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GTX 1060 vs. RX 480 - An Updated Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Many of the old-timers in the Hardware Canucks community may have noticed something about me: I tend to pick the most horrible times for vacations. Somehow they always align with launches of key technology. That fact has quickly become a point of hand wringing for me and a standing joke among several companies we normally deal with. Intel’s Haswell-E launched while I was sitting in a restaurant in Italy’s stunning Cinque Terre. Broadwell-E? Yup, I was in California. The R9 Fury X? Check! That was the budding wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. And the list goes on. The fact of the matter is that some of my fondest life memories align perfectly with the introduction of memorable hardware.

The reason I bring this up is because both the GTX 1060 and RX 480 -two of the best bang-for-buck graphics cards I’ve ever come across- were released during two of my vacations. Both outings weren’t extravagant but will likely end up being high water marks of my life and that aligns perfectly with the raison d’être of these two graphics cards: neither should be a stress on your bank account but they should stick with you for a long time.

While both of these GPUs factored heavily into the buying trends of PC gamers, due to me not being in the office, I simply wasn’t able to delve any deeper into the symbiotic performance relationship they share. Back in summer when both of these cards were launched, I used a slightly upgraded game lineup which ended up receiving some constructive criticism about its lack of DX12 titles. Since then we’ve also passed through one of the busiest times of the year for new games. Titles like Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare and Gears of War 4 have all been introduced while several slightly older titles like Doom, Hitman, The Division and Overwatch received key updates. Not only that but both AMD and NVIDIA have been furiously working on driver revisions to optimize the performance metrics of their respective architectures.

With all of this taken into account and countless numbers of gamers looking towards the RX 480 versus GTX 1060 debate as being central to their buying choices, I’ve decided to delve back into this battle. As such, this particular article will use many of today’s newest triple-A titles alongside some old faithful games to see how things stack up now that both these cards have had nearly four months to settle in their lineups. Has AMD been able to leverage their frequently-marketed DX12 superiority to good effect? Has NVIDIA’s supposed driver superiority been able to keep their card ahead? Before we find out, let’s talk about the competitors since they run the gamut from reference to pre-overclocked.


Starting off with the RX 480’s we’ve chosen, there’s of course the reference edition which still serves as the backbone of AMD’s current GPU lineup. Available with a blower-style cooler, many board partners are still using this design as their baseline $249 offering. While I did have some critique about it when first launched, AMD’s driver team has been fine-tuning this card on the software side so its performance is slightly more linear and power consumption remains within specifications. One interesting thing to note is that actually finding an RX 480 8GB at its original $240 launch price is quite challenging and most reference spec’d offerings hover around the $250 mark.

On the flip side of that coin is Sapphire’s awesome RX 480 8GB Nitro+, a card many people have pointed to as being the quintessential custom AMD product. Not only is its core supposed to hit a clock speed of up to 1342MHz (just under 100MHz faster than the reference version) but Sapphire has packed it with a ton of features like a heavily upgraded PWM, RGB LEDs that are fully controlled through the TRIXX software suite, quick connect fans that can easily be swapped out and a highly efficient cooling system.


Around back the Nitro+ has a perfectly integrated backplate that has a transformer-like color scheme. Personally, I love the look of this card; the cooling assemblies are perfectly integrated and a color scheme that is perfectly neutral. Some more budget-conscious buyers may have an issue stomaching this card’s $30 premium over AMD’s supposed MSRP of $240 but I think its money well spent.


In the last photo you may have noticed a small cutout in the backplate around a red button. This button acts as a hardware-based control for the LEDs and its bordered by a small vBIOS switch. Sapphire decided to equip their card with two BIOSes: one of which uses a more efficient and quieter preset while the other setting (the one closer to the I/O area) houses a high performance mode which insures that 1342MHz core frequency can be achieved more often.


The one downfall of the RX 480 Nitro+ is the location of its power input connector. Instead of being on the card’s side, Sapphire decided to position it on the rear edge which effectively increases the compact 9.5” length to 10.5” once its plugged in. While that won’t be a challenge in most mid-tower cases, it can limit the Nitro+’s compatibility with smaller, more compact chassis.


Moving on to the GTX 1060 6GB cards and my intent here was to effectively set the record straight after the original GTX 1060 review. Back then I mentioned time and again that NVIDIA’s affordable darling was severely handicapped by the fact we were only able to evaluate the overly-expensive $299 (!!!) Founders Edition. As a result, what could have been a glowing conclusion focused on value and great performance instead gravitated towards a simple metric: at $260 it was an awesome contender but the $299 Founders Edition highlighted everything that was wrong with NVIDIA’s self-branded premium products.

The first card being highlighted here is the EVGA GTX 1060 6GB Gaming which, unlike the Founders Edition, demonstrates the absolute strengths of NVIDIA’s GP106 core. It is compact at just 6.8” long, features a single large fan and retails for just $250 or $10 less than the GTX 1060’s MSRP of $260USD . Now to be completely honest with you, this is an extremely basic GTX 1060 without any of the upgrades seen on more expensive cards. It does however represent the vanguard of NVIDIA’s push into mid-range gaming systems and something I couldn’t test at launch.


Gaming above / Superclocked below

Since I’ve already included a pre-overclocked RX 480 8GB, I decided to take a swing at a basic yet well-regarded overclocked GTX 1060 as well in the form of EVGA’s Superclocked version. While this card with its silver accents doesn’t look all that much different from the basic Gaming edition and commands an extremely fair $10 premium, going for $260 at most retailers (before rebates of course).

What you get for this is pretty straightforward: a core clock increase of 100MHz and a heavily upgraded heatsink design. While this version of EVGA’s GTX 1060 SC utilizes the same 3+1 phase PWM and PCB as its reference-clocked sibling, that’s where the similarities pretty much end. The Superclocked makes use of a more extensive heatsink design with a copper core, integrated heatpipes and an extensive fin array whereas the standard model has a very simple anodized aluminum setup.

Now I have to mention pricing right now because it will be a hotly contested point, particularly when we reach the end of this article (yes, I know many of you skip to the conclusion but I’m hoping you read this first!). As I alluded to above, the RX 480 8GB really can’t be considered a $240 graphics card. After polling five different retailers, at the time I write this the average price for a reference-clocked example was $251.25 USD before rebates with only a single card (Gigabyte’s RX 480 8GB Windforce) going for $241. Meanwhile on the GTX 1060 6GB side of that coin things are quite a bit different with PNY’s Dual Custom, the EVGA Gaming ACX 2.0 (the card featured here), ASUS’s Turbo, Gigabyte’s Mini ITX and Zotac’s Mini retailing for exactly $250 USD at several sellers. That’s actually $10 less than NVIDIA’s stated MSRP of $260.

The reason behind this situation is likely multi faceted. First and foremost –as you will see a bit later- AMD’s RX 480 is an insanely competitive card, their board partners likely see that and have adapted their pricing structures accordingly. NVIDIA on the other hand knows this as well and has pushed their own partners to offer lower cost GTX 1060 6GB solutions. Now is this pricing structure I mention above the end all, be all of statements? Of course not since the GPU market is a volatile place where pricing fluctuations are the norm. However, I’m convinced this article’s snapshot of $250 for both reference-clocked GPU’s will remain valid until the New Year.

The entire focus of this “re-review” is to figure out where the GTX 1060 6GB and RX 480 8GB stand after more than 120 days on the market. Out of box performance in the newest games is the aim here and I won’t even touch upon overclocking since that’s a slippery slope where one sample may benefit over the other. The goal here is to see which card offers the most bang for your buck and now than both AMD and NVIDIA have settled things with drivers and new games have launched before Christmas, this should be a perfect time for an update to our original reviews.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup



Processor: Intel i7 5960X @ 4.3GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident X 32GB @ 3000MHz 15-16-16-35-1T
Motherboard: ASUS X99 Deluxe
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / Acer XB280HK (4K)
OS: Windows 10 Pro


Drivers:
AMD Radeon Software 16.11.5 Hotfix
NVIDIA 376.09 Beta

*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results in DX11.


DX12 Benchmarking


For DX12 many of these same metrics can be utilized through a simple program called PresentMon. Not only does this program have the capability to log frame times at various stages throughout the rendering pipeline but it also grants a slightly more detailed look into how certain API and external elements can slow down rendering times.

Since PresentMon throws out massive amounts of frametime data, we have decided to distill the information down into slightly more easy-to-understand graphs. Within them, we have taken several thousand datapoints (in some cases tens of thousands), converted the frametime milliseconds over the course of each benchmark run to frames per second and then graphed the results. This gives us a straightforward framerate over time graph. Meanwhile the typical bar graph averages out every data point as its presented.

One thing to note is that our DX12 PresentMon results cannot and should not be directly compared to the FCAT-based DX11 results. They should be taken as a separate entity and discussed as such.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: Battlefield 1 / Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Battlefield 1


Battlefield 1 will likely become known as one of the most popular multiplayer games around but it also happens to be one of the best looking titles around. It also happens to be extremely well optimized with even the lowest end cards having the ability to run at high detail levels.

In this benchmark we use a runthough of The Runner level after the dreadnought barrage is complete and you need to storm the beach. This area includes all of the game’s hallmarks in one condensed area with fire, explosions, debris and numerous other elements layered over one another for some spectacular visual effects.





Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare


The latest iteration in the COD series may not drag out niceties like DX12 or particularly unique playing styles but it nonetheless is a great looking game that is quite popular.

This benchmark takes place during the campaign’s Operation Port Armor wherein we run through a sequence combining various indoor and outdoor elements along with some combat.



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: Deus Ex – Mankind Divided / Doom

Deus Ex – Mankind Divided


Deus Ex titles have historically combined excellent storytelling elements with action-forward gameplay and Mankind Divided is no difference. This run-through uses the streets and a few sewers of the main hub city Prague along with a short action sequence involving gunplay and grenades.




Doom (OpenGL)


Not many people saw a new Doom as a possible Game of the Year contender but that’s exactly what it has become. Not only is it one of the most intense games currently around but it looks great and is highly optimized. In this run-through we use Mission 6: Into the Fire since it features relatively predictable enemy spawn points and a combination of open air and interior gameplay.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: Fallout 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Fallout 4


The latest iteration of the Fallout franchise is a great looking game with all of its detailed turned to their highest levels but it also requires a huge amount of graphics horsepower to properly run. For this benchmark we complete a run-through from within a town, shoot up a vehicle to test performance when in combat and finally end atop a hill overlooking the town. Note that VSync has been forced off within the game's .ini file.




Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: Hitman / Overwatch

Hitman (2016)


The Hitman franchise has been around in one way or another for the better part of a decade and this latest version is arguably the best looking. Adjustable to both DX11 and DX12 APIs, it has a ton of graphics options, some of which are only available under DX12.

For our benchmark we avoid using the in-game benchmark since it doesn’t represent actual in-game situations. Instead the second mission in Paris is used. Here we walk into the mansion, mingle with the crowds and eventually end up within the fashion show area.





Overwatch


Overwatch happens to be one of the most popular games around right now and while it isn’t particularly stressful upon a system’s resources, its Epic setting can provide a decent workout for all but the highest end GPUs. In order to eliminate as much variability as possible, for this benchmark we use a simple “offline” Bot Match so performance isn’t affected by outside factors like ping times and network latency.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: The Division / Titanfall 2

The Division


The Division has some of the best visuals of any game available right now even though its graphics were supposedly downgraded right before launch. Unfortunately, actually benchmarking it is a challenge in and of itself. Due to the game’s dynamic day / night and weather cycle it is almost impossible to achieve a repeatable run within the game itself. With that taken into account we decided to use the in-game benchmark tool.




Titanfall 2


The original Titanfall met with some reasonable success and its predecessor tries to capitalize upon that foundation by including a single player campaign while expanding multiplayer options. It also happens to be one of the best looking games released in 2016.

This benchmark sequence takes place within the Trial By Fire mission, right after the gates of the main complex are breached. Due to the randomly generated enemies in this area, getting a completely identical runthrough is challenging which is why we have increase the number of datapoints to four.



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX11 / 1080P: Witcher 3 / Warhammer: Total War

Warhammer: Total War


Unlike some of the latest Total War games, the hotly anticipated Warhammer title has been relatively bug free, performs well on all systems and still incorporates the level detail and graphics fidelity this series is known for. In this sequence, we use the in-game benchmarking tool to play back one of our own 40 second gameplay sessions which includes two maxed-out armies and includes all of the elements normally seen in standard gameplay. That means zooms and pans are used to pivot the camera and get a better view of the battlefield.




Witcher 3


Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX12 / 1080P: Battlefield 1 / Deus Ex – Mankind Divided

Battlefield 1


Battlefield 1 will likely become known as one of the most popular multiplayer games around but it also happens to be one of the best looking titles around. It also happens to be extremely well optimized with even the lowest end cards having the ability to run at high detail levels.

In this benchmark we use a runthough of The Runner level after the dreadnought barrage is complete and you need to storm the beach. This area includes all of the game’s hallmarks in one condensed area with fire, explosions, debris and numerous other elements layered over one another for some spectacular visual effects.





Deus Ex – Mankind Divided


Deus Ex titles have historically combined excellent storytelling elements with action-forward gameplay and Mankind Divided is no difference. This run-through uses the streets and a few sewers of the main hub city Prague along with a short action sequence involving gunplay and grenades.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
DX12 + Vulkan / 1080P: Doom / Gears of War 4

Doom (OpenGL)


Not many people saw a new Doom as a possible Game of the Year contender but that’s exactly what it has become. Not only is it one of the most intense games currently around but it looks great and is highly optimized. In this run-through we use Mission 6: Into the Fire since it features relatively predictable enemy spawn points and a combination of open air and interior gameplay.




Gears of War 4


Like many of the other exclusive DX12 games we have seen, Gears of War 4 looks absolutely stunning and seems to be highly optimized to run well on a variety of hardware. In this benchmark we use Act III, Chapter III The Doorstep, a level that uses wide open views along with several high fidelity environmental effects. While Gears does indeed include a built-in benchmark we didn’t find it to be indicative of real-world performance.


 

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