In June, AMD released the $200 Radeon RX 480, the crown jewel in the company’s oft-trumpeted campaign to bring high-performance graphics to the masses. While Nvidia was busy releasing powerful, yet pricey cards like the GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080, AMD said its focus was squarely on everyday gamers. VR isn’t just for the 1 percent, a revolution-themed ad campaign barked.
A mere week after the Radeon RX 480 launched, Nvidia surprised everyone by announcing its own affordable GeForce GTX 1060.
The GTX 1060 delivered a similar, yet slightly better experience than the RX 480: It was slightly faster at gaming, slightly faster in VR, slightly quieter, and a hell of a lot more power-efficient. But Nvidia’s card is also not-so-slightly more expensive, starting at $250. Between the extreme price sensitivity in the $200 segment and the fact that the RX 480 already delivers no-compromises 1080p gaming, we actually recommend most people pick up the Radeon over Nvidia’s card—even though the 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 is technically superior on paper.
There’s a hiccup in all of this, though. The cheaper 4GB versions of the Radeon RX 480 have been extremely difficult to find, and $200 models based on the reference design are virtually nonexistent. People looking to buy an RX 480 for the $200 price point AMD trumpeted have been sorely disappointed, as the enthusiasts on the r/amd subreddit are quick to point out.
Enter Nvidia’s 3GB GeForce GTX 1060—a cut-down variant that also starts at $200. It’s on.
Meet the 3GB EVGA GTX 1060
The 3GB version of the GTX 1060 is mostly the same as the full-fat 6GB version, but with a couple of key differences.
Obviously, the memory’s been halved. But more insidiously, the 3GB GTX 1060 actually disables one of the GP106 GPU’s ten streaming multiprocessors. That reduces the graphics card’s CUDA cores to 1152, down from the full-fat 6GB model’s 1280. Add some other under-the-hood changes, and the 3GB GTX 1060 becomes a subtly—yet materially—different GPU than the 6GB GTX 1060. All this may have been necessary to hit the $200 price point, but calling this card a “GTX 1060” seems destined to confuse buyers who don’t dig into 10-page performance reviews. Calling it a “GTX 1050 Ti” or “GTX 1060 LE” could’ve avoided all that.
Alas. On the plus side, Nvidia says it won’t mix and match the differing GPU’s memory capacities. A 6GB GTX 1060 will always have the full 14nm GP106 “Pascal” GPU, while any 3GB versions you see will always pack the pared-down version of the processor.
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