While all everyone was wrapped up in E3 and the excitement around New Video Games, there was a ton of drama in the tech world when it came to graphics cards.
EVGA has since come out and taken a stance on the matter, declaring to all consumers that "What You See Is What You Get". But what exactly is going on?
When you go to the EVGA website, you're presented with this nice looking picture. Here's what it looks like, so we can all get on the same page.
"EVGA was one of the first graphics card companies to offer overclocked graphics cards, and since day one EVGA always delivered the exact same products to reviewers as well as customers," the site says. "EVGA does not 'fake' reviews or send out products with 'tweaked' clockspeeds to reviewers. With EVGA Superclocked, FTW and Classified graphics cards, what you see is what you get."
Confused as to what the hell EVGA is talking about? Put simply, it's a dig at allegations levelled against rival manufacturers ASUS and MSI over samples of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 and 1080 that have been sent to reviewers.
When a manufacturer ships a card, they often ship software with that card allowing users to control the clock speeds of the GPU, memory and so forth. That software often has presets users can choose to automatically overclock to certain speeds: one where the fans run at the reference speed as dictated by AMD or NVIDIA, one for the settings advertised on the box, and a higher setting for people looking to get some extra performance out of their card.
The ASUS GTX 1080 Strix sent out to reviewers has two such profiles (standard and overclocked), while the MSI card has three (the reference-speed Silent mode, the default Gaming preset and the high performance OC mode).
What the sites discovered was that their cards were set to the higher performance preset modes from the box, rather than their standard defaults. And if you don't install the software that comes on the CD -- and given that those drivers are typically out of date and the software often doesn't have any functionality that can't be achieved with third-party software -- you won't know the difference.
Here's how TechPowerUp put it.
To select between the modes, you're expected to install the MSI Gaming software from the driver DVD, and use that software to apply clock speeds of your desired mode. Turns out, that while the retail cards (the cards you find in the stores) run in "Gaming mode" out of the box, the review samples MSI has been sending out, run at "OC mode" out of the box. If the OC mode is how the card is intended to be used, then why make OC mode the default for reviewers only, and not your own customers?
Now if the OC mode is enabled for review samples of one company and not for the others, this means that potential customers comparing reviews will think one card performs better than the other, even if it's just 1%, people do base their buying decision on such small differences.
As you can imagine, the entire tech world got instantly put on notice -- and they all started checking the cards they'd received. Tweaktown discovered that their GTX 1070 card from MSI was achieving boost clock speeds more than 200MHz beyond the quoted specifications for MSI's OC mode.
As far as ASUS and MSI are concerned, however, they've done nothing wrong. ASUS released a statement over the weekend Australian time saying that the cards were set to maximum performance from the off "to save media time and effort".
Retail products are in “Gaming Mode” by default, which allows gamers to experience the optimal balance between performance and silent operation. We encourage end-users to try GPU Tweak II and adjust between the available modes, to find the best mode according to personal needs or preferences.
For both the press samples and retail cards, all these modes can be selected through the GPU Tweak II software. There are no differences between the samples we sent out to media and the retail channels in terms of hardware and performance.
MSI hasn't released a statement to date, although it's not hard to imagine them taking the same tack. (And why wouldn't you, when you can sit back and let ASUS cop all the flak?) But there are a few things to consider.
First things first. While the clock speeds listed here can be achieved by literally anyone who purchases the software, why didn't ASUS and MSI tell reviewers they had gone to the effort of saving them a little bit of time?
But you've got to also ask how this wasn't noticed before. While most reviewers don't go to the trouble of installing the software on the CD, plenty also use tools like EVGA Precision X or GPU-Z. The latter, in particular, tells you precisely how much memory a card has, how fast it's running, what the bus interface is, whether SLI is enabled, what the texture fillrate is, the size of the GPU die ... basically everything.
It might be a case of the reviewers simply being inundated, which is more understandable than you'd think. And it might not be an insidious move on the part of the manufacturers.
But the reality of PC gaming is that one or two frames does make a difference when it comes to purchasing decisions. Let's say you're going to buy a new GPU, and you're not much of a tech enthusiast. You want to play something like Battlefield 1 or Overwatch. If you don't know the difference between two brands, and you read several reviews that say Brand X gets you slightly more frames in both games than Brand Y, which card are you going to buy?
Brand X, obviously.
So that's the low-down on the latest drama in the world of video cards, and EVGA's attempt at a bit of mischievous, or opportunist, marketing. At the end of the day we're still not dealing with clock speeds that you wouldn't be able to achieve yourself.
But then again, we're also talking about cards that can cost over a thousand dollars. And some people don't want to fiddle with tech when it costs that much.
Just some food for thought.
Update (1:58 PM): MSI has now released an official statement.
MSI Review samples and MSI retail cards are identical in terms of hardware and performance. Both have the exact same performance profiles available through the MSI Gaming App. All information about these performance profiles is clearly communicated and can be found on the respective product pages. Retail cards are set to ‘Gaming Mode’ by default, which offers the best Performance per Watt, while still giving close to ‘OC Mode’ in-game performance. In order to enjoy the best performance and all features of MSI GAMING products, we highly recommend to use the MSI Gaming App which is available for free. The MSI Gaming App allows you to apply one of three performance profiles with a single click, instantly giving you the desired performance.
As several reviewers have stated, software like the MSI Gaming App is often not used in reviews. This is why review samples of the MSI GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 GAMING X graphics cards are set to ‘OC Mode’ to ensure that reviews demonstrate the same performance available through the MSI Gaming App. The award winning TWIN FROZR VI cooling is designed to handle each performance profile flawlessly, giving you the lowest noise in the industry and consistent performance so gamers can focus on their gameplay.