MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z Performance Review

We have an exclusive first look at performance of the new MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z video cards sporting the new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 GPU. We will be comparing performance to a MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X and ASUS ROG STRIX Vega 64 OC video cards in eight games at 1440p and 4K.

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Conclusion

We started this review with absolutely no idea what to expect. We’ve had no communication or contact with NVIDIA in regards to the GeForce RTX GPU series. We did not know expected performance, or had any reviewers guides to compare our performance with. We went into this blind, and came out thoroughly impressed with the results.

The GeForce RTX 2070 is probably the most anticipated and most questioned video card in the RTX lineup in regards to its performance. This video card potentially has the "it" factor, and could potentially be the best bang-for-the buck in the RTX series. It also supports RTX features, so you still get to play with Ray Tracing and DLSS when support is provided.

The Performance Question

The big question on everyone’s minds has been of performance, will the GeForce RTX 2070 perform as well as the GeForce GTX 1080? Can it perform better? Will its price be justified? Is the architecture faster than the previous generation?

This performance review today has revealed that indeed GeForce RTX 2070 can perform better than GeForce GTX 1080 in games. The degree of performance is going to depend on the clock speed of both video cards. The GeForce RTX 2070 and GeForce GTX 1080 have a wide range of factory overclocking options.

The MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z we reviewed today is one of the highest factory clocked RTX 2070 cards. Therefore, we are looking at top-end performance on RTX 2070. We found in our real-world GPU Frequency Consistency testing on Page 3 this means about 1920 MHz while gaming, well over the reference and Founders Edition boost clocks.

To compare performance, we used an MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X video card, a video card which does have a high boost clock for GTX 1080 GPUs. We found that it operates at about 1923 MHz while gaming.


Is Turing Faster?

With both video cards operating nearly at the same frequency this creates an interesting scenario. We are basically looking at two video cards with similar clock speeds. We can estimate if GeForce RTX 2070’s Turing architecture might be faster than the previous Pascal architecture. It is important to realize there are more SM Units but less CUDA Cores (64 CUDA cores per SM versus 128 on Pascal) and Texture Units on GeForce RTX 2070 when compared to GeForce GTX 1080. In terms of GPU performance, this would mean slower performance on GeForce RTX 2070 if clock speed is the same. However, Turing is a new architecture. There are technically more SM Units, even if there are less CUDA Cores per SM. What we can then gather is if the architectural changes make up for the loss in overall CUDA Cores and Texture Units.

According to our testing the results all signs point to yes, the Turing architecture is definitely superior to, and faster than, the Pascal architecture at similar clock speeds. In all of our testing the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z consistently provided faster performance at 1440p and 4K compared to the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X video card, despite having a CUDA Core and Texture Unit deficit, at the same clock speeds. Let’s break it down.

Gaming Performance

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z started off strong. It performed 16% faster than MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X and 26% faster than ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC. Performance improved so much that we could play this game with a higher AA setting (SMAA 4X) at 1440p with the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z video card.

We also experienced a performance improvement in the very demanding game Kingdom Come: Deliverance with the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z. It was 13% faster than MSI GTX 1080 GAMING X and 21% faster than ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC. This allowed smooth gameplay with the highest in-game settings at 1440p. Thee performance gap only widened at 4K with the MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z performing 17% faster than the MSI GTX 1080 GAMING X. This allowed us to raise settings up a bit from "Medium" and re-enable HD Textures. The gaming experience was better on the new MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z at 4K than it was on GTX 1080.

In Wolfenstein II we experienced very high performance at 1440p and 4K and could play at the highest game settings with MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z. It was 17% faster than MSI GTX 1080 GAMING X and 19% faster than ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC.

In the DX12 game Gears of War 4 the MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z was 18% faster than MSI GTX 1080 GAMING X and ASUS ROG STRIX Vega 64 OC. At 4K it was 12% faster.

In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided we experienced a big difference, 19% better performance with MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z versus MSI GTX 1080 GAMING X. It was also a big 26% faster than ASUS ROG STRIX Vega 64 OC.

In all the other games we did not mention there was also a performance improvement with MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z versus MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X at 1440p and 4K.


Is 4K Gaming Viable?

A point we need to make here is that we experienced some very good performance unexpectedly at 4K on the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z video card. Typically, 4K has been reserved for the likes of GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. There were actually several games here that performed just fine at 4K on the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z and were very playable at high game settings in 4K.

In Wolfenstein II we could play with the highest possible game settings smoothly at 4K with high framerates. In Gears of War 4 we could play at "Ultra" settings at 4K with smooth and high framerates. The same is also true in Far Cry 5 at 4K with "Ultra" settings and HD Textures, we had smooth gameplay and playable framerates. Even Battlefield 1 was playable at 4K on the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z video card at the highest in-game settings.

Since it performs 10-20% faster than GeForce GTX 1080, that means 4K gaming is more viable in many games. Only the most graphically demanding are not playable.

Radeon RX Vega 64 Falling Behind

One thing has become clear, Radeon RX Vega 64 (even factory overclocked) is falling behind quite harshly with the level of performance factory overclocked GeForce RTX 2070 is producing. We are seeing over 20% performance advantages from MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z over ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC Edition in every game at 1440p and 4K. These are big and noticeable differences.

ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC Edition is in an entirely different set of playable gameplay settings, and that is always below MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z by a wide margin. The ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC Edition can’t even keep up with the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X video card in most cases here today. Performance is starting to suffer for Vega 64. The GeForce RTX 2070 is not a good thing for AMD. It not only gives AMD intense competition, but does so without any apologies. It’s fierce competition. AMD needs to be worried about the GeForce RTX 2070.

NVIDIA Hybrid Ray Tracing and DLSS

While we have shown that GeForce RTX 2070 can do well in traditional rasterized games the big question on everyone’s mind actually has to do with the Hybrid Ray Tracing and DLSS performance. We are all wondering if the GeForce RTX 2070 actually has the performance needed to accelerate games with Hybrid Ray Tracing turned on with high game settings at high resolutions at playable framerates. The fact is, we just simply do not know yet, and cannot test this yet as it is not currently supported.

We know from demos that it appears when games turn on Hybrid Ray Tracing the performance impact is huge. It seems in early demos shown at RTX launch that even GeForce RTX 2080 Ti may struggle with it. If that’s so, then the performance of Ray Tracing on GeForce RTX 2070 is a major concern. We can only wait and see.


The Bottom Line

We talked about potential "it" factor and bang-for-the buck above. The GeForce RTX 2070 definitely has the "it" factor. The RTX 2070 out-performs the GeForce GTX 1080 in all of our tested games. However, it does need to be a highly clocked factory overclock to do so. Thankfully it is capable of attaining clock speeds well above the Founders Edition, so cards like the MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z are the way to go for the best performance out of RTX 2070.

At $599 the MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z is less expensive than the ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC Edition’s price of $649.99. The MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z also performs 20-30% faster, and therefore is a no brainer bang-for-the buck buy over a factory overclocked Radeon RX Vega 64 video card.

The MSI RTX 2070 GAMING Z is also faster than our MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X, but that 1080 is actually less expensive at $509.99 after $20 rebate.

The big question is a $100 premium worth the performance. If you are playing at 4K, then absolutely yes, go for it. At 1440p though the money savings on a highly overclocked GeForce GTX 1080 may be preferred. It just isn’t fast enough to warrant the price difference of $100 for a 10-20% performance difference.

You are better off saving some bucks and going with a highly overclocked GeForce GTX 1080 for 1440p right now. The only reason you may want to consider the new RTX 2070 then is if you are upgrading from a much older video card, and the jump in performance is worth it, or you want to play with RTX features when they are enabled in games. We would not consider a reference clocked GeForce RTX 2070 at all for gaming, we think the 2070 GPU needs the boost of a high factory overclock to make it worth the money and certainly the MSI card serves this up in spades.

The MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z video card is a remarkable video card for gamers! MSI has done a great job engineering this video card with custom components and robust cooling. We are very impressed with the high consistent GPU clock speed while gaming, which the GeForce RTX 2070 certainly needs to perform at its best.

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MSI GeForce RTX 2070 GAMING Z Video Card

Update: MSI has contacted us today asking HardOCP to remove this RTX 2070 review, even though MSI had nothing to do with sourcing this review. NVIDIA's green feathers are apparently flying over this RTX 2070 review being published before its embargo date and time that is has with reviewers that signed its NDA. This is how things turn out when NVIDIA tries to force 5 year blanket NDAs down journalists throats. We chose not to sign NVIDIA's NDA. Our review is 100% legitimate and we are not going to remove it because NVIDIA is throwing a fit over it being published. The fact of the matter is that NVIDIA changed its entire NDA/Product Embargo structure after we reported on GPP this year. It did this to muzzle stories about NVIDIA in the future, and it is on NVIDIA for tying that to its product reviews. It is sad that MSI is having to deal with the brunt of NVIDIA's fury over this, and to that, we are sorry that is happening. This review could have easily been over any other AIB's card, it just so happens that an MSI card was the first one that we could source.

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