Introduction, Design Performance (Part I)
Like most of its Nvidia “card-partner” kin, in late 2016 MSI rolled out a lineup of GeForce GTX 1050 Ti video cards using graphics processors (GPUs) based on Nvidia’s new “Pascal” architecture. The GTX 1050 Ti slots handily between the GeForce GTX 1050 and GTX 1060 in Nvidia’s line. We’ve tested a whole bunch of of these lower-end Pascal cards, and this time around, we’re looking at one of the more affordable models, dubbed by MSI the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4G OC. For its cards around this particular GPU, MSI is offering both a “premium” range (relatively speaking) and a more basic collection, with six cards to choose from.
At the top of the MSI GTX 1050 Ti range are two cards that bear the familiar red-and-black MSI color scheme and have the “Gaming” label; these are the company’s flagship GTX 1050 Ti cards. The company is also offering more modest versions. In exchange for a lower price, they look a bit more pedestrian and pack specs that are closer to stock. Our review card is one of the latter, and MSI offers a similar version of this card in non-Ti trim, as well, that we tested. (See our review of the MSI GeForce GTX 1050 2G OC.) Also worth noting: MSI recently unveiled a low-profile, half-height version of the GTX 1050 Ti, the $155 MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GT LP, for PC upgraders and gamers looking to boost a thin home-theater PC or other slim desktop. (Decent-performing half-height video cards have been scarce in recent years, with the best of the recent lot being based on the aged GeForce GTX 750 Ti.)
But as for the card we have on hand: The full-height card we’re testing here today is a stock GTX 1050 Ti in most regards, but it does include an MSI-induced, mild overclock (of 63MHz) out of the box, hence the “OC” in its name. Despite its overclock, it is selling for the MSRP of a typical base-model GTX 1050 Ti, which is $139. Our experience with Nvidia cards indicates that the card may well overclock beyond the overclock numbers listed on the spec sheet, but we’ll see in a bit about that. Note that MSI also sells a true stock version of this card, lacking the “OC” in the name and adhering to the base specs listed for this GPU by Nvidia.
Since this is card is close to stock apart from the mild overclock, it has all the standard specs of a GTX 1050 Ti, including 4GB of GDDR5 memory (on a 128-bit memory interface) along with 768 CUDA cores. Its cooling apparatus employs just a single fan, and the card takes up two PCI Express slots due to the width of its air cooler. The card is rather short in length, though, making it great for a small-form-factor build if you can’t afford or would rather not shell out the extra expense for one of the mini versions of the GeForce GTX 1060, which tend to run around $200 for the 3GB versions and $240 for the 6GB. (See, for example, our review of the Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 MiniGigabyte G1 Gaming version of the GTX 1050 Ti we tested (no four or five ports here on the backplane), comprising single DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort connectors.
Despite its entry-level status, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4G OC supports key leading-edge features common to recent GeForce cards, including Nvidia’s G-Sync, 8K output, and DirectX 12. This card is not “VR-capable,” however, by the standards of today’s Oculus RiftHTC ViveGeForce GTX 1060.
MSI backs the GTX 1050 Ti 4G OC with a three-year warranty, and instead of pairing the card with its specialized MSI Gaming App software often seen on its higher-end cards, it includes (as a download) the MSI Afterburner utility (which, incidentally, anyone can download and use on any video card). It lets you monitor temperatures and clock speeds, as well as overclock the GPU. More on that later.
Performance (Part I)
As we’ve mentioned in our other recent card reviews, things are in flux these days when it comes to testing 2016’s video cards, because the two emerging technologies that current-gen cards are built for are proving difficult to test in these early days.
The first of these is DirectX 12 (DX12), which is just now coming on the scene. There are relatively few real-world benchmarks for it. Still, DX12 will eventually be the standard graphics API, so it’s important to know if a card can handle DX12 well before buying. We tested the GTX 1050 Ti with the newest DX12-capable games we had on hand, including Hitman (the 2016 edition), Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Ashes of the Singularity, as well as Futuremark’s 3DMark DX12 benchmark, Time Spy. We tested a load of games using DirectX 11, too, because that API will still be in wide use for at least another year, and probably much longer.
The other angle is virtual reality (VR) support, or lack thereof. VR is red hot these days, but the GTX 1050 Ti is not powerful enough to earn a thumbs-up from Oculus and HTC for their headsets, so you won’t be immersing yourself in artificial worlds with this card (or any other of its class) anytime soon, unless the hardware situation changes on the VR headset side.
And so, on to the benchmarks. Since this specific MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti card costs $139, we’ll compare it to the $110-to-$130 Radeon RX 460Radeon RX 470Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming 4G, which cost $30 more than the MSI card at this writing. So it’ll be intriguing to see what that extra wad of cash delivers.
All of the recent-generation cards we’ve tested in the $100-to-$200 range have also been included in the benchmark charts below, with a few higher-end cards such as the GeForce GTX 1060 and AMD Radeon RX 480AMD Radeon R9 Nano, for an idea of the performance you can get in a very compact card if money is no object. (At this writing, it was about four times the price of a typical GTX 1050, or more than three times that of this MSI GTX 1050 Ti.)
3DMark Fire Strike
We started off our testing with Futuremark’s 2013 version of 3DMark, specifically the suite’s Fire Strike subtest. Fire Strike is a synthetic test designed to measure overall gaming performance.
In the first face-off between the two GTX 1050 Ti cards we have tested, the Gigabyte GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming came out on top on the Graphics Score, by 4 percent. That’s a decent margin considering that it has the same GPU in its belly as the MSI card and both are overclocked. The Gigabyte card comes overclocked higher than the MSI card, so this isn’t too surprising. Both GTX 1050 Ti cards also spanked the less expensive Radeon RX 460, but in turn were drubbed by the pricier RX 470.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Let’s start with some older games. Here, we fired up the 2013 reboot of the classic title Tomb Raider, testing at the Ultimate detail preset and three resolutions.
We’re only two tests in and already a pattern is emerging: The higher-clocked Gigabyte GTX 1050 Ti is a smidge more powerful than the mildly overclocked MSI OC card. In this test, we saw the Gigabyte overtake the MSI card by about 4 frames per second (fps) at 1080p, but that’s still an achievement given their hardware similarities. Both cards were able to hit over 60fps in this title, as well. In contrast, the Radeon RX 460 we tested (a PowerColor card) languished in the 40fps zone.
Next, we rolled out the very demanding real-world gaming benchmark test built into the 2013 title Sleeping Dogs…
Again, the Gigabyte GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming card held a steady 5 percent advantage over the MSI GTX 1050 Ti card in this test. Both cards failed to cross the 60fps threshold, but they were close; kicking down the detail level one notch would get you there with ease. Both of the GTX 1050 Ti cards also practically doubled the performance of the Radeon RX 460 card, so it seems safe to say at this point that this “matchup” isn’t much of one.
The popular title Bioshock Infinite isn’t overly demanding, but it’s a popular one with stellar good looks. In its built-in benchmark program, we set the graphics level to the highest preset (Ultra+DDOF)…
The MSI GTX 1050 Ti card was able to close the gap with the more expensive Gigabyte card in this test, with the two cards just 3.5 percent apart at 1080p. Both cards were in the high 70fps/low 80fps range at 1080p, so that’s pretty much a wash from a real-world performance perspective.
Next up was Hitman: Absolution, which is an aging game but still pretty hard on a video card, especially at our test settings.
The race tightened further in this test, with the difference between the two GTX 1050 Ti cards within the margin of deviation between test runs. In this title, it is effectively a tie between them. The RX 460 was not close at any resolution, and even the RX 470 didn’t beat the two GTX 1050 Ti cards by much.
Far Cry Primal
Next, we moved to a more recent game, released in 2016. Ubisoft’s latest open-world first-person hunting game is one of the most demanding test titles we use, with lush foliage, detailed shadows, and otherwise incredible environments. We used the Normal detail setting first.
This is the first test where we can really see where the extra $30 for the Gigabyte 1050 Ti card is being spent, as it was able to outpace the MSI OC card by a lusty 15 percent at 1080p. As the resolution increased, the gap narrowed (to the point where just 1 frame per second separated them at 4K resolution), but nobody is going to play this game at 17fps.
And here’s what we saw at the killer Ultra setting…
The two GTX 1050 Ti cards pulled off playable frame rates, the RX 460 was borderline, and the RX 470 clearly overran them all.
Ashes of the Singularity
Oxide’s Ashes of the Singularity is a bit of a departure as a benchmark, as it’s a real-time strategy title, rather than a first-person shooter or a third-person action title. Due to the planet-scale nature of its battle scenes, with hundreds of onscreen tanks, ships, and other implements of future warfare, it can be extremely demanding at high settings. And because of the plethora of rendered units, this game is also way more CPU-bound—especially at high settings and resolutions—than most other recent games. We used the Standard preset here, rather than the game’s killer Crazy preset.
At 1080p resolution we saw the Gigabyte hold a moderate advantage of a few frames over the MSI OC card, though both GPUs struggled with this punishing benchmark. Both GPUs were just about as fast as a GeForce GTX 960 from the previous generation, which is interesting. The Radeon RX 460 was borderline acceptable at 1080p, limping to the finish line with a score of just 28.4fps.
Grand Theft Auto V
One of the most popular game franchises on the planet, Grand Theft Auto needs no introduction. Version V took a lot longer than many expected to land on the PC. But when it finally did, in early 2015, it brought a number of graphical improvements and tweakable visual settings that pushed the game far beyond its console roots.
Note that many of the cards below have no bars because they would not run GTA V at our test settings. That’s a quirk of this game: It will automatically bounce down settings if the game perceives it will not run acceptably at a given mix of resolution and detail settings.
This is a brutal test, as the chart shows the RX 460 couldn’t hack our (admittedly demanding) settings. The GTX 1050 Ti cards pulled it off, though, with both the Gigabyte and MSI GPUs hitting over 60fps at 1080p, though the Gigabyte G1 Gaming held a 9 percent advantage. Surprisingly, the slightly overclocked MSI GTX 1050 we tested (the non-Ti card) held its own on this test, too, placing just a smidge behind its amped-up Ti brethren.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft rises once again in the early 2016 iteration of Square Enix’s long-running action franchise. As our hero works to unfold an ancient mystery (and reveal the secret to immortality) ahead of the ancient and deadly Order of Trinity, she traipses through a slew of complex atmospheric environments, from arid tombs to the frigid Siberian wilderness. A dynamic weather system, and the complexities of Lara’s wind-tousled hair, add to the game’s visual complexity. Let’s look at the game at the Medium detail preset.
The results of this test largely mirror the others, with the Gigabyte card holding a small advantage, so we won’t labor the details. What’s more interesting from a performance standpoint is just how good the cheaper MSI GeForce GTX 1050 2G OC is for this game, as it was just a few ticks slower than the MSI OC Ti card. The GTX 1050 Ti showed its teeth to the GTX 1050, though, at the Very High preset…
The newest game in the Hitman franchise finds Agent 47 turning over a new leaf, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery as a teacher at a school for underprivileged children. Just kidding, of course; he kills loads of people in this one, just like the rest. It does offer gorgeous graphics in both DX11 and DX12 varieties, though. We’ll tackle the former (DX11) first, at the Medium detail setting.
This game produced the usual very linear pecking order based on price and specs, so as card value increased so did performance, and vice versa. Once again the MSI OC card was just a tiny bit behind the Gigabyte G1 Gaming, with both topping 70fps at 1080p. The RX 460 was in the hunt (59fps at 1080p) but most surprising was the fact that the GTX 1050 Ti cards were almost competitive with the much pricier GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition on this test. We saw the same dynamic at the High preset, though the GTX 1060 reasserted itself there…