The NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB Review

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Conclusion

I had some seriously high expectations for NVIDIA’s GTX 1060. The Pascal architecture has thus far proven to be highly efficient and able to deliver an almighty performance wallop within each respective price point it’s been launched into. Indeed the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 were some of the most impressive graphics cards I’ve reviewed to date. For the most part this new GTX 1060 Founders Edition carries down the trail blazed by its more expensive siblings by delivering great framerates and efficiency. However, unlike the higher end GeForce cards it doesn’t exist in a vacuum that’s devoid of any competition and AMD’s RX480 has proven to be an extremely competent and well priced alternative.

Let’s get right to performance since that’s what you are all here for. Against current and previous generation GeForce offerings the GTX 1060 delivers impressive numbers within DX11 applications, particularly when you compare it against the GTX 960 2GB. Anyone with a 960 or 760 will experience noticeable and pretty dramatic performance increases with a move to Pascal; this new card is easily able to match a GTX 980’s framerates. Considering this 75% to 90% uplift versus the GTX 960 2GB was accomplished in just one generation, NVIDIA needs to be commended for an achievement of epic proportions. The GTX 1060 also maintains a “safe” distance from the GTX 1070 so as not to directly compete against one of NVIDIA’s premium offerings.

Against the AMD competition things look pretty good as well with the 1060 trading blows with the R9 390X and maintaining a healthy lead over the RX480 8GB at 1080P. The only hiccup here is that once again we see an NVIDIA card which loses some ground at higher resolutions. At 1440P the RX480, 390 and 390X are all able to take some serious bites out of the GTX 1060’s lead. When you consider the Founders Edition costs a whopping $60 (or about 25%) more than the RX480 8GB, NVIDIA is facing an uphill battle on the price / performance front but more on that a bit later.

With the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, NVIDIA’s DX12 performance was somewhat obstruficated due to the massive horsepower propping up those two cards against earlier GeForce offerings and a lack of any AMD competition at their respective price points. Not so with the GTX 1060. Whereas AMD’s RX480 obviously has challenges in the performance per watt field, the GTX 1060 has some very real problems delivering consistent DX12 framerates. So much so that it’s significant lead over the RX480 completely evaporates when Microsoft’s increasingly popular next gen API is used.

Not only are the results you see above the polar opposite of this card’s DX11’s positioning but they raise some questions about how well the GTX 1060 will age as more games launch with DX12 support. Now it should be mentioned we are still in the early days of this API and the sample size of four games is paltry at best, thus causing “zingers” to adversely influence all results but there is certainly a noteworthy trend here. Only time will tell if the old adage of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies to NVIDIA’s future DX12 performance.

Against the GTX 980, GTX 970 and GTX 960 this newcomer exhibits all the hallmarks of Pascal’s DX12 performance benefits. For example the GTX 1060 goes from tying the GTX 980’s framerates in DX11 to outstripping it in DX12. I do however think this highlights how lackluster Maxwell’s DX12 support was rather than exemplifying the strengths of Pascal. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see a new architecture extend its lead in next generation applications.

I also need to mention those epic numbers against the GTX 960, a card that has gone from a price / performance champion to one that delivers disappointing framerates in both DX12 and DX11. Not only is its 2GB framebuffer completely inadequate for the settings I chose and the amount of on-die resources it has just isn’t up to the task of keeping up in DX12. If you want any hope of maintaining your system’s performance and want to move laterally within NVIDIA’s lineup then the GTX 1060 is the way to go for DX12.

Click on charts to enlarge

After more than a year of hiatus, our price / performance charts are making a comeback and none too soon it seems. In the sub-$300 category every dollar relative to displayable on-screen frames counts.

Simply put, in DX11 the $299 GTX 1060 Founders Edition doesn’t deliver a convincing $/FPS ratio against the RX480 and in DX12 environments its wheels fall off. The problem here isn’t the GTX 1060 per se since it has the potential to be one of the best GPUs around; it’s the Founders Edition that pulls a snake eyes. When a $249 price point is entered into our calculator, this product becomes a screaming deal but at $299 it doesn’t live up to expectations from a value standpoint.

We’re not reviewing a board partners’ $249 card here but rather the reference board and when a much higher end custom $379 GTX 1070 (if you can find one that is!) has a better value quotient than your premium reference design, there’s obviously a major miss with product positioning.

NVIDIA believes the Founders Edition warrants a premium and folks will gladly pay for it. That’s either clever marketing or -if you believe what some folks say- the ultimate example of arrogance since the 1060 6GB Founders Edition is bewilderingly overpriced. There’s absolutely no reason to charge a 20% markup on this product, a premium that turns an awesome value into a solution that simply doesn’t compete with AMD’s RX480 from a price per FPS standpoint. But then again that seems to be the modus operandi of every Founders Edition to date. NVIDIA can highlight the GTX 1060’s dominating efficiency numbers all they want but I think mid-range buyers are predominantly focused on optimizing their investments rather than fixated on a few watts.

Luckily the GTX 1060 launch is going about its business in a very different way from the Founders Edition-focused GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 releases. This is what’s called a “virtual” launch with the board partners shouldering the responsibility of making their custom boards available at retailers from day one. Meanwhile, the Founders Edition I’ve been lambasting over the last few paragraphs will be exclusively available through GeForce.com and you won’t see it on retail shelves. After reaching out to several AIB’s not only does it look like there will be a huge amount of products in the channel but there should also be plenty of options around the $249 and $259 price points. That brings in a whole new perspective to NVIDIA’s GTX 1060, doesn’t it?

I alluded to the effect of a $249 GTX 1060 a little while ago but I need to reiterate things here again: it sets a new high water mark in the price / performance battle. When combined with its significantly lower power consumption the GTX 1060 can really put the screws to AMD’s RX480 8GB while highlighting all of Pascal’s strengths in one compact, efficient package.

Past the items I’ve mentioned above, there’s one other wrinkle in the GTX 1060’s fabric: its lack of SLI support. Personally I don’t think this isn’t such a big deal since potentially paying six hundred bucks for two of these things seems to be preposterous. For that kind of cash a single GTX 1080 would provide about the same amount of performance and you won’t need to worry about those pesky multi card profiles for optimal framerates. That doesn’t mean I’m entirely behind NVIDIA’s decision to nuke SLI on this card. There are benefits to amortizing the cost of higher performance by staggering purchases of two cards across several months and with this generation of more affordable GeForce products, that will no longer be possible.

Going into this review I really thought the end result would be a foregone conclusion: the GTX 1060 would prove to be the best option for value-focused gamers. Now that I’ve crunched the numbers the outcome isn’t so clearly cut. While the Pascal architecture delivers awesome performance per watt benefits, the Founders Edition’s $299 price puts the brakes on any hopes of it being considered a shoe-in over the RX480 8GB. As a matter of fact I’d consider the RX480 to be a more versatile option due to its relative strengths in DX12 and higher resolutions, not to mention its lower price. Factor in that $249 price though and suddenly the advantage turns to NVIDIA’s favor from nearly every conceivable perspective.

So where does this all leave the GTX 1060 6GB Founders Edition? What we have here is a simple yin and yang situation. At $299 the Founders Edition costs too much. Period. Meanwhile a $249 price makes this one of the best deals around if you are looking for a quick and inexpensive drop-in upgrade. With the RX480 in short supply and the GTX 1060 just being introduced, now may not be the best time to take the plunge due to inevitable retailer markups for a card that will understandably be a hot commodity. However, if pricing is maintained those less expensive custom boards will really, really deserve your undivided attention.

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