True Contender or Not?
Initially just a rumor, the 3GB version of the GTX 1060 is now something you can buy -- but should you? It comes down to the games you play, the resolution you run them at and how picky you are about quality settings.
The 3GB models should be around $50 cheaper than the 6GB cards and that's a good chunk of change for a mid-range graphics card. As some of you may know, I'm based in Australia and here there is roughly $100 separating the 3GB and 6GB GTX 1060. That's a massive difference in price and makes it difficult to recommend the more expensive version. Granted, the difference is less extreme stateside, but you still stand to save around 20%.
If you are the kind of gamer that upgrades every generation or so, I feel the 3GB model might be the better buy. It seems for the vast majority of games the 3GB model is less than 10% slower, which should produce highly playable performance for folks targeting 1080p in today's latest titles.
Those gaming at 1440p are naturally a little more invested and would probably be best picking up the full 6GB model, though if you are planning on mostly playing games such as Overwatch, then the 3GB model will surely suffice.
You could point to Mirror's Edge Catalyst and suggest that this is how future games will look, and you might even be right. I personally feel this is an extreme example and it will still be some time before it becomes the norm.
For those wondering, turning Mirror's Edge Catalyst down to the ultra-quality preset saw the 3GB GTX 1060 perform within 10% of the 6GB model. Not only that, but I can't really tell the difference in visual quality between ultra and hyper, making the latter pointless in my opinion.
That's another point worth considering: even if games do start to consume considerably more VRAM, the 3GB GTX 1060 isn't going to become useless overnight. Lowering a few key quality settings will bounce performance back to expected levels.
Of course, you could also opt for AMD's 4GB RX 480 at roughly the same cost as the 3GB 1060. For the most part, the 4GB model performs just like the 8GB RX 480, though I am yet to test a true 4GB model (we've had to rely on testing with AMD’s 4GB BIOS). Until I can get my hands a board partner's 4GB RX 480, I'm not willing to call a winner here. Hopefully within the next few weeks we can make an in-depth comparison and perhaps by then pricing will have settled down.
Pros: Around 20% cheaper than the 6GB GTX 1060 but less than 10% slower -- a comfortable compromise for 1080p gamers.
Cons: Besides having less VRAM, the 3GB GTX 1060 has one SM unit disabled and yet retains the 6GB model's full 120W TDP.