GeForce GTX 1060 review: How does it compare to AMD's RX 480?

The first head-to-head battle in the next-generation graphics card war is here.

Nvidia isn’t ceding the mainstream to AMD’s revolutionary US$200 Radeon RX 480 in the next-generation graphics war.

That alone is a bit of a shock. After Nvidia surprise-launched the monstrous US$650 GeForce GTX 1080 and Titan X-beating US$380 GeForce GTX 1070, many people expected the company to leave AMD to stomp around on its own in the mainstream price points for a while. The x60-series GeForce graphics cards typically launch months after the heavy hitters, after all. So Nvidia’s announcement of the GeForce GTX 1060 (US$250 RRP, US$300 for the limited Nvidia Founders Edition) a mere week after the Radeon RX 480’s release, served as a wake-up call. Nvidia’s ready to rumble, with the new card hitting the streets today, complete with an array of custom models from board partners like EVGA and Asus.

Nvidia promises that the GTX 1060 will outperform the GTX 980 while drawing a mere 120 watts of power. That’s damned impressive, especially in the wake of the Radeon RX 480’s power consumption controversy.

But this release marks a new front in the next-gen graphics war: The GTX 1060 is the first card from either AMD or Nvidia to go head-to-head with a next-gen graphics card from its rival, rather than last-gen leftovers. How does the GTX 1060 Founders Edition compare to the Radeon RX 480?

Let’s dig in.

Meet the GeForce GTX 1060

nvidia geforce gtx 1060 5 Brad Chacos

While the GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 graphics cards pack Nvidia’s GP104 graphics processor, the GTX 1060 is powered by a new, less powerful GP106 GPU (which is still based on Nvidia’s 14nm FinFET “Pascal” architecture).

gtx 1060 specs

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060’s key specs. (Click on any image in this article to enlarge it.)

Cut GP104 in half and you’re basically looking at the GP106 GPU’s essential stats—the GTX 1060 has half as many CUDA cores, half as many Streaming Multiprocessors, and half as many texture units as the hulking GTX 1070. But that’s not a universal truth; the GTX 1060 has only a third fewer ROPs than the GTX 1080, and Nvidia’s $250 card still boasts insanely fast clock speeds, with 1,506MHz base and 1,708MHz boost clocks. While we won’t dive into overclocking in this review, Nvidia says it’s pushed the GTX 1060 Founders Edition past 2GHz.

The GTX 1060 also eschews the GTX 1080’s cutting-edge GDDR5X memory in favor of tried, true, and cheap GDDR5 memory—as you’d expect in a mainstream graphics card. Equipped with 6GB of onboard RAM clocked at 8Gbps, Nvidia’s card falls squarely between the Radeon RX 480’s 4GB and 8GB options, with a 192-bit memory bus. That’s not as big as the RX 480’s 256-bit bus, but Nvidia’s memory compression technology is top-notch, and the GTX 1060 benefits from the same delta color compression improvements as the GTX 1080. In practice, the GTX 1060’s memory proves plenty capable of gaming at 1080p, 2560x1440-resolution, and virtual reality.

pascal delta color compression

The Pascal GPU’s superb memory compression lessens the impact of the GTX 1060’s 192-bit memory interface.

The last generation of graphics cards all launched with 2GB of RAM. My, how far we’ve come.

Visually, the GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition mirrors the angular aesthetic of previous Nvidia Founders Edition cards, but with the black-and-silver color scheme inverted on the shroud. The cooling system mimics the GTX 1070’s with a blower-style fan that exhausts heat out through the rear of your system, paired with a copper pipe-infused heat sink that’s 50 percent larger than the older GTX 960’s.

PCWorld’s GeForce GTX 1060 visual preview will show you every aspect of the card, both inside and out, but there are a couple of technical tidbits worth highlighting. First of all, the GTX 1060 still sports the same DVI-D port, HDMI 2.0b port, and trio of DisplayPort 1.4 connections as its brethren, giving it the capability to power VR headsets, HDR displays, and ultra-high resolutions alike. Of note for HTC Vive owners: A recent Nvidia driver fixed a bug where the GTX 10-series DisplayPorts refused to power that headset.

nvidia geforce gtx 1060 15 Brad Chacos

The important part of this picture is what you don’t see: an SLI connector on the GTX 1060.

More importantly, you won’t find any SLI connectors on the GTX 1060, which means you won’t be able to use two or more of the cards in a single system for additional performance (at least in DirectX 11 games). When asked, Nvidia says that’s because it focuses on high-end experiences for SLI—but the older GTX 960 supported SLI. Our guess at the real reason: A pair of GTX 1060s in SLI would outperform the US$600 to US$700-plus GTX 1080, but for just US$500, and Nvidia doesn’t want that happening.

Not that it would put a major strain on your system. The GeForce GTX 1060 pulls its paltry 120 watt TDP through a single six-pin power connector. That’s even more impressive when you take the card’s performance level into account—which we’ll get into in a bit.

As a Pascal GPU-based graphics card, the GeForce GTX 1060 enjoys all the same new features and software benefits as the other GTX 10-series cards, including key additions like simultaneous multi-projection and async compute improvements, as well as handy extras like Ansel screenshots, Fast Sync, GPU Boost 3.0, and more. In fact, Nvidia rolled out Ansel support and its VR Funhouse experience mere days before the card’s launch. Hit those links for details on all the goodies.

And that’s all you need to know about the GeForce GTX 1060… except for how it actually runs. Let’s go.

Next page: System configuration

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Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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