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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  • chizow - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    On second glance, the AC3 bundle makes the $150 MSRP palatable. While I agree a straight MSRP or $20 MIR at the $130 price point would have been more preferable for many, a bonafide AAA title like Assassin's Creed 3 prior to release is suitable currency. Market value for the game code is at least $20-30 (going by historic FS/Ebay prices of similar AAA title Steam codes) and up to $50-60 for anyone who was going to buy the game at release anyways.

    Personally I'm shocked Nvidia would bundle a such a relevant game code like this with a value part in the $150 price market. Hopefully the generosity filters upward to the GTX 660 and above as the 660 never got a bundle and the BL2 promo on 660Ti and faster parts seems to have dried up at most retailers.
    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    Ok and what happens after you beat AC3? You get a card that tanks in GPU demanding games.

    7850's minimum frames rates are nearly as high as average framerates in games like Crysis 1/2, Skyrim, Witcher 2.

    http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/graphics/2012/10/...

    You buy a GPU to play 100s of games not 1 game. NV bundled a game on purpose so people would use this argument that well the card is $150 but you get a $50 with it. That's marketing right there. It's still a $150-170 card (if we include after-market versions) that has far slower performance than $160-190 competitor.

    I think $129 would have been a far more reasonable price. Instead, NV delivered a card that has worse price/performance than either the 7770 or the 7850. And if we take 7850's overclocking into consideration, well then it's a total blowout as 7850 OC ~ HD7870/GTX580 in performance.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    "Ok and what happens after you beat AC3? You get a card that tanks in GPU demanding games."

    You still have a card that is $30-$50 cheaper than its MSRP because of the bundled AC3, so while it may not have been worthwhile at $150-$170, it would certainly justify its $120-$140 pricetag.

    Whether you care to admit it or not, AC3 is a valid form of currency as by definition, currency is simply a medium for exchange. We're not talking about games nobody cares about here (See: Gaming Evolved titles), we're talking about some of the most anticipated games of the year on any platform with BL2 and AC3, bundled PRIOR to release while they are still relevant.

    If you were in the market for AC3, you saved $50. If you don't care for AC3, you will be able to easily unload it for ~$30. That effectively reduces the price of the card from $150-$170 to $120-$140.
    Reply
  • Blazorthon - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    *wrong post with this above, oops*

    Don't forget, the 7850 comes with games and so does the 7770. Coming with a game is necessary just to compete right now. The 7770 also has some highly factory overclocked models that can inch out the 650 Ti while still being cheaper. The 650 Ti 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.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    The 7770 is bundled with Nexuiz....seriously why even bother mentioning it? What would you value Nexuiz at? $5? $10?

    Sleeping Dogs with the higher-end AMD cards is decent, still not as strong as Nvidia's BL2 promo, but yeah we are talking about AC3 here which will undoubtedly be a top 5 title for this holiday season.

    The 650Ti has some OC'd models as well that bring it close in performance to the 7850 1GB, but of course, the 7850 distances itself again once OC'd. As I said, a $15-20 price drop would certainly make more sense for the 650Ti and I'm sure we'll start seeing some rebates in a few weeks as all of the higher-end GeForce models have started seeing them in recent weeks.
    Reply
  • hqt4991 - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    I don't know about you, but I am quite unsure that nobody cares about Far Cry 3, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, DiRT 3, Dragon Age 2, Saints Row The Third, the Tomb Raider remake or (especially) Bioshock Infinite. I know I do.

    On topic, I agree with Ryan. The 650 Ti isn't strictly a bad card, just that it doesn't make any sense to choose it over the 7850, unless you are absolutely cash-strapped.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    Here's the difference between those games you listed and the two latest promos from Nvidia:

    I would actually pay full retail price for BL2 and AC3 and did actually have BL2 pre-ordered prior to Nvidia's promo.

    All the games you listed for Gaming Evolved I would pass on at launch or wait until they were $10 or less in a Steam sale. That's not to say they are bad titles and some may certainly feel differently, but to me and I'm sure many others, they do not carry the same value or currency as the last few games offered by Nvidia.

    Also, afaik, only Sleeping Dogs was offered by AMD as a promo bundle, so until they start bundling some of the better GE titles there's really not much of a comparison to make.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - link

    "I would actually pay full retail price for BL2 and AC3 and did actually have BL2 pre-ordered prior to Nvidia's promo."
    So why are you two arguing about your video game taste? Someone values AC3 higher, someone values SD higher. It's a personal thing. I don't want either of those and am not a big fan of bundled software. So no added game would be a plus in my book.
    Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, October 11, 2012 - link

    Because video game tastes are a direct function of demand. I'm not just referring to my own video game taste, I'm making the point that AC3 is going to appeal to far more gamer's video game tastes which equates to higher demand for it at launch, and by extension, it's buy and sell price and demand will be much higher than any Gaming Evolved titles bundled with AMD cards.

    That brings us full circle to the comment he took issue with about games nobody cares about, its all about relevance and those games he listed are much less relevant to the vast majority of gamers, plain and simple.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    Dirt3 is an amd promo bundle game, and my amd total fanboy buddy just said tonight he hates it because after you install it in order to get the real game you have to go buying all their packs and upgrades spending a buttload of money so it's nothing but crap.

    So there we have the amd marketing kickback extra expense for the disappointed amd penny pinching moaning poor boy amd fan...
    LOL

    It's funny because it's 100% true but also so freakin sad.
    Reply

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