Let’s not beat about the bush here: MSI’s GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G is the fastest graphics card I’ve ever personally tested. NVIDIA’s Pascal graphics family steamrolls through everything I’ve thrown at it, with nary a hiccup to be seen. It offers incredible performance for the price, and it’s so quiet and restrained that you’d have trouble knowing it’s in your system. As an upgrade to the GeForce GTX 970, it’s a shoe-in for anyone with the money available. As an upgrade from anything older, it’s easily one of the biggest performance jumps you’ll ever witness. So let’s get to it, shall we?
There are two things to consider before heading into this review – the GPU’s weight, and the expected price. Price-wise, it’s actually quite good. At around R9,000 (depending on the retailer you look at), it’s approximately the same amount of money you’d have spent on a GTX TITAN two or three years ago – and for that money, you’re getting similar levels of performance to last year’s GTX TITAN X at half the price. This wasn’t the case at launch when stock worldwide was severely limited, so it really benefits you to wait a while for pricing to settle down.
At 1,082 grams, it’s a heavy card. Maybe not the heaviest MSI has ever made, but it’s certainly up there. That’s down to the heatsink design, the full-cover backplate, and the half-cover front plate which redistributes heat from the VRMs and the memory chips. If this thing ever overheats, it’ll probably be entirely your fault, because it’s built like a tank.
Since it’s over a kilogram, I should point out that you might want to prop it up to prevent sag on the PCI Express slot, unless you use it in one of MSI’s fancy new motherboards with metal brackets on the slots. On the plus side, it’s very effective at strengthening wrist muscles, although it’s real slippery in some parts.
Right, so let’s look at this beauty. It’s about 28cm long and 13cm high, extending past the PCI bracket thanks to MSI’s use of a custom board design and a heavy emphasis on cooling. The cooler shroud has MSI’s new “sergeant stripes” design, as I like to call it, with two 80mm fans that are really quiet (even at load) and that switch off at idle temperatures. The heatsink underneath is an all-aluminium MSI Twin Frozr VI design with five heat pipes running throughout, although none of them make direct contact with the GPU’s heat spreader.
The cooler, the memory, the VRM heatsink and the backplate are mostly identical to the ones MSI ships on the GTX 1070 GAMING Z – the only real difference is that the Z has an RGB LED MSI logo on the back, while this one just has the MSI dragon logo on the heatsink. I prefer the understated look to the RGB lighting, because it’d keep me awake at night in my room. Hey MSI, do you want to win brownie points with people like me? Make an all-black graphics card with a glossy black cooler shroud. Call it the “GTX Superblack” or something.
At the rear, you’ll find the standard video ports that feature on most MSI GPUs – triple DisplayPort 1.2a (technically DP 1.3 and 1.4a, but that’ll come later), one HDMI 2.0a port with full 10-bit 4K HDR support, and a lonely dual-link DVI-D port. Someday, it too shall go the way of the VGA port. If you’re planning on using this card in a home theatre PC role, it’ll do just fine – with the fans switched off at idle clock speeds it’ll be passively cooled, and it supports all the modern connections you could want. Also at the rear is a silhouette of a dragon’s head and horns, serving as an exhaust vent. Neat-o.
This card doesn’t have a switchable BIOS for recovery or overclocking purposes, which means that if you’re into the dark art of flashing the GPU BIOS every other day to eke out higher scores on HWBot, you might want to tread carefully with this one, because that’s not its intended use. For my overclocking results, I managed to hammer out an increase of 145Hz to the boost clock, and 420MHz to the memory, arriving at around 2.1GHz core and a solid 8.8GHz memory clock in typical gaming workloads. Temperatures were a warm 64°C, and fan speeds never needed to be pushed beyond 43% duty cycle.
In synthetic benchmarks, the GTX 1070’s lead is incredible, pushing out almost twice the performance of a GTX 970 at similar power levels. The 3DMark Fire Strike numbers are particularly interesting, because here the performance lead is about 150%. That tends to play out similarly in game benchmarks, while Fire Strike Extreme and Ultra are less indicative of that trend. Catzilla and Time Spy suggest a much larger performance gap closer to 200%, owing to the GTX 1070’s more efficient tiled rasterising rending method, as well as its proficiency at rendering highly tessellated objects. In time, this will make the GTX 1070 more relevant to modern game engines, while the GTX 970, as popular as it was, will probably fall off the radar less than a year from now.
In games, these differences show themselves more distinctly. Those that use copious amounts of tessellation in their engines, like Alien: Isolation, Ashes of the Singularity, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Grand Theft Auto V all show performance jumps of more than 150%. Other games gain less than that, but in general there’s at least a 140% performance increase from the GTX 970’s scores.
The overclocked results are also interesting, because I’m either hitting a CPU bottleneck or the card is being power-gated as a result of its typical 150W thermal design power (TDP). MSI may have put a lot of thought into the board design and power circuitry, but it doesn’t improve performance all that much, at least for some games. Hitman: Absolution is a good indicator of that – even at a very stable overclock, it actually sees less performance in the benchmark. And this rang true even after multiple reboots and re-runs of the test.
There’s clearly more performance on the table here, but the card’s TDP might be too low to really stretch its legs. It’s not a power-delivery issue either – one 8-pin and one 6-pin auxiliary connector provide power to the board, with a theoretical 225W on tap. Perhaps that’d be addressed in a more recent driver update than what I tested with (GeForce 368.81), or in a better version of MSI Afterburner. We’ve had TDP issues before, specifically in Neo’s review of MSI’s R9 390X GAMING 8G, but that was due to AMD’s Hawaii refresh GPUs tapping into all the available power at stock. This is a problem with similar symptoms, but it’s probably fixable in software.
Overall, MSI’s GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G is an impressive card, even taking into consideration the overclocking scores of my sample. It stomps the GTX 970 into a shallow grave, and dominates its price point with outstanding performance. It’s fast, sleek and quiet, and I don’t think anyone is going to have second thoughts about purchasing it. If you’re building an Intel Skylake system, or saving up for Kaby Lake or AMD’s Zen, or simply replacing an older, formerly high-end GPU from your own system, you can’t go wrong with this one.