The 2GB Question & The Test

If it seems to like 1GB+ video cards have been common for ages now, you wouldn’t be too far off. 1GB cards effectively became mainstream in 2008 with the release of the 1GB Radeon HD 4870, which was followed by 2GB cards pushing out 1GB cards as the common capacity for high-end cards in 2010 with the release of the Radeon HD 6970. Since then 2GB cards have been trickling down AMD and NVIDIA’s product stacks while at the same time iGPUs have been making the bottoms of those stacks redundant.

For this generation AMD decided to make their cutoff the 7800 series earlier this year; the 7700 series would be 1GB by default, while the 7800 series and above would be 2GB or more. AMD has since introduced the 7850 1GB as a niche product (in large part to combat the GTX 650 Ti), but the 7850 is still predominantly a 2GB card. For NVIDIA on the other hand the line is being drawn between the GTX 660 and GTX 650; the GTX 660 is entirely 2GB, while the GTX 650 and GTX 650 Ti are predominantly 1GB cards with some 2GB cards mixed in as a luxury option.

The reason we bring this up is because while this is very clear from a video card family perspective, it doesn’t really address performance expectations. Simply put, at what point does a 2GB card become appropriate? When AMD or NVIDIA move a whole product line the decision is made for you, but when you’re looking at a split product like the GTX 650 Ti or the 7850 then the decision is up to the buyer and it’s not always an easy decision.

To try to help with that decision, we’ve broken down the performance of several games on both cards with both 1GB and 2GB models, listing the performance of 2GB cards relative to 1GB cards. By looking for performance advantages, we can hopefully better quantify the benefits of a 2GB card.

Regardless of whether we’re looking at AMD or NVIDIA cards, there’s only one benchmark where 2GB cards have a clear lead: Skyrim at 1920 with the high resolution texture pack. For our other 9 games the performance difference is miniscule at best.

But despite the open-and-shut nature of our data we’re not ready to put our weight behind these results. Among other issues, our benchmark suite is approaching a year old now, which means it doesn’t reflect on some of the major games released in the past few months such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Borderlands 2, DiRT: Showdown, or for that matter any one of the number of games left to be released this year. While we have full confidence in our benchmark suite from a competitive performance perspective, the fact that it’s not forward looking (and mostly forward rendering) does a disservice to measuring the need for additional memory.

The fact of the matter is that while the benchmarks don’t necessarily show it, along with Skyrim we’ve seen Crysis clobber 1GB cards in the past, Shogun II’s highest settings won’t even run on a 1GB card, and at meanwhile Battlefield 3 scales up render distance with available video memory. Nearly half of our benchmark games do benefit from 2GB cards, a subjective but important quality.

So despite the fact that our data doesn’t immediately show the benefits of 2GB cards, our thoughts go in the other direction. As 2012 comes to a close, cards that can hit the GTX 650 Ti’s performance level  are not well equipped for future with only 1GB of VRAM. 1GB is the cheaper option – and at these prices every penny counts – but it is our belief that by this time next year 1GB cards will be in the same place 512MB cards were in 2010: bottlenecked by a lack of VRAM. We have reached that point where if you’re going to be spending $150 or more that you shouldn’t be settling for a 1GB card; this is the time where 2GB cards are going to become the minimum for performance gaming video cards.

The Test

NVIDIA’s GTX 650 Ti launch driver is 306.38, which are a further continuation of the 304.xx branch. Compared to the previous two 304.xx drivers there are no notable performance changes or bug fixes that we’re aware of.

Meanwhile on the AMD side we’re using AMD’s newly released 12.9 betas. While these drivers are from a new branch, compared to the older 12.7 drivers the performance gains are minimal. We have updated our results for our 7000 series cards, but the only difference as it pertains to our test suite is that performance in Shogun II and DiRT 3 is slightly higher than with the 12.7 drivers.

On a final note, AMD sent over XFX’s Radeon HD 7850 1GB card so that we had a 1GB 7850 to test with (thanks guys). As this is not a new part from a performance perspective (see above) we’re not doing anything special with this card beyond including it in our charts as validation of the fact that the 1GB and 2GB 7850s are nearly identical outside of Skyrim.

CPU: Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.3GHz
Motherboard: EVGA X79 SLI
Chipset Drivers: Intel 9.​2.​3.​1022
Power Supply: Antec True Power Quattro 1200
Hard Disk: Samsung 470 (256GB)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3-1867 4 x 4GB (8-10-9-26)
Case: Thermaltake Spedo Advance
Monitor: Samsung 305T
Video Cards: AMD Radeon HD 5770
AMD Radeon HD 6850
AMD Radeon HD 7770
AMD Radeon HD 7850 1GB
AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 305.37
NVIDIA ForceWare 306.23 Beta
NVIDIA ForceWare 306.38 Beta
AMD Catalyst 12.9 Beta
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

 

Meet The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti OC 2GB Windforce Crysis: Warhead
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  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    Oh there's the amd fanboy bloviating spew I predicted above you responded to ! LOL I cannot frikkin believe it, I got it exactly correct without looking ! Here I will FTFamd fanboy

    " Don't forget, the 650Ti comes with a game and so does the 560Ti. Coming with a game is necessary just to compete right now. The 460 also has some highly factory overclocked models that can smash out the 7770 while still being cheaper. The 7850 would do better at $10 or $20 lower and a MIR is a great way to accomplish that since a lot of people forget to do them anyway, but buy the card because of the after MIR price. ( I love ripoff MIR because I am an idiot shining on for corpo pig profits I hate so much).
    Reply
  • ionis - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - link

    2 of the 17 2GB 7850s on newegg comes with a game. I didn't bother checking the 1GB, b/c who cares about the 1GB? To say they comes with a game is a bit disingenuous. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    It's okay all the amd fanboys can get the lowest low down 1GB now at the cited lowdown more expensive price, that doesn't matter when they are making their arguments for amd fanboyism.

    Two seconds later they will be screaming the 7850 is future proof with 2g ram so F orget the 650Ti, it is also the best deal againbecause amd roxxors.

    So 1gb price, and magically in the deranged gourd of the amd fanboy 2G card is futureproof.
    That is the amd fanboy brain after it exited the blender 20 years ago.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Saturday, October 13, 2012 - link

    The 7850 is a better choice for one freaking big reason you Cerise wouldn't be able to see because you're blinded with green glasses. When you buy a 7850 you always have the choice to go crossfire in the future which is something that happens often in the enthusiast world.

    Usually GTX is branded for the enthusiast market and reffered as the better cards from Nvidia but hey, where is my SLI connector? Oh... there's none... they had to cut it for cost purposes, that's what Nvidia claims..... First time in history a GTX card comes without one... you're so stubborn you can't even see any downside when they're OBVIOUS..... HELL even half of the radeon 7770 comes with Crossfire support and some of them costs 120$...
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    I see what you did there... Reply
  • Denithor - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    I caught that too. Thought it was cute but kinda silly.

    Wonder how much of the target audience got it?
    Reply
  • Exodite - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    I'd wager most of the AT readers passed middle school chemistry. :P Reply
  • Paulman - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - link

    Exodite is right. Also, nerds love memorizing trivia (and the periodic table definitely counts). Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    I'll wager if that's minimally true we've got a dumber group than the general populace.
    Since the idiots group think yours was a great line, the above may in fact be the case.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    As indicated in the review, the 650Ti fills the huge gap in performance between the 7850/GTX 660 and 7770/GTX 650, its price just needs to be adjusted in light of AMD's pre-emptive cuts on the 7850. Once we start seeing ~$20 rebates similar to those we see for the 7850, the 650Ti should be a more appealing option in the sub-$150 range.

    I also think Nvidia missed an opportunity here by turning off Boost for sub-660 parts. It's just inconsistent with the rest of the Kepler line and while it allows partners to benefit on OC parts, they are clearly charging an additional premium instead of offering it at MSRP like past parts such as EVGA FPB.

    Most interesting to me seeing how these bandwidth neutered parts perform is how shading/backend performance has caught up and is generally no longer the biggest bottleneck; bandwidth tends to hold these cards back more often than not compared to their bigger siblings even at modest resolutions like 1080p.
    Reply

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