GeForce GTX 1060 review: Nvidia battles AMD for PC gaming's next-gen sweet spot

The first head-to-head battle in the next-generation graphics card war is here.

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Our test system

As ever, we tested the RX 480 on PCWorld’s dedicated graphics card benchmark system, which is loaded with high-end components to avoid potential bottlenecks in other parts of the machine and show unfettered graphics performance. Key highlights of the build:

  • Intel’s Core i7-5960X ($1,016 on Amazon) with a Corsair Hydro Series H100i closed-loop water cooler ($97 on Amazon).
  • An Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard ($360 on Amazon).
  • Corsair’s Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory ($65 on Newegg), Obsidian 750D full-tower case ($155 on Amazon), and 1,200-watt AX1200i power supply ($308 on Amazon).
  • A 480GB Intel 730 series SSD ($248 on Amazon)
  • Windows 10 Pro ($199 on Amazon)

Comparing the $250 GeForce GTX 1060 against AMD’s new Radeon RX 480 is a no-brainer (we’re testing the $240 8GB version of AMD’s card). Beyond that, we’re going to compare Nvidia’s new card to the exact same lineup we used when reviewing AMD’s card: EVGA’s GTX 960 SSC, VisionTek’s Radeon R9 380, and Sapphire’s Radeon R9 380X represent the current crop of $200-ish graphics cards, which you’ll find severely outmatched by these new offerings. You’ll also find results for more potent options that the GTX 1060 more directly compares to: the Sapphire Nitro R9 390, EVGA GTX 970 FTW, MSI Radeon 390X Gaming 8GB, and the reference Nvidia GTX 980.

nvidia geforce gtx 1060 14 Brad Chacos

Note that our sampling contains a mix of reference designs and custom models with overclocks and amped-up coolers. Both the GTX 1060 and the Radeon RX 480 are reference versions, though, so that’s a 100 percent apples-to-apples comparison. The GTX 980 that Nvidia’s keen to compare the GTX 1060 against also packs a reference cooler.

We test each game with the default graphics settings unless otherwise noted. But we disable all vendor-specific special features—such as Nvidia’s GameWorks effects, AMD’s TressFX, and FreeSync/G-Sync—to keep things on an even playing field. We tested at 1080p and 1440p resolutions, as these cards can’t really power a satisfying 4K experience. There’s also a fresh piece of software making its debut in this review: Time Spy, 3DMark’s new DirectX 12 benchmark.

Got it? Good. Let’s go.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The gaming performance chart legends state that "lower = better" for average frame rates. That's an error and clearly not true; higher frame rates are superior.  

The Division

Ubisoft’s The Division, a third-person shooter/RPG that mixes elements of Destiny and Gears of War, kicks things off. The game uses Ubisoft’s new Snowdrop engine and is set in a gritty post-apocalyptic New York City.

gtx 1060 the division

Interestingly, the GTX 1060 doesn’t come close to matching the GTX 980’s performance here, at least at 1440p resolution. It’s solidly ahead of the massively overclocked EVGA 970 FTW, though, and pretty much dead even with AMD’s 8GB RX 480. Round one goes to AMD’s lower-priced option—and runs counter to Nvidia’s “better than the GTX 980” claims for its new card.

That said, it’s pretty impressive for $200 to $250 graphics cards to hit 60fps with everything cranked in one of the most demanding games around right now. Both the GTX 1060 and Radeon RX 480 utterly demolish the last-gen $200 cards. It’s a damned fine time to be a gamer.

Next page: Hitman

At a Glance
  • Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1060 offers no-compromises 1080p gaming and supreme power efficiency for an affordable price.

    Pros

    • No compromises 1080p gaming performance
    • Extremely power efficient and cool
    • Can run virtual reality experiences

    Cons

    • No SLI connector
    • More expensive than AMD's Radeon RX 480, but similar performance
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