Nvidia’s RTX march continues this week with the launch of its GeForce RTX 2070 video card. Following the high-end RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti GPUs from last month, the 2070 is more affordable. At $500, it is at the extreme end of the nebulous definition of “mainstream.” But it should be in the conversation when talking about building a powerful new PC today.
But should you get the RTX 2070 if your budget is around $500? Yes. Probably. With maybe a small handful of exceptions that primarily depend on your monitor.
To be clear, I haven’t used the RTX 2070 yet. I’m basing my conclusion on a mountain of benchmarks from testers at PC World, Gamers Nexus, and elsewhere. So while I’m not making assumptions about its performance, I am assuming that the 2070 doesn’t have any quirks that would bother me. All that said, I’m confident that my reasoning here is sound.
Tech lust vs. value
The bottom line on the RTX 2070 is that it’s about the same as a last-gen GTX 1080. That’s true for both price and performance. Each card sells for around $500. And they are strong processors for 1440p and some 4K gaming at lower settings.
That’s disappointing from the standpoint of technological progression. In the past, we would expect to see a performance jump of up to 30 percent between two cards in the same price range from one generation to the next.
But if you are buying a graphics card because you care about the state of the art, then what are you doing in the $500 category? Nvidia will happily sell you an RTX 2080 Ti for $1,200. This doesn’t mean that RTX 2070’s performance increase (or lack thereof) isn’t disappointing. It absolutely is. But the point is that disappointment shouldn’t factor into your purchasing decision.
And I don’t think a lot of hardware reviews help people realize that. Most RTX 2070 reviews that I’ve read cover the card both in terms how lusty it is compared to previous generations and whether it’s a good value. But they also conflate those two concepts when I think they need to stay completely separate.
The RTX 2070 is your best bet from a value standpoint at $500, and that has nothing to do with whether it is a disappointing jump relative to the GTX 1080.
It’s not exciting, but it is new
So if you can get a GTX 1080 or Vega 64 for $475 to $500, why wouldn’t you just get one of those instead? Well, because those cards are old. The GTX 1080 came out in 2016, and the Vega cards launched in 2017. If you are building a new computer or upgrading today, I don’t know why you would spend roughly the same amount of money for a two-year-old GPU.
The RTX 2070 is going to last you longer from today by definition. Nvidia will support its drivers longer. If developers do start implementing the ray tracing tech that gives RTX its brand name, the 2070 has the tensor cores to use that. If we somehow get to a ray-tracing-only future in a few years, 2070 should survive that as well.
We don’t know if RTX or other Nvidia rendering techs like deep-learning super sampling (DLSS) will take off. And I wouldn’t buy a card for either of those bullet points, but you are much better off factoring those into your purchasing decision than whether or not the 2070 is relatively disappointing.
None of this is exciting. I agree. I even concur that it is mentally tough to drop $500 on something that is effectively the same thing as the $500 card that launched two years ago. That stinks. But it also doesn’t mean anything to whether the GPU is worth your money and how it will perform when you play games.
Exceptions to the RTX 2070
Sales and power consumption
I would never say that RTX 2070 is the right $500 card for everyone all the time. A sale could come along and drop the GTX 1080 to $350 or a 1080 Ti to $500. Maybe you are more worried about the cost of power consumption, and the RTX 2070 is rated for a TDP of 185W compared to 1080’s 180W. That’s not a huge difference (and I wonder if that’s with RTX turned on), but still — maybe power is expensive where you live.
Some people may want to buy something used to save money. Everyone’s situation is different, but I’m pretty skittish about the current state of the used-GPU market after coming off the cryptomining craze last year. You can probably find a lot of inexpensive and powerful cards that were running at maximum load 24/7 for months, and you’d never know it by looking at them.
Freesync vs. Gsync
But the one RTX 2070 alternative that I do think is viable is the Vega 64 (or maybe a souped up Vega 56). I’m going to write about this separately, but you should buy a video card based on your display. And if you’re in the market for a new monitor, you can get an excellent one with AMD’s FreeSync adaptive-sync tech at a far more affordable price than an equivalent panel with Nvidia’s GSync. So if you think about the video card and display as a packaged deal, which you probably should, then the Vega 64 turns into a much better value.
What if something better comes along soon?
Finally, you could always just continue to wait.
Maybe AMD will come back with some way to compete on the high end. Nvidia needs the competition. I also think AMD needs to stay in the conversation. I love its Radeon RX 580. For 1080p60 gaming, you don’t need much more power than that. But that card, and AMD as a whole, are easy to ignore. And it’s because AMD doesn’t have anything close to the 2080 Ti. If could launch something comparable, you would expect prices to start coming down
The problem is that it’s a scary time to wait. Tariffs are coming for practically every PC component made in China. And a $500 RTX 2070 might look like an excellent deal a few months from now.
So the RTX 2070 is a good deal right now. It makes a lot more sense than the RTX 2080 at $800. And it should have the long-term support and extra features that will make it a better investment than a 1080 or Vega 64. So if you’ve waited to buy a new card, go ahead and jump on the RTX 2070. I would.