Another graphics launch so soon? No, you aren't seeing double. AMD and Nvidia have managed to roll out new mid-range graphics cards literally within days of each other. The two companies definitely aren't pulling their punches lately.
AMD threw a mean left hook last Friday with the Radeon HD 7790, which features a brand-new graphics processor and a price tag in the $149-159 range. The card isn't actually due out until early next month, but according to our testing, it trounces even the highest-clocked variants of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 650 Ti—which also happen to cost more. As icing on the cake, the 7790 will also come bundled with a free copy of BioShock Infinite when it hits stores. Not bad, huh?
Well, insert boxing metaphor here, folks, because here comes Nvidia's counterpunch. As of this morning, the GTX 650 Ti is yesterday's news. The new hotness is the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost, which promises better performance at a price tag only slightly higher than the Radeon HD 7790's. As you're about to discover, there's more to this card than the name suggests—and it's good news for gamers on a sub-$200 budget.
A wolf in sheep's clothing
The name "GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost" is pretty evocative for the technically inclined. One pictures a card very much like the GTX 650 Ti, still with a partially hobbled GK106 graphics processor, only this time with the same GPU Boost functionality as higher-end members of the GTX 600 series. Thanks to GPU Boost, one goes on to assume, the GTX 650 Ti Boost simply achieves a higher core clock speed than the GTX 650 Ti when thermal headroom allows. This offers a slight performance increase, perhaps just enough to even the contest with the Radeon HD 7790, which is faster than the standard 650 Ti.
That's partially true. But it's not the whole story.
In reality, the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost is much closer to a full-blown GeForce GTX 660. It has the same number of active ROP clusters, the same memory interface width, and the same two gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM. It also features the same clock speeds—980MHz base, 1033MHz Boost, and 1502MHz (or an effective 6008MT/s) for the GDDR5 memory. Even the reference board design is identical: 9.5" in length, with one PCI Express power connector and a dual-slot, single-fan cooler that stretches past a stubbier circuit board.
The only difference between the GTX 660 and the GTX 650 Ti Boost is that, in the latter, one of the GK106 graphics chip's five SMX units is disabled. As a result, the number of ALUs is cut from 960 to 768, and the number of texels filtered per clock is reduced from 80 to 64. The same goes for the vanilla GTX 650 Ti—but in that instance, Nvidia also lops off one of the 64-bit memory controllers and one of the ROP clusters. This leaves the GTX 650 Ti with a 128-bit memory interface and the ability to process only 16 pixels per clock. The 650 Ti Boost has the full 192-bit interface and can process 24 pixels per clock.
Nvidia uses a similar technique to pare down the GK106 chip for the GTX 650 Ti and GTX 650 Ti Boost. In both cases, the company can disable half of one of the two full-width GPCs, or it can prune the third, half-width GPC. Both methods result in the same number of units being disabled, and Nvidia claims there's no performance difference between the two. As we noted in our GTX 650 Ti review, this approach gives Nvidia flexibility when repurposing defective GK106 chips, whose flaws might be in different regions.
|GTX 650||1058||N/A||8||34/34||0.8||1.1||5.0 GT/s||80||$99.99|
|GTX 650 Ti||925||N/A||15||59/59||1.4||1.9||5.4 GT/s||86||$144.99|
|GTX 650 Ti Boost||980||1033||25||66/66||1.6||2.1||6.0 GT/s||144||$169.00|
|GTX 660||980||1033||25||83/83||2.0||3.1||6.0 GT/s||144||$214.99|
Here's how the GTX 650 Ti Boost compares to its compatriots. The $169 price tag is the official suggested e-tail price for the 2GB version of the card; the other prices were pulled from Newegg, where we sought the cheapest representative of each product.
As you can see, the 650 Ti Boost's peak rates come awfully close to those of the GTX 660. The new card's only handicaps are reduced shader performance, reduced texturing performance, and lower polygon throughput, which aren't huge compromises considering the wide price disparity.
Okay, so there is another slight compromise: the free-to-play credit Nvidia bundles with the 650 Ti Boost is worth only $75, or half of what you get with the GeForce GTX 660. The credit is split evenly between World of Tanks, Hawken, and PlanetSide 2, allowing you to buy items and add-ons in each game. It's not a bad deal for free-to-play junkies, but the credit does feel a little like a second-rate consolation prize compared to AMD's Never Settle Reloaded bundles. For only $10 more, the Radeon HD 7850 2GB includes free copies of Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite. And for $20 less, the Radeon HD 7790 ships with BioShock Infinite in the box—a far more exciting offer.
We're told you can expect to find GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost cards in stores starting today, which means Nvidia's counterpunch will actually beat the 7790 to the, uh, punch. Reference-clocked variants of the 650 Ti Boost will sell for $169, and so-called "superclocked" flavors should be available for a little more. If you don't mind waiting until next month, Nvidia says its partners will also sell 1GB versions of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost for only $149—the exact same price as the stock 7790. Methinks I smell a price war...