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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 review

Titan X performance just got a whole lot cheaper.

Just six weeks ago, the notion that Nvidia's GTX 970 replacement could offer Titan X-level performance seemed like a product of wishful thinking. But the GTX 1080's comprehensive takedown of Nvidia's previous GPU flagship was so overwhelming that what many thought was fanciful thinking is now a cold, hard reality. The bottom line is that GTX 1070 isn't just on par with Titan X. It's actually a touch faster, and a whole lot cheaper.

But there's an important caveat here. Our original In Theory piece was all about the idea of the new Pascal architecture handing in Titan X performance for GTX 970 money - and in that respect, the GTX 1070 doesn't quite deliver. Just like the GTX 1080 before it, prices are hiked in comparison to the 900 series equivalents. We picked up a GTX 970 for £250 back in the day, and it had a $330 US ticket price - Nvidia's latest has a baseline £330/$380 price-point. This is not to suggest that GTX 1070 doesn't offer a good deal (far from it!) but the price increase is one factor that highlights that as spectacular as the new product is, it's not quite the seismic release that the GTX 970 was back in the day.

What's for certain is that Nvidia has absolutely delivered everything it set out to achieve with GTX 1070. Titan X - and indeed the extremely similar GTX 980 Ti - were remarkably good products. On balance, they were the best in their class, but everyone can agree that they weren't exactly cheap. The GTX 1070 does exactly what Nvidia said it would do, bringing last-gen flagship performance down to a much more acceptable price-point: the frame-rates delivered by a £520/$650 GPU are now achievable with a £330/$380 card instead.

We're reviewing the Founders Edition product here, which is essentially Nvidia's reference design. Priced at £399/$450, the added price-premium over the baseline suggested retail cost still manages to rankle, but there's no denying that it's a quality product - you get the same premium finish as the GTX 1080, the same physical shell, and the same connectors (3x DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0 and dual-link DVI). Physical downgrades are present though, albeit internally. The GTX 1080's vapour chamber is replaced with a more conventional heat sink while the power delivery system also gets a minor downgrade.

Rich presents his video review of the GTX 1070 - can it match the wow factor we got from its predecessor, the GTX 970?

But it's the cutbacks to the GP104 processor itself that are more of a concern. The full complement of 2560 CUDA cores found in GTX 1080 gets a sizeable reduction down to 1920 - so that's 25 per cent of its computational prowess gone. The top-tier model's GDDR5X modules, capable of 10gbps of memory throughput are also replaced, albeit with 8GB's worth of very fast GDDR5. As fast as it is though, we're still looking at a 20 per cent drop in throughput before you get your overclocking trousers on. Base and boost clock-speeds are also tweaked downwards, though in this case, we saw little practical difference during actual gameplay.

The bottom line is that the difference between GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 is somewhat larger than it was between GTX 970/980. As we saw in our original review - and something we double-checked when putting together our GTX 1070 video above - the GTX 970 could overclock to match GTX 980 performance. In fact, it could even inch ahead of the reference card. It was the final flourish on a product that redefined the entire high-end GPU market back in the day. GTX 1070 isn't just more expensive, it can't repeat the trick. There's a good (though seemingly artificially limited) amount of overclock headroom, but Nvidia has protected the GTX 1080's price-premium here - GTX 1070 can't be overclocked to match. At least, not right now.

So having covered what GTX 1070 doesn't provide, let's refocus on what it does actually deliver. From here on out, it's pretty much a torrent of good news backed up by exceptional performance figures. We'll start out with 1080p performance. Some might say that GTX 1070 and indeed GTX 1080 are complete overkill for the full HD pixel-count, but in the age of high frequency refresh displays and adaptive sync technology, we'd still say that these metrics are highly relevant. And to Nvidia's credit, the Pascal cards scale beautifully across all major resolutions - something we just don't see on AMD's remaining competitor in the high-end space, the R9 Fury X.

In most titles, the GTX 1070 not only matches Titan X performance, it offers a small boost on top. Not bad for a £330/$380 price-point.

1920x1080 (1080p) GTX 1070 GTX 1080 Titan X GTX 970 GTX 770 R9 390 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 79.1 99.0 75.0 51.3 31.0 51.9 64.6
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 64.8 77.8 59.8 40.5 27.6 53.2 69.9
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 107.0 131.7 105.9 72.5 53.7 77.6 99.8
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 78.3 94.0 73.9 50.2 30.3 52.1 66.7
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 88.8 109.3 81.8 56.2 41.2 64.5 75.1
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 104.2 130.5 100.1 69.7 40.2 61.0 65.6
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 94.2 111.8 86.8 60.7 35.4 33.6 70.3
Project Cars, Ultra, SMAA 67.0 79.9 63.8 45.9 22.0 56.4 40.7

This first batch of benchmarks are impressive - aside from a drop in performance on Ashes of the Singularity (something unseen at the other resolutions), GTX 1070 is indeed faster than Titan X, and by extension GTX 980 Ti too. We're not looking at anything genuinely game-changing here, but the increases are anything from margin of error stuff (Crysis 3) to eight to nine per cent faster (Far Cry Primal and The Witcher 3).

GTX 1080 still takes point though, as you would expect. Generally speaking, it's around 25 per cent faster on average. However, if we're talking about the generational leap, the GTX 1070 is - at worst - 41 per cent faster than GTX 970, rising to 58 per cent at its best. Cumulatively, across all of our tests, it's 51 per cent faster. This is the kind of improvement that is easily noticeable during gameplay. To further test generational boosts compared to previous x70 products, we also benched the GTX 770 at 1080p, where we find that GTX 1070 is 100 to 160 per cent faster, depending on the title. You should expect to see similar boosts compared to GTX 680 too (the 770 uses the same processor, with boost clock tweaks and faster RAM).

Not surprisingly - bearing in mind AMD's scalability issues with high-end hardware at lower resolutions - the GTX 1070 easily beats the R9 Fury X in all but one title. The increases border on the insane for Project Cars and Rise of the Tomb Raider (we tested DX12 there), while Crysis 3, The Division and Far Cry Primal aren't so dramatic but still tangible. AMD does take an eight point lead with Ashes of the Singularity at DX12 though - an improvement over Titan X, but still not quite up there. It may suggest that Pascal has same async compute limitations as Maxwell, and that GTX 1080 effectively brute-forces its way to success on this title.

Once again, GTX 1070 powers ahead of the Titan X. At 1440p, it's a superb proposition, but the more expensive GTX 1080 is clearly and noticeably much smoother.

2560x1440 (1440p) GTX 1070 GTX 1080 Titan X GTX 970 R9 390 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 51.0 64.0 48.8 32.7 35.5 41.4
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 56.8 68.9 51.6 35.9 47.4 63.4
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 65.8 83.0 65.4 43.8 49.9 65.1
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 55.4 68.4 54.2 36.1 39.3 51.0
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 61.9 77.0 57.1 39.6 47.6 57.6
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 68.1 86.8 67.4 46.1 43.7 50.6
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 67.0 79.2 62.1 43.0 43.8 54.7
Project Cars, Ultra, SMAA 51.7 66.7 47.2 31.9 25.6 32.1

1440p is really where the GTX 1070 comes to the fore - just like Titan X and GTX 980 Ti before it. Once again, the new card holds its own in terms of a performance lead over the last-gen Nvidia flagships, matching performance (Crysis 3) or offering anything up to a 10 per cent lead (Ashes of the Singularity/Project Cars). This should ensure that the reference GTX 1070 should be able to stand up against the various factory-overclocked GTX 980 Tis out there, which will no doubt come tumbling down in price soon.

Again, we see that the GTX 1070 offers up around 80 per cent of the GTX 1080's performance, while the generational leap compared to GTX 970 remains highly impressive: at worst it's 'only' 48 per cent faster in Rise of the Tomb Raider running on DX12, while at best there's a 62 per cent increase in The Witcher 3 in our Novigrad City test run. This class of GPU also offers up excellent performance when paired with ultrawide 3440x1440 displays, as you can see based on GTX 980 Ti performance in this video. GTX 1070 may well have a narrower memory interface, but clearly the faster GDDR5 paired with Pascal's new memory compression technology more than make up the difference.

Nvidia also retains leadership compared to R9 Fury X too. The extent of the lead drops a touch compared to 1080p - AMD high-end cards gain ground in line with resolution - but there are still some remarkable differentials here. 23 per cent in Assassin's Creed Unity, 35 per cent in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and the less said about Project Cars the better. At 1440p, AMD's Ashes of the Singularity win remains in place - GTX 1070 is 11 per cent slower. We would also expect the Fury X to win in Hitman too, based on our GTX 1080 testing. Unfortunately, we had to remove that benchmark for two reasons - the game randomly locks v-sync, plus it appears the test sequence has altered since we last looked at it, nullifying all of our existing data.

At 4K, GTX 1070 is still a fairly decent performer but for modern titles, you really need GTX 1080 to get the job done here.

3840x2160 (4K) GTX 1070 GTX 1080 Titan X GTX 970 R9 390 R9 Fury X
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 25.4 32.5 25.6 15.0 18.8 22.6
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 43.1 53.3 40.9 27.3 37.3 49.0
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 31.5 40.1 31.3 20.3 24.1 31.4
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 31.0 37.3 30.7 20.0 23.5 31.1
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 33.5 42.4 33.5 20.0 27.6 34.5
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 35.6 45.8 35.9 22.5 23.4 29.6
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 37.3 43.7 34.0 23.3 26.5 32.8
Project Cars, Ultra, SMAA 33.6 38.5 29.8 20.6 16.7 20.9

The GTX 1070 looks and feels like the Titan X during 4K gameplay in a great many titles - that is to say that you're going to need a lot of settings tweaking to get consistently playable frame-rates, and some of the compromises involved may be just a little too much. Many of the figures here do look fairly healthy, but remember that they are averages - sub-30fps lows are commonplace, and it doesn't lead to a satisfying experience overall. GTX 1080 is where you need to be there. Once again, GTX 1070 hands in around 80 per cent of the overall performance level of the flagship, though remarkably this rise to 85 per cent for The Witcher 3 and 87 per cent for our demanding Project Cars test clip.

As you can see, the posted frame-rates for GTX 970 - and indeed its R9 390 equivalent - look pretty grim. These cards just aren't at the races at all for 4K gameplay, while fortunes are mixed in comparisons with the Fury X. The GTX 1070 takes point on VRAM-guzzler, Assassin's Creed Unity, and also posts good leads on Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher and of course, Project Cars. Ashes of the Singularity remains well ahead though - Fury X is 14 per cent faster.

Let's not forget that 4K is the equivalent of running four 1080p displays simultaneously - it's a phenomenal pixel throughput. While GTX 1070 can't be completely ruled out for 4K gameplay, most games will offer 3200x1800 support, or feature a better option - a resolution slider. Combine that with adroit settings management and Titan X/Fury X class hardware can hand in a decent experience, but we still feel that GTX 1080 is the better choice here.

Looking to see how GTX 1070 performance scales between 1080p, 1440p and 4K? This benchmarking sequence will sort you out.

Onto power consumption and overclocking, where the GTX 1070 continues to impress. We use the scene pictured below (taken from the climax of Crysis 3's Welcome to the Jungle stage) to test peak system power draw, as it remains by far the most intensive repeatable in-game scene we've seen. It's great for testing maximum load and indeed overclocking stability. There are two figures well worth paying attention to in the table below - GTX 1070 and Titan X. In Crysis 3, the performance delta between the two cards is unnoticeable. It's margin of error stuff - yet the GTX 1070 is carrying out the same workload and handing in the same frame-rates and consuming 98W less on the same system. This is astonishing. It's even more power-efficient than GTX 970, operating at a much lower level of performance.

Overclocking ups the power draw by around 30W, but there's very definitely the sense that the GTX 1070 is capable of delivering a better OC - something appears to be holding it back. We used offset overclocking to push the core up by 140MHz, while the new 8gbps GDDR5 can actually hit a noteworthy 9.4gbps - within a stone's throw of the 10gbps G5X in GTX 1080. In our 1440p testing, we managed a consistent 14 per cent increase in gaming performance, which is pretty impressive. However, while stable for extended periods, Ashes of the Singularity once again caused issues.

The 140MHz core clock boost we achieved may seem rather low (200MHz was the baseline for all reference Maxwell cards) and to tell the truth, we could push that higher. However, monitoring frequencies, we noted that pushing the offset any higher would not actually increase GPU speed at all: we could hit 2GHz, and the card would settle there, refusing to budge higher. We may well be hitting the power limit here (GTX 1070 only allows you to up power by 12 per cent), but there's also discussion on how this may be a BIOS limitation too. Maybe we will see better in the future. If GTX 1070 could hit 2.2GHz, we suspect that it could indeed match GTX 1080 performance in many titles.

GTX 1070 GTX 1070 OC GTX 1080 Titan X GTX 970 R9 Fury X R9 390
Peak System Power Draw 263W 291W 303W 361W 295W 385W 437W

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 - the Digital Foundry verdict

With the price hike compared to GTX 970 and the strange overclocking ceiling we encountered, GTX 1070 doesn't quite make the same impact as its predecessor, but the end result is still a highly attractive proposition that's in a class of its own right now. Price comparisons with Titan X are somewhat redundant (it was always over-priced) but compared to the highly similar GTX 980 Ti, the GTX 1070 is clearly a runaway winner, offering better performance overall with a whopping £200 discount applied. Put simply, if you've got £330/$380 to spend on a new graphics card, there's nothing out there that can compete with it (though two RX 480s in CrossFire might be an interesting comparison). Also, we really need to stress the power efficiency win here - Titan X performance with a massive 98W saving is a phenomenal engineering achievement.

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Stacked up against existing Nvidia cards, the GTX 1070's advantages are obvious, but there's a very similar price differential in effect when stacked up against the R9 Fury X too - only the performance boost there is even more pronounced, especially at lower resolutions, with only Ashes of the Singularity and Hitman suggesting that AMD's last-gen high-end kit is capable of keeping pace with the new Pascal cards. More DirectX 12 testing is required on other titles, but our feeling right now is that for the short term at least, we'll see an extension of the status quo: some games will run faster on AMD, others on Nvidia.

The green team has the advantage right now in that AMD's upcoming high-end Vega technology is some way off, with the next Radeon set to offer R9 390/390X levels of performance at a much lower price-point. What that means is that for now, GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 effectively dominate the high-end GPU space. Nvidia's flagship remains an aspirational piece of technology with the stratospheric cost premium to match, while GTX 1070 - as expensive as it is - definitely brings a superb balance of price vs performance.

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