Nvidia is having fun with Pascal. their newly launched architecture has already garnered a lot of praise from critics, with cards like the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 surpassing expectations and delivering a generational leap after the sublime Maxwell range. They are, however, two very premium cards, and indicative of the market Nvidia has been prey on for years now. The team in green loves being the best out there for the highest cost, sometimes at the expense of leaving room in the more populated mid-range market for the likes of AMD to scoop up.
And with the recent launch of the RX 480, it seemed to be happening again. Until Nvidia revealed the GTX 1060 just a few weeks ago – a card that has lived up to all the incredible claims made, and then some.
The GTX 1060 impresses straight out of the box. Instead of cutting back on the same boards used in both the biggest 1080 and 1070, Nvidia has opted to create a new one entirely. The 16nm FinFET transistors are housed on a new GP106 board, cramming in a full 6GB of GDDR5 memory at a speed of 8GBps and over a 192-bit bus. There’re 1280 CUDA Cores for some powerful performance, with a stock Core Clock of 1506MHz and a Boost Clock of 1706MHz – not too far off from the stock speeds of its faster brethren.
The Founder’s Edition we were sent for review (a Nvidia store exclusive this time, which makes local stock unlikely) featured a slightly different design from the previous GTX 1080. The same black and silver metal finishes were present, retaining the premium NVTTM cooler design, but with some compromises. The small translucent heatsink window is gone, replaced by a now opaque piece of black plastic. The cooler itself also isn’t the same vapour-chamber as the 1080 (much like how the 1070 skimped out on this too), but still draws in air from inside our case and exhausts it out the back.
There’s also no backplate too – a feature I’d love to see migrate exclusively from premium cards and become more of a staple across the board. The design itself is just as gorgeous as you’d expect, but also functional. In use the Founder’s Edition remained quiet and relatively cool, idling at below 70 degrees Celsius for the most part and peaking at just over 70 at stock clocks. This all with the low TDP of just 120W, delivered here through a single 6-pin PCI-e power connection. Rounded off with a choice of a single DVI and HDMI 2.0b ports, as well as three DisplayPort connections and you’re spoiled for choice if you’re running multiple displays. Something the GTX 1060 is fully capable of handling.
What it isn’t capable of, however, is SLI. In Nvidia’s increasing bid to move away from multi-card support, they’ve straight up disabled SLI on the GTX 1060. The reason behind this comes down to some market research, with Nvidia claiming that it’s uncommon for customers in this price range to be looking at dual card setups. SLI aside, the GTX 1060 does retain all the exclusive features of the Pascal range. That includes the gorgeous screenshot technology Ansel, Simultaneous Multi Projection for VR and more.
But the above has little meaning without raw performance to back it up. Before launch Nvidia claimed that this GTX 1060 was the mid-range card to beat, delivering GTX 980 performance or better for a fraction of the cost. Those are claims that would’ve made RX 480 buyers (and AMD personally) quake in their boots. Does it hold up in real life testing though. In a word, yeah. It certainly does. And it’s pretty remarkable to see from such a competitively priced card.
Sticking with the OpenGL version of the game for the sake of control, DOOM continues to impress with its optimization across the board. The GTX 1060 even manages 60FPS averages at 1440p, which is incredible considering the game is running at full tilt in test.
GTA V brings it down a peg, and it’s the first instance where the 6GB of VRAM are truly tested. Taking the most taxing of the benchmark runs, the GTX 1060 manages just fine at 1080p, but starts struggling to keep things stable at anything higher. Considering MSSA is cranked up to 4x here, that’s still mighty impressive.
The Witcher 3 is still one of the best looking games on PC, and still just as hard on your machine to do it. In a surprising move though, the GTX 1060 blows HD out of the water, and shows that it’s able to stand tall at 1440p too. With a few settings dialled down a solid 60FPS is possible, which isn’t bad for a mid-range card.
Metro: Last Light continues to be one of the most taxing benchmarks out there, but the GTX 1060 performed admirably. The same tune is sung here, with the mid-range Pascal card making a compelling case for 1440p gaming. It’s a marvel really, and one which some of the Nvidia flagships from Maxwell almost failed to match.
Firing up Futuremark’s FireStrike (and newly added Time Spy) demoes, the results of the GTX 1060 remain consistently bewildering.
Taking a closer look at the performance in comparison to our previous tested GTX 980, we check framerates of the Metro: Last Light benchmark and compared the two directly. It is the only game that we’ve managed to test both cards on, but also the most robust benchmark test we run (the GTA V benchmark still throws in some randomisation here and there), making it the best arena to put the two head to head.
We reviewed the GTX 980 long after the card hit shelves, with the ASUS version we received arriving with a substantial boost to its core clock and memory speeds. This makes testing it directly with the GTX 1060 a little unfair, but the Pascal card more than makes up for it when receiving a little overclock on it’s own. I was able to achieve a stable overclock of 2050MHz on the Boost Clock (an increase of 175MHz) and 4356MHz on the Memory Clock (an increase of 350MHz). Limiting the temperature to 80 degrees Celsius and allowing the Power Limit to drive right through to 110% was simple and easy, and achieved some marginal gains in testing.
There’s no doubt the GTX 1060 can be pushed a little further (especially with point-based overclocking, exclusive to Pascal), but seeing it break the 2GHz ceiling so effortlessly was staggering.
So does the GTX 1060 live up to the billing of matching performance of the GTX 980? Pretty much, with some here’s and there’s along the way. But the real test is the comparison to the RX 480 – the AMD card that Nvidia is directly competing with here. It’s arguably the reason the GTX 1060 is out so early too, with Nvidia unable to let the market slip from them again. Considering the RX 480 is just $30 cheaper than the $250 asking price of the GTX 1060 (and with 2GB more memory), Nvidia had their work cut out for them.
The results tell a story of their own though, and it’s clear Nvidia’s past focus on efficiency have helped them craft a better card in the end. That’s if temperatures, power consumption per frame and, more importantly, raw framerates are most important to you.
It’s clear from the results that the additional 2GB of memory on the RX 480 isn’t exactly making a difference yet, especially in areas where it would. The gap between the two cards is certainly reduced as the resolutions increase (which taxes memory a lot more), but the raw speed of the GTX 1060 keeps it either ahead or exactly on par in all of our tests. Yes, the GTX 1060 is the slightly more expensive card, but it’s money seemingly well spent if you’re looking for an immediate increase in performance. And at this level, 10FPS more in some cases is significant.
The story for AMD becomes even worse when looking at local South African pricing. The $299 Founder’s Edition we reviewed probably won’t be making it here (and honestly, it’s the AIB cards that you’re going to be wanting to look at anyway, just as with the GTX 1080), but third-party cards are arriving on the same day. They’re carrying a RRP of just R4,600 locally, which is already at least R200 cheaper than the cheapest RX 480 you can find on shelves. We’re still waiting to see how that plays out with retailers, but if it sticks relatively close the RX 480 has a problem. Not only is it lagging in performance, it’s lagging in price in South Africa, and that makes it an easy decision for those in the market for a new card.
The Founder’s Edition here, again, is an afforded luxury. It’s gorgeous, silent and sleek, but it’s still a tough ask for the additional cost it carries. At $70 more than the RX 480 it starts asking the wrong questions, but thankfully the AIB versions of the GTX 1060 are asking the right ones. They could arguably be even faster, widening the performance gap while simultaneously closing the price gap down to just $30. And at that price the GTX 1060 becomes the obvious choice, regardless of what your history has forced you to align with.
The GTX 1060 is a sublime mid-range card that stands up to its billing, and presents a major problem for AMD in the same space. It’s the reason why competition is good too, and it’s clear the move by AMD has forced Nvidia to refocus their efforts on a market that they were lacking in. The GTX 1060 is a resounding answer to that call, and probably the most important Pascal card to date.