AMD Radeon RX 480 vs NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060: Head-to-Head 1080p Showdown


The GeForce GTX 1070 8GB offers great value for the money due to the fact that it performs like a GeForce GTX 980 Ti and does so at a much lower price. Playing games at 1080p with very high image quality used to be only possible for those who can afford very expensive GPU’s. However, GTX 1070’s MSRP of $379 may be a problem for many gamers. AMD’s  solution for that is the Radeon RX 480 8GB. It won’t beat the GTX 1070 but it’s MSRP of $239 will surely please gamers for the performance it offers. According to AMD, RX 480 in CrossFire offers almost the same performance of a GTX 1080. Based on that, it seems that a single RX 480 will perform somewhere in between a GTX 970 and GTX 980.

Unfortunately, we were not able to receive a review sample of RX 480 in time so we just decided to wait for its true competitor – the GeForce GTX 1060 which has an MSRP of $249. NVIDIA marketed the GTX 1060 as the replacement for GeForce GTX 980 which had an MSRP of $549 last September 2014.

We would like to thank MSI and AMD for lending us the graphics cards for this review.

How We Tested

The PC we used for testing is shown below.

Processor: Intel Core i7 6700K @ 4.0 GHz (Turbo disabled)
Graphics Card: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Gaming X, AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB
Motherboard: ASUS Maximus VIII Formula
Memory: Kingston Hyper X Savage 8GBx2 DDR4 3000 MHz
Power Supply: Thermaltake Tough Power 1000 watts
Case: DimasTech EasyXL
Monitor: ASUS VC239H
Driver: NVIDIA GeForce 368.81, AMD Crimson 16.7.2
Operating System: Windows 10 64-bit

Frame rates and frame times of a 60-second game play were recorded using FRAPS v3.5.99. The test results are the average of 3 benchmark runs. Since this is a GPU review, we benchmarked the area of the games that put heavy load on the GPU.

Crysis 3 – Post Human
Grand Theft Auto V – Palomino Highlands
The Witcher 3 – Woesong Bridge
Rise of the Tomb Raider – Valley Farmstead

The games and corresponding image quality settings used are shown below:

Crysis 3

Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Texture Resolution: Very High
Anti-aliasing: SMAA 2Tx
System Spec: Very High
Anisotropic Filtering: 16x
Motion Blur: Disabled

Grand Theft Auto V

Resolution: 1920 x 1080
FXAA Off
MSAA 4x
TXAA Off
Very High settings
Anisotropic Filtering: 16x
Motion Blur disabled
Advanced Graphics enabled

The Witcher 3

Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Frame Rate: Unlimited
Nvidia HairWorks: Off
Ultra Settings
Motion Blur: Off
Blur: Off
Anti-aliasing: On
Bloom: On
Sharpening: High
Ambient Occlusion: SSAO
Depth of Field: On
Chromatic Aberration: Off
Vignetting: On
Light Shafts: On

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Anti-aliasing: FXAA
Very High settings
Ambient Occlusion: On
Pure Hair: On
Vignette Blur: Off
Motion Blur: Off
Bloom: On
Tessellation: On
Screen Space Reflections: On
Lens Flares: On
Film Grain: Off

DOTA2

Resolution 1920×1080
Maximum in-game settings
FPS_MAX 240
Vsync OFF

Some proprietary technologies of NVIDIA like PCSS, HBAO+, and HairWorks work on AMD GPU’s but we decided not to use them.

Test Results

Crysis 3 was released on February 2013 but it still puts a challenging demand for today’s GPU’s especially when you use MSAA 8x or SMAA 4x. In our test, The GTX 1060 is 11.3% faster than RX 480 in terms of average frame rate but both GPU’s deliver the same gaming experience as shown by the frame times.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Crysis 3 - FPSB2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Crysis 3 - frame time

Before we proceed further, we would like to share that FRAPS v3.5.99 works in DX12 games. The frame rate overlay does not show in DX12 games but the benchmark function works. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, the GTX 1060 is again faster than RX 480, by 9.8% in DX11 mode and by 20.8% in DX12 mode.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - RotTR - FPSB2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - RotTR - frame time

The Witcher 3 is one of the great-looking games released in 2015 and is suited for benchmarking today’s GPU’s. The performance advantage of GTX 1060 in this game is almost the same with what we saw in Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX11 mode) and in Crysis 3. The average frame rate of GTX 1060 in this game is 9.3% higher than that of RX 480.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Witcher 3 - FPSB2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Witcher 3 - frame time

Grand Theft Auto V was released on September 2013 for the Sony PlayStation 3 and the MicroSoft XBox 360 then was later released for the Sony PlayStation 4 and the MicroSoft XBox One after about a year. Though it is obvious that the PC platform is not a priority of the game developer, the PC version which was released on April 2015 have image quality enhancements not found on gaming consoles. When every image quality setting is set to Very High and the anti-aliasing used is MSAA 4x, the game proves to be demanding even for current GPU’s. In this game, the GTX 1060 is 25% faster than RX 480 and the difference in performance is observable even without a frame rate counter. The gaming experience can be improved especially for the RX 480 by disabling MSAA and instead use FXAA. Though, you need to know you’ll be sacrificing image quality a bit because FXAA introduces slight image blurring.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - GTA V - FPSB2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - GTA V - frame time

We are aware that very few people will buy a GTX 1060 or an RX 480 just to play DOTA 2. However, there are some gamers who build a gaming PC for games like Rise of the Tomb Raider but also play DOTA 2. A 60-second FRAPS benchmark was done starting at 23:45 of Game 2 of Team Secret vs Team Liquid of the finals of The Shanghai Major. Both GPU’s delivered around 100 FPS during the clash. For those who want to replicate our benchmark, you can download the replay file here. Put the .dem file you have downloaded in this location “/SteamApps/common/dota 2 beta/dota/replays“.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - DOTA 2 - FPSB2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - DOTA 2 - frame time

Temperature and System Power Draw

There is nothing out of the ordinary in the results of the system power draw. Take note that the data shown below were peak readings which we have observed during the stress test.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Power

Before anyone makes a violent reaction, we like to point out that we are not comparing a reference RX 480 graphics card to a custom GTX 1060 graphics card to make AMD look bad. For those who do not know, there is still no custom RX 480 graphics card available here in our country. The temperature results below should be just taken as an “FYI” (For Your Information) and should not be used to make conclusions about which brand of GPU runs cooler or hotter.

B2G GTX 1060 vs RX 480 - Temp

So, which GPU is better?

…it is still too early to make purchase decisions based on the performance of current hardware on current games that support DX12 or Vulkan

 

 

We know many of you are excited about DX12 and Vulkan so let’s discuss that first. Currently, almost all games with support for DX12 are natively DX11 games. It means they initially supported only DX11 and were just later patched to support DX12. Examples are Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman (2016), and Total War: Warhammer. Games that support Vulkan were just patched, too. Examples are The Talos Principle, Doom (2016), and DOTA 2. In our opinion, it is still too early to make purchase decisions based on the performance of current hardware on current games that support DX12 or Vulkan. Sure, there are games that support DX12 or Vulkan wherein AMD GPU’s really gain a notable advantage over NVIDIA GPU’s. But let’s not forget that those games were already performing great on NVIDIA GPU’s when in DX11 mode or OpenGL mode. If running the game in DX12 mode or in Vulkan mode reduces performance, why do it then? Once we start seeing games that goes from being unplayable to playable when switching from DX11 mode to DX12 mode or Vulkan mode, that is the time we will consider giving purchase recommendations based on DX12 and Vulkan.

Conclusion

DSC07836

Now, focusing on the benchmarks we’ve done for this review, both the GeForce GTX 1060 and Radeon RX 480 delivered an admirable performance at 1080p. We were able to use very high image quality settings and still managed to have a pleasant gaming experience on either GPU. If you are building a new gaming PC and you do not have a budget for a GeForce GTX 1070, you’re going to get a good value for the money whether you choose the GTX 1060 or the RX 480. It’s just a matter of brand preference – AMD or NVIDIA. If you are looking for a monitor with variable refresh rate, you might want to consider the RX 480 because monitors that support AMD’s Free Sync are generally more affordable compared to those that support NVIDIA’s G-Sync. To give an example, the LG 23MP68VQ-P can be had for around $160. For those who are using Linux and want to play modern games without having to dual-boot with Windows, you should consider the GTX 1060. That is not to say AMD does not support Linux but most of the latest games being released on Linux perform better on NVIDIA GPU’s and some of them initially support only NVIDIA GPU’s.

To summarize, it boils down to very specific scenarios where one is better than the other. As DX12 benchmarks show, there’s little to expect in terms of improvement if you’re running a fairly decent CPU, we’ll look into this further in a separate article but for now we’ll focus on the cards themselves. Performance is incredible for 1080p and it is possible for the GTX 1060 and RX 480 to deliver higher than 60FPS in most games. If we’ll leave the choice to you, your considerations will be for the cards are as follows:

RX 480 GTX 1060
Multi-GPU support Performance-per-watt
Freesync Driver stability and support
   

We won’t factor in temperatures, warranty for now as those boil down to AIBs but as of right now, the RX 480 looks to take on an advantage once the custom cards roll-in and we see overclocked models.

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