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Nvidia's Pascal-based GTX 1060.
Enlarge / Nvidia’s Pascal-based GTX 1060.

Mark Walton

Specifications at a glance: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Outputs 3x DisplayPort 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.0b supporting 4K60 10/12b HEVC Decode, 1x dual-link DVI
Publication date July 19
PRICE Founders Edition (as reviewed): £275 / €320 / $300; Partner cards priced at: £240 / €280 / $250

What a difference a little competition makes. Nvidia would always release the GTX 1060, just as it released the GTX 960, GTX 760, and GTX 560 before that. But few could have predicted how soon it would appear after the launch of the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, the company’s first Pascal-based graphics cards. Less still expected it to be faster than a GTX 980, a card that launched at £430/$550 and still sells for a hefty £320/$400 today.

We have AMD to thank. The aggressively priced RX 480 – which offers excellent 1080p and VR-ready performance for just £180/$200 – brought the budget battle to Nvidia in a segment where its competitor has traditionally struggled. If you want the fastest, get Nvidia; if you want the best value, buy AMD. The GTX 1060 changes that. For the first time in a long time, Nvidia has a mainstream graphics card that can compete with AMD on price and performance.

[Update, July 20: This story has been updated below with information on the launch-day stock situation for the GTX 1060 in both the UK and US.]

[Update, August 23: Nvidia has quietly released a 3GB model of the GTX 1060, priced at about £200. This review is based entirely on the 6GB GTX 1060. Early performance data for the 3GB GTX 1060, which has fewer shader cores, shows performance that’s about 5-10 percent below the 6GB model. Against the RX 480—which also has two models: 4GB and 8GB—it’s a mixed bag: the 3GB GTX 1060 beats the 8GB RX 480 in some games, but falls behind in others. If you are only looking to play games at 1080p, then the 3GB GTX 1060 will probably be fine; if you want to play at 2560×1440, though, you might want to keep saving up your pennies for the 6GB model.]

[Updated, October 18: Nvidia has just unveiled the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti, priced very aggressively and released on October 25.]

The GTX 1060 is (mostly) faster than the GTX 980; it runs cool and quiet with a light 120W TDP; and best of all, the GTX 1060 costs £240 / $250. Yes, that’s more expensive than the GTX 960’s launch price, continuing Nvidia’s tradition of raising prices this generation. And yes, AMD’s RX 480 is a wee bit cheaper. But with an average performance boost of about 15 percent for a 10 percent price increase over the comparable 8GB RX 480, it’s great value and overclocks like a champ with very little effort.

The GTX 970 may have been the people’s champ in the last generation, with an impressive five percent share of the Steam audience, but I suspect the GTX 1060 will fill that role, especially for those still on older cards from the 600 or 700 series. It’s a beast at 1080p, ready for VR, and it does a great job at 1440p too. For the average man or woman who plays on a 1080p monitor and wants to amp up their console gaming friends, this is the graphics card to buy.

But can I really buy one this time?

That’s not to say the GTX 1060 is flawless. Again, Nvidia offers two models: the more expensive Founders Edition, which costs £275/$300 and comes with a smaller version of the Shard-like reference cooler used on the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080, and partner cards, which come with a range different coolers and overclocking. Both would be available on launch day (July 19, 2016). But if the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 have taught us anything, it’s that despite Nvidia’s promises of a hard launch, getting your hands on the latest and greatest graphics cards is easier said than done.

Even now, stocks of the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 are sporadic, and it’s virtually impossible to get one for the advertised retail price. Nvidia’s Founders Edition was launched under a questionable premise (guaranteed availability of reference designs throughout the product lifecycle) and while that’s fine for system integrators and Nvidia, the cards were a disaster for consumers. Almost all cards sold by partners are priced the same or higher than the Founders Editions. The early availability of those cards simply served as a fantastic litmus test for partners: if people were willing to pay Nvidia’s high prices early on, why charge less afterwards?

GTX 1080 GTX 1070 GTX 1060 GTX TitanX GTX 980 Ti GTX 980 GTX 970 GTX 780 Ti
CUDA cores 2,560 1,920 1,280 3,072 2,816 2,048 1,664 2,880
Texture Units 160 120 80 192 176 128 104 240
ROPs 64 64 48 96 96 64 56 48
core clock 1,607MHz 1,506MHz 1,506MHz 1,000MHz 1,000MHz 1.126MHz 1,050MHz 875MHz
Raise the clock 1,733MHz 1,683MHz 1,708MHz 1,050MHz 1,050MHz 1,216MHz 1,178MHz 928MHz
Memory bus width 256-bit 256-bit 192-bit 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit 384-bit
Memory speed 10GHz 8GHz 8GHz 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz 7GHz
Memory bandwidth 320GB/s 256 GB/s 192GB/s 336 GB/s 336 GB/s 224 GB/sec 196 GB/s 336Gb/s
TDP 180W 150W 120W 250W 250W 165W 145W 250W

Nvidia has crossed its heart, sworn pinky, and promised me that won’t be the case this time, but I’m going to keep a close eye on the GTX 1060 stock. If I can’t buy one at the advertised partner price on launch day, expect a strongly worded update from this review.

Update, July 20: As predicted, stock of the GTX 1060 is hard to come by. In the UK, cards briefly sold for £239 at Scan, Ebuyer and Overclockers, but have since sold out. Overclockers are taking pre-orders, or are happy to sell you a Gainward version of the card costing £10 above the MSRP. Scan also stocks a Palit card for £250.

In the US, NewEgg currently has stock of the Zotac GTX 1060 at the correct MSRP of $249, but orders are limited to one per customer. Be quick if you’re interested: all other $249 cards are sold out, with even the more expensive partner cards like the $329 Asus Strix on backorder. Best Buy also had PNY and EVGA cards for $249, but they’re also sold out. Some retail Best Buy stores may have stock on their shelves if you’re lucky.

Meanwhile, availability of AMD’s RX 480 has been mixed. There’s plenty of stock of the 8GB version of the card in the UK, and now for just £5 over RRP. That said, the cheaper 4GB card has all but disappeared from online stores, although Overclockers will sell you one for a whopping £215 – just £5 less than the 8GB version. In the US, neither Best Buy nor NewEgg currently have stock of either version of the RX 480.

Despite prices currently £10 above MSRP, the launch of the GTX 1060 outperforms the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080. Both cards are still selling for high prices online. Since the cheaper 4GB version of the RX 480 still isn’t an option at this point, the bottom line still stands: the GTX 1060 is the card I’d recommend to most gamers looking for the best graphics performance without spending a fortune to issue.

And now back to the original story…

It’s also worth noting that the RX 480 has had a much smoother retail rollout by comparison. Sure, AMD had a PR issue with the card’s power consumption – something that’s been somewhat resolved by a recent driver update – but the RX 480’s availability has been mostly good. At the moment it’s possible to pick up an 8GB model for just £5 above MSRP.

If you decide to go for the more expensive Founders Edition, you get a versatile shroud made of aluminum, as you do with the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, although it’s slightly shorter at 240mm and has an opaque black plastic part instead from a clear window. Inside are two copper heat pipes along with a dual-FET power-delivery system and custom voltage regulators. There’s 6GB of 8GHz GDDR5 memory, along with a 1,506MHz base GPU clock and a 1,708MHz boost clock, just above that of the GTX 1070. Nvidia says the GTX 1060 will easily overclock to 2GHz, and my tests confirm that. There’s plenty of headroom here for those who like to tweak.

The GP106 dice.

Power is provided by a single six-pin PCIe power connector, with the card having a TDP of 120W (the GTX 980 had a TDP of 165W), continuing the impressive efficiencies of TSMC’s 16nm FinFET manufacturing process. Connectivity is provided by three DisplayPort 1.4 ports, one HDMI 2.0b port supporting 4K60 10/12b HEVC decoding and one dual-link DVI port.

At the heart of the GTX 1060 is a new Pascal chip, called GP106. Essentially, the 200mm² GP106 which is a split version of the GP104 (as used in the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070), leaving five Streaming Multiprocessors (SM) consisting of 1,280 CUDA Cores and 80 Texture Units. Those are tied to 48 ROPs and 1,536 KB of L2 cache, while the 192-bit memory system results in 192 GB/s of memory bandwidth. They’re all huge improvements over the GTX 960. Notable is the fact that the GTX 1060 uses the full implementation of GP106, leaving room for Nvidia to use a throwaway version of the chip for cheaper cards.

GPU Boost 3.0, Fast Sync, HDR, VR Works Audio, Ansel and preemption (an alternative approach to asynchronous computing) also return (check out our GTX 1080 review for more details), as well as the ability to display multiple viewpoints in one single render pass. The latter is especially useful for VR, where instead of displaying one eye and then displaying the other, the GTX 1060 can display both points of view at once, drastically speeding up VR performance. Not many games have implemented the feature yet, but Nvidia says it’s coming to major engines like Unreal and Unity soon.

What’s missing from the GTX 1060 is support for SLI. Nvidia has slowly rolled back support for multiple graphics cards that use Pascal, starting with only allowing two-way SLI in games (up to four working in synthetic benchmarks like 3DMark), then removing it entirely in the GTX 1060. This is completely at odds with AMD, which actively pitched Crossfire when it launched the RX 480. It’s a shame Nvidia has removed SLI support, but since scaling and support vary drastically from game to game, it’s always been better to go with a single card option, especially at this mainstream price point.

By akfire1

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