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Thunder and Lighting: The GTX 1080, 1070 and (maybe) 1060


Things may have slowed down quite a bit on the silicon front for the last few years, but that should not leave us with a false sense of security. Sure, Intel is so far in the lead that there is nothing really pushing them to give us more than a few percent extra performance every year, but in the GPU space the competition is red hot.

Everyone has been eagerly awaiting the new Polaris architecture from AMD, but it was Pascal from Nvidia that stole all the thunder with a recent mega reveal.

We have two new high-end cards and one mid-range number on the cards here. About the first two we know quite a lot, since Nvidia is ready to launch and gave us the goods already. The 1060 is more of a mystery, but we’ll get to that later.

The 900-series has been a huge success in terms of performance and few people thought that the next generation would be a major improvement. The 970 in particular has proven to be a sweet spot card that we originally recommended to just about everyone and their dog. The game has now well and truly changes so read on, if you dare.

The 1080
Despite the name this card is not for 1080p gaming, The GTX 1080 brings us most of a Pascal core with 2560 CUDA cores running at 1.6Ghz with a boost clock of 1.733Ghz. This blows the 980 and Titan X out of the water. The 8GB of GDDR5X has 10 Gbps memory bandwidth, which is 3Gbps more than either the 980 or Titan X.

Is the 1080 faster than a Titan X? You betcha, according to Nvidia. For VR as much as twice as fast and in general about 1.6 the performance. All while only needing a 500W PSU.

The reason why the 1080 has leaped so far forward is that several simultaneous improvements all converging in one product. The most significant is the jump to a 16nm FinFET process that shrinks the transistors, improves performance and cuts down on power consumption. Nvidia says the 1080 is three times more power efficient than the Titan.

Maybe this isn’t too much of a big deal for those of us with desktop computers that don’t care too much about TDP, but the 900 series has already shown us that it is possible to have desktop-class GPU power in a portable computer. This new generation is even more power efficient, so expect to see some monster laptop performance.

The most surprising thing about the 1080 is probably its price. At $600 it is still pricey, but not Titan X pricey. It will be released on 27 May 2016.

The 1070 and 1060
We don’t know quite as much about the GTX 1070. It seems that it too will outperform a Titan X, but not by much. Think of it as a Titan X for GTX 970 money and you’ll know why we think this is probably the most exciting chip heading to the market. It may be another reason why the GTX 1080 is releasing first. There’s a good chance that the 1070 will eat the 1080’s lunch in the same way that the 970 did. At about $350 you can almost buy two 1070s for the price of a 1080. With the lower PSU requirements a SLI setup starts to look mighty attractive. The 1070 will be out June 10.

What about the 1060? There has been no official release about this card, but we know it is coming. Will it be Pascal-based? It seems that it will be powered by the GP206 to replace the current Maxwell cards. The speculation is that this card will have about 1280 Pacal CUDA cores. That’s less than the 1664 CUDA cores of the GTX970, but the 970 tops out at 1178Mhz GPU clock. If the 1060 has the same 1.7Ghz GPU clock and 10Gbps GDDR5X memory as the two higher cards it could match or slightly exceed the 970.

It would not be surprising to see this card in the $200 sweet spot or close to it. So it may actually turn out to be a significant product.

Big Red
Before we get too excited, don’t forget that AMD still has to release Polaris. They have of course said that Polaris is not a flagship product, but in the light of NVidia’s mic-dropping announcement it seems unlikely that AMD won’t respond.

One thing is for sure though, this is the most exciting time for GPU consumers since the release of the 8800 series cards, which is the last time there was a comparable generational leap.