The time has come, the time when I must finally benchmark the RX 480 8GB and GTX 1060 6GB board partner cards head to head. Picking up where the previous MSI RX 470 4GB vs. MSI GTX 1060 3GB graphics cards left off we now have the battle of the serious mid-range contenders.
For those of you paying attention you will know that the RX 480 8GB features an MSRP of $240 while the GTX 1060 6GB packs a slightly more pricey $250 MSRP. Sadly to the dismay of would be buyers neither are readily available at the suggested manufacturer prices.
Both of the RX 480 and GTX 1060 Gaming X models are priced at $290 US at present and us Aussies are paying around $450. MSI does offer cheaper GTX 1060 models such as the 6GT OC for $260 but for the sake of this comparison we are trying to compare the cards as evenly matched as possible.
So with two very similarly priced Gaming X cards on hand let’s get to the benchmarks to see what’s what…
Total War Warhammer [DX12]
Kick starting the benchmarks we are going to look at half a dozen low-level API titles using DirectX 12 and Vulkan. First up we have Total War Warhammer supporting DX12 and here the 480 enjoyed a 4fps advantage over the 1060, making Nvidia’s offering 7% slower here.
Hitman is a game that strongly favored AMD hardware in either DX11 or DX12 modes so the low-level API support certainly isn’t the winning factor here. Still the 480 was 5fps faster making the 1060 9% slower.
Ashes of the Singularity [DX12]
Ashes of the Singularity is one of the best examples of a DX12 game as it was built from the ground up to take advantage of this modern API. Interestingly both the 480 and 1060 delivered the same 48fps average here when using the extreme quality preset.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [DX12]
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has had DX12 support patched in, so take from that what you will, it certainly isn’t a native DX12 title. Regardless the 480’s massive win in this title doesn’t come from the DX12 support as it also crushes the 1060 when using DX11. Mankind Divided is an AMD supported title and as such has been designed to suit the red team’s hardware nicely.
Rise of the Tomb Raider [DX12]
Rise of the Tomb Raider is another game to feature patched in DX12 support. However this is an Nvidia supported title and surprise, surprise the green team comes out well on top here. The 1060 averaged 64fps to the 480’s 58 fps making the 1060 some 10% faster.
Of the low level API games tested, Doom is the only one that genuinely favors AMD due to the use of the low level API. Whereas the 1060 performs much the same using OpenGL and Vulkan the 480 comes from nowhere with OpenGL to dominate using Vulkan. That said it is worth keeping in mind that although the 1060 was 9% slower it did average over 100 fps at 1440p with the game virtually maxed out, so that was very playable performance too.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Okay so now it is time to check out the DirectX 11 titles which in 2016 still dominate the market. The recently released Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a perfect example of this. Here the 1060 was slightly faster providing 4fps more on average which was a 9% performance advantage.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt sees the 1060 and 480 deliver the same 54 fps result at 1440p. Interestingly neither are much faster than the cheaper 3GB 1060 here, just 4fps on average seperate them.
Star Wars Battlefront
AMD struggles with the minimum frame rate in Star Wars Battlefront and we again see that here with the 480. The 1060 was 7% faster on average but 17% faster when comparing the minimum frame rate.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Tom Clancy’s The Division is another DX11 title where the 480 and 1060 come out neck and neck, this time with 48 fps each.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Interestingly the 480 came out on top when testing with Batman: Arkham Knight as the 1060 was 5% slower.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor provided competitive results, here the 1060 was just 3fps faster handing it a 5% performance advantage.
Something we found interesting in our 470 vs 1060 3GB comparison was the fact that although the 470 was crushed by the 1060 in Overwatch when comparing the average frame rate, the minimums were exactly the same. Well once again we find a similar story when comparing the 1060 6GB and 480. The 1060 was 12% faster when comparing the average frame rate, but just 2% faster when comparing the minimums making Nvidia’s win here far less substantial.
Far Cry Primal
Performance was again very even in Far Cry Primal, the 1060 was just 4% faster making for a very even fight.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
The 1060 was 7% faster in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate though this did translate to just 4fps more on average. So another close battle then.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V weighed heavily in the 3GB 1060’s favor over the 470 and we find it again favors Nvidia when comparing the 6GB 1060 and 480. Here the 1060 was 11% faster delivering 83 fps compared to 75 fps for the 480.
Due to popular demand I have made sure to include ARMA 3, though it has to be said the game provides less than competitive results. Here the 1060 was 50% faster than the 480, this certainly isn’t the norm and you won’t see any other results quite like this. I am not sure why the AMD GPUs suck so bad in this title, it’s a real shame.
The RX 480 doesn’t fare particularly well in Crysis 3, delivering just a few extra frames over the 470. This meant it wasn’t just slower than the 6GB 1060 but also the 3GB model as well.
Another game where the 3GB 1060 outpaced the 480 was DiRT Rally. Here the 6GB 1060 enjoyed a 14% performance advantage with 75fps opposed to just 66 fps.
Yet another title where the 3GB 1060 trumped the 480 was Fallout 4. Here the 6GB 1060 was 12% faster averaging 66 fps while the 480 averaged 59 fps.
Just Cause 3
Like Star Wars Battlefront we find that although the 480 isn’t much slower in Just Cause 3 when comparing the average frame rate, it is a good bit slower when looking at the minimums.
Finally we have Mad Max and like DiRT Rally we find strong frame rates from both the 480 and 1060, though Nvidia does have a clear performance advantage in this title. In fact where as the 1060 was 14% faster in DiRT Rally it is 20% faster here.
Power consumption for the MSI 1060 6GB and RX480 8GB Gaming X cards is in line with what we saw from the 1060 3GB and RX470 Gaming X models. The slightly higher end 6GB 1060 and RX480 consumed slightly more power and of course this meant the 1060 was quite a bit more efficient. The margins were much the same when testing with Far Cry Primal, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and DiRT Rally.
Okay so before wrapping things up let’s take a quick look at a few performance breakdowns.
DX11 Break Down
Starting with the DX11 titles we have results from 16 games.
Here the 6GB GTX 1060 was on average 10% faster than the RX 480, not a huge margin and although it did swing in Nvidia’s favor the cards did at times trade blows. The only game where the RX 480 came out on top was Batman: Arkham Knight though if we had tested Hitman and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided using DX11, AMD would have won here as well.
Still there are a few quality titles such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Tom Clancy’s The Division where both GPUs provided the same performance.
DX12 Break Down
Moving to the low-level API games we find very different results. Here the 1060 was on average 5% slower though you have to really look into these results to get a clear picture of what is going on here.
As I said earlier Ashes of the Singularity is the best quality DX12 game of the bunch and here the 480 and 1060 actually delivered exactly the same performance.
Then we have Doom where the 1060 was 9% slower though that result is also a little misleading for a few reasons. Firstly the 1060 performs just as well using Vulkan as it does OpenGL so you could easily argue that maximum efficiency is being achieved without the need for a low-level API. Also worth noting is the dismal OpenGL performance of the Radeon graphics card, making the Vulkan performance look even more impressive.
Still there is no denying that Doom with its Vulkan support is a great game for showcasing AMD’s hardware and the results are truly impressive. It is also worth noting that although the 1060 was 9% slower in this title it still provided highly playable performance and the difference certainly won’t be noticeable when gaming.
The 1060 loses in Total War Warhammer and although this is an AMD supported title I feel this is a fair win.
The big hits for Nvidia are seen in Hitman and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided though as I pointed out earlier claiming these victories are down to the DX12 support isn’t correct. The RX 480 will trounce the 1060 in both these titles even when using DX11 so low-level API support has nothing to do with the wins seen here.
Likewise Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game that favors Nvidia hardware regardless of the API used.
Another new DX12 title that I didn’t have time to add to this video but have started testing is Forza Horizon 3. So far from what I have seen the RX 480 and GTX 1060 are very evenly matched in this title with never having a noticeable performance advantage.
So as I have said time and time again the jury is still out for me on which GPU will provide the best performance going forward. I still suspect that we will see a fair share of DX12 titles that favor Nvidia hardware with a good number that also favor AMD hardware. Hopefully there will also be plenty like Forza and Ashes of the Singularity that run great on either manufacturer’s hardware.
The low-level API sample of games featured in this review I feel are quite skewed and don’t paint an accurate picture of what is to come. The results from games such as Hitman, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Rise of the Tomb Raider really need to be taken with a grain of salt given the developer bias.
If you are after the fastest GPU for playing games right now the GTX 1060 does come out on top as it was 6% faster on average when tallying up all 22 games tested. The 1060 is also significantly more efficient allowing it to run cooler and quieter. Still the RX 480 does have plenty of strengths and without question the future looks brighter right now. This makes choosing between the two extremely difficult. Frankly I would pick based on the games I intend to play and of course whichever comes at the best price.
Right now the Gaming X models seem to be retailing for roughly the same price in the US and Australia but pricing could vary in other regions. The hope is if I have done my job correctly that you should now have all the facts and figures, allowing you to make an informed purchase. Which one are you going to go with? Let me know in the comments.