ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Monday, September 12, 2016

GPU Wars: NVIDIA GTX 1070 vs 970 + Unboxing!

It's that time again! A new generation of desktop graphics technology is upon us, and that means more of every PC gamer's favorite pastime: GPU unboxings and head-to-head benchmark battles to see just how much better this year's offering is over last year's and beyond. For Team Green, the new 10-series lineup represents a very important leap forward, crossing the threshold of great VR, high-refresh rate, and ultra-HD performance, but it also marks a step up in MSRP, and—at least for the time being—you'll be lucky to see prices even that low. With everything riding on it, can the sweet-spot GTX 1070 deliver a worthy bang-for-buck? Let's find out.

Unboxing and Specs

This year's batch of desktop graphics cards from NVIDIA represent a leap forward that many people have awaited since Fermi. The rules of what consumers expect from their GPUs are being rewritten thanks to the advent of other new technologies, and to match NVIDIA has also set a new standard for reference cards with their Founders Edition program. It's not all good news, as the first-party offering has essentially nullified the intended MSRP for the entire Pascal lineup, but on the bright side NVIDIA has set the bar very high here, and while the price may be higher as well it's hard to have much buyer's remorse when you see just what these cards can do.

And the new GTX 1070 is in many respects the king of the bunch. Pricier than a 970 of last generation and more powerful than a Maxwell Titan X, the 1070 is a solid middle ground delivering uncompromising performance without breaking the bank. Playing games at 1080p is a breeze with even the most demanding titles easily blowing past the 60 frames-per-second mark at high settings and many even achieving the same at 2K and 4K resolutions. Virtual reality and multi-monitor support is deeply embedded in the hardware itself. While most graphics cards in recent years haven't aged well beyond their own generations, Pascal is looking to be an architecture you can hang on to for quite a while.

Let's take a look at the GTX 1070’s specs and compare to the previous generation 970, shall we?

GTX 1070 GTX 970
CUDA Cores: 1920 1664
ROPs: 64 56
Texture Units: 120 104
Base Clock (MHz): 1506 1050
Boost Clock (MHz): 1683 1178
TFLOPs: 6.5 3.9
Memory Capacity: 8GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5
Memory Speed: 8GHz 7GHz
Memory Interface: 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s 224GB/s
Power Draw 150W 145W

Now, on paper the difference might not seem so significant for the most part, but there's more going on here than meets the eye. NVIDIA has baked an impressive number of features directly into the 1070’s silicon, including a few that enhance performance beyond the raw numbers. With Maxwell NVIDIA introduced color compression techniques devised to push more data through available memory bandwidth, and with Pascal they've improved the feature even further. The 1070 also boasts significantly more render output and texture units than the 970, which put together create a card that's highly capable of punching above its own weight in other respects. And with such low power consumption and heat output, overclocking the 1070 can take it even farther. That's a topic for another day, but even at stock speeds the 1070 is an incredible step up from its older brother.

Witness for yourself in the comparison videos below. As with other recent tests, these benchmarks were run on a system with an Intel Core i5 6600K and 16GB of DDR4 RAM.

3D Mark Timespy

First up we have 3DMark’s new Timespy benchmark. As a follow-up to the fan-favorite Firestrike, Timespy delivers a new level of computational challenges for graphics cards to munch through.

Running at 1440p and DX12 Timespy is no pushover, but overall the 1070 comes off looking fairly good. 30 FPS is almost always in reach, with some areas of the graphics test even stretching into the 40s. The 970 meanwhile shows its lack of effective future-proofing as it positively struggles to maintain any sort of smooth frame rate. While it's mostly fine at 1080p and DX11 Timespy sets the bar a little higher than it can reach, making the 1070 the clear winner here. Neither card has the benchmark totally conquered just yet, but with a roughly 40% lead it's safe to assume that a single 1070 could match or in some cases even outperform two 970s running in SLI—not bad for a card that only costs about $100 more at retail than a single 970 on its own.

The final results for the benchmark give the 1070 an overall score of 5,243 and the 970 an overall score of 3,434.

3D Mark Firestrike

After more than three years of slaughtering GPUs, Firestrike remains a very relevant test even today. In the interest of keeping things realistic, the video above demonstrates Firestrike Standard as opposed to Ultra, pushing DX11 at 1080p for all its worth.

And in this scenario the 970 holds up fairly well. Maintaining 30 FPS is quite possible in all but the most strenuous of segments, while the 1070 finally delivers that 60 FPS every benchmark fan has dreamed of seeing in Firestrike on their PCs. However, this again goes to show that the 970 isn't very future-proof, and will require lower than high settings to keep up with most games at 1080p moving forward. The 1070, on the other hand, isn't likely to struggle with 1080p any time soon.

One particularly interesting thing to note here is the physics in the background of the combined test segment. Although frame rate isn't great on either card, the 970 is downright unable to keep up with the heavy demands of all the particle physics going on, resulting in the falling rocks updating much slower than the rest of the scene. The 1070, on the other hand, is able to deliver a much smoother result even while under high stress. Note how the rocks fall out of the scene entirely on the 1070 long before the same happens on the 970.

In the end, the 1070 marches away with a highly respectable overall score of 13,182. The 970 doesn’t fare too badly either, but comes in at a much lower 9,161—just above the 9,000-point threshold for recommended VR performance.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

But benchmarks can only take us so far. Comparing theoretical performance is a fun hobby, but for most users it’s real-world numbers that really count. Released back in January, Rise of the Tomb Raider has unexpectedly served as something of a benchmark for PC gamers in its own right as the developers have gone out of their way to support it long-term with updates to graphical options, enhanced SLI compatibility, added support for DX12, and most recently a proper benchmark tool.

The results are pretty interesting, especially for the 970 as they highlight both its strengths and weaknesses as a 1080p gaming card. Running DX12 at the ‘Very High’ graphical preset, the 970 sticks very close to 50 FPS throughout the demo, indicating that with only a few minor sacrifices it’s completely possible to achieve 60 FPS even in relatively demanding titles. However things do tank a bit when the scene switches over to the notoriously slow Geothermal Valley area. While it does manage to stay above 40 FPS even here, the constant ups and downs create a very unsmooth experience that is honestly worse than a 30 FPS lock—which the 970 could certainly manage. The 1070 on the other hand never even breaks a sweat, shooting high into the triple-digits early on and hovering right around 100 FPS for the duration of the benchmark, never even coming close to dipping below 60 in the Geothermal Valley segment. It’s an impressively smooth and uncompromising experience that leaves plenty of room for higher resolutions to eek even more detail out of an already great-looking game.

In the end the 1070 comes out with a very comfortable 106.63 FPS average, while the 970 manages only 57.93.


In 2010 NVIDIA set a standard for itself that it hasn’t been able to live up to since. Fermi was a massive step up in performance at solid retail prices that kept many gamers occupied for the next several generations, which themselves were only iterative on what Fermi started. In 2016, it seems we may finally have the architecture we’ve been waiting for in Pascal—albeit at a bit steeper asking price. But for those who can afford it, Pascal offers incredible performance-per-dollar today and promises to hold up well for the foreseeable future. 1080p has been completely conquered, and for the first time 4K is truly within reach. Support for new technologies like virtual reality is baked in from the ground up, as well as solutions to old problems like skewed perspectives on multi-monitor setups. While the best of last-gen Maxwell cards aren’t completely down and out just yet, it’s clear that Pascal has a longevity in its veins that Maxwell simply doesn’t. It’s an exciting time for PC gaming, and one that will only get better as we start to see Pascal utilized to the fullest.