MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3 GB Review 87

MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3 GB Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • The MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3GB retails at $240.
  • Cheaper than 6 GB version
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Very quiet during gaming
  • Fans turn off in idle
  • Low temperatures
  • Backplate included
  • HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.4
  • High price for a GTX 1060 3 GB
  • Fewer shaders than 6 GB version
  • Memory not overclocked
  • No SLI support
  • DVI output no longer includes analog VGA signals
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3 GB was released not too long ago. This is our first review of this SKU because we had to do a full rebench with new games on the latest drivers. Unlike other products with variants that really differ only in memory capacity and sometimes even clock speed, NVIDIA decided to also cut away 10% of the shading units, which will affect performance. Unfortunately, we don't have a reference design or reference-clocked card for a baseline comparison. MSI's GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 3 GB is virtually identical to the 6 GB version with the only difference being the graphics chip and memory. In terms of performance, this factory-overclocked GTX 1060 3 GB card sits about 7% behind the reference GTX 1060 6 GB, which is roughly what I would have expected given the clocks, shaders, and memory. What I did not expect, though, is the large loss of performance in Tomb Raider or Hitman. Other games seem completely unaffected by having 3 GB less VRAM at their disposal, especially at 1080p. If you look at 4K in several games, you can see a small dip in performance compared to the 6 GB reference; Deus Ex and Far Cry Primal are good examples of that. In my opinion, these cases rather argue for the 3 GB version being the smarter choice because they are good enough for 1080p, and you're not going to be getting smooth 4K framerates on any card in this performance range, no matter how much memory it has - the shading power is simply too low. You also have to take into account that we are using highest detail settings, which are often a little bit too demanding for the GTX 1060, so people will naturally reduce their settings, which will bring down VRAM usage, smoothing out the differences at the same time. Tomb Raider, which sees a performance loss of around 25% in even 1080p, requires you to reduce details on both the 6 GB and 3 GB version in order to achieve 60 FPS. If you go with a 3 GB version, you might have to dial down settings just a little more, but not by much, but will have saved quite some money in return. Compared to the Radeon RX 480, the GTX 1060 3 GB is right on the same level in our performance summaries - individual game performance varies wildly, though, with more recent titles having the slight upper hand on the RX 480. Whether this is conclusive evidence that all new games going forward will run better on the Radeon, I'm not sure. The aging GTX 980 is around 10% faster than MSI's card, but I still wouldn't recommend it due to its much higher price.

We've seen excellent results from MSI's new TwinFrozr thermal solution in the past, and the MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3 GB is no exception. It uses the same cooler as the 6 GB version. Its cooling performance is very impressive, benefiting from the low heat output of NVIDIA's new GPU. We saw temperatures of only 67°C during heavy gaming and pretty much perfect noise levels. It will be difficult to notice the two fans with even demanding games, which are spinning slowly, emitting only 29 dBA. This also qualifies the card for a low-noise media PC with enough performance to enable serious gaming at 1080p on your big screen. MSI has also included the idle-fan-off feature we love so much since it provides a perfect noise-free experience during desktop work, Internet browsing, and even light gaming.

Just like on the reference design GTX 1060 6 GB, power efficiency is amazing, with huge improvements over the Maxwell architecture that is already highly efficient in the first place. MSI's card only uses roughly the same amount of power as the 6 GB reference design. So reducing memory chip capacity while keeping the same number of memory chips has no significant effect on power efficiency. The rather bigger change is the reduced shader count in the NVIDIA GPU, which makes up for any power draw increase by MSI's overclock out of the box. MSI chose to replace the 6-pin power input of the reference design with an 8-pin, which you will never make use of because the board's power limit is set to around 125 W only, so to me, the 8-pin is mostly for show to reassure potential buyers that this card will be fine for everything you throw at it, including overclocking. A higher board power limit could have helped increase out-of-the-box performance by allowing NVIDIA Boost to boost higher for longer because there is more power headroom to do so.

Price-wise, the MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X 3 GB sits at $239 (the 6 GB Gaming X costs $289). At $239, I find the card quite expensive, considering you can find GTX 1060 3 GB models for $199, which is important if you are trying to save money, which is probably why you're looking for a GTX 1060 and not a GTX 1070. Assuming you had the choice between a $200 GTX 1060 3 GB and a $260 6 GB version, I'd probably lean slightly toward the 3 GB version because it is 30% cheaper, which is more than the performance difference, no matter which of our tests you're looking at. These 60 bucks could get you a ton of great titles that are on sale, or one AAA game; remember, money is tight. Yet if you can easily afford $260 or slightly higher and are more focused on future-proofing your system, 6 GB is a a viable option too. Also worth considering at that price point is the Radeon RX 480 if you can live with its higher power draw, heat output, and fan noise. The choices in this segment are definitely not easy - feel free to let us know what you would buy in the comments section of this review.
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