Recently we looked at the GTX 1080 from GIGABYTE. It’s a truly stellar card, but is also rather costly, as is always the case with high-end GPUs. This time, we’re working with a cheaper alternative in the form of the MSI GTX 1070 ARMOR 8G OC edition. At just under R10,000, value isn’t the word that comes to mind when you consider that you can buy a gaming-capable notebook for that amount of money. You should consider, however, that the GTX 1070 (and in particular this model) is faster than the outgoing GTX 980 Ti (in reference form). It consumes far less power, runs cooler and is significantly better suited to DirectX 12 and future titles than the Maxwell-based GPU. The GTX 10XX series will continue to gain performance while the Maxwell GPUs march steadily to their twilight.
As we’ve seen before, the GTX 1070 is a cut-down GTX 1080 using the same GP104 GPU (GP104-200 to be exact). It’s “nerfed” in several ways via the complete disabling of one GPC out of the total four within the GP104 ASIC. Not only that, but unlike its more potent stablemate, it features traditional GDDR5 memory instead of the more exotic GDDR5X. This translates to lower performance against the GTX 1080 of course, but better performance than the GTX 980 and the GTX 980 Ti can deliver in games and DX12 benchmarks. With 1,920 cores (15SMs) and 256GB/s of raw memory bandwidth, it’s remarkable that it’s able to keep pace with the GTX 980 Ti in so many titles. And when it’s overclocked, as is the case with this model, it consistently delivers better performance.
We previously covered several key technologies of the GeForce Pascal GPU, so there’s no need to reiterate on any of them. What’s important here is that we have an offering from MSI that drastically outpaces its Founders Edition guise, delivering performance that’s well and truly above what was expected. The MSI ARMOR features a base clock of 1,556MHz and a boost clock of at least 1,746MHz. What you’ll find is that the card usually boosts much higher than this, and our particular sample had a boost clock of 1,949MHz more often than not. It’s pretty much at the limit of what the Pascal GPUs are capable of achieving via air cooling. With such a high clock speed, there isn’t that much to gain from overclocking here. In fact, the most I could extract was another 126MHz. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but when you consider the super-high clocks of the Pascal GPUs, it isn’t much at all and the low performance gains prove this.
That shouldn’t discourage you from buying what is an otherwise incredible card, one which has the most impressive memory overclocking capabilities we’ve ever recorded. It’s not unusual for MSI to have the highest memory overclocks of the GPUs we test, but this model is well and truly beyond the norm, managing a rock-solid 2,400MHz (SDR) or an effective 9.6GHz, up from the reference 8GHz.
When you combine this high memory frequency and 2,075MHz GPU clock, the ARMOR OC manages to outpace even the fastest GTX 980 Ti ever made, which still retails for over R13,000 if you can find it at all. The only time it couldn’t maintain this lead was in a single game at 4K, but then again this isn’t a GPU designed for that resolution. In fact, other than for specific games, there generally aren’t any 4K-capable GPUs on the market (barring the TITAN X Pascal).
Where this GPU is most comfortable is at 2560×1440 or 3440×1400 for those lucky enough to own an ultra-wide display. The ARMOR card will handle all present titles at maximum detail without much of a fuss. This is true even if you don’t overclock the card as there’s more than enough power within this GPU.
What makes this all possible is the brilliance of the GP104 silicon in terms of power per watt and of course per mm. It simply outshines the current offerings from AMD by some margin. For the sake of comparison, consider that this card under a full gaming load consumes about as much power as the RX480 in a similar environment, while offering significantly more performance.
So what does MSI bring to this GPU other than a better price than the Founders Edition card? Well, it offers several features which are of the utmost importance when buying a GPU besides performance. MSI has the mandatory factory overclock, but what makes this feasible is the understated ARMOR 2X thermal design. It’s the same heatsink fan complex you’re familiar with, but the difference is that it makes use of dispersion fan blades, which reduce noise drastically while offering high airflow rates. Just for comparison’s sake, this heatsink complex at 100% fan speed is quieter than all other cards with their fan speed set at 55%. It’s practically inaudible while doing an incredible job at keeping the temperature in check.
The MSI PCB design is also worthy of praise, if only for the simple component cooling design. The main heatsink fan complex is only responsible for cooling the GPU core. The other components, including the PWM and DRAM chips, are cooled by a separate plate which makes it perfect for those who would employ a standalone GPU block or other aftermarket heatsinks. Of course, this also works in favour of the extreme users, who may use this card for competitive overclocking with dry ice or liquid nitrogen. This design negates the need for the small heatsinks that would normally be required on the PWM.
Overall, this is a solid graphics card that isn’t over the top but serves its function, and allows the GTX 1070 GPU to reach its performance potential without hindrance. The only issue with the ARMOR card is that it performs so well, it quite literally makes it difficult to justify the price of the GAMING X models which, to their credit, are electronically superior. That said, their superiority doesn’t necessarily allow high clock speeds or better performance at all. MSI may have inadvertently made a graphics card that’s turned out better than they’d hoped.
Yes, it has no back plate, no LED lighting and doesn’t “feel” as high-end as the GAMING X/Z variants. But in the areas where it matters most it more than delivers and at the going price, it’s hard to find fault with it. The ARMOR OC is undoubtedly deserving of both our Value and Hardware awards.