Nvidia introduced us to the Pascal architecture with GeForce GTX 1080, and it blew us away by besting previous-gen flagships at a familiar price point. The 1070 that followed also edged out the fastest Maxwell-based cards. And it did that for hundreds of dollars less. Now we have the GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition card. Nvidia tells us it’s putting less emphasis on this $300 implementation, choosing instead to let partners shoulder the higher volume of a more price-sensitive segment. To that end, we’re told other 1060s will start in the $250 range.
Right out of the gate we can tell you the Founders Edition experiment doesn’t work here. A 20% mark-up for a reference design—sexy though it may be—would be better spent on more performance. Nvidia’s board partners plan to sell overclocked 1060s for less than the Founders Edition card, so you can bet that’s where gamers are going to look.
Typically, I'm a fan of Nvidia's reference designs for their build quality and centrifugal fans. But in the 1060’s case, we’re talking about a 120W TDP. Axially-cooled designs generally offer better thermal performance and less acoustic output. Given that this is already a fairly cool-running card, we’re more willing to go the third-party route.
Enough about the $300 Founders Edition card specifically. What about the GeForce GTX 1060 as a family, starting at $250? At that price, Nvidia is still $10 higher than most 8GB Radeon RX 480s and $50 above the 4GB versions. What does that premium get you? Well, we’re in the same entry-level VR ballpark as the RX 480, so Pascal’s simultaneous multi-projection feature is relevant, once it gets exposed. There’s also Ansel, if in-game photography interests you.
Of course, any exploration of power consumption (and by association, efficiency) immediately vindicates Nvidia’s big emphasis on the optimizations that went into Maxwell, and then Pascal. The more detailed our testing gets, the clearer this picture gets. If performance per watt matters to you, Nvidia’s 16nm GPUs outright decimate what we’ve seen of AMD’s 14nm effort thus far. It’s just not even close.
On the flip side, you do lose support for SLI. Although DirectX 12-based apps with support for multi-display adapter and linked display adapter explicit modes work with 1060 setups, linked display adapter implicit, controlled by Nvidia, is not enabled. In theory, the company could get it working over PCI Express; it simply chooses not to. That disappoints us, sure. But as developers explore new post-processing effects and asynchronous compute, the alternate frame rendering technique Nvidia used to generate its big scaling numbers is no longer universally effective. Now, more than ever, it’s better to have one fast GPU than a couple of slower ones. Oh, how we miss the days when two GTX 460s could trounce a 480.
Features aside, performance is what matters most to gamers. In seven of our nine benchmark titles, the 1060 is faster than AMD’s Radeon RX 480; it’s slower in AotS and Hitman. Averaging out the percentage differences between them, GeForce GTX 1060 is about 13.5% quicker at 1920x1080 across our suite. Its advantage slips to 12.5% at 2560x1440. Is that going to give you access to a higher resolution? Nope. The 1060 excels at 1920x1080 and can certainly handle 2560x1440, a lot like the GeForce GTX 970, Radeon R9 390, and RX 480. But the most you can hope for beyond those cards is a little less compromise on the detail settings at QHD. It typically doesn't catch the GTX 980 we were hoping to see it beat, commonly landing between then 970 and 980 instead.
A more competitive GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition card would have taken aim at Radeon RX 480 with a lower price tag. That $50 premium is killer in any discussion of value (we’re starting to regret heaping praise on the company for its reference designs). This may not matter for long, though. Quantities of the Founders Edition model are limited, and it will only be available on nvidia.com and through Best Buy. Otherwise, you’re looking at a partner board.
Both Igor and I have MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G cards with 1595 MHz base clocks and slightly overclocked memory. It’s a beefy piece of hardware with Twin Frozr VI cooling, an eight-pin power connector, and LED lighting. The company says it’ll sell for $290, though other 1060s in MSI's portfolio go for as little as $250. This is where the battle between Pascal and Polaris gets more interesting. But even then, for 1080p gaming, the 4GB Radeon RX 480 at $200 is tough to beat. Stay tuned as we start cranking through the third-party cards already stacking up in the lab.
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