Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 3GB: the Digital Foundry verdict

A cut-back design offers up surprisingly decent performance.

The era of Pascal is drawing to a close, and Turing will doubtless deliver another impressive leap in performance - but the arrival of new architectures sees the stack typically refreshed from the top down, meaning that cards like the GTX 1050 3GB still have a decent amount of life left in them. Also true is the fact that leaps in performance at the top end tend to translate into less impressive gains at the budget end of the range, when they do finally arrive. So with that in mind, the GTX 1050 3GB is - for our money - the best new budget graphics card on the market right now, assuming prices settle around the £128 we picked up the Gigabyte model for, or even more lower.

The case against the card is straightforward enough - the GP107 processor was never designed to operate with a cut-down 96-bit memory bus and crowbarring in the extra gig of RAM required that unwelcome downgrade to the spec. Then there's the meagre availability for the product and the sometimes odd pricing on the few models that have appeared. Our hope is that the GTX 1050's eventual Turing-based replacement comes with 4GB of memory as standard, without any further fudging. A large proportion of game development is defined with consoles as the baseline - providing more compute power than a PS4 without the VRAM to back it up simply doesn't make sense.

The more expensive GTX 1060 3GB proves that three gigs is just about enough VRAM to replicate and even exceed console visual specs, so it's no surprise to see that the extra memory proves invaluable for the new GTX 1050. Benchmarks that stutter, collapse or see performance hobbled owing to the lack of RAM are vastly improved, and while the 25 per cent drop in memory bandwidth and ROP count is unfortunate, the biggest hit to performance vs the standard GTX 1050 2GB amounts to just seven per cent of performance. Meanwhile, the additional GPU compute power and memory delivers so much more.

board
Peeling off the cooler, the board is remarkably simple and the GP107 chip itself is absolutely tiny. You can see the vacant slot for the missing 1GB module of GDDR5 on the right-centre of the board.

So, Nvidia's precarious-looking rebalancing of the GTX 1050 pans out - given a choice between both parts, the three gig model is clearly the one to have if you're looking for a new graphics card that comfortably handles triple-A gaming at reasonable settings. 1080p60 may be off the table for a lot of games at this tier, but Nvidia also has its driver-level half-rate adaptive v-sync and 30fps cap (via Nvidia Inspector) that deliver console-like v-sync 30fps with properly enforced frame-pacing, which works out fine when gaming with a joypad. The GPU limitations enforced by a card like this also means you can pair it with a super-cheap CPU too - the dual-core, quad-thread Pentium G5400 is a great partner for this GPU.

With RX 560 not putting up much of a challenge against the GP107 products, the irony is that Nvidia's biggest competition in the budget space is actually itself - or more accurately, the GeForce products you can pick up on the second-hand market. Whether it's down to currency fluctuations or inflated memory prices, there's still the sense that the GP107 cards are too expensive - after all, the classic GTX 750 Ti eventually settled down into a sub-£100 price-point, where the price/performance ratio was excellent for the time and where its successors should have followed.

On the used market, the price of the GTX 1050 3GB buys you a used GTX 970 - easily 50 per cent faster. Meanwhile GTX 1050 Ti money gets you a GTX 980 - a fascinating product that still benches well against the full-fat six gig GTX 1060, and sometimes even beats it. Meanwhile, performance is a lot more variable on a title-to-title basis but the venerable GTX 780 and 780 Ti have seen prices plummet and again, both should easily outperform today's GP107 line-up. None of these second-hand offerings are as small and power-efficient as the GTX 1050 line though, and they do require PCI Express power - but regardless, every little helps in constructing a budget rig and it would be remiss of me not to point out the higher value in the used market.

Judged by its competitors on the shelves now though, this is the best entry-level graphics card on the market - if you can find one, that is, and if you can get one at a sub-£130 price-point. The GTX 1050 Ti is faster, better and uncompromised, but the GTX 1050 3GB is cheaper and not that much slower. It's not the most glorious final showing for Pascal in the desktop market, but it's a solid performer that has a lot going for it.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 3GB Analysis:

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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