The graphics launches have come thick and fast this year. What with GTXs and then the surprise Titan X from Nvidia, and AMD’s Polaris chips, there’s little chance of keeping up with the official embargo calendar. So think of this as part two of my leisurely stroll through the new GPU landscape. Last time around, it was the mighty Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080, which suddenly looks a lot less mighty thanks to the arrival of the aforementioned Titan X. This week, it’s the turn of Nvidia’s new mid-range contender, the GTX 1060. As before, I shall be spurning objectivity, benchmarks and frame-rate counters for a what-does-it-actually-feel-like approach. And yes, AMD coverage will follow in the fullness of time. Patience, Iago!
The new Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060, then. I called it a mid-range card, but it seems Nvidia is currently engaged in an attempt to realign the entire graphics market. The Titan X is $1,200 and the GTX 1080 is $600 (well, $700 for those ghastly ‘Founder’s Edition’ cards).
The 1060 we’re dealing with today is a $249 board or around £230 in post-Brexit beer tokens. Inevitably, there is or was a Founder’s Edition 1060 officially priced at $299. But with a myriad of custom-design 1060s already on the market, you at least don’t have to worry about the Founder’s Edition nonsense.
Then there’s the board I’m currently holding in my filthy hack paws. It’s the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6G Gaming X and it goes for £299. Yup, £299. According to Newegg, it’s $289 Stateside, which makes for a fairly perplexing state of affairs. But however you slice it, these new 1060s are seriously pricey. For context, in terms of reference chipsets, the cheapest 1060 is pricier than the most expensive of AMD’s new Polaris cards, the 8GB Radeon RX 480.
Once again, custom cooling and some quicker clocks make up the MSI proposition
Oh and it’s worth noting that Nvidia’s previous mid-ranger, the GTX 960, was $199 at launch. OK, it’s all a bit mealy mouthed to whinge about the price. But the trend of late is unappealing at best and I find it all particularly galling when you consider that all of Nvidia’s new GPUs are physically smaller than their direct progenitors.
For now all I’ll add is thank goodness AMD exists at all. If this is how Nvidia prices its boards even with AMD keeping it a little honest, I shudder to think how things would look if Nvidia had the PC graphics market entirely to itself.
Anyway, this MSI board is obviously a high end take on the 1060 chipset. The extra money buys you roughly 100MHz and a maximum Boost clockspeed of 1,809MHz. If that doesn’t sound like much, it isn’t. However, cards like this are arguably more about the potential for tweaking thanks to features like high-quality custom cooling and software tools than the modest bump.
Reports on the internet suggest this card is usually good for about 2.1GHz max Boost clock or an overclock of roughly 15 per cent. Whether that’s worth the money is a tricky question, but it’s at least close to you-can-actually feel it territory even if I usually draw the line at 20 per cent in that regard.
Our old friend, the AMD Radeon R9 290…
Whatever, in the interests of avoiding further rambling I’ll refer you here for a break down of the 1060’s full specification and how it fits into Nvidia’s new line up. It’s time to get experiential. Once again, I have my trusty AMD Radeon 290 as a reference point, along with memories of the 1080. This time, I kicked off with Doom because, ya know, it’s Doom.
Courtesy of the new Vulkan patch, I can confirm that Doom absolutely flies on this board. At 2,560 by 1,440 with the details and optins pretty much maxxed out it feels slick, it’s feels quick. Is there a whiff of lag? Maybe, but then then it’s there at 1080p, too, so I’ll put that down to the game engine. What’s really surprising is how playable Doom is at 4K. I had not been expecting that. OK, it’s not as oily smooth and response as it is at lower resolutions and in truth you’d avoid 4K for multiplayer gaming. But as a showcase of what this ostensibly modest GPU can do, it’s an eyebrow curler, that’s for sure.
Next up is Witcher 3, a game that caused the 1080 to come a little unstuck, as it happens. Running at 2,560 by 1,440, initial impressions are good. Crikey, could this thing really be playable? Yes and no. Those teensy micro stutters that detract just marginally from the immersion are just a little too frequent. The initial euphoria fades, if I am honest, and over time the lack of top flight smoothness wears you down. Again, as is often the case, it’s the step down to a lower resolution that really highlights the 1060’s small but significant shortcomings at 2,560 x 1,440.
Credit where it is due, the MSI board is built like the proverbial external facility for the hygenic disposal of bodily waste
As for 4K, well, it’ll run – at a guess I’d say it’s delivering frame rates in the high teens. And you could probably make it fairly playable by tweaking the options. But 4K performance is basically beyond this card, which is no surprise whatsoever.
On, then, to Total War: Attila. Here the litmus 2,560 by 1,440 resolution once again makes a good initial impression with smooth frame rates and decent response rates to inputs. But as with the GTX 1080, it’s zooming right into dense troop formations that uncovers performance limitations. Knock the resolution down to 1080p and you’ll discover just how fluid the troop animations can be.
Our final destination is the dreaded Mordor, Shadow of thereof. It’s not a hugely demanding game, so no surprise to find it really very playable at 2,560 by 1,440. Again, it’s that little bit smoother at 1080p, but you could happily play through at 25 by 16 with this card. With a little additional overclocking, that would be even more true.
Standard 1060s have a six-pin plug, this overclocked card needs eight pins, innit
All of which makes for an intriguing overall conclusion. In some ways I was actually more impressed by this board than the 1080 of a few weeks ago. Chalk it up to expectations, but the way is copes with some very high quality visuals at 2,560 by 1,440 is impressive for a card several rungs down Nvidia’s hiearchy. Likewise, MSI has undoubtedly done a nice job with the hardware. Whether you want a card for overclocking or just running super cool and quiet, the consensus across various reviews absolutely supports that.
And then you remember the £299 and the value proposition does rather implode. Spending that kind of money today, I’d want this card to be a no brainer for running games at 2,560 by 1,440. And it just isn’t. Instead, it feels more like the ultimate 1080p weapon. Which is fine if that’s what you want. Personally, I think the base price for the reference chipset from Nvidia should be £50/$50 lower and thus MSI would be able to do this card at £250/$250, at which point it would look substantially more appealing.
As it is, it leaves me wondering whether it has much if anything to offer subjectively over an AMD RX 480 8GB for £70 less – or indeed the 4GB 480 at a fully £100 discount. Which may turn out to be unfair if it does. Have something to offer, that is. But either way, I and therefore you will find out soon enough.