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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  • Bob Todd - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    More data points are usually a good thing, but can I ask what you'd use that for? Since you can't install one in the other, beyond the novelty of knowing how close a midrange desktop card is to a halo mobile part I'm curious to know what you want out of it. It seems like on the mobile side most parts are 2-3 rungs below the desktop part of the same name throughout the lineup. Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    I base card recs on how long they intend to keep it. On a budget? Ok, get something that will run 1080p for a year or two. 1GB 650 ti or 7790. Idk, I'd have to look at those two to really know between that. But then after that point spend more a 2GB card with a 256bit memory interface. (GTX660 192bit, WTF Nividia?) BUT, if you have some more money and want to keep the card 4 years or more, get the 7850. The 7850 will be faster now, last longer. But whatever card you'd replace the 650 ti with in a year or two for the same price will be even faster than that.

    I really don't like where the GPU market is right now. It feels stagnant. Nothing is really a good deal. Like you guys said, there is no sweet spot. The 8800GT was the card to get after the price dropped below 150. Same for the GTX460. Now to get that level of performance they expect you to shell out 220 bucks. Fuck that. I say, for now, either keep your current card or buy the cheapest one you can possibly stomach. This market needs to straighten itself out again.

    I'm keeping my GTX460 until I literally can't run games anymore. Don't really care if I have to turn off AA in new titles. Neither company has given me a reason to upgrade. Sub 200 used to be competitive.
    Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Well.. generally speaking the 660 and the 7870 are currently enjoying the sweet spot. Neither card breaks the bank and the trade off in the +$300 range isn't so great to be a game breaker.

    The 460 was a $240 card when it launched and both of the ones I mentioned can be had for $220 if you look around.. (not including mail in rebates etc or game bundles). On average their 70% faster than 460 but over the past few years there's been a focus on loading temperatures, power consumption, and other features.. which is something that got kick-started around the time of the 460. Right now it's not giant leaps forward but rather, several steps to the side with a few steps forward in performance.
    Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Also.. if the 460 was your last purchase over the 8800 than your buying every third generation.. For you that wont come up until the next line-up/fall refresh. Reply
  • Calinou_ - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Want a large memory bus for cheap? Get an used GTX 570, then you have a 320 bit memory bus for the price of a 650 Ti. Then deal with the 250W in full load. :D Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    The 7850 is a 10% larger die. So with all things being equal you can expect roughly 10% more performance. Both chips contain significant fused off sections but the amount that is fused off is roughly the same in percentage terms.

    The 7850 at stock is leaving an awful lot of performance on the table. You can tell this just by looking at the power consumption. Overclock the 7850 until its power consumption matches this new nvidia card, and how much performance differential are we now talking about? Well over 10% I'm sure...

    The 650 Ti Boost is clearly more aggressively timed and configured, to squeeze out more dollars out of the enthusiast's pocket and into Nvidia's. The fact that the review doesnt really mention any of this is kind of surprising. I would say the 7850 is a better deal, based on the assumption that it has more overclocking overhead. Given the same 28nm process vs the difference in die sizes, that is surely a safe assumption.
    Reply
  • mczak - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    7850 doesn't have larger die. Pitcairn is quoted as 212mm^2 whereas gk106 is actually 221mm^2 (though the difference might be just be measuring differently, i.e. including the empty space at the edges or not if those are official, not measured, figures). Pitcairn does have 10% more transistors though (I guess for whatever reason amd could pack them more densely overall).
    But yes pitcairn is faster than gk106 overall. The reason the gtx660 loses to hd7870 but the gtx650ti boost is very close to hd7850 is of course that hd7850 is a hd7870 with 20% less shader units and 14% less clocks, whereas the 650ti boost is a 660 with 20% less shader units but same clocks. And yes this shows in overclocking potential and perf/w.
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Too many cards, just buy a 660 ! Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Too many cards, just buy a 7870!

    FTFY ;)
    Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Nice card. Okay, the power draw is a bit of a downside, meaning we've got a 680-7970-esque comparison again between the 7850 and 650 Ti Boost where the former performs a little better in general whilst using less power, however considering the gap to the 660 isn't that big, is it worth the extra money?

    I can definitely see people buying these; that extra 1GB will certainly help in time.
    Reply

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