The NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB Review
NVIDIA’s GeForce lineup has been experiencing something of a renaissance as of late due to the relative strengths of their Pascal architecture. The GTX 1080 initially shocked the gaming market with its ability to move the high end performance yardsticks forward by a country mile while the GTX 1070 proved to be an awesome, more affordable encore presentation. Given the fact those two cards were geared towards customers who could afford leading-edge solutions and AMD has been making positive inroads with their substantially more affordable RX480, it was time for NVIDIA to launch their own salvo into the sub $300 market. Enter the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB.
I’ve said it once but it bears repeating: while everyone loves reading about expensive flagship products since they set standards and expectations for lower end products, most won’t actually buy them. Rather, they’ll settle upon a solution that offers an optimal blend of performance and price which is why the $199 to $299 segment has historically been so popular. That’s where the GTX 1060 factors into the equation since it is a $249 graphics card that’s supposed to take up the mantle from NVIDIA’s own GTX 960, one of the most popular GPUs of all time.
Despite the many veins of similarity between the GTX 960 and its replacement the GTX 1060 is somewhat unique in the way its launch has been handled. Whereas the typical cadence between a new core architecture and the launch of its more efficient versions is typically four to six months its been barely two months since the GTX 1080 was introduced. They say the greatest innovations are borne out of necessity and the GTX 1060 is certainly needed to combat the RX480.
At the GTX 1060’s heart beats the aforementioned GP106 core. If you read our full architecture overview in the initial Pascal launch article, you’ll understand what’s going on behind the pretty block diagram but if you haven’t…head over there immediately.
Consisting of 4.4 billion transistors the GP106 core highlights the advantages of moving to a 16mm FinFET manufacturing process; despite featuring nearly 50% more transistors than the Maxwell-based GM206, it is actually about 20% smaller at just 200mm². Essentially this denser design allowed NVIDIA to cram additional components into a strictly limited die space. In its fully enabled form, GP106 within NVIDIA’s GTX 1060 features ten SMs (two more than the GTX 960), 1.5MB of shared L2 cache, six ROP partitions each containing eight ROPs and six 32-bit memory controllers.
One item that is conspicuous by its absence is the SLI compatibility, something NVIDIA feels isn’t particularly relevant for this price range. I beg to differ with this stance but with DX12’s numerous developer-side multi GPU controls, we could see vendor-specific technologies like Crossfire and SLI go the way of the dodo. Unfortunately, that may take time and for now, buyers of a GTX 1060 need to be aware they won’t be able to boost their in-game performance if they’re ever able to afford a second card.
Like its larger siblings the GTX 1060 6GB has been designed from the ground up to be a significant improvement over their predecessors. It will also come in two different versions: there’s a Founder’s (or reference) Edition that retails for $299 while board partners will have custom versions that go for anywhere between $249 and $299. It should also be noted that unlike other NVIDIA launches as of late the GTX 1060 Founders Edition will ONLY be available directly from NVIDIA while board partners will have plenty of custom offerings right at launch. With that being said, from a specifications perspective there’s a wide gulf which separates this $249 / $299 card from its larger, more capable siblings.
With 1280 CUDA cores and 80 Texture Units the GTX 1060 is in a completely different league from the GTX 960 it is meant to replace, boasting on-paper stats that are closer to those of a GTX 970. When you add in the increased clock speeds granted by the 14nm manufacturing process and triple the amount of memory (not taking into account the more expensive GTX 960 4GB of course) it isn’t hard to see why NVIDIA claims this new card will compete against the GTX 980. That’s mightily impressive given the GTX 1060’s meager TDP of just 120W.
The specs and performance potential here are admittedly impressive but there are two areas in which people may question NVIDIA’s decisions for the GTX 1060: price and memory allotment. Let’s tackle the latter first since there’s very little to worry about. 6GB of GDDR5 operating across a 192-bit memory interface represents a pretty significant step forward for NVIDIA’s offerings in this category when you consider how well the GTX 960 performed even when saddled with a comparatively paltry amount of memory bandwidth. This card even compares quite favorably to the GTX 980 largely due to the higher GDDR5 speed bin. However, in a segment that is quite vulnerable to marketable features taking precedent over actual performance metrics, the RX480’s 8GB framebuffer presents a golden opportunity for the next AMD PR campaign.
Regardless of perception NVIDIA has taken several steps in an effort to mitigate any memory bottlenecks. Not only is the GTX 1060 meant to live in a world where a memory-sipping resolution 1080P is common but there are several technologies build into the foundation of their Pascal architecture which optimize the memory subsystem’s theoretical throughput. For example, their enhanced delta color compression algorithms can boost bandwidth by more efficiently utilizing onboard resources.
As for the GTX 1060’s pricing structure, there shouldn’t be any surprises here but that doesn’t mean gamers will take it sitting down. Offering a Founder’s Edition with a $50 (or 20%) premium into a budget-focused category results in extremely poor optics no matter which way you look at things. NVIDIA is obviously committed to litmus testing out the Founder’s Edition initiative but that fifty bucks speaks volumes in this price range, particularly when a $299 reference board is compared against a $239 RX480. $299 also makes this card significantly more expensive than the GTX 960’s initial launch price.
While NVIDIA seems to be aligning themselves with the RX480’s cost structure rather than attempting to replicate the costing of legacy solutions, the GTX 1060 will undoubtedly be an extremely strong contender. That’s because there will be many suitable board partner alternatives retailing for $249 or a mere $10 more than AMD’s competitor, all of which will be available right at launch.
The $200 to $300 price range is a cluttered place and the GTX 1060 6GB has some huge shoes to fill. While it is more than obvious this card is being launched in an effort to take away some of AMD’s thunder, the focus of this review –NVIDIA’s Founder’s Edition- could face an uphill battle given its $50 premium even if it can equal the GTX 980’s performance.
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