The new mid-range offerings from AMD and Nvidia haven't quite delivered like we hoped they might. It's not for a lack of performance, as both the RX 480 and GTX 1060 hold their own when gaming at 1080p and somewhat beyond. Instead, the issue stems from pricing and availability, the latter likely being responsible for the former.
As of writing, the cheapest RX 480 on Newegg is $250 for a custom MSI 4GB version and the rest are closer to $300. Things don't look much better for the green team. Although the least expensive GTX 1060 can be had for $250, most are sitting at $300 or higher.
Last month, AMD announced another mid-range contender, though at $180 the RX 470 isn't entirely differentiated. MSRP and actual street price are two different things especially at launch, so currently the cheapest RX 470 costs $190 with most above $200.
What about Nvidia's new 3GB version of the GTX 1060, you ask?
For $200 -- and we've been able to find at least one selling at that price -- but as is the case with the RX 480, RX 470 and the 6GB GTX 1060, we find that most of the 3GB models are selling for above the official pricing.
Anyhow, assuming prices settle down shortly, there should be a $50 difference between the 3GB and 6GB versions of the GTX 1060, which would make the 3GB model 20% cheaper which is significant in sub-$300 graphics cards.
The 3GB frame buffer should be ample for 1080p gaming and might even make do at 1440p, though reduced VRAM isn't the only downgrade made to the 3GB model. Despite keeping the GTX 1060 name, the 3GB model has an extra SM unit disabled.
With only nine of the ten SMs active, the core count drops from 1280 to 1152, and the texture units see a similar reduction from 80 to 72. Clock speeds remain unchanged at 1506 MHz with a boost to 1709MHz, but rated compute performance decreases by 11% (from 4.4 to 3.9 TFLOPs). Although its core count has been cut, the TDP of the 3GB model remains at 120W.
Changing the core configuration for the GTX 1060 3GB means comparisons between the two GPUs now go beyond the included frame buffer. Nvidia claims the real-world performance drop from disabling one SM is around five percent, which is pretty reasonable considering the $50 saving.
Rather than take Nvidia's word for it, we're keen to see just how much of an impact the 3GB frame buffer and 10% reduction in core count has on performance in our benchmarks. There's no Founders Edition 3GB model so on hand for testing we have the impressive looking MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3G.
MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3G
The GTX 1060 3GB might only be a $200 graphics card, but that hasn't stopped MSI from going all out and while the company's Gaming X 3G is currently retailing for $240, we hope that price to dip down slightly over the coming weeks.
All up, the card measures 277mm long, 39mm wide and a very tall 140mm. MSI and Asus like to add a bit of extra height to their graphics cards and we have to admit it does make them look quite imposing.
The latest-generation Twin Frozr VI cooler has been installed featuring a pair of Torx 2.0 fans which boast a unique steeper curved blade design that is said to generate 22% more air pressure. The fans also stop spinning entirely when the card is operating below 60 degrees during light load.
Actually, it isn't often the card will require the fans to spin up and certainly never to a noticeable level. This is helped not only by the efficient Pascal GPU but also the massive heatsink that is riddled with copper heatpipes measuring up to 8mm wide. The heatsink is capped off with a large nickel plated base that covers the entire GPU.
Under the heatsink is a huge heat shroud that covers much of the PCB and of course provides cooling for the memory and PWM. There is also a huge full-size backplate with a pretty cool looking design.
MSI has upgraded the single 6-pin PCIe connector to an 8-pin connector which essentially doubles the amount of juice that can be delivered here. Helping take advantage of that extra power is a 5+1 phase PWM design which is a considerable upgrade over the 6GB Founders Edition graphics card.
Out of the box, MSI has set the Gaming X 3G's base clock at 1569MHz, resulting in a boost clock of 1784MHz. That's a mild 4% overclock, but please note for the sake of consistency we have downclocked the GPU to Nvidia's spec which calls for a 1506MHz base clock. We did this to ensure a fair comparison between the GTX 1060 6GB Founders Edition graphics card that we've already tested.