It’s fair to say my history with purchasing graphics cards is a short one. Starting with a R9 280X, I quickly moved to a GTX 970 before the memory scandal fell into the public eye. With the start of a new year at university I and my friend decided to buy ourselves the mandatory ‘one huge item and feel the consequences later’ and bought myself a Zotac GTX 1070 with him buying a Powercolor GTX 1080. This is not a hit piece. I love it. It’s quieter than my 970 thanks to two fans and provides over twice the power in sheer memory. Running games in 1920X1200p I needed something with a lot of thump, and him the same reasoning with his 1440p setup.
This piece is more an informative measure. I want to give you an overview of things I have taken note of after 4 months of gaming it near daily. I hope with this it will inform your decision of purchasing a powerhouse graphics card, whether convincing you that you need one in your life or that you can spend that saved money elsewhere.
1. I have not pushed the card to its limit yet
As stated earlier, the reasoning for purchasing these cards was to get the best possible experience at our respective resolutions. Despite this, neither of us have a game yet which has pushed the card to its full limit. Even newer games like Watch Dogs 2 with its incredible depth in graphical options barely pushed 5GB out of my card when ramped up. While this makes me pretty happy in my future-proofing, taking it off my mind and letting me focus on my next upgrade (my CPU) it is at this current point wasted money and a 1060 would have likely provided the same experience for less cost.
Believe me I tried, I went through the usual process of benchmarking the card in as many games as I could. I even tried supersampling Payday 2 up to 4K, but this caused my computer to blue screen and die so I naturally have never done this again.
2. Throwing power at a problem can solve most problems, but never all of them
It is fair to say a lot of games come to PC horribly optimised. Looking few my Steam Library, I see several I own from pre-purchasing games with wild abandon: Batman: Arkham Knight; Homefront: The Revolution and No Man’s Sky to name a few. Yet with the 1070 these problems just disappear. All these games can be pushed to max settings and run at a smooth 60fps, and the worry of poor optimisation just disappears…
…mostly. Games do not simply ‘get better’ with more power, and while some poor graphical optimisation can be ignored with the extra power, some is just unredeemable. Batman: Arkham Knight, while running at max settings still cannot run the Nvidia special graphical settings without tanking. Even some older games such as Payday 2 still fails to run at 60fps smoothly as the game is just too much of a mess. While the layman idea of ‘give it more juice’ works it is not a perfect solution to your poor optimisation problems.
3. Bottlenecks are likely.
I openly admit that when I built my system it was as ‘bang-for-buck’ as I could make it, going so far as to make silly mistakes such as buying a 60GB SSD which filled quickly and buying an AMD processor meaning I still run DDR3 RAM which will need replacing when the processor is upgraded.
And that processor (FX 8350) is where my current issue lies. While the throttling is minor, losing me a couple frames every now and then, it’s still present and I now am paying the price for cheaping out, forcing myself to hold out until Ryzen to see if I am sticking with AMD or switching to Intel.
4. You best have plenty of room and plenty of cooling
The Zotac GTX 1070 is a big card. Zotac took the initiative of adding three fans and a massive cooling plate to it for which I am eternally grateful.
Despite this, the beast will heat up quickly and while it is not the turbine that the 970 was it is still quite loud. Combined with the fact it barely (not an understatement) fits in the case it is a giant bar of heat which goes up to my CPU, not helping the bottleneck issue.
I did predict that this was an issue and pre-emptively bought two silent running fans to draw air out the top of the case, solving most of the issue. But you will have to start thinking about cooling if you haven’t already. My friend went the whole step and bought a water cooler for his CPU, drawing the heat straight out of the case and cooling the 1080 with fans, a step I might consider in the future. Ensure that the card fits in your case before you buy it, and ensure that you don’t create one huge thermal throttle.
5. You can buy them ‘relatively’ cheap.
The Zotac GTX 1070 I bought sells for around £410. I bought mine for £325.
How? I bought it at clearance. The exterior aesthetic box was torn and on that I saved £85. I would have saved more, there was an MSI Armor version selling for £300 but I wasted time worrying about making such a large purchase and as such it was bought before I finalised my decision. That brings the price down close to the higher cost 1060 cards, meaning a few coins more can get you a lot more power.
So there you have it. These are just a few things to think about. Buying a bigger, better card requires some thought. But once its running you will understand how good PC gaming can be, and why many people make the switch to it.
But I am biased. I do have a 1070.