Welcome to 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 Titan X. Today, however, we’re looking 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.
I call 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), but the GTX 1060 we’re dealing with today costs just $260/£250 – that is, if you’re looking at the 6GB version, of course, as since we tested the GTX 1060, Nvidia has also released a less powerful 3GB model.
The 3GB model still has the same basic DNA as the 6GB version, but has a slightly lower clock speed and fewer cores. Performance will therefore be hampered slightly compared to the 6GB version, but when you’re looking at a price difference of at least £50 / $80, you might want to take that into consideration if all you’re after is a decent card for 1,080p gaming.
Then there’s the board I’m currently holding in my filthy hack paws. It’s the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Gaming X and it goes for £299. Yup, £299 – or $305 Stateside, according to Newegg. Whichever you slice it, though, these 6GB 1060s are still quite pricey. For context, in terms of reference chipsets, the cheapest 1060 is more expensive than AMD’s top-end Polaris card, 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. Chalk it up to expectations, but the way it copes with some very high quality visuals at 2,560×1,440 is impressive for a card several rungs down Nvidia’s hierarchy. Likewise, MSI has undoubtedly done a nice job with this particular bit of 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 2,560×1,440. 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.
Until recently, my advice would have been to opt for AMD’s cheaper AMD RX 480 8GB. However, with this card now having gone end of life, it leaves potential card buyers in a rather sticky situation. We’ve yet to test AMD’s new 500-series of Polaris cards, but judging by other accounts, the 8GB RX 580 is the next best thing. It has the same GPU as the RX 480, and it’s the closest match in terms of overall performance – that is, a great Full HD card with aspirations of taking on 2,560×1,440 resolutions if you’re all right with high as opposed to ultra quality settings.
Much like the GTX 1060, though, RX 580 prices are currently inflated thanks to those delightful chaps mining endless quantities of cryptocurrency, meaning you’re looking at anywhere between £250 for a 4GB card to £350 for an 8GB one.
Where does that leave the GTX 1060? It’s pretty much neck-and-neck on the performance front, so unless you’re concerned about things like power efficiency, my advice would be to go for an RX 580, provided you can find one at a competitive price, of course. With any luck, this year’s Black Friday sale will throw up some interesting discounts, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled on our Black Friday hub for more information on the latest deals.