If you follow any of the big graphics card manufacturers, from MSI to Palit, chances are that you’ve seen a lot of activity on their feeds recently.
That’s because they’re preparing to release their own versions of Nvidia’s brand new GTX 1080 and 1070 cards, with the former appearing today.
But what if you’ve only just got into PC gaming or are thinking of dipping your toe in the murky waters of graphics cards, CPUs and things that go bang if you plug them in the wrong way? Relax, we’ve got you covered.
Nvidia and GTX
Nvidia are one half of the big two graphics card creators, the other being AMD. They’re often referred to as the Red and Green team (AMD being Red and Nvidia being Green due to their branding).
A new card from either camp is exciting news as it means they’re trying to push technology further, either at the top end or to make PC gaming more affordable to those who want more bang for their buck. The latest announcement comes from the green team and they seem to have both the bases covered here with the latest addition to their GTX line-up.
Each generation of cards have an underlying architecture, the new Nvidia one is called Pascal.
Our in-depth first look at the GTX 1080 can be found here, but all you really need to know is what it does and whether it justifies the £600+ price point.
This card is aimed fully at the top end of the PC graphics market, and that means enthusiast gamers, among others. From initial benchmarks across many sites it’s noticeably faster than any single card out there.
That ‘single card’ point is important to emphasise because many enthusiast gamers will buy 2 cards and run them together in SLI. Scalable Link Interface (SLI) is NVIDIA’s technology that links two or more video cards together to produce a single output. Until recently this was done with only 2 cards, but recently there have been special extensions built that should enable 3 cards and even, with the new hardware and DX12, 4 cards.
What makes it so much faster, then? Glad you asked! As microchips get smaller you can pile more in. The new process that Nvidia are using takes the transistor size down to 16nm (which AMD will no doubt use for their next cards, too) which means they can shove more of them in to a smaller space and create more power with less heat and a smaller power source.
In addition to this, they’re using a new, faster memory system called GDDR5X, which has never been used before. Theoretically, this will improve the bandwidth by 43% so more data can go back and forth faster.
But we don’t want to get bogged down in more stats, do we? What does this actually mean for anyone running games happily at 1080p and 60fps, the current PC standard? Not a lot if you already have a card that can happily do this or want to buy something at half the cost from either side. At 2K and 4K resolutions, though, the extra grunt is really needed and with Virtual Reality headsets it’s even more important, running 2 screens independently, one for each eye.
The bottom line is this; if you want the highest possible standard card and want one that will easily play anything you throw at it for some time to come AND you have enough money, the GTX 1080 is the new high end. If you want something that comfortably plays at lower than 4K with the possibility of some 4K games running smoothly, Nvidia’s second new option might be worth waiting for…
If the GTX 1080 is Nvidia’s new top card. the 1070 is their attempt to create a new ‘standard’ level.
Currently, the GTX 970 and AMD Radeon R9 390 fill the middle space, the cards most gamers will buy to run their games at full detail. The GTX 1070 will cost a little bit more than the card it replaces, the 970, by about £30 but it will provide nearer the power of the current top end cards for that price.
What this means is that for anyone coming in to PC gaming or for those looking to change their £250 card for something at a similar price range, it’s going to be a huge upgrade for very little extra cost.
This is also the area where AMD looks set to try and address with their forthcoming cards, so for those on the cautious side it might be work waiting, but for our money the GTX 1070 is a very exciting proposition.
Founders Edition and other GTX 1080 cards
Every generation, Nvidia releases a ‘reference’ card, their own card made to their own standard which actually becomes the benchmark card. This year they’ve renamed this the Founders Edition. The other difference is that reference cards have traditionally only sold near to launch but this new Founders card should be available for the life of the product.
What you’ll see today is that many of the big graphics card companies will be announcing their own GTX 1080 cards. Nvidia licence out their technology and companies like MSI, EVGA and ASUS will tinker with them, add their own branding and features and often sell them for less than the Founders Edition costs.
Which one you choose will depend on many things; cost, colours (trust me, it’s important if you have a PC with a clear window!), features, cooling etc. All of them will do much the same thing but some will be slightly faster, cooler or use less power from the computer’s power supply. I’ll hold my hand up now and say I’m swayed slightly by flashy lights!
So, do I need a new GTX card?
If you’re new to PC gaming and are only just looking for a new PC then it’s a great time to buy. The GTX 1080 is out today and many of the big PC manufacturers have already started selling PCs with the cards in. Wait a month and the GTX 1070 will be out, offering new gamers enough speed for pretty much everything they want to do at half the price of this card.
For those upgrading it really depends on what card you already have and how much you really want a PC capable of 4K gaming. The GTX 1070 will no doubt be fine for most people and is an ideal upgrade from the 970, but if you already have a powerful card like the GTX 980 then it doesn’t make as much sense as the GTX 1080.