It’s been a long time since my last post, so here’s a new one to tell you I switched graphics cards from a GTX 760 to a GTX 1070.
All started when NVIDIA launched their first Pascal cards back at the start of this past summer. I was pretty serious about getting the amazing GTX 1070 (as powerful as the previous GTX 980ti, nonetheless!) once aftermarket cards became available and AMD had released their Polaris cards too, which I hoped would bring NVIDIA prices down a bit. Taking into account VAT, import taxes and everything, I was hoping GTX 1070 cards would be available for 400-ish euros. Around 410 or 420 was what I expected and the lower the better, of course.
I had never owned a card that expensive, but I thought the improvements this generation brought were worth it. I also planned to sell my old card on eBay to cover some costs (which I did, for around 75 euros). When the time came, the cards were much more expensive (they still are) and it seemed everybody was short on stock permanently. Prices were actually closer to 500 euros in many cases, at least in Spain, with some specific cards going over that figure.
Time passed and AMD released their RX480 cards, while NVIDIA released the GTX 1060 model to compete with them. Both were much more affordable while being incredibly powerful too. A GTX 1060 has similar performance to a GTX 980. RX480 cards had mixed performance. In many interesting old DX11 games performance was below a GTX 1060 and closer to a GTX 970 (which is still not bad at all). In some DX11 titles performance was more or less the same. In a few selected DX11 and most DX12 and Vulkan games performance was clearly superior to a GTX 1060 and closer to the GTX 1070.
So at the end of the summer I had the same doubt many other gamers were having, from what I’ve been reading: pondering if I should go for the RX480 (8GB version) or the GTX 1060 (6GB version). In Spain both cards were priced similarly with some stores having cheaper 1060 cards and others having cheaper RX480 cards, with both being no more than 20 euros apart. I read a lot about async compute, the state of Linux drivers, DX12, Vulkan, DX11 drivers, etc. My take from everything I read? NVIDIA, for all practical purposes, supports async compute even if their solution relies a bit more on software than hardware at this point. We still need more samples from games and comparisons are not totally fair at the time I’m writing this.
For example, Vulkan is noticeably faster in Doom using a GTX 1070, but only when the frame rate is incredibly high and you start to be constrained by CPU performance. Back to the RX480 and GTX 1060, OpenGL performance with NVIDIA drivers was already stellar, so it’s harder to notice the difference. Vulkan performance also improved when NVIDIA released new drivers with support for a newer version of the Vulkan API. And Doom still does not support NVIDIA intrinsic shaders while it supports AMD ones, so it’s hard to tell which card is better. Games implementing DX12 so far have been problematic too, with many of them being traditionally AMD-centric or having inferior performance when compared to DX11. Again, hard to compare. Also, NVIDIA cards in general have less compute performance when compared to AMD cards, but more texel performance. In other words, NVIDIA cards should be slower at shaders but noticeably faster at geometry and texturing. It’s hard to find the sweet spot and performance varies from game to game.
I finally reverted back to my initial plan and got a GTX 1070 for several reasons. First off, a decent aftermarket GTX 1070 was temporarily available in Spain for 420 euros for several days, so I took that chance to grab one. I’m going to use it to play a lot of already-released OpenGL or DX11 games, like The Witcher 3, Arkham Knight, Far Cry 4 and Primal, Fallout 4, etc. Support for the card was already available in NVIDIA drivers for Linux, while AMD support has been introduced more slowly, albeit in a better way (kernel version 4.8 was the best choice but was only released for Fedora 24 last week). 3D performance with open source drivers will be much better with Mesa 12.1, but that’s yet to be released officially and pushed to Fedora. Also, a GTX 1070 uses about the same amount of power as an RX480. In that aspect, NVIDIA cards are more efficient.
That’s more or less why I stayed on “Team Green” like I’ve done since the days of Voodoo cards, but I’m not an NVIDIA fan by any means. In general, I’m not a fan of any brand at all, in any market. I don’t look at the brand stickers on the things I buy, but I do mind their performance, features and price. In fact, being a FOSS enthusiast, I can only congratulate AMD for releasing a phenomenal card like the RX480, improving Mesa and getting support for their cards integrated in the Linux kernel as fast as they did. It’s really amazing. I’m crossing my fingers for them and I sincerely hope Zen ends up being a very nice CPU line that brings some needed competition to Intel. And the same goes for Vega cards and NVIDIA. I’ve owned several AMD Athlon processors in the past, and I look forward to building an all-AMD computer in the future with nice FOSS drivers for Linux and very decent drivers for Windows. They’re definitely on the right path as of now and it’s better for everybody if they stay on it.