Date: July 19, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams
What do we have here? Could it really be another GPU launch? You bet! With NVIDIA having taken care of the high-end with its GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, the time was apparently right to release its mainstream GTX 1060 – coincidentally so soon after AMD launched its RX 480! Let’s see how the two cards compare.
Geez, this has been a weird GPU launch season. This past spring, I couldn’t even figure out if any new cards would be released before the fall, but we ended up getting some before the summer. That came courtesy of NVIDIA’s first Pascal cards, the GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. Not long after, AMD unleashed its Radeon RX 480.
So what makes all of this weird? Well, to start, AMD didn’t have a GPU to directly respond to either of NVIDIA’s top-end cards, which is a little unusual. Instead, the company decided to cater to the “mainstream” audiences, which it deserves kudos for. As we find out today, though, while AMD didn’t have a response to the GTX 1070 and higher, NVIDIA sure had a response to AMD’s RX 480.
That response is the GeForce GTX 1060. If you’re at all surprised by this, then you might have been taking a break from the Internet, because even NVIDIA itself has been hyping this card up. That leads me to another weird point: a couple of weeks ago, NVIDIA itself posted the GTX 1060’s full specs on its GeForce.com website. When does that ever happen before a new launch?
What we’re witnessing is the sheer power of NVIDIA. There’s no doubt that the company had the GTX 1060 in its planning stages for a while, but had AMD held off another few months on its RX 480 launch, I am doubtful we’d be seeing this card right now. Regardless of that, though, what we’re seeing with the GTX 1060 is NVIDIA giving us a reason to consider getting one over the RX 480, as it has what it takes to do that. NVIDIA is very good at playing rough.
Before I go further, I’ll admit that this review isn’t going to be as detailed as I’d like, which is a problem I ran into with my look at the RX 480 as well. Time has been limited lately due to other site projects as well as travel. If I don’t cover something you want to know, please leave a comment below.
|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|
|GeForce GTX TITAN X||3072||1000||12288MB||7000||384-bit||250W|
|GeForce GTX 980 Ti||2816||1000||6144MB||7000||384-bit||250W|
|GeForce GTX 980||2048||1126||4096MB||7000||256-bit||165W|
|GeForce GTX 970||1664||1050||4096MB||7000||256-bit||145W|
|GeForce GTX 960||1024||1126||2048MB||7010||128-bit||120W|
|GeForce GTX 950||768||1024||2048MB||6600||128-bit||90W|
The GTX 1060 has half the cores of the top-end GTX 1080 and the same memory speed of the GTX 1070. The $239 Radeon RX 480, with its 8GB framebuffer, beats out NVIDIA’s GTX 1060 by 2GB. However, I’d wager that for most gamers, 6GB isn’t going to prove a bottleneck anytime soon, thanks especially to the fact that the card is not capable of being paired up with another in SLI.
In case you sped right on past that: the GTX 1060 does not support SLI, as the above image can attest. This is a bit of an unusual move, as every card of its class in recent generations from NVIDIA has had SLI support.
NVIDIA’s reasoning is likely that SLI configurations are simply not as common as they used to be, and when people do use SLI, it typically involves the higher-end GPUs. Even still, it’s unfortunate to see SLI go away on this class of cards, because at least the option was there!
In the slide above, we can get a preview of vendor cards to come. ASUS is of course going to have a Strix model available, MSI its Gaming X, and GIGABYTE, its Gaming G1. Oh – and then there’s ZOTAC’s two offerings; one of which is perfectly suited for ITX chassis (it’s the final card in the carousel above).
All of the launch cards we’ve seen so far have included the same assortment of video ports as the Founders Edition model (which is $299, for the record): 3x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI, and 1x DVI. NVIDIA expects that vendor GTX 1060s will start out at $249 – $10 greater than AMD’s RX 480 8GB.
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 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.
PLEASE NOTE – Due to a lack of time, I was unable to retest AMD’s RX 480 using its most up-to-date drivers (outside of the DirectX 12 tests). As covered before, the post-launch drivers can improve performance by up to 3%, so bearing that in mind, let’s get to the 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.
Right off the bat, we see NVIDIA’s latest GeForce take the lead over AMD’s latest Radeon. While I’d expect to see the GTX 1060 show a bit of a gain over the RX 480, the performance deltas with Battlefield 4 are simply huge.
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.
NVIDIA’s GTX 1060 continues to dominate AMD’s RX 480, although the difference with Crysis 3 isn’t quite as stark as it was with BF 4. Both cards offer an ideal experience at 1080p, but neither can at 1440p, until detail levels are tweaked.
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.
It doesn’t look like DOOM is going to save the RX 480 from being pummeled, but all things considered, both offer about the same level of performance. The GTX 1060 did notably push beyond 60 FPS at 1440p, though, which is quite impressive given the sweet graphics featured in the 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.
It’s beginning to look like the GTX 1060 is going to be relentless in its battle against AMD’s first Polaris offering. At both resolutions, though, both cards deliver fantastic performance overall.
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.
Yet again, NVIDIA has trounced the RX 480 with its GTX 1060. At 1440p, the game is simply unplayable at the settings chosen, and for that matter, the same could be said about 1080p. As with any “lower end” GPU, you might have to sacrifice image fidelity in select titles to achieve playable framerates. Metro Last Light Redux is definitely one of those.
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).
Rise of the Tomb Raider is easily one of the most demanding games out right now. If you have a GPU with a mere 2GB framebuffer, you’re going to be noticing the downsides of that very quickly. That said, even with the “High” detail setting in this game, the GTX 1060 mustered solid framerates at 1080p.
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.
Up to this point, the GTX 1060 has convincingly beat out the RX 480, but with Wild Hunt, both cards perform much closer to one another. At 1080p, both cards will deliver over 60 FPS (at Ultra, no less!), while at 1440p, the GTX 1060 edged out the RX 480 by 3 FPS to settle at 50.
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.
To help wrap things up, ATTILA is here to tell us the same thing we’ve been seeing this entire time: the GTX 1060 is a handful of frames faster than the RX 480.
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.
According to 3DMark, the GTX 1060 is about 7% faster than the RX 480, which is a bit less than what I would have expected given our real-world results. Let’s continue on.
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.
At 1440p, the GTX 1060 proved about 20% quicker than the RX 480, but as the resolution increased, the delta becomes tighter.
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.
As with Unigine, Catzilla shows the GTX 1060 to be about 20% faster than the RX 480. Now for the big question: will the same be seen in the DirectX 12 benchmarks?
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 for a while in Ashes, but it looks like the GTX 1060 has put an end to that – though as previous tests have shown, even when DX12 isn’t involved, the GTX 1060 can push a good distance ahead of the RX 480.
So, how about Rise Of The Tomb Raider?
Yet again, we see the GTX 1060 leading the pack, hitting 67 FPS at 1080p. Both cards will require graphics tweaks before truly playable framerates can be had at 1440p.
What’s this? Let’s hear it for the RX 480! Despite being the faster card, the GTX 1060 fell short in this DirectX 12 test. It’d fall even further behind if the performance of both cards was 1:1.
July 19 Addendum: As covered a couple of weeks ago, id Software recently updated its mega-hit DOOM to support Vulkan, making it one of the very few games on the market to do so. In that post, I promised to tackle testing in time for this article, but due to time, it was pushed aside. That omission has since been corrected, however, as the below graph can attest:
Throughout most of this review, we’ve seen the RX 480 fall short of the GTX 1060’s performance, but this is one test where NVIDIA can’t touch AMD right now. Despite the GTX 1060 being the technically faster card, AMD’s excellent Vulkan performance has pushed the RX 480 18 FPS higher than the GTX 1060 using OpenGL. Conversely, NVIDIA’s GTX 1060 performance actually worsened when Vulkan was enabled. Something tells me there’s some driver work to be done here.
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.
In the launch article for AMD’s Radeon RX 480, I noted that the card’s power draw was much greater than its competition, but in between then and now, I realized there was a major fault which led to the result being inaccurate. Long story short, at some point after benchmarking NVIDIA’s GTX 1070 and before testing the RX 480, Windows 10 decided to exercise its search indexer quite hard after boot, and sometimes even after 10 minutes of the PC sitting idle at the desktop.
It seems bizarre that the search indexer could cause such increased power draw, but I ended up experiencing the same issue with the GTX 1070 reinstalled, and the issue went away after I finally disabled the service. That all said, the power draw for the RX 480 seen above is (finally) accurate.
As the lowest-end NVIDIA card in this particular lineup, it’s no surprise to see the GTX 1060’s power draw reflect that. It managed to shave 10W off of the GTX 1070, and place 28W lower than the RX 480. As for temperatures, the GTX 1060 also becomes the coolest-running card in this lineup, not even managing to hit 70°C. It’s not often we see that kind of result from an NVIDIA-designed cooler.
I am going to keep this conclusion short and sweet, because chances are good you already knew of what the GTX 1060 was made of before even clicking on the review.
As expected, the GTX 1060 is faster than AMD’s RX 480, and in some cases, the gain is notable. A safe bet would be “10% faster”, and sometimes, it might actually hit 20%. That’s a far greater gain than I would have ever expected, but NVIDIA’s reviewer’s guide for the card highlights the same kind of gains in select titles. For example, NVIDIA achieved a 22% gain in Metro Last Light Redux, whereas I hit 18%. Again, it should be noted that I was unable to retest using a post-launch driver for the RX 480. Those improvements still wouldn’t tighten the gap a considerable degree, however.
At 1080p, the smallest gain I saw with the GTX 1060 was 8%, which was with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. NVIDIA itself shows even smaller gains in select games, such as The Division, where the difference was 1 or 2%.
Overall, it’s safe to say that the GTX 1060 is about 10% faster than the RX 480, and even in the worst case it should still prove faster. Exceptions we saw were with Hitman‘s DirectX 12 test, and also DOOM‘s Vulkan test – the latter of which gives a serious nod to AMD.
Need a tl;dr? The GTX 1060 is faster than the RX 480, uses less power, runs cooler (based on each company’s own designs), doesn’t support SLI, has an ample 6GB framebuffer, is very overclockable (based on fairly quick tests), and costs $10 more than AMD’s RX 480 8GB reference edition.
While it would have been nice to have seen AMD last longer in first place in this respective price point, NVIDIA has successfully bumped it out with its GTX 1060 – ignoring DX12 performance, where each company flip-flopped their strengths, and Vulkan, based on DOOM performance.
This conclusion was not hard to reach; what’s far more complicated is trying to get any of these cards for the price they should be sold at. Based on what we’ve seen from the GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and RX 480, I am not super confident that we’re going to immediately see $249 GTX 1060s. I hope I’m surprised.
Addendum: Some of this conclusion was rewritten to complement our Vulkan performance results, which were added to the previous page after this article went live.
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