Is the GTX 1060 6GB Worth It?
This comes down to a question of whether the difference is ever noticeable in gameplay, and if it's worth the $50 extra for the 6GB card. We know that overclocking would scale performance mostly linearly, especially shown by testing the cards clock-for-clock, and that the performance deltas can be mapped to the reduction in CUDA cores and VRAM. For most games, the difference is about 6 to 7%, but we're seeing huge swings in some cases. Black Ops III posts a 10% performance change going from the 6GB card to the 3GB card ($200), Shadow of Mordor shows about a 14% change, and Doom is nearly 0 with OpenGL, but posts massive, 27% differences with Vulkan.
And then there's Mirror's Edge Catalyst, where we saw a performance drop from 58.3FPS AVG / 39.3FPS 0.1% low with the 6GB card, the 3GB model falling at 33FPS AVG / 22.7FPS 0.1% low. That pushes us below the “playable” threshold for Mirror's Edge Catalyst at Hyper, which wasn't the case for the 1060 6GB unit. A purchaser of the 3GB card would have to drop settings to Ultra (1080p) to remain playable on the unit, whereas the 6GB owner could play at Hyper.
The 3GB GTX 1060 is OK in some select cases. When the GTX 1060 3GB's frames dip, they dip hard. That can be the difference of adding noticeable chop to 1440p gameplay with the wrong settings combination, and is particularly noticeable with VRAM intensive applications. MEC requires a settings reduction, as the major example, and Shadow of Mordor is edging on one. But outside of these poor performances, the 3GB card does reasonably well in most other aspects of gaming. It's not the 5% difference that nVidia advertised, but the difference is often between 6% and 7%, so this isn't some world-ending offense.
Going forward, we'd still recommend the 6GB GTX 1060 for most use cases – it's one of the only cards this generation to be available at MSRP, near $250, and that makes it an agreeable purchase. This is a similar situation to the 4GB RX 480, which we generally would forgo for the 8GB model; that said, we did see some larger swings in 4 vs. 8GB RX 480 performance.
Just as a reminder, here are two of the opposing charts re-printed (arguing similar performance and arguing disparate performance, for an even match):
As for the naming, that's another matter. This isn't a lower VRAM GTX 1060 – it's a different card. An entire SM is disabled, including one tenth of the card's processors, and it's half the VRAM. The GTX 1060 3GB should absolutely not be called a GTX 1060. For consumers who are already faced with seemingly endless variants of AIB partner cards – Xs and Zs and Gamings and SCs or SSCs or FTWs or Strix, and on, and on – this only further obfuscates the GTX 1060 pool. It's just not a GTX 1060 – it's a different product. NVidia's choice to name the card as such will confuse buyers into thinking it's just a 1060 with half the VRAM, which is plainly false. This is a GTX 1050 Ti, and nVidia decided not to call it that. It's a marketing play. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing – all these companies make marketing plays (see: 4GB RX 480 for “$200 VR” ads) – but this isn't one that we can brush aside as harmless, because users will inevitably make the incorrect assumption that the only difference is VRAM.
As for being VR-ready, you're losing a lot of performance just with normal gaming. Don't buy this for VR. You'll want more than 3GB VRAM for that, anyway, and the performance loss is painful when dealing with the extremely tight tolerances of VR.
The 3GB GTX 1060 has its place in a few builds with an odd budget distribution, and does deserve to exist – we just think it should be renamed and mostly ignored in favor of the $250 alternatives, including the 6GB 1060 and 8GB RX 480.
Editorial, Test Lead: Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke
Video Producer: Andrew “ColossalCake” Coleman
Test Technician: Andie “Draguelian” Burke