As it is typical when a new line of graphics cards gets released, there is this immediate focus on high-end. With Nvidia pushing cards like the 1080 and 1070 as having unparalleled performance, while AMDs RX480 was supposed to be a ‘VR for the masses’ type product.
But what about the humble gamer - someone who just wants a solid 1080p experience? Below, we’ve taken a look at Nvidia's latest offering for the day-to-day gamer.
Architecture of the GTX 1050
The GTX 1050 is based off the same Pascal micro architecture as the rest of the GeForce 10 series, but it uses the new GP 107 GPU. This is a bit of change from the GeForce 9 series, while the GTX 950 just ran a cutdown version of the GTX 960s GPU.
With the GTX 1050 you get 768 CUDA cores, with a 1392 MHz on the boost clock, as well as 4 GB of GDD R5 VRAM running on a 128-bit memory bus. Although these cards aren’t compatible with SLI, you do get other GeForce 10 standard features, like Nvidia Ansel for cool screenshots, as well as support for DirectX 12 and Vulcan.
Both versions of the card are small form factor and don't require any power beyond what the motherboards PCE slot can provide.
In fact, in our Crisis 3 load test, our system drew less than 160 watts from the wall in entirety, while staying below about 60-ish degrees Celsius - very interesting numbers if you’re fighting size, power or thermal limits in your current system. To give a more thorough answer, we of course need to look at performance in real games.
So here's how our 1050 stacked up on our core I7 1650K test bench, that we use for all the testing to standardize our results and eliminate bottlenecks. All tests were performed at 1080p, as this is a less powerful card that isn't really aimed at users going for 1440p or 4K.
Starting out with the aforementioned Crisis 3, which is still a punishing title after over 3 1/2 years, the 1050 performed quite well for a card targeted squarely at the lower middle end of the market. It managed frame rates in the low 40s on very high presets, while bumping things down to high delivers a buttery smooth experience at 71 fps.
Moving onto Rise of the Tomb Raider, the story was somewhat similar, with the 1050 managing close to 60 fps on high settings, while very high will set you back about 10 frames. Unfortunately, DirectX 12 didn't help matters, costing us a few FPS actually, which has been a recurring theme on the latest Nvidia set of hardware.
The much-anticipated Battlefield One played very nicely, scoring in the low 60s on ultra settings. Performance on the highest preset in Doom was similarly impressive, with frame rates in the upper 60s.
But although these numbers are quite good for a budget oriented 1080p focused card, does that necessarily mean the card is good value? This depends on how you define value - if you go for just dollars per frame analysis, the GTX 1050 doesn't exactly come out looking that good.
However, many buyers looking for a graphics card in this price range mostly care about just smooth 1080p performance at respectable settings, without any dunking around, and right now GTX 1050 is the cheapest card that hits all these marks, as it scored very close to or above 60 fps at high settings in all of our games and scored at least in the mid-40s or even higher at the max presets.
The GTX Market
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Right now its closest competitor, the RX460 can’t really say the same, but the $40 is a pretty big price difference at this end of the market. However, given that the next step up performance-wise is the RX470 at $50 more, it seems like the GTX 1050 has a nice little spot carved out for it.
Understanding Graphics Card Specs
The terms graphics card, video card and GPU are all used to refer to the same thing. But the term GPU, or graphics processing unit, actually only literally means the physical chip on the card’s PCB.
The reason this distinction is important is that different graphics cards can be based off the same GPU - for example, the two largest desktop GPU makers AMD and Nvidia will release a reference version of a new graphics card like the Radeon RX480 or the GeForce GTX 1080.
Then, vendors like MSI, Asus, Gigabyte and so on often sell that reference design, but they also design custom versions with unique coolers, IO ports and sometimes a higher clock speed.
But all those unique versions actually have the same chip at the core, and as a result aren’t really that unique. Now it’s also possible to have 2 GPUs on one graphics card, like AMDs R9295 X2 Radeon Pro Duo or Nvidia’s Titan Z.
Those can get you tremendous amounts of graphics horsepower, but since you are technically running to GPU's, the card’s performance in games will depend on how well those games support multi-GPU performance. Nvidia's name for their multi-GPU connection is SLI, and AMDs is crossfire.
Sometimes, like in the case of Nvidia's 70 and 80 cards, like the GTX 979 80 1070 and 1080, 2 graphics cards at different tiers will have the same chip, albeit with some modifications.
- Card Architecture
The GTX970 and 980 are both based off the Maxwell GM204 GPU, while the 1070 and 1080 are based off the Pascal GP104. You may be aware the terms Maxwell and Pascal refer to the GPU architecture, but what is that?
The GPU's architecture is the platform or technology it’s built on. New graphics architecture are developed by AMD and Nvidia around 1-2 years and they often shrink the size of the physical component of the processor, which allows them to fit more features and transistors onto the GPU die, die meaning the actual silicone in the chip.
Architecture changes can also reduce the amount of power required to run cards. For this reason, it becomes problematic to compare different generations of graphics cards based on certain specs alone, as separate architectures use the resources available to them differently.
Going further into specifications, let's look at memory. Video memory or video RAM, serves the same function as system RAM, in that it holds whatever data is currently being accessed by the GPU. These are the textures and images that make up what is displayed to you on your screen. VRAM becomes especially important when running at higher resolutions.
Having more VRAM won't automatically get you more frames per second, but having not enough could cause textures in-game to pop in and out.
Currently, it seems like 4 gigs of VRAM is the sweet spot for around 1080p, with 2 gigs being found on lower end cards that would run with some settings turned down, and 6-8 gigs allowing the headroom that is needed for 1440p and 4K.
That's assuming the card has the raw power necessary run those resolutions in the first place and games will differ from each other in requirements as well – some games need a lot and some will take whatever is on offer.
One of the indicators of the raw power mentioned earlier is the core clock - this refers to the frequency of which the GPU is running measured in Hertz.
While this can be used as a general measure to compare the power of different GPUs in one generation, it can’t reliably be used for comparison between different generations, as developments in architecture as we discussed earlier, render those comparisons moot.
Graphics cards will often have a boost clock, which is what speed the card can boost itself to under a heavy processing load, like a video game. However, that speed will drop back down if it gets too hot, which is called thermal throttling, and it’s also why you want a good cooler on your GPU. Similarly, the video memory runs at a certain speed called the memory clock.
This is one of a few specs that helps us determine the memory bandwidth - the others are memory bus width, which is how many bits can travel to and from the VRAM each clock cycle and the type of memory used in the GPU, which is either GDDR5, GDDR5 X or HBM, which is vertically stacked RAM we've only seen in AMDs Fiji GPU so far.
Memory bandwidth is measured in gigabits per second - think of it as a tube connecting the GPU to its VRAM. The bigger that tube is, the more effectively your GPU can use its VRAM. Having tons of memory won’t do any good if the bandwidth is too small to use all of it at once.
Next, you’ll find a typical spec list, with quick definitions for each.
Manufacturing process of the GPU refers to the half pitch of a memory cell in a processor, or half the distance between identical features. It’s measured in nanometers and a new process is developed every 2 to 3 years.
Nvidia’s 10 series GPU's are made on a 16nm process, which is why this generation of GPU's is a pretty big performance leap over last June's 22 nm processors.
What to Look For?
GTX 1050 (3GB)
GTX 1050 (2GB)
NVIDIA CUDA® Cores
3 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR5
So there you have it – a thorough specs rundown. If these different specs don't really help you when you are looking to buy a GPU, what should you look for?
Benchmarks are the answer. The only real way to know how a card is going to run is to run it - specs can give a general idea of how a card might perform relative to one another, but there's no way to know for sure until you actually put it to the test, so before you purchase a graphics card, do your research. Read and watch reviews of that card compared to other cards and then you can make an informed decision.
GTX 1050 Review
The GTX 1050 is great for the folks that just want to come as close as possible to maxing out titles in 1080p for the least amount of money, assuming that the actual prices line-up with MSRP at all. So if you are in the market for a more budget oriented card, it won’t revolutionize anything, but it’ll definitely do.