It’s almost 5 years old. Can it still play your favorite games in 2021?
If you’re a PC gamer wanting to build or upgrade your existing system, you’ve probably learned a couple of tough lessons in the past year. First, it’s practically impossible to buy the latest graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia. And even if you are lucky enough to find one in stock, you’re going to pay through the nose.
If you’re willing to settle for a used graphics card that’s a generation or two old (like the Radeon Vega 64 or RTX 2060), you’ll also have to swallow exorbitant prices due to the renewed crypto-mining boom.
There’s a painful, ongoing chip shortage across the board, and it’s not just the gaming industry bearing the burden. The smartphone industry is struggling to keep up, and it’s wreaked havoc on the automotive industry.
Anyway, I was doing some research recently on the state of PC gaming, I noticed that the most-used GPU on Steam is nearly 5 years old. Yep, it’s the venerable GTX 1060 from Nvidia, a card that was priced perfectly to saturate the mainstream gaming market, and offered stellar performance for the cost.
Someday the RTX 2060 or RTX 3060 may take the crown, assuming you can actually buy them…
That got me thinking: is a graphics card that old still viable in 2021? Can it still deliver playable framerates in games that were released 2 or 3 years after it debuted?
Perhaps of equal importance to some of you is this question: can the GTX 1060 still let us still crank up all the visual dials?
To find out, I put a very heavily used Asus GTX 1060 Dual on my test bench (which currently has an AMD Ryzen 5900X CPU and 16GB of RAM). Crucially, this particular GTX 1060 only has 3GB of video RAM, so it represents one of the cheaper (and thus more popular) models out there.
While I love how easy consoles are to use, I prefer PC gaming simply because of the higher ceiling for gorgeous graphics. That means I’m not going easy on this GTX 1060.
In the majority of games I tested, I maxed out the graphics settings (except Cyberpunk 2077; more on that in a second).
I scaled them back in certain cases like Apex Legends where, curiously, reducing “Spot Shadow” detail from High to Medium almost doubles the framerate.
1080p gaming performance with the Asus GTX 1060 3GB
Overall, the outlook is surprisingly bright!
7 of these 8 games average at least 30FPS at 1080p, and that’s with graphics settings cranked up to their maximum values. If you’re using a G-Sync monitor, the experience becomes even smoother.
Super-competitive gamers, however, have zero interest in playing titles like Apex Legends or Call of Duty: Cold War anywhere below a rock-solid 60FPS (it’s more likely they want 120FPS). That’s why I’ve also included minimum framerates, which are fairly forgiving at 1080p. Provided you’re not trying to win any tournaments…
Will you need to make compromises with other games? Absolutely. Cyberpunk 2077 and Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator will murder the GTX 1060 at 1080p. To get enjoyable framerates, you’ll need to be more conservative with your quality settings, but they are still playable! In Cyberpunk 2077, I had to shove the quality preset all the way to Low to manage +30FPS outside of the NCPD building.
Also, the limit of 3GB of VRAM can be problematic with games like Call of Duty: Cold War. While playing several rounds of Team Deathmatch on Nuketown, for example, I noticed that several textures looked like they had vaseline smeared over them when aiming down a scope, or they just never materialized properly in the first place.
Sales of 1440p monitors are on the rise, and that’s exactly the resolution AMD is targeting with its upcoming Radeon RX 6700 XT.
Let’s take a look at the same games and settings, but bumped up to 1440p. (Except for poor Cyberpunk which becomes unplayable at this resolution).
GTX 1060 gaming performance at 1440p resolution
The AVG FPS results at 1440p aren’t nearly as promising, with only 2 of the 7 titles managing to deliver higher than 30FPS.
Anything lower that is unplayable in my book.
To restore those playable framerates, you’ll need to make serious compromises now, reducing quality to Medium or lower.
But the takeaway? The GTX 1060 is still a mighty competent graphics card, even with its 5th anniversary looming this July!
I’ve covered the PC gaming and tech industry for more than a decade and am proud to be one of the first 30 podcasters in the world. In addition to covering the exciting