The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti Review, Feat. Gigabyte, Zotac, & EVGAby Ryan Smith on October 9, 2012 9:00 AM EST
With every launch of a GeForce 600 series card NVIDIA has had a specific market target in mind. Typically those targets intersect or undercut an AMD market, and while AMD has not been caught off-guard with subsequent launches like they were the launch of the GTX 680, NVIDIA has so far managed to stay on equal or better footing as AMD. Or at least that was the case until today with the launch of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti.
To be clear, the GeForce GTX 650 Ti as it’s configured does not have a direct competitor, and this is something NVIDIA specifically planned for. At $149 it’s squeezed in between the Radeon HD 7770 and the Radeon HD 7850, which happens to be a rather wide performance gap. Under normal circumstances this would be a very good plan, as it means NVIDIA can tap a market segment that AMD wasn’t adequately serving before, while at the same time direct avoiding competition with AMD. But such a plan relies on AMD not making an aggressive move in return.
To that end if AMD had done nothing we would be talking about how the GTX 650 Ti is an excellent fit for the market at $150, and a solid step up from its predecessor the GTX 550 Ti. Instead AMD and their partners executed on the Radeon HD 7850 not a price cut, chopping $20 off of the price of a Radeon HD 7850 and bringing out further 1GB models to bolster their closest GTX 650 Ti competitor. So often we talk about the significance of $20 in the sub-$200 market, and this is another one of those cases.
The fact of the matter is that from a price/performance perspective the $149 GTX 650 Ti 1GB is not competitive enough with the $169 Radeon HD 7850 1GB. At its best the GTX 650 Ti can match the 7850, and at its worse it can only keep up with a 7770. The end result is that most of the time the GTX 650 Ti is going to lose to the 7850 by more than the 13% price difference between the two, which means that NVIDIA is coming up short even if they are the cheaper option.
Instead we fall back to that old maxim, “there’s no such thing as a bad product, only a bad price”. For the GTX 650 Ti to be a competitive success it needs to come down in price in response to the lower price of the 7850. The fact that NVIDIA added an Assassin’s Creed III bundle is likely an attempt to subvert a proper price cut, and while we’re big fans of game bundles it’s not the same as a price cut. If NVIDIA could cut even $10 off of the price of the GTX 650 Ti they could escape the 7850’s shadow and at the same time return the favor to AMD by putting pressure on the 7770. As it stands today the GTX 650 Ti only makes real sense for buyers who absolutely cannot go over $149, and they’re going to have to give up a lot of performance as a result.
Ultimately, to NVIDIA’s credit the GTX 650 Ti is a perfectly competent card at 1680x1050, which is right where you’d expect a 650 series part to be. The performance is right for that segment and the power consumption taken in light of the 7850 is very impressive. But AMD rules from the price/performance perspective, and in the meantime that power advantage just isn’t enough when both cards are sub-150W cards. As we’ve seen time and time again, and as the last thing we’ll see in 2012, when it comes to mainstream cards $20 makes all the difference in the world. For NVIDIA it’s the sole reason that Ti is not Au.
Finally, let’s talk about our factory overclocked retail cards for a bit. With the exception of the Gigabyte Windforce card, most of these retail cards are going to go with designs similar to the NVIDIA reference design, and accordingly they’re going to perform similarly. This is not a bad thing as the NVIDIA reference design is quite good, but it does make life a bit harder for NVIDIA’s partners as they have to compete on non-benchmark attributes like software and warranties as opposed to raw performance.
The biggest problem the partners will face is that while their factory overclocked cards are a good 10%+ faster than reference clocked cards, they’re running headlong into that $169/$189 wall imposed by the 7850. The added performance gets neutralized by the added cost, keeping them on the same price/performance curve as the reference clocked GTX 650 Ti. The end result is that while the factory overclocked cards we’ve looked at today are worth the premium, buyers are still better off with (and are now closer to) the 7850.
Ignoring for a moment the fact that not every partner will make their factory overclocked SKUs available in both a 1GB version and a 2GB version, of all the cards we’ve looked at there is a clear winner in Zotac’s GeForce GTX 650 Ti AMP! 2GB card. It has the best balance of power consumption, temperature, and noise under both stock and overclocked conditions, plus it has one of the best overclocks; all of which is enough to justify the $10 price premium over a standard 2GB card. Gigabyte’s card also looks interesting due to the sheer size of the Windforce cooler, though in our experience a manual fan curve might be necessary to find the best balance between noise and temperature, as the card shouldn’t need to get that loud to keep up with the relatively low power consumption of the GTX 650 Ti GPU.
Of course all of these projections are made with respect to stock performance. If our results are anywhere close to what other retail cards do – and we believe they are – then overclocking is going to be extremely similar across all cards, regardless of a factory overclock or not. For buyers who do intend to overclock it’s a safe bet to say that they’d best be served by an at-MSRP reference clocked card, where they can achieve the same impressive results while pocketing the extra $10. And since most partners are using the same coolers for both their reference clocked and factory overclocked cards this makes choosing such a card a fairly easy process.