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EVGA's diminuitive GTX 1060 duo
The GTX 1060's modest TDP means that monster dual-fan coolers aren't needed to keep GP106 in check. Nvidia's board partners have released a number of compact, single-fan versions of the GTX 1060 alongside the usual barrage of dual- and triple-fan beasts. EVGA kindly sent over one of its $260 GTX 1060 6GB SC Gaming cards when we began shaking the trees, but we weren't as lucky securing a 3GB card for this review. Eventually, we threw in the towel and picked up the logical counterpart to our 6GB test subject from retail: the $210 EVGA GTX 1060 3GB SC Gaming.

Outwardly, these cards seem identical. They use the same cooler, the same 6.8"-long PCB, and the same six-pin power connector. You'd have a hard time telling them apart without squinting at their labels. Just because these cards are tiny doesn't mean they're cheaply made, though. A look under the understated plastic shroud of each card reveals a dense aluminum fin array and plenty of copper making contact with the GP106 chip itself. That's reassuring given EVGA's factory clock speed boosts over Nvidia's reference numbers. Here's a full rundown of each card's specs compared to the GTX 1060 Founders Edition:

EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB SC Gaming 1607 1835 3GB GDDR5 8 GT/s 1x 6-pin 120W $209.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC Gaming 1607 1835 6GB GDDR5 8 GT/s 1x 6-pin 120W $259.99
GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition 1506 MHz 1683 MHz 6GB GDDR5 8 GT/s 1x 6-pin 120W $299.99

Four screws are mercifully all that stands in the way of removing these cards' heatsinks. Once those screws are out and the single four-pin fan connector is unplugged, the heatsink flips off to reveal a neat application of thermal paste on a copper contact plate. Two beefy copper heatpipes run over this plate and into the aluminum fin array above. Simple, clean, and effective. EVGA's engineers didn't include a contact plate for cooling either card's voltage regulators or memory chips, but the blow-down fan should keep enough air moving over those critical components to make sure that design choice isn't an issue.

Not everything about these cards is the same, though. Once we started testing this duo, we noticed that our GTX 1060 6GB card ran considerably quieter than the 3GB version under load. It seems our 6GB card came flashed with EVGA's "silent" firmware, while the 3GB card we grabbed off the shelf wasn't so lucky. EVGA used to offer this special firmware to owners of its cards on a case-to-case basis, but no longer. Seeing as how one can set custom fan curves for either card in EVGA's PrecisionX OC software, that's probably not a big deal. We didn't perform any such tweaking before testing either card, however, so the noise and thermal results you see in this review represent straight-from-the-factory performance.

Our testing methods
As always, we did our best to deliver clean benchmarking runs. We ran each of our test cycles three times on each graphics card tested, and our final numbers incorporate the median of those results. Aside from each vendor's graphics drivers, our test system remained in the same configuration throughout the entire test.

Processor Intel Core i7-6700K
Motherboard ASRock Z170 Extreme7+
Chipset Intel Z170
Memory size 16GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type 16GB (2x8GB) G.Skill DDR4-3000
Memory timings 16-18-18-36
Chipset drivers Intel Management Engine
Intel Rapid Storage Technology V
Audio Integrated Z170/Realtek ALC1150
Realtek drivers
Storage Two Kingston HyperX 480GB SSDs
Power supply SeaSonic SS-660XP2
OS Windows 10 Pro with Anniversary Update

Our thanks to ASRock, G.Skill, Kingston, and Intel for their contributions to our test system, and to EVGA, MSI, AMD, and XFX for contributing the graphics cards we're reviewing today.

  Driver revision GPU base
core clock
GPU boost
XFX Radeon RX 470 RS 4GB Radeon Software 16.10.1 - 1256 1750 4096
Radeon RX 480 8GB 1120 1266 2000 8192
Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury -- 1000 500 4096
AMD Radeon R9 Fury X -- 1050 500 4096
MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G GeForce 373.06 1114 1253 1753 4096
MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4G 1190 1291 1753 4096
MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming Z 8G 1632 1835 2027 8192
EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB SC Gaming 1607 1835 2000 3072
EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC Gaming 1607 1835 2000 6144

For our "Inside the Second" benchmarking techniques, we now use a software utility called PresentMon to collect frame-time data from DirectX 11, DirectX 12, OpenGL, and Vulkan games alike. We sometimes use a more advanced tool called FCAT to capture exactly when frames arrive at the display, but our testing has shown that it's not usually necessary to use this tool in order to generate good results for single-GPU setups.

You'll note that aside from the Radeon RX 480 and Radeon R9 Fury X, our test card stable is made up of non-reference designs with boosted clock speeds and beefy coolers. Many readers have called us out on this practice in the past for some reason, so we want to be upfront about it here. We bench non-reference cards because we feel they provide the best real-world representation of performance for the graphics card in question. They're the type of cards we recommend in our System Guides, and we think they provide the most relatable performance numbers for our reader base. When we mention a "GTX 1060" or "Radeon RX 470" in our review, for example, just be sure to remember that we're referring to the custom cards in the table above.

With that exposition out of the way, let's talk results.