GTX 1060 vs. RX 480 - An Updated Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: December 5, 2016
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Going back in time to reanalyze key head-to-head GPU battles isn’t something I do very often on the pages of HWC. I’m not alone either; very few other publications do it since there’s always something new to look at and the time involved with such an undertaking is quite significant. For example, this simple 4-way comparison took the better 80 hours from start to finish but you know what? After looking at the results it think the endeavor represented time, resources and money well spent.

If you skipped to the conclusion (yeah, I know some of you did!) then shame on you but I’ll still hold your hand. In order to properly gauge how the GTX 1060 and RX 480 line up with one another a few months after launch, our testing suite has expanded with new games and updated drivers while older titles were summarily brought behind the woodshed….forcefully retired. This has meant the inclusion of Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Gears of War, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and righting an old wrong by adding Doom’s Vulkan mode. It’s a much more comprehensive and up-to-date suite which is not only more representative of framerates in today’s triple-A titles but the results also highlight how excessively well optimized many of these new games are. So there you have it, in a nutshell.

To set this particular stage I’ll bring you back in time to August 2015. Back then we put the GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X back under the microscope more than two years after their respective launches and found very little had changed since their introduction. The same can’t be said this time around since in the months since the GTX 1060 6GB’s launch AMD’s RX 480 8GB seems to have completely wiped out its past performance losses and now leads the way in several key areas.

Let’s start with DX11, an area where the GTX 1060 6GB fairly dominated upon its release to the tune of 12% at 1080P and 8% at 1440P. Now the RX 480 basically ties NVIDIA’s card in a world of averages but what you can’t see in the chart above is AMD’s impressive showing in newer titles. Even in

Drivers are typically pointed to as an area where the GeForce products have a leg up but it feels like that metric may be evening out. AMD has -for the most part at least- kept up with NVIDIA’s aggressive “Game Ready” driver schedule and have actually found a pretty significant edge in the likes of Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Neither of those titles falls under the “Gaming Evolved” umbrella (Titanfall 2 is actually a Gameworks title) so folks can’t scream developer bias here either.

NVIDIA on the other hand does stand strong in the likes of Overwatch, Doom OpenGL and Battlefield 1 DX11, three of this season’s most-played online games. Make no mistake about it; those wins are key to dominating GPU sales charts right now and possibly into the short-term future.

DX12 turns the GTX 1060 over onto its head and while things are still relatively close, the RX 480 has nonetheless managed to extend its lead. AMD’s budget-focused GPU wins in almost every single game with gaps ranging from moderate (Warhammer) to almost embarrassing (Quantum Break). The lone exception to this is Gears of War where NVIDIA does put in an impressive showing but that does nothing to stop the avalanche of losses from piling onto the GTX 1060’s shoulders.

This has to be an area of concern for NVIDIA since their Pascal architecture seems to consistently underperform when Microsoft’s next generation API is taken into account. It does bear mentioning that DX12’s benefits right now are anything but tangible and in many (but not all) games where it’s included the API doesn’t offer any more real-world performance than DX11. However, if that situation does change AMD’s recent GPUs will obviously lead the charge.

For those of you wondering about clock speeds, the EVGA GTX 1060 6GB Gaming hit frequencies that were literally identical to those achieved by the Founders Edition card I initially tested. Meanwhile, after several key driver updates AMD’s reference RX 480 8GB (finally) offers stable output throughout every benchmark even after our usual warm-up period.

In the sub-$300 GPU segment value plays a huge role in purchasing decisions and this will likely be the most hotly contested section of this performance update. Simply put, these cards are tied when it comes to how much you are playing for performance. Typically AMD leads in this area and that would certainly be the case if their partners and retailers were able to follow the RX 480’s “$240” price.

The problem stems from actually finding an RX 480 8GB for AMD’s initial MSRP. As I mentioned in the introduction it feels like Radeon board partners are struggling to hit that $240 target and as a result even reference-spec’d cards tend to hit the $250+ mark before rebates. Meanwhile on NVIDIA’s side of the fence it’s possible to find at least half a dozen different in-stock options that go for exactly $250 pre discounts.

This combination of high-side AMD pricing coupled with GTX 1060 6GB cards retailing for less than expected results in a complete deadlock on paper. Despite this situation, I still feel like the RX 480 8GB wins the day. When both DX11 and DX12 results are taken into account, it has the capability to offer more bang for your buck and as more DX12 titles are released, I’m convinced the gap will grow even more.

Now in terms of the custom EVGA SC and Sapphire Nitro+ cards here, I find both offer their own very different spin and actually end up being supremely good values. The GTX 1060 Superclocked has just the right amount of additional performance based on its small $10 premium and as a result ends up leading one of the $/FPS charts. That’s a rarity for any custom GPU.

As for Sapphire’s RX 480 8GB Nitro+, it sits in an interesting little niche. Historically AMD’s partners have struggled to offer custom cards with convincing overclocks. Polaris architecture has changed that and Sapphire has capitalized by designing a card that features a good bump in framerates alongside lower temperatures and a substantially quieter acoustical profile than AMD’s reference version.

The GTX 1060 6GB versus RX 480 8GB saga obviously doesn’t end here and if the last few months are anything to go by, these cards will be fighting tooth and nail until the day they’re replaced. What AMD has accomplished between Polaris’ initial rollout and now is impressive to say the least but their board partners have given the RX 480 a slight premium above its $240 launch price. NVIDIA on the other hand is hanging doggedly on and their board partners have responded by lowering the GTX 1060’s entry price. This has caused what should have been a runaway AMD win to degenerate into a tit-for-tat situation

So which one of these would I buy? That will likely boil down to whatever is on sale at a given time but I’ll step right into and say the RX 480 8GB. Not only has AMD proven they can match NVIDIA’s much-vaunted driver rollouts but through a successive pattern of key updates have made their card a parallel contender in DX11 and a runaway hit in DX12. That’s hard to argue against.

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