlike the previous Pascal chips too. Where all the other Pascal GPUs - from the GTX Titan X’s GP102 and the GP104 of the GTX 1080/1070 to the GTX 1060’s GP106 - were built with the same configuration, the GTX 1050 Ti needed some tweaking.
The general computing clusters (GPCs) in the other cards are made up of five blocks of streaming microprocessors (SMs) - each 128 CUDA cores - the GPCs of the GP107 house just three SMs. The GTX 1050 Ti then uses two GPCs neatly arrayed around the central GPU logic.
To hit the six SMs the GTX 1050 Ti needs to produce its stated core count Nvidia would have otherwise had one standard Pascal GPC with a solitary SM floating around on its own. That just won’t do; it’s the sort of unbalanced core structure which gives GPU engineers night terrors.
That different GPU configuration gives the GTX 1050 Ti a total of 768 CUDA cores, split across those six SM units. With that comes 48 texture units and 32 ROPs, making it the exact same configuration as the GTX 950 this card is ostensibly replacing.
The GP107 GPU in the GTX 1050 Ti has a stock clockspeed of 1,290MHz with a boost clock of 1,392MHz. This overclocked MSI version is rated at 1,342MHz and 1,455MHz respectively, though in real terms both the stock and OC cards will exceed those clockspeeds the instant you start throwing GPU intensive games at them. Our MSI card was bouncing between 1,683MHz and 1,743MHz under real world gaming loads which is way ahead of its rated specs.
In terms of the memory subsystem, the GTX 1050 Ti comes with a full 4GB of GDDR5 memory running at an effective 7Gbps. The memory is accessed via an aggregated 128-bit bus capable of delivering 112GB/s of total bandwidth. That’s a little quicker than the GTX 950 and the same speed as the memory interface of the GTX 960.
One of the most important aspects of the GTX 1050 Ti is the power configuration. It has a thermal design power (TDP) of just 75W, which means it can draw all the energy it needs from the motherboard’s PCIe slot and doesn’t require any extra power connectors from the PSU.
Nvidia also released a cut-down GTX 1050 too. It's a resolutely 2GB card, with a five SM version of the GP107 and only 640 CUDA cores.
There are no real surprises when it comes to the gaming performance of the GTX 1050 Ti, even in this MSI overclocked trim. It performs pretty much as you would expect from the price and the specs sheet, slotting neatly inbetween AMD’s RX 460 and RX 470 cards and well below the GTX 1060.
What is interesting though is the number of games you can run at 1080p which bat around the 60fps mark even at the highest settings. With tougher gaming loads, like Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider in DX12, you’re going to have to manage your expectations and knock the settings down a notch to get your 60fps fix, but you’ll still be gaming with relatively high fidelity.
The GTX 1050 Ti is also fairly capable when it comes to 1440p levels too. You’re not going to be able to hit 60fps with all the bells and whistly things turned up to eleven, but with some judicious use of GeForce Experience’s optimisations you’ll get decent levels of performance at that sharper resolution.
It is with the DX12 titles where the 1050 Ti does struggle, however, with the AMD RX 460 actually making up a lot of ground on the slightly pricier Nvidia card. Overall though the GTX 1050 Ti does have the measure of AMD’s cheapest Polaris card. The one AMD really want you to look at though is the RX 470. That’s a card which, at the time of writing, is some $40 (£50) more expensive than the GTX 1050 Ti, but does have measurably superior performance even in 4GB trim.
Compared with the previous generation of cards it's only marginally quicker than the GTX 950, though does outperform the GTX 960. But if the straight performance of the GTX 1050 Ti isn’t hugely exciting, the performance per Watt genuinely is. The GTX 1050 Ti is quicker than the popular last-gen GTX 960 card and yet still manages to do that with a 75W TDP. The GTX 960 is a 120W card and that shows the efficiency gains the Pascal architecture offers.
In terms of value I’ve put together another rough 1080p value matrix to give an idea of the cost/average fps of the competing cards. I’ve chosen Grand Theft Auto V as the benchmark comparison as it’s a high fidelity PC game and I’ve also got historical data from my previous testing of both the GTX 950 and GTX 960 cards too.
Taking current pricing, and the MSRP for the GTX 1050 Ti, it comes out top in the value stakes, shaking off both the RX 470 and the two older Maxwell-based budget cards. It also serves to highlight just how good value the GTX 1060 is, despite its much higher price. The caveat, however, is pricing of the overclocked GTX 1050 Ti may well be higher than the Nvidia MSRP, and this is only looking at one game in isolation.
Using the Hitman DX12 figures, however, puts the AMD RX 470 on top, with both it and the RX 460 coming in above the GTX 1050 Ti in the value stakes. AMD’s work on the latest graphics API seems to be paying dividends in the relative DX12 performance when up against Nvidia’s GPU architecture.
On the overclocking front I was able to push our MSI card up to around the 1,900MHz mark, though thanks to the 75W power limit from the PCIe slot it was often throttling back the GPU to around 1,850MHz. That will net you a few extra frames per second on average, but without an extra PCIe power connector you’re not going to see the real limits of the GP107 silicon. That said, seriously overclockable GTX 1050 Ti cards are going to be well above the MSRP and will miss out on the easy upgradability the stock, bus-powered GTX 1050 Ti offers.
Nvidia’s GTX 1050 Ti really does have a lot going for it. You get impressive 1080p performance on a wide variety of games for a decent price and it offers arguably the simplest PC upgrade you can get. By taking all its power from the PCIe slot it is a drop-in upgrade for any PC out there. It means pretty much any off-the-shelf office PC can be instantly turned into a 1080p gaming rig with this $139 (£139) upgrade - that really does bring PC gaming within reach of pretty much everyone, and offers greater image fidelity than either of the consoles at that level.
But there is stiff competition from the AMD Polaris gang. The RX 460 is just off the pace; sure it’s pretty cheap, but not by enough to justify the performance drop off when you’re choosing a GPU. The AMD RX 570 though is a much more tantalising option. It is more expensive, knocking around the $200 (£200) mark, which makes it a tougher choice psychologically as well as in real monetary terms, but it does deliver much greater performance. And if AMD can encourage retailers to significantly drop the price then it will be very difficult to recommend the GTX 1050 Ti over it.
But right now, at around the $130 (£130) price point, the stock GTX 1050 Ti is the go-to budget GPU of choice. Especially now overclocked cards, like this MSI version have dropped down to around $140 (£140), add an unnecessary price premium onto the card. At this price the GTX 1050 Ti is a great little card.