GeForce GTX 1070 performance preview: goodbye, 980 Ti

Initial benchmarks show the 1070 beating the 980 Ti and Titan X in every game we tested. Yes, really.

This month has been busy for Nvidia, with the initial preview of the GTX 1080, followed by the GTX 1080 launch and review, then full specs on the GTX 1070, and finally the retail launch of the GTX 1080. That was Friday, and—not surprisingly—nearly every GTX 1080 online shop sold out in short order. Newegg is out of stock, and the only cards still listed at Amazon are priced…well, just a tad bit high, at $900-$1000. Such is the price of being an early adopter; we expect prices to settle down over the coming weeks, in time for more fervor to break out over the GTX 1070. If you were wondering about Nvidia's claims of beating a Titan X in performance with a $380-$450 GTX 1070, well, we can safely put any concerns of cherry picked benchmarks to rest. It's the real deal.

The card landed on my doorstep Friday, with the embargo of performance data and reviews set for Sunday…but it's Memorial Day weekend (in the US at least), so while I've done an initial pass in testing, we'll have to hold off on the full review. The cards won't actually go on sale—and will almost certainly sell out for a few weeks—until June 10. And with Computex officially kicking off, there's a ton of new hardware information on the way, too.

Now let's get to that GTX 1070.

The full set of charts will be made available with the GTX 1070 review, but let me just say that on average frame rates, the GTX 1070 beats or exceeds the performance of the Titan X in every game, at every resolution we tested. Yeah, really.

A few of the wins are very close, and at 1080p there are several ties, but on average the 1070 beats the Titan X by about 10 percent, which means it also beats the 980 Ti by 10 percent. Minimum frame rates are a similar story, with an overall 12-14 percent lead over the Titan X and 980 Ti, though minimum frame rates tend to be more variable.

What about the GTX 1080, though—is it worth the extra $220 to $250 compared to the GTX 1070 (looking at official MSRP and Founders Edition pricing, not the current online price gouging)? If you're talking about pure bang for the buck, the answer as usual is a clear "no." The GTX 1080 is priced about 55 percent higher than the GTX 1070, but performance ends up being just 20-25 percent better.

If that price delta sounds bad, it's really par for the course on the fastest graphics cards. The GTX 980 launched at prices 66 percent higher than GTX 970, while delivering around 25 percent more performance, and just a few months ago the GTX 980 Ti carried a 30 percent price premium over the GTX 980, but with 25 percent higher performance (an actual bargain by comparison). Titan X on the other hand is typically 1-3 percent faster than the 980 Ti, and it was never about real-world performance.

And that's the quick breakdown of performance and relative pricing. With the new Pascal GPUs on the scene, it's going to be tough for anyone to compete at the $350+ price point. AMD for their part is also talking about Polaris 10 and 11 at Computex. We don't have hardware, but AMD seems to be going after the GTX 980 at the top, with the top end Polaris apparently rumored to be priced at under $250 and delivering "15 percent better performance" than the previous generation AMD GPUs—it's not clear if the previous generation here means R9 390X/390, or if it's the R9 380X/380, but it sounds like AMD is referring to the R9 380. That makes their cards competitive in terms of price and performance, but we'll hold off on the final evaluation until we have hardware in hand.

Is it time to upgrade?

So what do you buy for your next GPU? Our advice is that it's usually best to plan on skipping a generation, unless you simply have to have the best possible hardware. If you want the best, that's easy: get the GTX 1080, or two of them. You could try three or four as well, but with the requirement that you unlock them for 3-way/4-way SLI and Nvidia's public recommendation against doing more than 2-way—not to mention DX12 and Vulkan putting much of the multi-GPU support requirement on the developers rather than drivers—and we would be very cautious about taking that approach. (AMD incidentally is also downplaying CrossFire with Polaris, though 2-way is still apparently fine.) But what if you don't always demand on having the best?

Those running a GTX 970, R9 290, or anything above that should still be fine in nearly all games, particularly at 1080p Ultra. If you want to drop to 1080p High, even more cards become viable—R9 280 (HD 7950) and GTX 770 are still hanging on. But if you're sporting GTX 760 or R7 level hardware (or below) and you're hoping to upgrade to a new GPU, June or July should be a prime time to do so. The GTX 1070 is an amazingly powerful card, and at $380 it represents an awesome value; at $450, it's not quite so enticing, but it's still a great card. AMD's current best cards in terms of value are the R9 380X and R9 380, so having Polaris replace those with more performance at a lower price will be good, but again it's mostly going to be for users of older cards.

Really, the best advice I can give is this: Don't get caught up in the graphics card hype. Faster is cool, but unless your current system is actually causing you problems—as in, it won't run the games you want to play at acceptable levels of quality and performance—just keep using it until you reach the point where it's no longer adequate. For some, they may want 60+ fps at 1440p Ultra quality; others are happy with 1080p Medium at 30+ fps. But until you feel your system is too slow, there's no need to upgrade to something faster. Unless you want to.

We'll have the full GTX 1070 review coming soon.


Jarred got his start with computers on a Commodore 64, where he has fond memories of playing the early AD&D Gold Box games from SSI. After spending time studying computer science and working in the IT industry, he discovered a knack for journalism, which he’s been doing for more than a decade. This enables him to play with (aka “test”) all of the latest and greatest hardware; it’s a tough life, but someone has to do it. For science.
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