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3GB vs 6GB GTX 1060 in Today’s Games

3GB vs 6GB GTX 1060 in Today's Games

3GB vs 6GB GTX 1060 in Today’s Games

Recently we’ve been checking out previous-gen graphics cards that you can buy at “decent” prices used, if you want a GPU for gaming, but don’t want to pay inflated prices.

It’s a valid trade-off for many and so we’ve revisited the likes of the GeForce GTX 1070, GTX 1060 6GB, and Radeon RX 580, running the latest drivers and today’s games to see how they do.

Today we’re taking a look at the 3GB version of the GeForce GTX 1060 which sells for ~$200-250 on eBay, and that’s about $100 less than what you can expect to pay for the 6GB model. A second reason to put together this test is that we want to see how a graphics card with just 3GB of VRAM is getting on in 2021. That alone should be quite interesting.

As a quick refresher, the original GTX 1060 6GB was released back in July 2016, that’s 5 years ago. Hot on the heels of that release, a month later, Nvidia released the controversial 3GB version. The reason for the controversy was Nvidia doing Nvidia things: the 3GB version of the GTX 1060 sounded like it’d be the same as the original but with half as much VRAM. But if you made that assumption, you would be wrong.

Many Years Later: 3GB vs 6GB GTX 1060 in Today's Games

In addition to the VRAM difference, Nvidia also went with defective silicon supporting 1152 cores, rather than the full 1280 cores used by the 6GB version, or a 10% reduction in core count. Based on our testing 5 years ago, when not limited by VRAM the 3GB model was ~7% slower, but we did see an example with Mirror’s Edge Catalyst where it was up to 41% slower due to insufficient memory, so it will be interesting to see how the two GPUs compare today.

Pascal was an epic release from Nvidia back in the day, but they did have the few bad apples like this one and the GT 1030 DDR4 version. But all that drama is now in the past, and what we have in the present is a second hand 3GB GTX 1060 that we’re going to re-test.

If you’re thinking of buying a used graphics card as a make-do solution until RTX 3070’s don’t cost more than your first car, you probably want to know how it performs in today’s games, so let’s go find out.

For comparison we have the GTX 1060 6GB to be compared in 15 games at 1080p and 1440p using a range of quality settings. All testing was conducted on our Ryzen 9 5950X test system using 32GB of DDR4-3200 CL14 memory and the latest available display drivers, so the results are going to be entirely GPU limited.

Gaming Benchmarks

Starting with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla we see that the 3GB model is 6% slower at 1080p using the low quality settings, which is what you’d expect when not exceeding the VRAM buffer. However, by using the medium quality preset we start to run into trouble as that margin swells to 20%, dropping the average frame rate from 59 fps down to 47 fps.

Things do get worse with the high quality preset as the 3GB model drops by a huge 54% margin, going from a playable 48 fps to a stuttery mess with just 22 fps.

This means you’ll want to keep texture quality at the lowest possible value when tuning quality settings and it’ll have to be at 1080p, because at 1440p there’s really no way to make the 3GB model work.

We’re looking at a 37% performance reduction using the low quality settings at 1440p, so medium and high are obviously a no go. In terms of value, the 6GB model is worth paying ~50% more for if you predominantly play games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as it nets you around 50% more performance, but more crucially, it will enable playable performance.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege results are also interesting, though here the 3GB frame buffer is sufficient for the most part. For example, at 1080p low settings, we see a 7% drop and then just 5% with medium. However, we’re looking at a far more significant 24% drop off using high, though the game is still playable.

Given the reduction in performance for the 3GB model when using the high quality preset at 1080p, you might expect the 1440p data to be a disaster, but it’s not. Using the same quality setting the 3GB model was just 9% slower, dropping from 89 fps to 81 fps. We believe this is because memory capacity is no longer the greatest performance limiting aspect of the card, and isn’t severe enough where it completely tanks performance.

In other words, the 3GB model does reasonably well here and was certainly able to deliver playable performance.

Biomutant doesn’t run into any issues with the 3GB GTX 1060 using the low, medium and high quality presets, though be aware we’re not testing with the maximum quality preset.

That being the case the 3GB model is 7-10% slower than the 6GB version, and that’s what you’d typically expect to see when not limited by memory capacity.

The margins are all over the place in Outriders. At 1080p using the low preset the 3GB model is 5% slower, and that’s a best case scenario. However, turning the quality settings up a single notch saw the margin open up to 24% as the 3GB model dropped down to just 51 fps whereas the 6GB card was good for 67 fps.

Quite interestingly, as we move to 1440p the 3GB model is still 5% slower using low and 22% slower with medium but then just 12% slower using high. But as was seen in Rainbow Six Siege, it is possible to get to a point where running out of VRAM isn’t the primary cause for limiting performance, rather it’s GPU performance and we see this with the high quality preset.

You’d expect the 22% margin seen with the medium preset to be mirrored or extended with high, but instead it’s reduced to just 12% and that’s because GPU shader performance becomes the primary limitation.

We see more evidence of this behavior with Horizon Zero Dawn. You’d expect the limited VRAM buffer of the 3GB model to have the least amount of impact using the lowest quality preset, so in this case favour performance. But here we’re looking at a 21% drop in performance for the 3GB model and at least half of that figure can be attributed to the VRAM buffer.

Using the higher quality ‘original’ preset the margin is reduced to 17% and then with favour quality, which is the second highest quality preset, the margin is reduced to just 12% which isn’t far off what you’d expect to see when using 3GB less VRAM.

The truth is the VRAM buffer of the 3GB model was exceeded under all three test conditions, it just so happened to be that it was the primary performance limitation using the lowest quality preset.

Preset scaling behavior is more what you’d expect to see in Shadow of the Tomb Raider when running out of VRAM. At 1080p the 3GB model was 5% slower using the lowest and low quality presets. But using medium kills the 3GB 1060 as performance drops off to the tune of 39%, slashing frame rates from 61 fps to just 37 fps.

Had VRAM capacity not been an issue like what we see with the low and lowest settings, the 3GB model would have delivered around 58 fps.

Then at 1440p we find the 3GB model is 8% slower using the lowest preset, 13% slower with low and 29% slower using medium.

Doom Eternal doesn’t allow you to exceed the VRAM buffer, so it’s not possible to test certain quality settings. Worse still, even with the low quality preset, the buffer is already maxed out and as a result it trailed the 6GB version by a 25% margin at 1080p and 24% at 1440p.

The game was still playable at both resolutions, so there is that, but you’re limited to low quality settings with this model.

The 3GB GTX 1060 was consistently 14% slower than the 6GB model in Death Stranding at 1080p, which is a larger margin than you’d expect to see, so perhaps there’s some memory limitations creeping into these results and that certainly appears to be the case at 1440p.

Here the 3GB model was between 16-20% slower and that’s due to the limited VRAM buffer as it should only be up to 10% slower. This is an issue for those wanting to play Death Stranding at 1440p as it meant dropping down from almost 60 fps using the medium setting with the 6GB model, to just shy of 50 fps with the 3GB version and you will certainly notice that difference.

Read a more detailed report at: TechSport


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