To get our weekly geekiness quota out of the way early, the desktop video card industry is a lot like The Force. There are two sides constantly at odds with each other for dominance of the galaxy/market, and balance between the two sides is considered one of the central tenants of the system. Furthermore when the system isn’t in balance something bad happens, whether it’s galactic domination or uncompetitive video card prices and designs.

To that end – and to bring things back to a technical discussion – while AMD and NVIDIA’s ultimate goals are to rule the video card market, in practice they serve to keep each other in check and keep the market as a whole balanced. This is accomplished by their doing what they can to offer similarly competitive video cards at most price points, particularly the sub-$300 market where the bulk of all video card sales take place. On the other hand when that balance is disrupted by the introduction of a new GPU and/or new video card, AMD and NVIDIA will try to roll out new products to restore that balance.

This brings us to the subject of today’s launch. Friday saw the launch of AMD’s Radeon HD 7790, a $149 entry-level 1080p card based on their new Bonaire GPU. AMD had for roughly the last half-year been operating with a significant price and performance gap between their 7770 and 7850 products, leaving the mid-$100 market open to NVIDIA’s GTX 650 Ti. With the 7790 AMD finally has a GTX 650 Ti competitor and more, and left unchallenged this would mean AMD would control the market between $150 and $200.

NVIDIA for their part has no interest in letting AMD take that piece of the market without a fight, and as such will be immediately countering with a new video card: the GTX 650 Ti Boost. Launching today, the GTX 650 Ti Boost is based on the same GK106 GPU as the GTX 650 Ti and GTX 660, and is essentially a filler card to bridge the gap between them. By adding GPU boost back into the mix and using a slightly more powerful core configuration, NVIDIA intends to plug their own performance gap and at the same time counter AMD’s 7850 and 7790 before the latter even reaches retail. It’s never quite that simple of course, but as we’ll see the GTX 650 Ti Boost does indeed bring some balance back to the Force.

NVIDIA GPU Specification Comparison
  GTX 660 GTX 650 Ti Boost GTX 650 Ti GTX 550 Ti
Stream Processors
960
768
768
192
Texture Units
80
64
64
32
ROPs
24
24
16
16
Core Clock
980MHz
980MHz
925MHz
900MHz
Boost Clock
1033MHz
1033MHz
N/A
N/A
Memory Clock
6.008GHz GDDR5
6.008GHz GDDR5
5.4GHz GDDR5
4.1GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width
192-bit
192-bit
128-bit
192-bit
VRAM
2GB
1GB/2GB
1GB/2GB
1GB
FP64
1/24 FP32
1/24 FP32
1/24 FP32
1/12 FP32
TDP
140W
134W
110W
116W
GPU
GK106
GK106
GK106
GF116
Architecture
Kepler
Kepler
Kepler
Fermi
Transistor Count
2.54B
2.54B
2.54B
1.17B
Manufacturing Process
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 40nm
Launch Price $229 $149/$169 $149 $149

When NVIDIA produced the original GTX 650 Ti, they cut down their GK106 GPU by a fairly large degree to reach the performance and power levels we see with that card. From 5 SMXes and 3 ROP/Memory partitions, GK106 was cut down to 4 SMXes and 2 ROP partitions, along with having GPU boost removed and overall clockspeeds lowered. In practice this left a pretty big gap between the GTX 650 Ti and the GTX 660, one which AMD’s 7850 and now their 7790 serve to fill.

Despite the name GTX 650 Ti Boost, it’s probably more meaningful to call NVIDIA’s new card the GTX 660 light. The GTX 650 Ti Boost restores many of the cuts NVIDIA made for the GTX 650 Ti; this latest 650 has the core clockspeed, memory clockspeed, GPU boost functionality, and ROP partitions of the GTX 660. In fact the only thing differentiating the GTX 660 from the GTX 650 Ti Boost is a single SMX; the GTX 650 Ti Boost is still a 4 SMX part, and this is what makes it a 650 in NVIDIA’s product stack (note that this means GTX 650 Ti Boost parts will similarly have either 2 or 3 GPCs depending on which SMX is cut). Because clockspeeds are identical to the GTX 660, the GTX 650 Ti Boost will be shipping at 980MHz for the base clock, 1033MHz for the boost clock, and 6GHz for the memory clock.

The result of this configuration is that the GTX 650 Ti Boost is much more powerful than the name would let on, and in practice is closer to the GTX 660 in performance than it is the GTX 650 Ti. Compared to the GTX 650 Ti, the GTX 650 TI Boost has just 106% of the shading/texturing/geometry throughput, but due in large part to the return of the 3rd ROP partition, ROP throughput has been boosted to 159%. Meanwhile thanks to the combination of higher memory clocks and the full 192bit memory bus, memory bandwidth has been increased to 166% of the GTX 650 Ti’s. Or compared to a GTX 660, the GTX 650 Ti Boost has 100% the ROP throughput, 100% the memory bandwidth, and 80% of the shading/texturing/geometry performance. The end result being that in memory/ROP bound scenarios performance will trend close to the GTX 660, while in shader/texture/geometry bound situations performance will easily exceed the GTX 650 Ti’s performance by 6-16%, depending on where GPU boost settles at.

Of course GTX 660-like performance does come with some tradeoffs. While the GTX 650 Ti was a 110W TDP part, the GTX 650 Ti Boost will be a 134W part, just shy of the 140W GTX 660. The GTX 650 Ti Boost runs at the same clockspeeds and the same voltages with the same amount of RAM as the GTX 660, meaning the power savings are limited to whatever power is saved from fusing off that SMX, which in practice will not be all that much. Even by NVIDIA's own reckoning they're minimal. So what we’re effectively looking at is a somewhat slower GTX 660 operating at near-GTX 660 power levels.

Driving home the point that the GTX 650 Ti Boost is a reconfigured GTX 660, with the TDP being held at 140W NVIDIA and their partners will be recycling their GTX 660 designs for NVIDIA’s new card. Our reference card is identical to our GTX 660 reference card, and the same can be said for many partner designs. Partners need to provide the same power and cooling to the GTX 650 Ti Boost as they do the GTX 660, so there’s little point in rolling new designs and in fact this helps NVIDIA and their partners get the GTX 650 Ti Boost to market sooner.

Moving on to the launch and pricing details, as with NVIDIA’s other GK106 card launches, this is a pure virtual launch with partners rolling their custom designs from day one. Partners will be shipping both stock clocked and overclocked cards, and the mix should be very similar to what we saw with the GTX 660’s launch. Unexpectedly, partners will also have the option of going with 1GB or 2GB cards. 1GB cards are a late addition to NVIDIA’s lineup, in what appears to be an attempt to get down to price parity with AMD’s 7790. Our reference card is a 2GB model, and like other mixed cards like AMD’s 7850 we expect most GTX 650 Ti Boost cards to be 2GB cards.

In something of a coup for NVIDIA, 2GB GTX 650 Ti Boost cards will be hitting stores this week at $169, nearly a week ahead of the 7790. So despite launching second in this latest scuffle, NVIDIA will be the first to hit the market. Meanwhile 1GB cards will arrive later, hitting the market in early April at $149. Overclocked cards will of course carry their own premiums.

The competition for the GTX 650 Ti Boost will include a number of cards from both NVIDIA and AMD. The tight pricing of the market between $149 and $199 means that the GTX 650 Ti Boost will in practice be pulling double-duty as a 7790 and a 7850 competitor. Priced at $149, the later to arrive 1GB cards are the true 7790 competitor in every sense of the word.  Meanwhile with the 2GB cards launching at $169 they’re more akin to a 7850 competitor, something NVIDIA doesn’t hesitate to point this out.

In any case, the GTX 650 Ti Boost will be boxed in by the GTX 650 Ti below it at around $130, meanwhile above it will be the 7850 2GB at around $185 and the GTX 660 at around $200. Ultimately NVIDIA has to be sure to cover $149 to go up directly against the 7790, but if you can afford to spend a little more than $149, then between factory overclocked cards and new models there’s a different card at every $10.

Finally, like AMD, NVIDIA will be extending their promotional bundling to their latest card. The GTX 650 Ti Boost will quality for the same $75 in free-to-play game credits as the GTX 650 Ti, split up as $25 for World of Tanks, $25 for Hawken, and $25 for Planetside 2.

Spring 2013 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $209 GeForce GTX 660
Radeon HD 7850 2GB $184  
  $169 GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB
Radeon HD 7790 $149 GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 1GB
  $134 GeForce GTX 650 Ti
Radeon HD 7770 $109 GeForce GTX 650
Radeon HD 7750 $99 GeForce GT 640

 

The Test
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  • Eugene86 - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Overclocking is not a guarantee, apart from the fact that it shortens the lifespan of the card itself, all it does is increase power consumption (which negates your power consumption argument) and it also wastes your time by having to have to tinker with drivers and overclocking speeds to make sure the card doesn't artifact and such. Considering the subpar quality of AMD drivers, this is something that no one wants to waste their time on except for fans of AMD. Reply
  • stickmansam - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Have you tried to OC the 7850 yourself? I hit 1ghz without any voltage or power tweaks
    It is way under clocked at 860mhz.

    Haven't run any power draw comparisons yet though myself
    Reply
  • cyrusfox - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    So true, 7850 hits 1050 MHz easy breezy. It was a great card and it has held its value, I originally got it for $150 second hand when it first came out(forum shopping). I'm surprised to see it still being valued higher than that.

    From my personal experience, the 7850 is a guaranteed 1 GHz card. But a lot of people don't OC so they miss out on the potential. Nvidia does have its positives and the boost seems like a good card to fill the holes in the market.
    Reply
  • anubis44 - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    I hear what you're saying -- in the past, people would say that you could overclock a model of card to some ridiculous speed that only 5% of the cards of that model could reach with stability, and then say that the entire model of card performed that way. A couple of times, I was tricked by this kind of nonsense, and regretted swallowing it from idiots on a chat forum.

    But in the case of the 7850, this is the real deal. I kid you not, there is probably not a single one that won't go up to 1050MHz with just the AMD video driver and a couple of fisher-price sliders and not even any additional voltage. I defy you to find somebody who has tried this, and been unable to clock it up to at least the 1050MHz max in the video driver, without any extra volts. It's the best kept secret in the video card market right now, almost like the Celeron 300a back in the day, that would clock from 300MHz to 450MHz with just a multiplier adjustment in the bios. It's like AMD just left 40% more performance on the table with the 7850. I had two of them myself for about a week, and it was ridiculous how much faster they would go if you just bothered to take 2 minutes to bump them up from 860MHz to 1100MHz-1150MHz. I can picture AMD getting slightly irritated at nVidia for trying to reach the 7850's default speed with this piddly GTX650 Ti Boost, and turning around and releasing a GHz edition bios for all 7850 owners to just flash their cards to 1050MHz, kinda of like they did for the 7950.
    Reply
  • k2_8191 - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    IMO The new card is good deal if I consider only gaming performance per price.
    However, as a distributed computing junkie, I would still recommend the participants to choose some RADEON HD 7k cards for double-precision workunits (HCC in WCG in particular).
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    One simple and obvious answer, Never Settle Reloaded. The 7850 is faster in most games, destroys it compute, and you get Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite for free. Even if you have no interest in either game, you can easily get ~$50 (after fees) for the codes on eBay. Nice 2GB 7850s have been on sale regularly for $170. That means you can get a faster 7850 2GB for ~$120. So does $150 for a 1GB 650 Ti Boost sound better than $120 for a 2GB 7850? 1GB 7850s have hit $150. Bottom line is that it's great time to be a budget gamer. The 650 Ti Boost, 7790, and 7850 are all good cards in the pricing sweet spot for a lot of people. Never Settle Reloaded puts things squarely in AMDs hands from a "value" perspective though. Whether or not you want the games, they are quick sells, and even the 7790 would really be in the ~$120 range if you wanted to sell BioShock Infinite. Reply
  • Parhel - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Thanks! Based on your post, I did a bit of shopping, and found an MSI 7870 @ Newegg. $220 list price minus a $25 rebate, ~$50 on reselling the bundle, and ~$30 on reselling my GTX 460, and I should be at about $115 for a 7870. Not too bad considering they were ~$350 at release. Reply
  • Bob Todd - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    You just reminded me that I need to decide if I'm selling my GTX 460. I looked on eBay a few weeks ago and the same 1GB model sold for ~$60. Part of me thinks it isn't really worth it and I should just keep it as a backup or a hand-me-down upgrade for a family member. But the smarter part of me knows it will probably just sit in its box in my closet for years. Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    I think you can get a bit more for the 460.. $60 is a fair price for it.. imo. Also "HIS" seems to offer the best deals on the 7870 (when they come up for sale..) Not sure if you can really get $50 for the bundle tho.. hah can always try! Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    YMMV of course. However I've sold two for that much, with the listings lasting less than 12 hours. And most people are happy to just get the code via email so you might not even have to ship anything. Reply

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