Date: October 11, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams
We discovered a couple of months ago that NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1060 delivers excellent 1080p performance and admirable 1440p performance, so what happens when ASUS straps on an even larger cooler and gives the card an overclock? Well, we get the Strix, an LED-equipped beast of a card that runs cool and quiet.
We discovered this past summer that NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1060 is quite an effective card at its suggested price of ~$249 (6GB model), delivering superb 1080p performance, and solid 1440p performance. As impressive as it was, though, there’s always a little room for improvement, right? ASUS thinks so, and it has its Strix edition to help prove it.
Whereas the reference Founders Edition of the GTX 1060 features a leaf-blower style fan under a closed metal shroud, ASUS offers a beefed-up fin array with its Strix and tops the open shroud with three fans. That makes the Strix edition bulkier overall versus the Founders Edition, but as we’ll see later, the trade-off of space is worth it.
The GTX 1060 Strix supports a couple of predefined modes, with the shipping one being “Gaming”. In that mode, the card supports a GPU Boost clock of 1847MHz. When the GPU TweakII software is installed, “OC Mode” can be used instead, to increase the clock further, to 1873MHz. In the real-world, the top-end of each value will be even higher, something I’ll take a look at on the final page. The important thing to note is that the Strix edition is an overclocked GTX 1060, so out-of-the-gate, it’ll perform much better than a Founders Edition – as we’ll see soon.
Time for some hardware porn:
ASUS equips the GTX 1060 Strix with a DVI-D port, dual HDMI ports, and dual DisplayPorts. While NVIDIA’s design sports a 6-pin power connector, ASUS includes an 8-pin for the sake of possibly improved stability and improved overclocking potential.
As seen in one of the shots above, Strix also includes a backplate, and unlike most, it actually adds to the style of the card. Overall, the entire card is great-looking; it’s not flashy, and would look good in any build. OK – perhaps “not flashy” is incorrect phrasing, as under the shroud, a customizable LED can be found. With downloadable software called Aura, you can change the LED mode and color – great for those wanting to add a bit of pizzazz to their build. Don’t want color? You can turn the LED feature off entirely.
If you’re indifferent to the color of the LED, but use a windowed PC so that you can see the card, you can also use a feature that adjusts the card’s color based on temperature: green for modest temperatures, and yellow/red for peaked temperatures.
|NVIDIA GeForce Series||Cores||Core MHz||Memory||Mem MHz||Mem Bus||TDP|
|GeForce GTX 1080||2560||1607||8192MB||10000||256-bit||180W|
|GeForce GTX 1070||1920||1506||8192MB||8000||256-bit||150W|
|GeForce GTX 1060||1280||≤1700||6144MB||8000||192-bit||120W|
As seen in the table above, the GTX 1060 sits at the bottom of NVIDIA’s current line-up, although that’s not a bad thing considering it’s still a midrange card (the GTX 1050 is rumored to make an appearance soon). So what’s that mean in performance terms? In our opinion:
|NVIDIA GeForce Series||1080p||1440p||3440×1440||4K|
|GeForce GTX 1080||Overkill||Excellent||Excellent||Good|
|GeForce GTX 1070||Excellent||Great||Good||Poor|
|GeForce GTX 1060||Great||Good||Poor||Poor|
|Overkill: 60 FPS? More like 100 FPS. As future-proofed as it gets.|
Excellent: Surpass 60 FPS at high quality settings with ease.
Great: Hit 60 FPS with high quality settings.
Good: Nothing too impressive; it gets the job done (60 FPS will require tweaking).
Poor: Expect real headaches from the awful performance.
As a “Great” 1080p card, the GTX 1060 will hit 60 FPS pretty effortlessly in most of today’s games, although it might not be common to be able to top-out a game’s graphics settings at that resolution with future titles. “Good” for 1440p means that compromises will have to be made in most of today’s current games in order to hit 60 FPS.
What that means for the Strix is that those values would be even more emphasized. It’d take a lot more than a clock boost to upgrade any of these values, though.
When we need to build a test PC for performance testing, “no bottleneck” is the name of the game. While we admit that few of our readers are going to be equipped with an Intel 8-core processor clocked to 4GHz, we opt for such a build to make sure our GPU testing is as apples-to-apples as possible, with as little variation as possible. Ultimately, the only thing that matters here is the performance of the GPUs, so the more we can rule out a bottleneck, the better.
That all said, our test PC:
|Graphics Card Test System|
|Processors||Intel Core i7-5960X (8-core) @ 4.0GHz|
|Motherboard||ASUS X99 DELUXE|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Beast 32GB (4x8GB) – DDR4-2133 11-12-11|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB – Catalyst 16.5.3|
AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB – Catalyst 16.6.2 Beta
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB – GeForce 365.22
NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN X 12GB – GeForce 365.22
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB – GeForce 368.64 (Beta)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GeForce 372.90 (ASUS Strix)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB – GeForce 368.19 (Beta)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB – GeForce 368.25
|Storage||Kingston SSDNow V310 1TB SSD|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1300W|
|Chassis||Cooler Master Storm Trooper Full-Tower|
|Cooling||Thermaltake WATER3.0 Extreme Liquid Cooler|
|Displays||Acer Predator X34 34″ Ultra-wide|
Acer XB280HK 28″ 4K G-SYNC
ASUS MG279Q 27″ 1440p FreeSync
|Et cetera||Windows 10 Pro (10586) 64-bit|
Framerate information for all tests – with the exception of certain time demos and DirectX 12 tests – are recorded with the help of Fraps. For tests where Fraps use is not ideal, I use the game’s built-in test (the only option for DX12 titles right now). In the past, I’ve tweaked the Windows OS as much as possible to rule out test variations, but over time, such optimizations have proven fruitless. As a result, the Windows 10 installation I use is about as stock as possible, with minor modifications to suit personal preferences.
In all, I use 8 different games for regular game testing, and 3 for DirectX 12 testing. That’s in addition to the use of three synthetic benchmarks. Because some games are sponsored, the list below helps oust potential bias in our testing.
(AMD) – Ashes of the Singularity (DirectX 12)
(AMD) – Battlefield 4
(AMD) – Crysis 3
(AMD) – Hitman (DirectX 12)
(NVIDIA) – Metro: Last Light Redux
(NVIDIA) – Rise Of The Tomb Raider (incl. DirectX 12)
(NVIDIA) – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(Neutral) – DOOM
(Neutral) – Grand Theft Auto V
(Neutral) – Total War: ATTILA
If you’re interested in benchmarking your own configuration to compare to our results, you can download this file (5MB) and make sure you’re using the exact same graphics settings. I’ll lightly explain how I benchmark each test before I get into each game’s performance results.
Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than most developers, the Battlefield series continues to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. While Battlefield 4 is growing a little long in the tooth, it’s still a great test at high resolutions. Once Battlefield 1 drops, we’re sure to replace BF4.
Testing: The game’s Singapore level is chosen for testing, as it provides a lot of action that can greatly affect the framerate. The saved game we use starts us off on an airboat that we must steer towards shore, at which point a huge firefight commences. After the accompanying tank gets past a hump in the middle of the beach, the test is stopped.
Just as we’d expect, the ASUS Strix edition GTX 1060 is a bit faster than the Founders Edition. Given the close frame rates in both games, I’d wager that no one would notice the difference between the two cards, but we’d of course always recommend going with the option that is going to give the best performance overall. A huge gain might not be seen here, but it could be in other titles… such as Crysis 3?
Like Battlefield 4, Crysis 3 is getting a little up there in years. Fortunately, though, that doesn’t matter, because the game is still more intensive than most current titles. Even though the game came out in 2013, if you’re able to equip Very High settings at your resolution of choice, you’re in a great spot.
Testing: The game’s Red Star Rising level is chosen for benchmarking here, with the lowest difficulty level chosen (dying during a benchmarking run is a little infuriating!) The level starts us out in a broken-down building and leads us down to a river, where we need to activate an alien device. Once this is done, the player is run back underneath a nearby roof, at which point the benchmark ends.
With Crysis 3, you can begin to see why we called the GTX 1060 a “Great” card for 1080p gaming on the first page of this review. Here, the frame rates were undeniably great, but can we still say that about forthcoming games? There’s not a ton of leeway before we begin seeing sub-60 FPS performance. At 1440p, the card still performs admirably, but the settings would have to be dropped quite significantly to deliver that 60 FPS we seek so bad.
DOOM 3 was released a couple of months before Techgage launched (March 1, 2005, for the record), and it was a game featured in our GPU testing right from the get-go. For this reason, this latest DOOM feels a bit special, even though it follows DOOM 3 up eleven years later. As we hoped, the game proves to be more than suitable for GPU benchmarking.
Testing: Due to time constraints, an ideal level could not be chosen for benchmarking. Instead, our test location starts us off at the bottom of a short set of stairs early on in the game, where we must climb them, open up a door, and then go to a big room where demons are taken care of and the benchmark is stopped.
DOOM is no problem for the GTX 1060 at 1080p, or even 1440p, considering 60 FPS can still be hit. That’s at High detail, to boot. It’s like this card was made for this game.
Does a game like this even need an introduction? Any Grand Theft Auto game on the PC is a ‘console port’, proven by the fact that it always comes to the PC long after the consoles, but Rockstar has at least done PC gamers a favor here by offering them an almost overwhelming number of graphical options to fine-tune, helping to make it suitable for benchmarking, especially at high resolutions.
Testing: The mission Repossession is chosen for testing here, with the benchmark starting as soon as our character makes his way to an unsuspecting car. The benchmark ends after a not-so-leisurely drive to a parking garage, right before a cutscene kicks in.
In GTA V, even AMD’s Radeon RX 470 can deliver 60+ at 1080p with high detail. At 1440p, ASUS’ Strix peaks at 71 FPS, and holds a solid minimum, as well.
Like a couple of other games in our stable, Metro Last Light might seem like an odd choice give its age. After all, the original version of the game came out in 2013, and its Redux version came out in late 2014. None of that matters, though, as the game is about as hardcore as it can get when it comes to GPU punishment.
Testing: The game’s built-in timedemo is used for testing here, which lasts 2m 40s. While the game can spit out its own results file, it’s horribly inaccurate, so Fraps is still used here.
Metro Last Light is a game that proves the “But can it run Crysis?” question is now pointless. Despite having been released three-and-a-half years ago, Last Light remains brutal on our modern GPU hardware, and its Redux edition only solidified that. At 1080p, the GTX 1060 can handle the game fine, but 1440p is out of the question.
Lara Croft has sure come a long way. The latest Tomb Raider iteration becomes one of the first titles on the market to support DirectX 12, but even without it, the game looks phenomenal at high detail settings (as the below screenshot can attest).
Testing: Geothermal Valley is the location chosen for testing with this title, as it features a lot shadows and a ton of foliage. From the start of our saved game, we merely walk down a fixed path for just over a minute and stop the benchmark once we reach a broken down bridge (the shot below is from the benchmarked area).
At high detail, Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the most beautiful games on the market right now. And fortunately, you’ll be able to hit 60 FPS quite easily with the GTX 1060 – and get a few extra FPS with ASUS’ Strix.
Since the original The Witcher title came out in 2007, the series has become one of the best RPGs going. Each one of the titles in the series offers deep gameplay, amazing locales, and comprehensive lore. Wild Hunt, the series’ third game, also happens to be one of the best-looking games out there and requires a beefy PC to take great advantage of.
Testing: Our saved game starts us just outside Hierarch Square, where we begin a manual runthrough (literally – the run button is held down as much as possible) through and around the town, to wind up back at a bridge near a watermill (pictured below). The entire runthrough takes about 90 seconds. Please note that while ‘Ultra’ detail is used, NVIDIA’s HairWorks is not.
I said on the previous page that Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best-looking games going, and the same could be said about The Witcher 3. The difference is that here, we get an extra ~10 FPS of performance with the GTX 1060/ASUS Strix, giving us a minimum FPS of ~60 FPS. The game remains very playable at 1440p, but some graphics settings will need to be dropped to hit 60 FPS.
For strategy fans, the Total War series needs no introduction. ATTILA is the latest in the series, which will remain true for only the next week, as Warhammer is due to launch. Thankfully, any recent Total War game is suitable for benchmarking, and our results are going to prove that.
Testing: ATTILA includes a built-in benchmark, so again, I’ve decided to use that. However, as I do with Metro, I stick to Fraps for framerate capturing as the game’s results page isn’t too convenient.
At max detail, ATTILA is even more demanding than Crysis 3. You’ll have to accept defeat and lower details to hit 60 FPS on the GTX 1060. At 1440p, you’ll need to make significant graphical settings changes to hit 60 FPS.
I don’t like to overdo “time demos”, but I do love running some hands-off benchmarks that you at home can run as well (provided you have a license) so that you can accurately compare your performance to ours. It goes without saying that any synthetic testing would have to include Futuremark, and in particular for high-end cards, 3DMark’s Fire Strike test.
3DMark includes a number of different game tests, but today’s graphics cards are so powerful, the Fire Strike test is really the only one that makes sense. At 1080p, even modest GPUs can deliver decent performance. A great thing about Fire Strike is that the official tests encompass three different resolutions, including 4K, making it perfect for our testing.
Considering the fact that ASUS’ Strix model GTX 1060 is pre-overclocked, it makes sense that we’d see it outperform the Founders Edition ever-so-slightly. Overclocking the card further can of course improve that even more – though your mileage may vary, as I’ll tackle on the next page.
It’s hard to tell at this point if Heaven is ever going to see a new update, as it’s been quite a while since the last one, but what we have today is still a fantastic benchmark to run. That’s thanks to the fact that it’s free, an also because it can still prove so demanding on today’s highest-end GPUs. It’s also a great test for tessellation performance, as it lets you increase or decrease its intensity. For testing, I stick with ‘Normal’ tessellation.
With Unigine, the ASUS Strix doesn’t just beat out the regular GTX 1060, but even AMD’s last-gen high-end Radeon R9 Nano (though that card takes up much less space!).
Meow hear this: there’s a new benchmark in town that promises to be purrfect for testing 4K resolutions. So, that’s just what I’ve used it for. The test consists of a cat innocently roaming a street until chaos ensues. Before long, this feline is mowing down buildings with its laser eyes, destroying GPU performance at the same time.
Catzilla backs up the theme we’ve seen up to this point, with the ASUS Strix sitting comfortably ahead of most of the line-up here. Interestingly, while the R9 Nano fell short of the Strix in Unigine’s Heaven, the roles have been reversed in Catzilla.
Considering the fact that we’ve been hearing about DirectX 12 for what feels like forever, it’s a little surprising that the number of DX12 titles out there remain few. Heck, one such game was Fable Legends, and that was shut down a few months ago. We’re definitely in the middle of a waiting game for more DX12 titles to get here, but thankfully, those that do exist now prove great for testing.
Of all the DirectX 12 games out there, Ashes of the Singularity takes the best advantage of its low-level API capabilities. As a strategy game, there could be an enormous number of AI bots on the screen at once, and in those cases, both the CPU and GPU can be used for computation.
I should be clear about one thing: low-level graphics APIs are designed to benefit low-end hardware better, but when we’re dealing with GPUs that cost hundreds of dollars, that rules that kind of test useless. For that reason, I’ve chosen to benchmark these three games as normal; the results might not be specific to low-level DX12 enhancements, but they’re still fair for comparisons against other high-end graphics cards.
AMD has been dominant in Ashes for most of the game’s life, but the GTX 1060 manages to overtake the Radeon RX 480, and the Strix furthers that. That’s not to say that anything has happened to the DX12 performance of the AMD card; the NVIDIA cards just have more grunt from the get-go.
So, how about Rise Of The Tomb Raider?
In DirectX 12 mode, the GTX 1060 can deliver more than 60 FPS on average at 1080p, with ASUS’ Strix even managing to surpass 70 FPS. At 1440p, detail levels will have to be dropped.
Finally, Hitman remains dominant in AMD’s territory. Despite the GTX 1060 being the fastest card overall, AMD’s stock-clocked RX 480 still managed to beat out the pre-overclocked ASUS Strix. Not a bad showing by the red team.
To test graphics cards for both their power consumption and temperature at load, I utilize a couple of different tools. On the hardware side, I rely on a Kill-a-Watt power monitor, which the PC plugs into directly. For software, I use GPU-Z to monitor the core temperature, and 3DMark’s Fire Strike 4K test to push the GPU hard.
To test, the floor area behind the (shut down) PC is tested with a temperature gun, with the average temperature recorded as the room temperature. Once that’s established, the PC is turned on and left to sit idle for ten minutes. It’s at this point when the idle wattage is noted, and 3DMark is run. It’s during the ‘Graphics Test 2’ that the max load wattage is recorded.
Being that ASUS’ Strix GTX 1060 is clocked higher than the Founders Edition model, it makes sense that it’d draw a bit more power – which is what we see here (+15W at load, to be exact). Despite that extra power usage, though, the card runs 11°C cooler than the Founders Edition, and matches its idle temperature.
At this point in the review, I’d normally tackle overclocking capability and performance, but truth be told, I didn’t have a great amount of luck with overclocking ASUS’ Strix. I referenced some other websites that took a look at this exact card and couldn’t even manage to replicate their own top overclocks. I either have bad luck, or the card is pre-overclocked so much already that the leftover headroom isn’t that great. I could overclock +50MHz, but the performance differences were so minor that they didn’t warrant further testing.
So instead, I decided to give both the Founders Edition and ASUS’ Strix GTX 1060 a separate test, where I let Unigine’s Heaven run at high detail, at 4K resolution, for an hour, monitoring the results with GPU-Z. The results can be seen below:
At full load, ASUS’ card ran 139MHz faster core clock-wise, and 49MHz faster memory clock-wise. Despite that extra performance, the Strix card managed to run much cooler than the Founders Edition, peaking at 61°C, versus 76°C. That is not a small difference, and it highlights just how inefficient the Founders Edition cooler actually is.
Another metric to look at: despite running cooler, ASUS didn’t have to run its fans as fast as the Founders Edition card did: 1651 RPM vs. 2067 RPM. Again, a massive difference. The Strix manages to run faster, cooler, and quieter, at the expense of adding 15W to the load.
One thing I haven’t talked about up to this point, but need to, is ASUS’ GPU TweakII software tool. Similar to MSI’s Afterburner or EVGA’s Precision, GPU TweakII aims to be the ultimate GPU tweaking tool (as its name suggests), allowing users to monitor their temperatures and other settings, overclock, and set different profiles.
Overall, the software is extremely easy to follow (easier than other solutions, in my opinion). Out-of-the-box, the card will be configured with “Gaming Mode”, and if you want a slight boost, you can choose “OC Mode”. When silence is important, there’s also a profile for that. Of course, you’re able to create totally custom profiles as well; useful if you want to create an overclocking profile that cranks the fan speed up significantly.
In the final shot in the slider above, you can see ASUS’ “Aura” software, which lets you customize the lighting on any product that supports it – such as this one. You can choose between a few different lighting effects, as well as choose a preferred color. Should you not care about custom colors, you could opt to use the temperature feature, which will change the color based on how hot the GPU core gets. Considering the temperature results we achieved with this card, it seems unlikely you’ll be seeing red that easily.
So what do we make of ASUS’ Strix edition GTX 1060? It’s an excellent card, no question. While I would have liked to have achieved a great overclock, I couldn’t push the card to impressive enough levels to warrant further performance testing. That’s not to say that the lack of overclocking is a major downside, though; the card out-of-the-box is much faster than the Founders Edition. Plus, as found above, it also runs much cooler and quieter at full load.
So with its $300 price tag, is ASUS’ Strix model worth it? Given that it offers excellent 1080p performance and solid 1440p performance, I’d wager that it is. That said, there are cheaper options available from other vendors, although it seems very unlikely that those that are cheaper would run as quiet, or cool. That’s thanks in large part to the Strix’s large cooler – this thing is a beast, plain and simple. It just doesn’t need to make a ton of noise to prove it.
What about adding the RX 480 into the equation? Taking a look at Amazon, it can be found for about the same price that some non-Strix GTX 1060s can be found for, around $270. In that match-up, I’d have to recommend the GTX 1060 even still, given the performance improvements we’ve seen throughout all of our testing. AMD has so far delivered better DX12 and Vulkan performance, however, so if you think that will be important to you in the future, the RX 480 might still be worth consideration.
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