In June, AMD released the $200 Radeon RX 480, the crown jewel in the company’s oft-trumpeted campaign to bring high-performance graphics to the masses. While Nvidia was busy releasing powerful, yet pricey cards like the GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080, AMD said its focus was squarely on everyday gamers. VR isn’t just for the 1 percent, a revolution-themed ad campaign barked.
A mere week after the Radeon RX 480 launched, Nvidia surprised everyone by announcing its own affordable GeForce GTX 1060.
The GTX 1060 delivered a similar, yet slightly better experience than the RX 480: It was slightly faster at gaming, slightly faster in VR, slightly quieter, and a hell of a lot more power-efficient. But Nvidia’s card is also not-so-slightly more expensive, starting at $250. Between the extreme price sensitivity in the $200 segment and the fact that the RX 480 already delivers no-compromises 1080p gaming, we actually recommend most people pick up the Radeon over Nvidia’s card—even though the 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 is technically superior on paper.
There’s a hiccup in all of this, though. The cheaper 4GB versions of the Radeon RX 480 have been extremely difficult to find, and $200 models based on the reference design are virtually nonexistent. People looking to buy an RX 480 for the $200 price point AMD trumpeted have been sorely disappointed, as the enthusiasts on the r/amd subreddit are quick to point out.
Enter Nvidia’s 3GB GeForce GTX 1060—a cut-down variant that also starts at $200. It’s on.
Meet the 3GB EVGA GTX 1060
The 3GB version of the GTX 1060 is mostly the same as the full-fat 6GB version, but with a couple of key differences.
Obviously, the memory’s been halved. But more insidiously, the 3GB GTX 1060 actually disables one of the GP106 GPU’s ten streaming multiprocessors. That reduces the graphics card’s CUDA cores to 1152, down from the full-fat 6GB model’s 1280. Add some other under-the-hood changes, and the 3GB GTX 1060 becomes a subtly—yet materially—different GPU than the 6GB GTX 1060. All this may have been necessary to hit the $200 price point, but calling this card a “GTX 1060” seems destined to confuse buyers who don’t dig into 10-page performance reviews. Calling it a “GTX 1050 Ti” or “GTX 1060 LE” could’ve avoided all that.
Alas. On the plus side, Nvidia says it won’t mix and match the differing GPU’s memory capacities. A 6GB GTX 1060 will always have the full 14nm GP106 “Pascal” GPU, while any 3GB versions you see will always pack the pared-down version of the processor.
To test the new configuration’s capabilities, EVGA sent us an EVGA GTX 1060 3GB Gaming ($200 on Amazon) for review. You couldn’t ask for a more ideal paragon: The card sticks to the GTX 1060 3GB’s reference speeds, feeds, and pricing. Ports-wise, the EVGA GTX 1060 3GB Gaming packs the stock DVI-D, HDMI 2.0b, and trio of DisplayPort 1.4 connections. It doesn’t include an SLI connector, as Nvidia decided not to bake multi-card setup support into the GTX 1060, presumably because a pair of GTX 1060s in SLI would likely outperform the $600-plus GTX 1080, but for just $500, and Nvidia doesn’t want that happening.
Nvidia didn’t create a Founders Edition “reference” version of the GTX 1060 3GB, and EVGA equipped this diminutive 6.8-inch-long graphics card with a single-fan version of the company’s ACX 2.0 custom cooler. Pricier options upgrade to a more efficient ACX 3.0 model, but hey—ACX 2.0 excelled on EVGA’s GTX 970 and GTX 980, albeit in dual-fan setups. This cooling solution is nothing to sneeze at. The card pulls its 120=watt TDP through a single 6-pin power connector.
Of course, the Pascal architecture-based GPU in the heart of the EVGA GTX 1060 3GB Gaming enables all sorts of fancy features found throughout the GTX 10-series lineup. That includes 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. Importantly for this particular model, Pascal-based video cards also pack Nvidia’s superb fourth-generation delta color compression to ease memory demands. Hit those links for details on all the goodies, which we covered in-depth in our GTX 1080 review.
And now to answer the most important question about the GTX 1060 3GB: How does it stack up against AMD’s RX 400-series cards?
Next page: System configuration and initial performance results