This year’s launching of the new generation graphics cards saw the manufacturers (AMD and nVidia) stepping down to a 14nm FinFET node. It is an established phenomenon that when a GPU microchip production process goes down a notch, the performance gains are massive (and there is no exception to that rule this time around). Though AMD only launched mid-range Polaris based chips, with Vega based cards having to wait Q4 2016/Q1 2017, nVidia took a different approach and hit the market aggressively, covering both mid and high segments of the market.
In this article we will focus on the clash between the newly released GTX1060 and RX480/470.
Putting the cards on the table
NVidia rushed to launch its GTX 1080 during the late May, early June. The card was an instant success, taking the GTX 980Ti down from the throne by as much as 30% in overall scores – the reference model on stock clocks. The difference is even bigger for models from AiB partners and also when the cards are pushed beyond factory levels. You get all of this with 50W less power consumption on average. Seeing how the GTX 1060 is the 1080 chip’s little brother, it is no wonder that it is a contender for the throne of the midrange market.
The main opponent to the GTX1060 is the AMD’s RX480. The card was launched at the end of June, with general availability starting in July for reference models and later in the month for AiB versions. The main trump of the RX480 was its recommended price (199$ for the 4GB model) and the whole background story that was spinning behind the “VR for the masses” idea. Performance-wise, the new AMD card was almost the same as R9 390X and GTX 980. So, it seemed you would get the previous generation high-end performance for a fraction of the price. However, in reality, things are a bit different. While US prices range from the $199 and more, in other parts of the world the situation is far from it, reaching even the staggering ~$400.
Graphics cards based on both of the GPUs are now finally widely available in reference and custom editions.
Let the games begin
Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the competitors/contenders, it is time to see which of the cards is tipping the scales in its favor. Differences vary from game to game, given that each engine responds differently to different chips. So we have Crysis 3, where the 1060 comes on top with ~50 fps over 42 that 480 produces. In GTA V, 1060 gives 74 fps while the 480 is at 69. The tables turn in Hitman, with 1060 coming in second at 58 fps, behind the 480’s 63. The same is in Just Cause 3, where the difference is 5 fps in favor of the RX480 (88 vs 83 fps). This goes on from game to game, but what we can conclude is that the cards are neck and neck, without the clear victor in sight in 1080p at highest settings. This is a great piece of news for anyone wanting a cheap gaming laptop, as with these GPUs the prices are bound to get lower.
Being that the cards are from the middle segment of the market, you can’t expect them to be top performance in two or three years’ time. 3D engines and graphics processing technologies are constantly improving and that is why we are presented with a new hardware each year. However, there are two new technologies that are implemented in several recent AAA titles which bring better performance than the previous ones – DX12 and Vulkan API. To cut the long story short, these APIs (Application programming interfaces) bring about better communication between the hardware and software, enabling better utilization of hardware than ever before (just like on consoles). The list of the games that support these APIs is not too long. DX12: Ashes of the Singularity, Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Forza Motorsport 6, Gears of War, Total War: Warhammer. The only game supporting Vulkan so far is Doom.
Performance-wise, the GTX1060 and the RX480 fare relatively close to one another in DX12, with RX coming on top by a few percentile. On the other hand, in Vulkan absolutely smashes it. The RX480 is faster by more than 20% using Vulkan API in Doom than it is in DX11, and by more than 25% than the nVidia card. It reaches the FPS of the nVidia 1070, which is much stronger than the 1060.
The matter of perspective
Yes, there is always the matter of perspective, whether you prefer playing for the red (AMD) or the green team (NVidia). Whichever brand you prefer, you won’t make a mistake by buying the card from your favorite one, since the cards are so close to each other. Mind you, the RX480 is better at turning new tech into reality and has 8GB or RAM rather than 6, and also supports multi-gpu, unlike 1060. For that matter, the RX480 is a better buy (for the right price that is).
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