Saturday, July 20, 2024

2023 is the year GPUs stand still

Andrew Cunningham

In many ways, 2023 will be the long-awaited return to normality for people building their own gaming and/or workstation PCs. Throughout the year, most major components are available at or slightly below their official retail price, making it possible to build all kinds of PCs at relatively reasonable prices without worrying about restocks or waiting for discounts. This is a welcome continuation of some of the GPU trends that started in 2022. Nvidia, AMD, and Intel can release a new GPU and you can still buy that GPU for the price.

This is where we see how disappointing 2023 was for GPU buyers. Cards like the GeForce RTX 4090 and Radeon RX 7900 series launched in late 2022, pushing performance beyond what last generation cards could achieve. But 2023's midrange GPU releases were less ambitious. Not only did they offer the performance of a last-gen GPU, but most of them did so at the same price point as last-gen GPUs matched their performance.

Runs in midrange space

Not every midrange GPU release gets us the GTX 1060—a card roughly 50 percent faster than its immediate predecessor and costing half the money of the previous-generation GTX 980. Even if your expectations are low, this year's midrange GPU releases are few and far between.

The worst was the GeForce RTX 4060 Ti, which at times struggled to beat similarly priced replacement cards. The 16GB version of the card was particularly bad because it cost $100 more, but was faster than the 8GB version in some games.

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The regular RTX 4060 was slightly better news, thanks to a $30 price drop from where the RTX 3060 started. The performance gains were small, and the drop from 12GB to 8GB of RAM isn't the direction we'd like to see things moving, but it was still a slightly faster and more capable card for the same price. AMD's Radeon RX 7600, RX 7700 XT, and RX 7800 XT all fall into this same broad category—some improvements, but generally similar performance to previous-generation parts at or slightly lower prices. This isn't a great leap forward for those with aging GPUs waiting for GPU shortages to be upgraded.

The best midrange card of the generation—and at $600, we're definitely stretching the definition of “midrange”—may be the GeForce RTX 4070, which can generally match or slightly beat the RTX 3080, while using much less power and costing $100 less. than the RTX 3080's suggested retail price. That seems like a solid deal when you consider that the RTX 3080 won't be available at its suggested retail price for the rest of its life. But $600 is still a $100 increase from 2070 and a $220 increase from 1070, making it tough to swallow.

All in all, 2023 isn't a bad time to buy a $300 GPU; That dubious honor belongs deep into the 2021, and you'll be lucky to get a GTX 1650 at that price. But thanks to the “continuously available, fundamentally efficient GPUs” GPU shortage we'll get more from.

Marketing is more misleading

1.7x faster than last gen GPU?  Of course, under the right circumstances in certain games.
Zoom in / 1.7x faster than last gen GPU? Of course, under the right circumstances in certain games.


Looking at Nvidia's early performance claims for each of these GPUs, you might think that the RTX 40-series is an impressive improvement.

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But these numbers are only possible in games that support DLSS Frame Generation (FG), a new software trick for these GPUs. Original TLSS and DLSS 2 improve performance by upscaling images created by your GPU, creating interpolated pixels that turn a low-res image into a high-res one without losing the blurring and image quality you'd get from simple enhancement. DLSS FG generates full frames between renderings by your GPU, theoretically resulting in large frame rate increases without the need for a powerful GPU.

The technology is impressive when it works, and it's AMD-supported FSR 3 and An alternative implementation from Intel It is still in its infancy. But it has significant limitations—mainly, it requires a fairly high base frame rate to have enough data to reliably generate extra frames, something these midrange cards can struggle to do. Although performance is good, it can introduce weird visual artifacts or lose fine details. Technology is not available in all games. Also DLSS FG adds a bit of latency, although this can be compensated for with latency reduction technologies Nvidia Reflex.

As another tool in the performance enhancing toolbox, DLSS FG is nice to have. But it's best to put it front and center compared to previous generations of graphics cards, painting an overly rosy picture of what upgraders can actually expect.

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