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Nvidia’s GTX 1060 GPU: Fast, cool, and potent competition for AMD’s RX 480

When AMD announced its RX 480 would launch in late June, it was virtually inevitable that Nvidia would follow suit with a midrange challenger of its own. Until now, the two companies have pursued different strategies with their 14nm refreshes — Nvidia chose to do a standard top-down refresh cycle, while AMD rolled out a midrange competitor first. The RX 480 proved to be potent competition for Nvidia’s previous-generation Maxwell products with competitive power consumption, more VRAM, and better overall performance.

Nvidia obviously wasn’t willing to risk losing sales in the larger mass market, even if its GTX 1080 and 1070 have locked down the high-end GPU space. As a result, we have the GTX 1060 — a 6GB Pascal GPU with 1,280 CUDA cores, 80 texture units, and 48 ROPS. Total memory bandwidth is 192GB/s, courtesy of a 192-bit memory bus.

GTX1060-Specs1

Sample allocation on the GTX 1060 launch was extremely tight, which means our inbound Gigabyte sample hasn’t quite arrived yet. We’ve rounded up a number of GTX 1060 reviews from across the web, including TechSpot, TechPowerUp, THG, Hot Hardware, and Forbes. The major question on everyone’s mind: How does the GTX 1060 compare with the RX 480?

The short answer is: Pretty well — but it’s not the knockout blow that Nvidia wanted.

The GTX 1060 is generally faster than the RX 480, but the gap between the two cards shifts dramatically depending on the benchmark. Of the 23 distinct titles benchmarked by the various websites above, the GTX 1060 wins 14 of them, while the RX 480 takes nine. Pascal is extremely well-positioned against Polaris, with lower power consumption and superior overclocking. THG calculates its overall performance advantage over RX 480 at 13.5% while TechPowerUp reports a 7% difference in overall performance at 1080p.

The GTX 1060’s first problem is its cost. The GPU debuting today is the Founder’s Edition, priced at $299. Partner cards starting at $250 are already on the way, but the $300 version of the GPU is 25.5% more expensive than the RX 480 while offering 7 – 13.5% better performance. That gives the 8GB edition of the RX 480 a clear value advantage. The $250 version of the GTX 1060 will be far more competitive, but AMD has the 4GB RX 480 sitting at the $200 price point. Given that the performance difference between the 4GB and 8GB cards is minimal, a $200 4GB RX 480’s performance-per-dollar will compare extremely well against the GTX 1060.

Second, there’s the matter of which games the RX 480 wins. Four of its nine wins are in games that use new, low-latency APIs. Specifically, the RX 480 wins against the GTX 1060 in Hitman, Ashes of the Singularity, Doom, and even Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (according to Forbes the game is much improved). The GTX 1060 wins Rise of the Tomb Raider and the new DX12 version of the Total War: Warhammer title.

If we segregate the list into DX11 versus DX12, AMD wins 21.7% of the DirectX 11 comparisons and 67% of the DirectX 12 / Vulkan comparisons. That’s a non-trivial difference, and it could speak to the long-term strengths of GCN versus Pascal.

In the past I’ve cautioned readers against assuming that early DirectX 12 performance figures would be valid over the long term. We’re just shy of Windows 10’s one-year anniversary, and I have to say that the titles we’ve seen thus far have tended to favor AMD. There are a variety of explanations for this, including the argument that the reason Nvidia’s performance is flat in DX12 is because it did a far better job than AMD at maximizing performance under DirectX 11. Regardless of the reason, AMD is building a potent narrative about its own DirectX 12 performance — and Nvidia has yet to offer much in the way of an API counter-argument. The 1060 also gets a few dings for lacking SLI — the RX 480 supports Crossfire and comes in at a lower price target to boot.

The general opinion on the GTX 1060 is that it’s a very good GPU with lots of overclocking headroom and excellent power consumption characteristics. Reviewers are split on whether or not it qualifies as “better” than the RX 480. TechSpot declares AMD the overall winner thanks to superior performance-per-dollar and ongoing availability concerns about the GTX 1060, while TechPowerUp thinks the GTX 1060 will be the superior solution in the long term. Hot Hardware gave the overall nod to the GTX 1060 as well, as well as an Editor’s Choice award.

Critically, no one seems to think the Founder’s Edition of the card is a good buy; THG calls the $50 premium on the 1060 a “killer in any discussion of value.” If you care about maximum power efficiency and minimal noise, the GTX 1060 is a clear winner over the RX 480. If you’re more concerned with performance in DX12/Vulkan or care about maximizing your game performance per dollar, the situation is murkier and the  RX 480 is still quite compelling. Multiple reviewers recommend waiting for less expensive partner boards and evaluating the card on their characteristics before making a final decision.

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