Layman Thoughts On 2016 GPUs: The 1070 Launch

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A month ago I tried to write down my look at what’s happening with new PC graphics cards this year in an attempt to offer something by and for people not fully immersed in the world of GPUs. Since then I’ve finally got my hands on Nvidia’s new GTX 1070 and some other developments are going on, mainly having to do with price.

The 1070 is the first graphics card I’ve bought around launch, so this is the first time I’ve had to deal with the pricing and supply issues that seem common with GPU launches. People in the know call these “paper launches,” where the manufacturer technically releases the cards for sale, but does so before there’s actually enough supply for them to be available to most prospective customers. A common result is that the cards get scalped pretty hard. If you look up the 1070 you’ll probably find people complaining about how they can’t find one for less than $450 or even $500 or $600 when it was supposed to be $380 (I eventually found one for $400).

This obviously isn’t a unique occurrence, but what is a bit unique in this situation is that the manufacturer, Nvidia, tried to get in on the inflated prices. That’s all the more expensive Founders Editions to the 1070 and 1080 are — just the first editions of the cards that ship before supply actually meets demand. To beat the scalpers, Nvidia decided to join them. The only difference between this and a normal supply-and-demand situation is that now some of the money from the inflated pricing is going back to the manufacturer.

What seems to have surprised everyone looking to get a card was that people expected the custom 1070s and 1080s from Nvidia’s hardware partners to sell at the $380 MSRP. Instead they just used Nvidia’s Founders Edition pricing as the starting point and went up from there. I read one story suggesting that the production shortages are actually coming all the way from the people making the parts at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, but it was just one story from a source I also saw someone doubt. As of this writing people still don’t know when supply will flow normally so the prices can come down.

This is a problem for the 1070 because it damages the performance-per-dollar quotient that made it look so strong before release. At the higher inflated prices you might as well get a 1080 (which was supposed to be $600 but is probably going for much higher), and on the lower end this probably makes AMD’s RX 480 look better provided it actually sticks close to its $200 MSRP. Even Nvidia’s 1060, which is supposed to respond to the 480, might either run into the same supply issues or put pressure on the 1070, locking the latter out of the sales success the GTX 970 saw.

In any case, what few games I’ve tried with the 1070, performance has been a pretty amazing leap from my GTX 760. Before, I had to turn a lot of The Witcher 3’s settings to medium or low just to maintain 30 frames per second at 1080p. Now I get 60 with everything turned all the way up and the crazy hair physics turned on. Truth be told, so far Witcher 3 is the only game I own right now that even pushes the GPU to a significant portion of its threshold at 1080p from what a diagnostic program tells me. Fallout 4 still has a few graphics features that are apparently badly optimized but I’m starting to mess with tweaks to push that game beyond its default ultra settings. For everything else I’ve been flirting with Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution feature which renders games at higher resolutions and then downsamples them to fit your display for a sharper image. I might be about ready to leave 1080p gaming behind, at least for the games available right now.

Things are definitely going to get more interesting in the next 12 to 24 months as games start targeting the upgraded consoles, which might bring changes that’ll filter back to PC versions. Obviously it’s too soon to say for sure how projects “PlayStation Neo” and “Xbox Scorpio” will compare to gaming PCs. Digital Foundry thinks the GPU the Neo is packing is pretty much a 480. Xbox head Phil Spencer admitted to Wired that he expects Scorpio to be “like a GTX 980.”

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