Vega 56 should have led to lower prices. Instead, the 1070 Ti maintains the status quo.
The GTX 1070 Ti is a great graphics card but a frustrating product. In the year and a half since the GTX 1080 and the GTX 1070 launched, Nvidia has faced little competition from rival AMD, which has been stretched thin across the launch of mainstream graphics cards like the RX 480 and high-end processors like Ryzen Threadripper. As brilliant as those products are, particularly Threadripper, it took until August of this year for AMD to launch a competitor to Nvidia's year-old graphics cards. The resulting RX Vega 64 wasn't the graphical powerhouse many were hoping for, with high power consumption and performance that couldn't quite top a GTX 1080.
The one bright spot was Vega 56, which handily beat the GTX 1070's performance across a wide range of games for around the same price (Ethereum mining price inflation notwithstanding). Given the age of Nvidia's products, a price drop seemed like a natural solution. But this is Nvidia—and Nvidia won't let AMD have nice things. And so we have the GTX 1070 Ti, a "kick a man when he's down" kind of product that shatters the sole success story of the Vega lineup. For around a £20/$20 premium over Vega 56, the GTX 1070 Ti offers tangible boost in performance over a GTX 1070 and, when overclocked, performance as good as (if not better) than a GTX 1080.
The GTX 1070 Ti is based on the same GP104 GPU used in GTX 1070, but with a CUDA core count much closer to the GTX 1080—2,432 instead of 2,560. The GTX 1070 Ti isn't a pumped-up GTX 1070; instead, it's a cut-down GTX 1080, the key difference being the use of 8GB of standard GDRR5 memory instead of faster GDDR5X memory. Stock clocks are rated at 1,607MHz base and 1,683MHz boost, but as with all Nvidia graphics cards, the boost clock is typically much higher in real-world use with reasonable cooling. The Founders Edition card reviewed, which recycles Nvidia's unremarkable if visually appealing blower-style vapor chamber cooler from the GTX 1080, consistently runs at 1,847MHz under load.
The likes of Asus, MSI, and EVGA have their own take on the GTX 1070 Ti complete with complex heat pipes and triple-fan arrangements for superior cooling. All offer some form of factory overclock, which pushes the boost clock further still, but—contrary to some questionable reports earlier this year—user overclocking is fully supported in standard applications like EVGA Precision XOC and MSI Afterburner. Naturally, there's a premium attached to the third-party cards that makes some of them more expensive than GTX 1080s (here's looking at you, Asus). Go for a cheaper model with good cooling and apply the overclock yourself, otherwise you might as well just buy a GTX 1080.
Connectivity varies, but the Founders Edition GTX 1070 Ti features three DisplayPort 1.4a ports, one HDMI 2.0b port (with support for HDR), and one dual-link DVI port for those rocking classic high-res monitors. SLI up to two cards is supported, while TDP is the same as the GTX 1080 at 180W. While TDPs can't be directly compared between manufacturers, numerous reviews show Vega 56 to have much higher power consumption than even the GTX 1080. Nvidia's Pascal architecture is simply more efficient than Vega, despite having been released almost a year and a half earlier.
With the Pascal architecture being so much of a known quantity at this point (for more on Pascal, check out the GTX 1080 review), there are few surprises when it comes to performance and overclocking. With a few clicks, it's easy to get the Founders Edition GTX 1070 Ti up to 2012MHz on the core clock and 8100MHz on memory. There's definitely a little more headroom there for those willing to tweak voltages or watercool, but for the vast majority of people, firing up MSI Afterburner and moving a couple of sliders around nets a substantial boost in performance.
As always I pushed the GTX 1070 Ti through a range of games and synthetic benchmarks on the standard graphics card test system. Both the benchmarks and the system are in need of an overhaul after a couple of years of testing (a large project, as you can imagine) but remain relevant for this generation of GPUs. Each game was tested at 1080p, 1440p, and UHD (4K) resolutions at high or ultra settings at stock speeds. On the synthetics and science side there's the standard 3DMark Firestrike benchmark (again, run across three resolutions), as well as LuxMark 3.0 and CompuBench to test compute performance.
At stock speeds, performance is exactly where you'd expect it to be, particularly given the price. The GTX 1070 Ti is much faster than a GTX 1070 and a wee bit slower than a GTX 1080. Depending on the game and resolution, it's as much as a 25 percent boost over the GTX 1070 and as much as a 10 percent decrease over the GTX 1080. The sweet spot is certainly 1440p gaming, where there are substantial performance gains to be had from the extra CUDA cores. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get hold of any AMD RX Vega cards to test, but the swathe of reviews at dedicated hardware sites show that the GTX 1070 Ti is at least as good, if not a little better, at stock speeds.
The GTX 1070 Ti comes into its own when overclocked. With the 2012MHz core clock and 8100MHz memory clock in place, performance is as good as a stock GTX 1080, and in some cases even better. The biggest gains are at 1080p, but even at 1440p and 4K an overclocked GTX 1070 Ti comes close to a GTX 1080. Then again, if you're overclocking anyway, an overclocked GTX 1080 is even better still.
While the GTX 1070 Ti is great, the GTX 1070 didn't stop being a brilliant graphics card overnight. It's more power efficient than Vega 56, which makes it easier to cool and quieter under load, and in recent months the price has come down to as little as £370/$400 for one of Zotac's neat mini variants, making it a good value, too. For those looking to game at 1440p without breaking the bank, it's a no-brainer.
If you can stretch the budget a little further, the GTX 1070 Ti offers an even better 1440p experience at a similar cost per frame. While it's great that the price didn't go up, it didn't go down either. Instead of a GTX 1070 price drop, Nvidia has maintained the status quo. That's good business for Nvidia, but disappointing for consumers.
The biggest loser, however, is AMD. Even if it was always part of Nvidia's grand marketing plan, it's hard to shake the feeling that GTX 1070 Ti is little more than a way to lure over a few potential RX Vega 56 customers that are on the fence or struggling to get hold of a card due to short supply (if you're particularly cynical, you could say it's a neat way to use up some slightly off GP104 GPUs, too). The AMD ecosystem might be a better value overall thanks to offerings like Freesync, but Nvidia continues to have it licked on performance. Ultimately, when buying a graphics card, that's what matters most.