Review: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 – A great budget gaming card
It was just a matter of time, and a little sooner than expected but necessary to spoil the party for AMD’s mass marketed Radeon RX 480. So with the launch of its own GeForce GTX 1060, NVIDIA has completed the core of its Pascal line-up, which means it effectively has a card to appeal to three different market segments.
We already know by now that the GeForce GTX 1080 is targeted at gaming enthusiasts who want that top-end undisputed king of the hill, and the GeForce GTX 1070 appealing gamers who may be a little more price conscious but yet not wanting to sacrifice too much performance. In this light, the GeForce GTX 1060 is the next logical step down the ladder. Just as its bigger brothers offered unprecedented power at their respective price points, so does the GeForce GTX 1060.
At US$299 for the Founders Edition (or US$249 for partner boards), the GTX 1060 is NVIDIA’s mainstream card, and is aimed at the lower end of the mass market or for use at eSports tournaments (where high performance cards are usually overkill). The card is also an excellent option for living room gamers who are only looking for affordable and good 1080p performance – as our benchmarks later will show.
The defining feature of NVIDIA’s Pascal cards have been their high clock speeds, and the GeForce GTX 1060 is no exception. The card boasts a base clock of 1,506MHz and boost clock of 1,708MHz. As it turns out, the GeForce GTX 1060 actually has the same base clock as the GeForce GTX 1070, but pairs that with a higher boost clock (the 1070’s boost clock sits at 1,683MHz). However, the GTX 1070 has 1,920 CUDA cores on its GPU versus 1,280 cores on the GTX 1060, hence the gap in performance between these two cards. The 1060 also only comes with 6GB of onboard memory, unlike the 8GB on the 1080 and 1070 cards.
The GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition
As with the GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070, NVIDIA will also make available a Founders Edition version of the GTX 1060 that is only available on their website. The odd Founders Edition premium applies here as well. The GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition is going for US$299, but the custom cards from NVIDIA’s partners (e.g., from ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte…) will start from US$249 onwards.
While the GTX 1080 and 1070 share a like for like design and heat-sink fan system, the GTX 1060 sports a few differences from its speedier brethren. For one, it’s a bit shorter and so might just be a better fit for small form factor casings. Its low 120 watts TDP also meant that it only requires a 6-pin (and not an 8-pin) PCIe connector for power.
In the way of display connectors, the card has the fairly standard selection of three DisplayPort 1.4 ports, one HDMI 2.0b port, and one dual-link DVI connector. These are all the latest display standards, so the GeForce GTX 1060 is fully-equipped to support things like HDR content. And with a TDP of just 120 watts, the card needs just a 6-pin PCIe connector for power. Crucially, the card will be the first NVIDIA card to do away with SLI support – there is literally no SLI connector on the 1060 cards.
The last bit is interesting, as NVIDIA has to do a lot of work with game developers to optimize various SLI configurations for multiple titles. The payoff is considerable little, as the gain in performance doesn’t usually justify the effort to do these optimizations – nor the price of paying for one or two more cards. That said, there’s no stopping gamers from installing a second or even a third 1060 card into their system if they are using Windows 10. DirectX 12 (DX12), exclusive only on Windows 10, allows for multiple GPU optimizations without the need for SLI or even AMD’s equivalent Crossfire. Games such as Ashes of the Singularity, for example, already provide support for this multiple GPU feature. We have some preliminary findings on benchmarks done on some of the newer games, but this will be another story for another day (but soon!).
In the meantime, let’s look at the performance numbers of the GTX 1060.
Test System & Benchmarks
Our gaming system used for our graphics cards benchmarks have the following specifications:
- Intel Core i7-4749K
- ASUS Z-97 Pro Gamer motherboard
- 4 x 8GB Kingston Memory
- Kingston 240GB SSD
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- Cards used: GeForce GTX 1080, 1070, 1060 and Radeon RX 480
Games and software used:
- 3DMark Professional Edition (including Time Spy for DX12)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX12)
- Ashes of the Singularity (DX12)
- Forza Motorsport 6: Apex (DX12)
- The Witcher 3 (DX11)
- Doom (Vulkan)
These titles will give a good idea of how the GTX 1060 (and even the other cards featured) perform in a variety of games that runs on different APIs. Naturally, if you want to run games that support DX12, Windows 10 is required.
The GTX 1080 and 1070 benchmark numbers were included here as a reference point to see where these two cards are at comparatively. As we can see from the results, the GeForce GTX 1060 edges out the AMD Radeon RX 480, its direct competitor in all of the tests. But, and interestingly, despite having a lower clock speed, the RX 480 still manages to give the GTX 1060 a run for its money in the Standard (1920 x 1080) and Time Spy (DirectX 12) tests. We had expected the GTX 1080 and 1070 cards to score much higher in Time Spy too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX12) – Ultra Settings
Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the earliest games to fully support DirectX 12, and is an excellent title to showcase a graphics card’s prowess – especially at higher resolutions. At 1080p, the results aren’t surprisingly. At higher resolutions, the GTX 1060 is still beating the RX 480 but only just barely. It looks like the AMD card’s superior memory bandwidth (256GB/s to the GTX 1060’s 192GB/s) and capacity is serving it well. Rise of the Tomb Raider appears to be more demanding in this aspect of performance, and that would explain why the GeForce GTX 1060 performance gained against the RX 480 diminishes at higher resolutions. Still, let’s not take away the fact that the GTX 1060 is still the faster card than the RX 480 here.
Ashes of the Singularity – Crazy Settings
Ashes of the Singularity was the first DX12 game in the market when it was released earlier this year. As it turns out in the game’s built-in benchmark, the GTX 1060 lagged only just behind the Radeon RX 480, where the AMD card turned out a better (albeit very slightly) performance in DirectX 12 mode. It would look like AMD’s implementation of asynchronous compute capabilities is still favored in the game, despite any official statements to the contrary. In reality, that difference we see here will hardly be noticeable in real-world gaming, and it does seem to show that NVIDIA’s drivers are getting better at being optimized for DirectX 12 games.
Forza Motorsports 6: Apex (Highest Settings)
Forza Motorsports 6: Apex is another DirectX 12 game that was recently released, and is a good showcase of a GPU’s raw power. At 1080p and 1440p, considered to be the current most common resolutions used by the masses and professional players at eSports tournaments, the GTX 1060 handled the game easily. If you play shooters and or racing games regularly, the GTX 1060 would make for a better purchase over the RX 480 if you’re looking for a budget gaming graphics card.
The Witcher 3 – Ultra Settings
The Witcher 3 showed some very interesting numbers, which isn’t so good for the GTX 1060. Despite the game being optimized for NVIDIA cards, the GTX 1060 is just a whisker behind the RX 480. Once again, and just like what we noticed with Rise of the Tomb Raider, it is very likely that the game favored the card with the superior memory bandwidth and capacity. It is also very likely that AMD has done an excellent job in optimizing its Radeon drivers for the game.
Doom – Vulkan API
With Doom, we chose to run the benchmark on the Vulkan API. Vulkan is derived from and built upon components of AMD’s Mantle API, which was donated by AMD to the API developer, Khronos, with the intent of giving Khronos a foundation on which to begin developing a low-level API that they could standardize across the industry, much like OpenGL.
So it is not exactly surprising then, to see that the GTX 1060 (and comparatively speaking, the other two GTX cards as well) fell behind the RX 480 rather comprehensively. We are highly certain that this is due to poor Vulkan optimization in NVIDIA’s drivers, which hopefully can be rectified in the near future.
The GeForce GTX 1060 is really just the logical conclusion to what NVIDIA has been doing with the rest of its Pascal series. The company effectively introduced new levels of performance at all-time-low price points, and it’s safe to say that its new cards are winners through and through.
Taken on its own, the GeForce GTX 1060 delivers performance at a price that was just a dream only a year ago. In the way of competitors, the most obvious candidate is the AMD Radeon RX 480, and the two cards trade blows throughout our benchmarks.
In all honesty, it’s difficult to pick the winner out of these two mass-targeted cards but we’ll give an edge to the AMD card now because of the lead it takes in some of the newer games and the performance boost it nets in DirectX 12 mode – especially at 1080p (remember, this card is targeted at the masses or budget conscious segment). And more so with Vulkan games. It also supports CrossFire, although these days it makes more sense to invest in one powerful GPU than a couple of slower ones – oh how we miss the days when a pair of GTX 460 in SLI can trounce a single GTX 480! Last but not least, the RX 480 also has a lower price tag, even for its partners’ boards.
That’s not taking anything away from the GTX 1060, however. It’s impressive what NVIDIA has done with the card, and all at just 120w TDP. Perhaps we were just hoping for more, especially with a real competition in AMD’s Radeon RX 480.
- Same hardware feature as GTX 1080 / 1070 for at a lower price
- Low energy consumption
- Excellent build quality and attractive design
- Good overclocking headroom
- Founders Edition cost a premium
- DirectX 12 and Vulkan API optimisation can be improved