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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti review

Pascal on a budget.

Nvidia's Pascal architecture continues its top-down steamrolling of the graphics product stack, with the arrival of the first of two more budget-orientated parts - GTX 1050 Ti and GTX 1050. It's the first card we're looking at today, highlighting the debut of the fully enabled version of Nvidia's GP107 processor, offering performance significantly ahead of PlayStation 4 and paired with a useful 4GB of GDDR5. GTX 1050 Ti can get you to 1080p60 in most titles with careful tweaking, but really this class of GPU is all about matching ballpark console performance with improved visuals and more consistent frame-rates.

In this fully loaded iteration of the GP107, GTX 1050 Ti features 768 CUDA core processors (a match for the last-gen GTX 950) backed by 7gbps GDDR5 memory fed by a 128-bit memory interface. But the real star of the show here is that fact that the card itself is - depending on the vendor - absolutely tiny, and in base configurations requires no additional PCI Express power. This is important. Essentially, like GTX 750 Ti and a very small selection of GTX 950s before it, this opens the door to a powerful GPU upgrade that will fit into the majority of PCs, with no additional PSU juice required. Everything comes from the meagre 75W provided by the motherboard slot and it's safe to say that we were amazed at just how much performance we managed to squeeze from this tight power envelope.

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The full spec is available elsewhere on the page, but one thing that stands out immediately is that the boost clock spec is a good 300MHz lower than what we've come to expect from the Pascal line - presumably owing to the meagre 75W TDP. However, we're happy to report that the spec is highly conservative in reality. The Zotac board we were provided with happily boosts to 1650MHz out of the box without breaking a sweat, and overclocking taps out at 1850MHz, without exceeding that hard 75W limit.

The end result is that the GTX 1050 Ti trades blows with the last-gen GTX 960 out of the box, and its overclocking headroom may actually push beyond the 1850MHz we reached with this Zotac model, assuming you choose a GTX 1050 Ti that does indeed have an additional six-pin PCI Express power input. [UPDATE 26/10/16 5:50pm: We've now tested the MSI Gaming X version of the card with the additional power supply input and gains were fairly minimal - we maxed out at 1911MHz, adding just 1-2fps at most.]

Rich presents his video review of the GTX 1050 Ti, tested in both Zotac and MSI Gaming X configurations. Is this the new budget king?Watch on YouTube

In terms of the Zotac card we have available for testing here, it's safe to say that the overall aesthetic is a far cry from the usual third party GPU designs. It's a small, discrete card built to a cost, but the basic reality is that the GP107 processor is so efficient, it simply doesn't require a top-end thermal solution. The basic heat sink and fan we have here is perfectly adequate and temperatures are preposterously low. Even with a maxed-out overclock in place, temperatures maxed for us at 50 degrees Celsius.

As you might expect, port arrangement is very simple - there's a single HDMI 2.0 port, backed up by a solitary DisplayPort and an accompanying dual-link DVI output. Basic, to the point, and covers pretty much every use-case scenario this card is likely to have.

Nvidia has also ensured that the GTX 1050 Ti offers enough VRAM to get the job done. We've actually been rather surprised at how well the older GTX 950 and GTX 960 have coped with only two gigs of onboard memory available, but every once in a while, a game comes along that proves challenging - whether it's the RAM-munching Assassin's Creed Unity or Forza Horizon 3, constantly dogged by on-screen VRAM warnings at 1080p on two gig cards. GTX 1050 Ti not only has the horsepower to comfortably exceed PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but there's plenty of memory to spare too. But the question is, just how fast is it?

The GTX 1050 Ti offers highly creditable 1080p performance, as seen here in this performance video, where the new card is stacked up against GTX 460, GTX 950 and GTX 960.Watch on YouTube
1920x1080 (1080p) GTX 1050 Ti 4GB RX 460 4GB GTX 950 LP 2GB GTX 960 2GB RX 470 4GB GTX 1060 3GB
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 35.0 27.0 24.5 29.8 48.8 55.2
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 29.3 23.2 21.6 27.2 45.2 46.8
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 46.0 34.9 36.7 46.4 68.0 74.8
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 32.8 27.4 25.6 33.8 37.3 54.3
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 39.9 29.2 30.5 37.8 54.7 63.1
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 38.2 36.5 25.3 31.7 68.6 57.7
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 43.7 33.6 35.3 45.0 64.1 74.2
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 40.6 32.0 31.2 38.9 57.9 64.7

The 1080p results are grim reading for AMD in terms of its higher-end RX 460 4GB products, as represented here by the Asus Strix card. Generally speaking, the similarly priced GTX 1050 Ti is 25 to 30 per cent faster, the Radeon hardware only closing the gap via Hitman - a game that favours AMD hardware whether we're running under DX11 or DX12. However, even here, Nvidia is faster overall. AMD is discounting the RX 460, but when a base-level GTX 1050 Ti with no factory OC is offering such a commanding lead up against an overclocked Asus Strix product, it's clear we're looking at the kind of differential we rarely see between competing products in the graphics market.

The performance boost is favourable in other areas too. The 768 core Pascal-based GTX 1050 Ti effortlessly sails past the 768 core Maxwell-based GTX 950 (represented in our benches by the low-power version, a hard to find Asus model that also requires no additional PCI Express power) and by and large it even inches ahead of the last-gen GTX 960 too. In memory-heavy games like Assassin's Creed Unity and Hitman, the additional two gigs of VRAM sees the GTX 1050 Ti cruise well ahead of the 2GB GTX 960 we have tested here.

The only fly in the ointment comes from the GTX 1060 3GB and, to a slightly lesser extent, the RX 470. Typically, moving to the next step up on the Nvidia ladder grants you an additional 60 per cent of performance for an additional 35 per cent cash outlay. In this respect, in pure performance terms, the GTX 1050 Ti doesn't quite hit the 1080p 'bang for the buck' sweet-spot - which was pretty much the same complaint we had with the RX 460.

An overview of performance across the Pascal stack. Here, GTX 1050 Ti is put into context against GTX 1060, GTX 1070 and GTX 1080.Watch on YouTube
1920x1080 (1080p) GTX 1050 Ti 4GB GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC GTX 1060 3GB GTX 1060 6GB GTX 1070 GTX 1080 Titan X-P
Assassin's Creed Unity, Ultra High, FXAA 35.0 37.5 55.2 58.2 79.1 99.0 119.2
Ashes of the Singularity, Extreme, 0x MSAA, DX12 29.3 32.0 46.8 45.9 64.8 77.8 87.6
Crysis 3, Very High, SMAA T2x 46.0 49.7 74.8 78.7 107.0 131.7 153.9
The Division, Ultra, SMAA 32.8 35.2 54.3 56.6 78.3 94.0 117.9
Far Cry Primal, Ultra, SMAA 39.9 43.3 63.1 65.6 88.8 109.3 132.2
Hitman, Ultra, SMAA, DX12 38.2 41.3 57.7 65.8 92.6 112.7 136.8
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Very High, High Textures, SMAA, DX12 43.7 47.7 74.2 75.1 105.0 132.8 167.2
The Witcher 3, Ultra, Post AA, No HairWorks 40.6 43.2 64.7 68.4 94.2 111.8 137.6

1080p is the most popular gaming resolution for PC gamers, based on the Steam hardware survey, so we thought we would stack up the GTX 1050 Ti against the other Pascal-based GPUs on the market. From there, we get a good idea of price vs performance across the entire Nvidia product line.

The bottom line is that the overall value sweet-spot for 1080p gaming still resides with the GTX 1060. In the sub-£200/$200 area, the GTX 1060 3GB offers the best value overall, a situation mitigated only by its limited framebuffer. The remarkable reality is that the GTX 1050 Ti offers more VRAM than its more expensive sibling, and while 3GB is still generally fine for 1080p gaming, there are still scenarios where the GTX 1060 can hit its limit. The GTX 1060 6GB comfortably addresses that issue, but at prices starting at £80/$100 more expensive than the GTX 1050 Ti, it's a significantly higher chunk of change. For 1080p gaming, the high price-points of the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 detract from their value - these are cards primarily designed for higher resolution gaming.

While we reckon that the GTX 1060 offers the best value overall, there are scenarios where the GTX 1050 Ti's unique aspects pay off spectacularly. It's an absolutely tiny card, it's virtually silent, and the fact that it runs so cool - even with a really basic heatsink and fan - means that it happily sits in a very small PC with little to no chance of reaching anything like its thermal limits. The table above also includes overclocking data too - we could add 220MHz to the core and 400MHz to the GDDR5 RAM, taking us up to 7.8gbps of bandwidth. All that from just 75W (you can't increase power delivery on this card) is eye-opening to say the least.

This scene from Crysis 3 is easily repeatable and incurs a heavy, sustained load on the GPU - good for testing overclocks and heavy power draw.
GTX 1050 Ti GTX 1050 Ti OC GTX 950 LP GTX 950 GTX 1060 6GB RX 460 RX 470
Peak System Power Draw 164W 167W 169W 200W 230W 190W 283W

And finally, here's how the GTX 1050 Ti shapes up in terms of power consumption. Not only does it effortlessly outperform the last generation GTX 950, there are even slight power savings compared to the low-powered version of the Maxwell card, which also did not require additional PCI Express power. We've included metrics from both the low-power Asus edition of the GTX 950, and a factory overclocked MSI model. Performance-wise, the GTX 1050 Ti has the ballpark performance of the GTX 960 and offers class-leading efficiency into the bargain.

The table also highlights that AMD still has a long way to go before it can challenge Nvidia in the efficiency stakes. The factory overclocked RX 460 we had for testing is actually offering lower performance than the GTX 950 in this test, and its efficiency gain at 14nm is only slight compared to the last-gen GeForce at 28nm. In this particular title - Crysis 3 - the GTX 1050 Ti without a factory overclock is offering 25 per cent more performance with a 14 per cent efficiency advantage over the Asus Strix RX 460 we had for review.

GTX 1050 Ti's efficiency is impressive, but GTX 1060 is still exceptional. The more expensive card offers 71 per cent more performance in this game, requiring only 39 per cent more juice. One thing we do have to bear in mind is that the new GP107 found in GTX 1050 Ti actually uses a very different production technology - Samsung's 14nm FinFET process, compared to the 16nmFF technology used in every other Pascal processor. However, the high overclocking results do demonstrate that Pascal scales nicely between competing process nodes.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti - the Digital Foundry verdict

Brutally efficient and highly frugal, the GTX 1050 Ti is a clear winner in its £140/$140 price category, easily outclassing both of the factory overclocked RX 460 4GB models we were sent for testing. What Nvidia has managed to extract from the minuscule 75W offered by the motherboard PCI Express power line is quite remarkable, and as a simple plug-and-go replacement for lower-end desktop PCs, there's nothing on the market quite like it. More remarkable still is that it even has a fair amount of overclocking headroom - and higher-end models that do have the PCI Express power input should easily hit and exceed 2GHz, something we look forward to testing.

However, in terms of price vs performance, it's hard to ignore the charms of the most expensive cards. An additional 35 per cent cash outlay gets you upwards of 60 per cent more performance in the form of the GTX 1060 3GB (albeit with a memory downgrade), while AMD is also aiming to cut prices on the four gig RX 470. It's not as fast as its Nvidia competitor, but provided you have a decent i5 processor or better, it will provide a noticeable higher level of performance.

Overall then, GTX 1050 Ti is a solid performer with much to commend it. As long as a dual-slot, full height PCI Express port is available, it should plug into any desktop PC regardless of power supply - and in that respect, it offers by far the best performance available in that class of hardware. Pay more and you'll get more, but in terms of its market category, GTX 1050 Ti is in a class of its own.

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