The NVIDIA GTX 1060 and the AMD RX 480 graphics cards (GPU) are both budget contenders that offer a lot of power for the price you pay. Upon release, the GTX 1060 was arguably a far better graphics card, however, a series of driver updates from AMD significantly narrowed the gap in performance to the point where you have to almost look at other factors to help you decide which card is best suited for you.
Let's break things down to help you figure out which budget GPU should go into your PC.
Are these GPUs right for you?
Before getting into the comparison between the AMD RX 480 and the GTX 1060, it's good to know exactly what you'll be using the GPU for. If you're interested in 4K gaming and don't want to have to lower the in-game settings to a point where the game is unplayable, you probably want to have a look at the powerful GTX 1080 or even newer GTX 1080 Ti.
If playing most current games at 1080p with a decent framerate is more what you're looking for, either the RX 480 or the GTX 1060 will get you through just fine and at a much lesser price. They will both also fulfill your VR dreams.
Both GPUs have two versions with different amounts of VRAM: the RX 480 is available in 4GB and 8GB configurations, while the GTX 1060 is available in a 3GB and 6GB configurations. Performance isn't based solely on the amount of VRAM a GPU has, so you have to take a deeper look at the specs.
|Category||AMD RX 480 (4GB/8GB)||NVIDIA GTX 1060 (3GB/6GB)|
|VRAM||4GB/8GB GDDR5||3GB/6GB GDDR5|
As you can see, these GPUs are quite closely matched. However, the GTX 1060 has a higher clock speed and sucks up a bit less power than the RX 480. On the other hand, the RX 480 is the winner when it comes to memory bandwidth. It takes more than just hard specs to determine a winner, so you also have to look at benchmarks from real-world scenarios.
Extensive benchmark testing performed by Hardware Canucks reveals that the performance of the RX 480 (8GB) and the GTX 1060 (6GB) are very close.
To be more specific, when playing Battlefield 1 at 1080p with Ultra settings using DirectX 11, the RX 480 (8GB) averaged about 86 frames per second (FPS) while the GTX 1060 (6GB) averaged about 90 FPS. Under the same settings but using DX12, the RX 480 (8GB) averaged about the same 86 FPS while the GTX 1060 (6GB) dipped down to an average of about 82 FPS.
In another test, this time playing Fallout 4 at 1080p with Ultra settings using DX11, the GTX 1060 (6GB) and the RX 480 (8GB) averaged about 66 FPS. When playing Fallout 4 at 1440p, the GTX 1060 (6GB) averaged about 42 FPS and the RX 480 (8GB) averaged about 43 FPS. It is evident that both of these GPUs are great options for anyone looking for 1080p gaming and even some decent 1440p gaming.
As for the lower-VRAM counterparts, the difference in performance from their higher-VRAM siblings is relatively narrow in most circumstances, and many people may not notice any major differences — at least not until you find a game that actually requires more VRAM than your GPU has, in which case you'll be kicking yourself for not going with the higher-VRAM option.
There are plenty of buying options when it comes to these GPUs, and the price differs a bit depending on the manufacturer and the extras they throw in. On average, you can expect to pay about $185 for a 4GB RX 480 and about $230 for an 8GB RX 480.
AMD edges out NVIDIA when it comes to prices, but just barely. The performance on paper is quite close, so if you find one or the other on sale, you might be tempted to grab it. There are, however, some other factors to take into account before making your final decision.
Should you buy the GTX 1060 or the RX 480?
Although a higher amount of VRAM in a GPU doesn't necessarily dictate better performance, it definitely bodes well for the future. As games become more detailed and feature bigger worlds to discover, the VRAM requirement will rise. If you plan on buying a GPU that will remain viable for games released during the next few years, the RX 480 (8GB) is a fine choice.
Adding to the longevity factor is the excellent Vulkan and DX12 support from AMD. As these APIs become more commonplace, you want a GPU that can perform well, and the RX 480, thanks to plenty of driver updates from AMD, has become a proven contender. That's not to say the GTX 1060 is a slouch, but you can expect to pay less for more FPS with the RX 480 when it comes to DX12.
Gamers who like to string together GPUs — known as SLI for NVIDIA cards and CrossFire for AMD cards — are probably disappointed that the GTX 1060 does not have this capability. If you want to go with a multi-GPU setup, your only choice is the RX 480, which has CrossFire support.
To reiterate, both of these GPUs offer an impressive amount of power for the price you pay. You can expect high-end 1080p gaming, and all cards can run VR. If you happen to find a great deal on either GPU, pull the trigger; you'll be happy you did. For more options, have a look at our collection of the absolute best graphics card picks.
- AMD RX 480 (8GB) | See at Amazon
- AMD RX 480 (4GB) | See at Amazon
- NVIDIA GTX 1060 (6GB) | See at Amazon
- NVIDIA GTX 1060 (3GB) | See at Amazon
More GPU resources
If neither of the cards compared here suit your needs, be sure to have a look at our ultimate GPU buyer's guide. We also have an in-depth look at GPUs for anyone who needs a bit more information before making a final decision.
- Everything you need to know about the GPU
- Ultimate GPU buyer's guide
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Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.