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Sub-$150 Pascal: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti Review

MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti

Date: October 25, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams

Since the first Pascal release this past spring, NVIDIA has rolled-out a handful of high-end (and really high-end) GPUs, so now, it’s time to get the low-end settled. That’s fulfilled with the release of the GeForce GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti – both 75W parts. Priced at $109 and $139, respectively, both cards target the 1080p resolution. Let’s see how they fare against each other, and AMD’s Radeon RX 460.



Introduction, About NVIDIA’s GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti

With the winter months ahead of us, we’d assume a GPU vendor would release a card hot enough to heat a room, but today, we have the opposite. In fact, these new GPUs (yes, two!) don’t even require a power connector. So, if your goal is to bask in the warmth of your PC while gaming, you better get on overclocking that CPU.

With its GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, NVIDIA sneaks in past AMD’s Radeon RX 460 and sits somewhere in the middle of that card and the RX 470. The non-Ti model, as you might suspect, targets the RX 460 head-on. Which of those two will rule supreme? Well, it’s not often that a new model comes out targeting another that doesn’t come ahead, so that should answer your question up-front.

Both of these GPUs are suitable for 1080p gaming, but there are some caveats to be aware of. The GTX 1050 includes a meager 2GB of VRAM, so you’ll need to prepare to adjust settings quite heavily in today’s games if 60 FPS is your target. And even then, it’s probably best to assume that you won’t be achieving 60 FPS outside of simpler games. As for the Ti model, it sports twice the VRAM, a typical 4GB. That alone makes it a more appropriate 1080p card in 2016, but pushing things even further, it also includes 20% additional cores.

MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti

While all of the usual vendors are releasing their own takes on the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti today, the models we received came from MSI. NVIDIA’s suggested pricing for the non-Ti model is $109, whereas the Ti model is $139. As we’ll see in the results, that extra $30 can go a long way.

Here’s a quick roundup of NVIDIA’s current crop of cards:

NVIDIA GeForce SeriesCoresCore MHzMemoryMem MHzMem BusTDP
TITAN X3584141712288MB10000384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 1080256016078192MB10000256-bit180W
GeForce GTX 1070192015068192MB8000256-bit150W
GeForce GTX 10601280≤17006144MB8000192-bit120W
GeForce GTX 1050 Ti768≤13924096MB7000128-bit75W
GeForce GTX 1050640≤14552048MB7000128-bit75W

Something tells us the TITAN X doesn’t have much to worry about! Starting with our last GPU review, we’ve begun putting together a simple chart that gives our impressions of where a particular card is best-suited, resolution-wise. In the GTX 1050’s case, we can’t in good conscience call the 1080p performance anything but “Poor”, but that doesn’t mean that it’s pointless. It simply means that 60 FPS shouldn’t be an expectation, and if you are fine with that, then the card should suit you well. As for the Ti, it gets upgraded to “Good”, thanks not only to its increased framebuffer, but also the additional cores. These are not ratings we’re hauling out of our butts; these are based off of our hands-on testing (minus the TITAN X; those are educated assumptions since we never received the card.)

I should also note that these ratings have the potential to change over the next couple of days. Due to a lack of time, I was unable to spend some honest time tweaking each game on each card to figure out its best playable result, so that will be taken care of after this review. If any of the ratings deserve to be changed, I’ll update the table below. Why would they have the potential to change? Simply because our benchmarked settings are sky-high; already inappropriate for such cards. Hence the need for further testing.

NVIDIA GeForce Series1080p1440p3440×14404K
TITAN XOverkillOverkillExcellentGreat
GeForce GTX 1080OverkillExcellentExcellentGood
GeForce GTX 1070ExcellentGreatGoodPoor
GeForce GTX 1060GreatGoodPoorPoor
GeForce GTX 1050 TiGoodPoorPoorPoor
GeForce GTX 1050PoorPoorPoorPoor
Overkill: 60 FPS? More like 100 FPS. As future-proofed as it gets.
Excellent: Surpass 60 FPS at high quality settings with ease.
Great: Hit 60 FPS with high quality settings.
Good: Nothing too impressive; it gets the job done (60 FPS will require tweaking).
Poor: Expect real headaches from the awful performance.

Writing this review has come down to the wire, so if you need clarification on something, or if I forgot something, please feel free to leave a comment and berate me. In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at our test system:

Graphics Card Test System
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-5960X (8-core) @ 4.0GHz
MotherboardASUS X99 DELUXE
MemoryKingston HyperX Beast 32GB (4x8GB) – DDR4-2133 11-12-11
GraphicsAMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB – Catalyst 16.5.3
AMD Radeon RX 460 2GB – Catalyst 16.10.2 Hotfix
AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB – Catalyst 16.6.2 Beta
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB – GeForce 365.22
NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN X 12GB – GeForce 365.22
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 4GB – GeForce 375.57 (Beta)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB – GeForce 368.64 (Beta)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GeForce 372.90 (ASUS Strix)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB – GeForce 368.19 (Beta)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB – GeForce 368.25
AudioOnboard
StorageKingston SSDNow V310 1TB SSD
Power SupplyCooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1300W
ChassisCooler Master Storm Trooper Full-Tower
CoolingThermaltake WATER3.0 Extreme Liquid Cooler
DisplaysAcer Predator X34 34″ Ultra-wide
Acer XB280HK 28″ 4K G-SYNC
ASUS MG279Q 27″ 1440p FreeSync
Et ceteraWindows 10 Pro (10586) 64-bit

Framerate information for all tests – with the exception of certain time demos and DirectX 12 tests – are recorded with the help of Fraps. For tests where Fraps use is not ideal, I use the game’s built-in test (the only option for DX12 titles right now). In the past, I’ve tweaked the Windows OS as much as possible to rule out test variations, but over time, such optimizations have proven fruitless. As a result, the Windows 10 installation I use is about as stock as possible, with minor modifications to suit personal preferences.

In all, I use 8 different games for regular game testing, and 3 for DirectX 12 testing. That’s in addition to the use of three synthetic benchmarks. Because some games are sponsored, the list below helps oust potential bias in our testing.

(AMD) – Ashes of the Singularity (DirectX 12)
(AMD) – Battlefield 4
(AMD) – Crysis 3
(NVIDIA) – Metro: Last Light Redux
(NVIDIA) – Rise Of The Tomb Raider (incl. DirectX 12)
(NVIDIA) – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(Neutral) – DOOM
(Neutral) – Grand Theft Auto V
(Neutral) – Total War: ATTILA

If you’re interested in benchmarking your own configuration to compare to our results, you can download this file (5MB) and make sure you’re using the exact same graphics settings. I’ll lightly explain how I benchmark each test before I get into each game’s performance results.

Note: For some reason, Hitman gave me unexpected results, so those were scrapped for this review. The same applies to power consumption; our test rig was drawing more power than usual, and I’m not sure why. Due to tight timing, I was not able to investigate before publishing.

Tests: Battlefield 4, Crysis 3 & DOOM

Battlefield 4

Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than most developers, the Battlefield series continues to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. While Battlefield 4 is growing a little long in the tooth, it’s still a great test at high resolutions.

Testing: The game’s Singapore level is chosen for testing, as it provides a lot of action that can greatly affect the framerate. The saved game we use starts us off on an airboat that we must steer towards shore, at which point a huge firefight commences. After the accompanying tank gets past a hump in the middle of the beach, the test is stopped.

Battlefield 4
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Battlefield 4 (1920x1080)

With Battlefield 1 having just been released, our beloved BF4 benchmark will soon go out to pasture. It seems a little inappropriate to finish our run with this game off with low-end cards, but at the same time, we’re still seeing about 60 FPS from both the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti, which is pretty impressive given we’re dealing with Ultra detail.

Despite being in a similar league, AMD’s RX 460 fell behind. Far behind. This is a theme I saw all throughout retesting. I had imagined that the performance would be very close between the two, but it feels like NVIDIA’s 2GB card handles tough situations a bit better than AMD’s.

Crysis 3

Like Battlefield 4, Crysis 3 is getting a little up there in years. Fortunately, though, that doesn’t matter, because the game is still more intensive than most current titles. Even though the game came out in 2013, if you’re able to equip Very High settings at your resolution of choice, you’re in a great spot.

Testing: The game’s Red Star Rising level is chosen for benchmarking here, with the lowest difficulty level chosen (dying during a benchmarking run is a little infuriating!) The level starts us out in a broken-down building and leads us down to a river, where we need to activate an alien device. Once this is done, the player is run back underneath a nearby roof, at which point the benchmark ends.

Crysis 3
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Crysis 3 (1920x1080)

Yet again, NVIDIA’s GTX 1050 jumps well ahead of AMD’s RX 460, although the performance between the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti is almost nonexistent. As mentioned on the first page, though, we’re using extremely high graphics settings across all of our games, so if you spend time tweaking, the differences will be more apparent (that will be tackled in a follow-up article).

DOOM

DOOM 3 was released a couple of months before Techgage launched (March 1, 2005, for the record), and it was a game featured in our GPU testing right from the get-go. For this reason, this latest DOOM feels a bit special, even though it follows DOOM 3 up eleven years later. As we hoped, the game proves to be more than suitable for GPU benchmarking.

Testing: Due to time constraints, an ideal level could not be chosen for benchmarking. Instead, our test location starts us off at the bottom of a short set of stairs early on in the game, where we must climb them, open up a door, and then go to a big room where demons are taken care of and the benchmark is stopped.

DOOM
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - DOOM (1920x1080)

The GTX 1050 Ti has no problem pushing DOOM beyond 60 FPS at 1080p, separating itself by a good margin from the non-Ti model. This is one of those games where a larger framebuffer can make a big difference, even at the modest resolution of 1080p. AMD’s RX 460 once again struggled hard. Note that Vulkan should improve that situation, but again, time prevented me from doing as much testing as I wanted to.

Tests: Grand Theft Auto V, Metro Last Light & Rise Of The Tomb Raider

Grand Theft Auto V

Does a game like this even need an introduction? Any Grand Theft Auto game on the PC is a ‘console port’, proven by the fact that it always comes to the PC long after the consoles, but Rockstar has at least done PC gamers a favor here by offering them an almost overwhelming number of graphical options to fine-tune, helping to make it suitable for benchmarking, especially at high resolutions.

Testing: The mission Repossession is chosen for testing here, with the benchmark starting as soon as our character makes his way to an unsuspecting car. The benchmark ends after a not-so-leisurely drive to a parking garage, right before a cutscene kicks in.

Grand Theft Auto V
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Grand Theft Auto V (1920x1080)

GTA V was kind to both of the new NVIDIA GPUs, but the same can’t be said for AMD’s RX 460, which couldn’t run the game at our usual settings without hard-locking the entire PC. That said, we’re using super-high settings here, so it wouldn’t take much effort to make it fully playable on that GPU. Again, due to time, I was unable to tackle that in time for this article, but plan to soon.

Metro Last Light Redux

Like a couple of other games in our stable, Metro Last Light might seem like an odd choice give its age. After all, the original version of the game came out in 2013, and its Redux version came out in late 2014. None of that matters, though, as the game is about as hardcore as it can get when it comes to GPU punishment.

Testing: The game’s built-in timedemo is used for testing here, which lasts 2m 40s. While the game can spit out its own results file, it’s horribly inaccurate, so Fraps is still used here.

Metro Last Light Redux
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Metro Last Light Redux (1920x1080)

Metro Last Light Redux is hardcore on all three of the GPUs in this segment; even the 1050 Ti struggled to hit 30 FPS. The framerates can be improved all around with some tweaking, but I am not confident that huge gains could be accomplished as we’re already not using top-end settings like we do for most games here. This game is simply brutal. Even the big boy GTX 1060 couldn’t hit 60 FPS.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider

Lara Croft has sure come a long way. The latest Tomb Raider iteration becomes one of the first titles on the market to support DirectX 12, but even without it, the game looks phenomenal at high detail settings (as the below screenshot can attest).

Testing: Geothermal Valley is the location chosen for testing with this title, as it features a lot shadows and a ton of foliage. From the start of our saved game, we merely walk down a fixed path for just over a minute and stop the benchmark once we reach a broken down bridge (the shot below is from the benchmarked area).

Rise of the Tomb Raider
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Rise Of The Tomb Raider (1920x1080)

RotTR is a perfect example of why a 2GB framebuffer is too small in 2016, even if we’re just dealing with 1080p. Both the GTX 1050 and RX 460 struggled hard with this title, with the Ti proving 13 FPS better than the non-Ti. Similar to Metro, you’re likely going to have a rough time achieving 60 FPS here, but to repeat what I said earlier: it’s probably best to not even consider 60 FPS a target.

Tests: The Witcher 3 & Total War: ATTILA

Since the original The Witcher title came out in 2007, the series has become one of the best RPGs going. Each one of the titles in the series offers deep gameplay, amazing locales, and comprehensive lore. Wild Hunt, the series’ third game, also happens to be one of the best-looking games out there and requires a beefy PC to take great advantage of.

Testing: Our saved game starts us just outside Hierarch Square, where we begin a manual runthrough (literally – the run button is held down as much as possible) through and around the town, to wind up back at a bridge near a watermill (pictured below). The entire runthrough takes about 90 seconds. Please note that while ‘Ultra’ detail is used, NVIDIA’s HairWorks is not.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt (1920x1080)

With as beautiful as The Witcher 3 is, it’s kind of surprising that we’re seeing these kinds of framerates from it. Sure, we’re not getting 60 FPS, but from hands-on testing, I can say that ~40 FPS is definitely playable. It’s not ideal, but we’re dealing with really affordable GPUs here. This performance still beats the pants off of current consoles.

Total War: ATTILA

For strategy fans, the Total War series needs no introduction. ATTILA is the latest in the series, which will remain true for only the next week, as Warhammer is due to launch. Thankfully, any recent Total War game is suitable for benchmarking, and our results are going to prove that.

Testing: ATTILA includes a built-in benchmark, so again, I’ve decided to use that. However, as I do with Metro, I stick to Fraps for framerate capturing as the game’s results page isn’t too convenient.

Total War ATTILA
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Total War ATTILA (1920x1080)

“But can it run ATTILA?” Seriously, this game is about as hardcore as it gets, as evidenced with the performance here. This kind of performance is actually playable given the nature of the game, but you don’t realistically need to deal with it: you can make a vast improvement by simply decreasing some of the settings. It seems very likely that you could achieve 60 FPS without making a severe impact to the quality.

Tests: Futuremark 3DMark, Unigine Heaven & Catzilla

Futuremark 3DMark

I don’t like to overdo “time demos”, but I do love running some hands-off benchmarks that you at home can run as well (provided you have a license) so that you can accurately compare your performance to ours. It goes without saying that any synthetic testing would have to include Futuremark, and in particular for high-end cards, 3DMark’s Fire Strike test.

3DMark includes a number of different game tests, but today’s graphics cards are so powerful, the Fire Strike test is really the only one that makes sense. At 1080p, even modest GPUs can deliver decent performance. A great thing about Fire Strike is that the official tests encompass three different resolutions, including 4K, making it perfect for our testing.

Futuremark 3DMark
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Futuremark 3DMark

3DMark backs up what we’ve seen throughout the entire review; the 1050 Ti falls well behind the RX 470, and both the Ti and non-Ti 1050s come well ahead of the RX 460.

Unigine Heaven

It’s hard to tell at this point if Heaven is ever going to see a new update, as it’s been quite a while since the last one, but what we have today is still a fantastic benchmark to run. That’s thanks to the fact that it’s free, an also because it can still prove so demanding on today’s highest-end GPUs. It’s also a great test for tessellation performance, as it lets you increase or decrease its intensity. For testing, I stick with ‘Normal’ tessellation.

Unigine Heaven
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Unigine Heaven

Unigine once again comes to the defense of 3DMark and some of our other benchmarks. The difference between the non-Ti and Ti 1050s is not great, but the Ti card is still much preferred given its larger framebuffer – something this test clearly doesn’t take too much advantage of.

Catzilla

Meow hear this: there’s a new benchmark in town that promises to be purrfect for testing 4K resolutions. So, that’s just what I’ve used it for. The test consists of a cat innocently roaming a street until chaos ensues. Before long, this feline is mowing down buildings with its laser eyes, destroying GPU performance at the same time.

Catzilla
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Catzilla 4K

It’d be a CATasrophe at this point of the review to have some irregular results, so fortunately, Catzilla keeps things in check. At the brutal resolution of 4K, I am lucky I didn’t short out our test rig for making the GPUs sweat so hard.

DirectX 12: Ashes & RotTR

DirectX 12 Testing

Considering the fact that we’ve been hearing about DirectX 12 for what feels like forever, it’s a little surprising that the number of DX12 titles out there remain few. Heck, one such game was Fable Legends, and that was shut down a few months ago. We’re definitely in the middle of a waiting game for more DX12 titles to get here, but thankfully, those that do exist now prove great for testing.

Of all the DirectX 12 games out there, Ashes of the Singularity takes the best advantage of its low-level API capabilities. As a strategy game, there could be an enormous number of AI bots on the screen at once, and in those cases, both the CPU and GPU can be used for computation.

I should be clear about one thing: low-level graphics APIs are designed to benefit low-end hardware better, but when we’re dealing with GPUs that cost hundreds of dollars, that rules that kind of test useless. For that reason, I’ve chosen to benchmark these three games as normal; the results might not be specific to low-level DX12 enhancements, but they’re still fair for comparisons against other high-end graphics cards.

Ashes of the Singularity
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Ashes Of The Singularity (DirectX 12)

Due to some irregularities, I had to scrap our Hitman test, and I almost came close to scrapping Ashes, as well. Simply put, 2GB framebuffers are not ideal. Due to their small size, Ashes forced itself to run at settings lower than what we normally use, but both the RX 460 and GTX 1050 defaulted to the exact same configuration. The 1050 Ti, with its beefier framebuffer, was able to run at the same settings as the higher-end cards.

That all said, we’re getting under 20 FPS for each card, so the results are pretty useless overall. DirectX 12 at Ultra detail is not suitable for anything but a high-end GPU.

So, how about Rise Of The Tomb Raider?

Rise of the Tomb Raider
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 & GTX 1050 Ti - Rise Of The Tomb Raider (DirectX 12)

I am surprised that RotTR ran so well given the hassles Ashes gave me. At high detail, all of the cards hovered around the 30 FPS mark, with the 1050 Ti reigning supreme at 36 FPS. What’s interesting about this is that during our manual real-world run of this game in DX11 mode, AMD’s RX 460 struggled hard – it fell 9 FPS short of the GTX 1050. It fares a lot better with the DX12 benchmark, doubling its framerate.

Final Thoughts

This is going to prove an easy conclusion to write, simply because we were so limited in what we could do with these low-end GPUs. After being spoiled by the likes of the RX 480 and higher, I admit it was quite the challenge to get these cards benchmarked even at the modest resolution of 1080p. The cards with 2GB framebuffers didn’t help matters any – nor did the fact that I created our test suite using super-high settings. In the future, I’ll be creating an entirely separate suite for lower-end GPUs so that our results are far more reasonable (and useful).

This is one of those occasions where I feel one of our “Best Playable” articles is truly needed, so over the course of the next few days, I’ll test all three of these lower-end cards more thoroughly to give you a better idea of what you should really expect. No one is going to opt for a game at 20 FPS, so I regret that some of our results are not too useful in their current state.

Fortunately, high settings or not, this apples-to-apples comparison paints some obvious pictures. First and foremost, we need 2GB framebuffers to disappear, and I hope this is the last GPU series that will include such cards. It’s been quite some time since I encountered errors in multiple titles due to a lacking framebuffer, and while I admit our game settings are quite high, errors due to the limited framebuffer at a modest resolution like 1080p is just disappointing.

MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti

So let’s tackle this one card at a time. Where does the GTX 1050 sit? Well, as we saw throughout our performance results, it sits well ahead of AMD’s RX 460 in most cases. Even though both cards have a 2GB framebuffer, NVIDIA’s card somehow handled strenuous situations much more elegantly. Rise of the Tomb Raider was truly painful to play on the RX 460, even worse than the framerates would suggest, and Grand Theft Auto V hard-locked our entire system.

AMD had to have known that the GTX 1050 was going to be competitive, as it sent out an email a few days ago telling us that the RX 460 has dropped $10, to $99. That makes it $10 less than the SRP of the GTX 1050, but given what we saw in our performance comparisons, even $99 is too high. That of course assumes that the GTX 1050 will actually be $109 when it hits etail. If every single GPU launch since the spring tells us anything, it’s that you’re not likely to only pay SRP. It could be that some vendors end up gouging with the GTX 1050’s pricing, which would make it harder for NVIDIA to kill off the RX 460.

If the GTX 1050 is so much better than the RX 460, its purchase is a no-brainer, right? Well, if you want to spend as little as possible for a current-gen card, yes. But if you have any respect for yourself, you should really consider splurging on the larger GTX 1050 Ti. A couple of years ago, a 2GB framebuffer wasn’t much of a limit for most people; it served its purpose. But today? Games are more advanced than ever, and even at 1080p, we ran into a number of issues directly related to the smaller framebuffer. NVIDIA’s card handles those rough situations better than AMD’s, somehow (could be drivers?), but it still felt painful to test. Even though the 1050 Ti packs in just 20% more cores, I felt like its doubling of the framebuffer made an even greater difference.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Promo Image

As covered on the first page, the GTX 1050 gets a “Poor” 1080p rating from us at the moment, although that might change once further testing is conducted (for a Best Playable article). Poor shouldn’t be taken as “bad”; it’s just that our goal is to always hit 60 FPS, and on that card, it’s going to be extremely difficult outside of highly optimized, simpler games. Hitting 60 FPS will be much easier on the Ti variant of the card.

Wrapping up, I’d recommend the GTX 1050 for those who want to get the cheapest current-gen card possible, and game at either lower than 1080p, or at 1080p but don’t mind sacrificing graphics and performance. I’d recommend the GTX 1050 Ti for those looking for a good 1080p option, who don’t want to splurge on something bigger, like the RX 470. However, if you can manage to find an RX 470 at its new suggested price of $169.99, it’d be well-worth coughing up the extra for, as it’s a lot faster than the GTX 1050 Ti, being a “Great” 1080p card, versus a “Good” one.

As always, etail pricing will alter the true value of these products, so hopefully all of our results in this review will help you make your decision. As mentioned a few times before, we’ll be following-up with a detailed look at the “Best Playable” results for each of these three GPUs, which could help you make an even more informed decision.

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