Review roundup: GTX 1060 impresses at its price point

Greetings, fellow gerbils. Welcome to today's episode of the 2016 Graphics Card Wars. Unless you've been living under Stonehenge, you're aware that the GeForce GTX 1060 has been released today. The card's $249 suggested price ($299 for the Founder's Edition) and its purported GTX 980-matching performance are a hard missile lock on the recently-released Radeon RX 480. Our labs have yet to be graced with the GTX 1060's presence, but we've collected some data from around the web to see what other reviewers discovered about the card.

Source: Nvidia

Here's a quick rundown of the GTX 1060's characteristics. The reference GP106 chip has 1280 stream processors clocked at 1506 MHz base and 1708 MHz boost speeds. 6GB of VRAM sit around the GP106 GPU, and the entire card has an impressively low TDP of 120W. Much like the RX 480, the reference GTX 1060 board is fed by a single 6-pin PCIe power connector.

Let's kick things off with the all-important game results. According to PC Perspective and Tom's Hardware, Nvidia's claim of GTX 980-level performance is a little exaggerated, but not completely unfounded. The GTX 1060 loses out to its Maxwell predecessor in the vast majority of games, but does manage to match it in a handful of titles. More important, though, is the comparison to the RX 480. The bottom line is roughly this: the GTX 1060 is a bit faster overall in the majority of tested games, bar a couple exceptions that have historically gone in AMD's favor. It's worth noting that the GTX 1060's lead against the RX 480 is a little higher at 1920x1080 than at 2560x1440, though.

Those following the brouhaha over DX12 and async compute (or the lack thereof) and expecting some sort of conclusion will be disappointed, too. In Ashes of the Singularity, both cards are pretty much tied. Hitman does net a win for the RX 480, but ironically enough, its lead over the green team's card is actually higher in DX11 mode. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, the GTX 1060 leads the RX 480 by a healthy margin. The folks over at HardOCP tested the performance of the GTX 1060 and the RX 480 with Doom's Vulkan renderer and found that the AMD card holds a substantial advantage over Nvidia's latest, however.

What's particularly impressive about the GTX 1060 is its appetite for power. The card's load power draw appears to be 30-40W lower than the RX 480's in most sites' tests. The GTX 1060 sticks almost religiously to its 120W TDP, and tests from PC Perspective and Tom's Hardware reveal that the current split between the 6-pin plug and slot is perfectly within spec, too. Noise levels are equally impressive for a reference card: testers reported that even under load, the radial fan's noise profile is smooth and unobtrusive.

At first sight, one would be inclined to say that the GTX 1060 is the better option versus the Radeon RX 480. That conclusion may be a bit premature. The first point of contention is the $299 asking price for the Founder's Edition GTX 1060. That's roughly a 25% premium over the reference 8GB RX 480, and we're not convinced the extra performance and lower noise of the GTX 1060 FE can justify that extra $60. That jump is a significant chunk of change in the mid-range graphics card market. If you're looking at a GTX 1060, we'd advise you to go straight for the cheaper third-party versions.

The second issue is that third-party card designs of either team tend to be superior in some ways to their reference counterparts. The Radeon RX 480's noise levels might benefit from custom coolers, but the earliest we'd expect to see those cards is sometime next month. On the flip side, non-reference GTX 1060s with pushed clocks are already popping up, and the GP106 GPU appears to be particularly amenable to overclocking. A number of those GTX 1060 custom cards carry $249 and $259 price tags, too—not that big a leap over the 8GB RX 480.

Going by other sites' results, the GTX 1060 appears to offer slightly better performance in today's games and significantly better power efficiency than the 8GB Radeon RX 480, all for a bit more money. The 4GB RX 480 continues to rule at the $200 price point, however, and folks who are strongly concerned about the DirectX 12 future may find that both RX 480s are more to their taste if efficiency isn't a concern. Still, it appears Nvidia has delivered a compelling option at the $250 price point, and we'd expect a heated battle in the midrange graphics market going forward.

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