Earlier this year, we picked out the best RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti graphics cards for gamers on a budget. But which video card do you go for if you don't want to pay the top price for your gaming PC? Then you quickly end up with Nvidia's GTX 1660, GTX 1660 Ti or the RTX 2060. In this review we find out what the most interesting chip is and which versions of the different manufacturers are the best for gaming in Full-HD (1080p). .
We're not exaggerating when we say that Nvidia had one of its toughest launches ever with its GeForce RTX cards last fall. This had two causes. For example, when this 20 series was launched, there were no games at all that offered support for the two most important new features, real-time ray tracing and deep learning super sampling (DLSS). Worse, the price went up about as much as the performance. For less than 500 euros you could forget it. Certainly because Nvidia had made a huge step forward in the previous generation (GTX 10-series, Pascal) at the same prices, there was plenty to complain about.
Earlier this year, the manufacturer completed the bottom of its product line with the RTX 2060 (from approximately 350 euros), GTX 1660 Ti (from approximately 300 euros) and GTX 1660 (from approximately 250 euros). Fortunately, because for most gamers those are already amounts to seriously think about. And certainly for gamers who have a screen with the still dominant full-HD resolution (1920 x 1080), spending more is not necessary at all. But which of the three do you actually want?
Ray tracing is a technique in which an image is generated by tracking individual light rays and simulating how they respond to each touch; an approach to how we see the world with our eyes. Depending on how game developers apply this technology, it can lead to better reflections and/or shadows. Bottom line, that creates a more accurate, more impressive atmosphere in games.
RTX 2060, budget ray tracing?
First, let's dissect the confusing naming of those three cards. Because after the 10-series came the 20-series, and then came the … 16-series? Nvidia hasn't made it any easier. But the GTX 16 and RTX 20 models use the exact same architecture and are therefore definitely part of the same generation, contrary to what the numbers suggest. Only, in addition to the typical content, the RTX 20 series also has the extra RT and Tensor computing cores of the top models on board, intended for real-time ray tracing and DLSS, respectively.
But a few months after the launch of the RTX cards, we still see few games where those features really come in handy. DLSS offers substantial performance improvements and is included in a large number of games, but for the time being this is accompanied by a visible reduction in image quality, so we do not recommend this setting quickly. And besides the fact that ray tracing can only be used in a handful of games, there is a significant decrease in the frame rate.
This puts pressure on the cheapest RTX card, the 2060. While this is the strongest of the three cards in this article and has enough power to comfortably run all games at 1080p at very high settings, it's tight if you're also want to enable ray tracing. With both Metro Exodus and Battlefield V at 1080p, we prefer the smoothness without ray tracing over the extra pomp and circumstance that you get when you switch on ray tracing on the RTX 2060. So for the real RTX experience you actually want a more expensive card (RTX 2070). , from around 500 euros), but we suspect that most gamers who shop in this segment just want a good, smooth gaming experience. We therefore mainly view the RTX 2060 as a direct upgrade of the GTX 1660 Ti, purely for the higher frame rates.
GTX 1660 Ti as sweet spot
If we look at the game benchmarks, it seems difficult to justify that upgrade compared to the GTX 1660 Ti. The GTX 1660 Ti already delivers excellent frame rates at 1080p, even with very high graphics settings, with a bit of overcapacity to not only perform today's games, but also tomorrow's games.
And because you buy a video card for a number of years, we also find it more interesting than the GTX 1660 without Ti addition. In the benchmarks, the GTX 1660 itself also does good business, with only an occasional game where we have to get rid of the highest setting. But the extra capacity for tomorrow's heavy games is more limited. That is why we actually find the 10 to 15 percent extra performance that the GTX 1660 Ti has more interesting and that card is the sweet spot in our view. Especially if you settle the extra cost on the cost of a completely new gaming PC.
Something for everyone
That does not exclude the GTX 1660, because budget is often leading. And if a GTX 1660 Ti is out of reach, the GTX 1660 is an impressive card. This card also offers excellent gaming at 1080p, especially if you mainly deal with the most popular multiplayer games of the moment: they would not be as popular if they would run moderately on less luxurious systems. The advice "buy what's within your budget" sounds simple, but remember that both Nvidia and AMD have clever strategies to actually offer something interesting at every price point. They make the market aware so that there is something for everyone.
Worth the upgrade?
In the table you will also find the predecessor of these cards, the GTX 1060. The GTX 1660 is on average just faster, the other two are a lot faster. But is it worth an upgrade? If you are one generation behind, not really, because that GTX 1060 can still keep up excellently today. Upgrading is especially worthwhile if you're more than one generation behind. Gamers with a GTX 960 or GTX 760 will undoubtedly have noticed in recent games that those cards are struggling. This new generation brings your gaming PC up-to-date again.
Gaming at 144+ Hz
The extra overcapacity of the RTX 2060 seems unnecessary for 1080p, especially for gamers with a traditional 60Hz screen. The added value of much more than 60 fps in their case is actually nil. At the same time, we see that this card at 1440p resolution, conveniently included in the table, makes us long for even more power here and there: the RTX 2070.
Still, this RTX 2060 also has a clear goal at 1080p, and that is to offer a good intermediate solution for gamers with a 144Hz or faster screen and a preference for fast shooters. Today, 144Hz screens are for sale for less than 200 euros. And although the color reproduction of the first generation of fast screens lagged behind, that is no longer the case. 144Hz or faster is slowly becoming the new standard for gamers, and for those fast screens it's almost impossible to get too much performance. We also say there: buy the best chip that falls within your budget, including the RTX 2060 if that fits. The GTX 1660 Ti hits the sweet spot for 60 Hz and the current largest target audience, but if you have or are considering a fast screen, and have some cash to spare, an RTX 2060 is definitely interesting.
And what about AMD?
We put a lot of emphasis on Nvidia in this article and even only test Nvidia cards. But what about major competitor AMD? If we are critical of Nvidia and its recent video cards, then we also have a bone to pick with AMD. In the price ranges that we cover in this article, AMD has not released any really new products for years. The Radeon RX 590 is relatively young, but is no more than a slightly faster (overclocked) variant of the RX 580, which in turn is an overclocked RX 480, which is a video chip from three years ago. Recently AMD has released the Radeon VII, but it costs 750 euros and is therefore not included in this article.
The disadvantage of an older architecture is that it is considerably less economical. The GTX 1660 is only slightly faster than the slightly cheaper RX 580, and roughly as fast or slightly faster than the RX 590, but consumes significantly less energy. This leads to lower power costs, less heat in your PC to dissipate and thus a quieter system. Those are attractive benefits.
AMD now has to rely mainly on the lower price point. Because an RX 580 nowadays starts around 200 euros, where Nvidia's GTX 1660 costs at least 50 euros more. If your budget is lower than 250, then you end up with AMD. And don't panic: before you earn back those 50 euros in lower electricity costs, you have to play quite a few hours a day ... and that every day. And while you can't play every game on ultra, an RX 580 is more than enough for a smooth 1080p experience. AMD also often gives you larger games as a gift, which makes AMD extra attractive if you want to watch your money.
For Twitch and YouTube streamers, choosing between the GTX 16 or RTX 20 series video cards and AMD alternatives is completely simple. Nvidia's latest cards offer much better NVENC video encoding for streams and recordings. As a result, you can now stream in high quality without straining your CPU, which was different before. For novice streamers, choosing Nvidia is a no-brainer.
AMD: for real budget gamers
AMD becomes even more interesting if your budget is even lower, because the AMD Radeon RX 570 has now fallen below 150 euros. At that price point, it competes with Nvidia's older GTX 1050 Ti and newer GTX 1650, which unfortunately arrived just too late to be fully covered in this article. But the RX 570 is faster than both, for the same or less money, respectively; a simple choice. An RX 570 isn't built to give 1080p gamers the ultimate experience, but it's capable of at least performing any game reasonably well. This makes it the real entry-level video card of the moment for gamers with a tight budget.
The question is, of course, how long Nvidia will continue to grant that space to AMD. For example, Nvidia could fill the gap with a GTX 1650 Ti. But who knows, AMD may also have something new by then: according to rumors, something is about to happen this summer. Until then, it remains AMD's entry-level segment, but Nvidia's GTX 1660 and above are almost self-evident choices at their respective price points.
The best GeForce RTX 2060
We tested six different GeForce RTX 2060 cards, and it is noticeable that the price differences are significant. Nvidia's reference model, the Founders Edition (FE), sets the standard and indicates Nvidia's target price for an RTX 2060: 375 euros. The cheapest (Gigabyte ITX OC) is slightly below that at 349 euros, the most expensive (ASUS ROG Strix OC) is considerably more expensive at 459 euros. But if you think you'll get a significantly faster card in return, you're wrong. Because although this Asus has the highest clock speeds, we are talking about a performance difference of about 3 percent in games; you don't notice it when you're playing.
Thanks to Nvidia's excellent built-in automatic overclocking functionality, we have hardly seen any performance differences between different versions of the same card in gaming in recent years, and this also applies to the RTX 2060, GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1660. This especially puts more luxurious models under pressure. because this means that the emphasis in a comparison is only on heat and noise production (these differences are also small due to economical chips), with perhaps some attention to the appearance and price.
That does not alter the fact that the ASUS ROG variant is objectively the best by far. It's physically impressive with its hefty three-fan design and beautiful backplate, and it's the quietest and coolest by a huge margin. Such margins are rare even in recent video card comparisons, earning it the "best tested" label.
But the best buy? With 459 euros you pay a lot for that luxury, and we wonder whether gamers looking for a mid-range GPU want to spend more than 100 euros extra. The best balance between cooling, sound and price is offered by Nvidia's own Founders Edition. This is also a beautiful card to look at. At the price point of 375 euros, there is nothing to argue with and it leaves the warmer, considerably louder Gigabyte OC behind. But because the FE card has never actually been on sale to consumers at any point in recent months, it is not eligible for our award.
For 419 euros, Gigabyte's Gaming OC PRO variant and MSI's Gaming Z are attractive alternatives that remain quiet and cool. MSI's design with two fans is slightly more attractive in our opinion, partly thanks to the 'addressable RGB' feature. Plus, it's just a little quieter. Gigabyte's Gaming OC PRO is just slightly cooler and, with its three fans, looks more impressive in large housings. Both prove to be excellent all-rounders for RTX 2060 shoppers with a bit of room in the budget.
But the budget-conscious editing tip goes to the Gigabyte ITX OC. This is a small card with a single fan, actually intended for compact housings, but in practice it turns out to be hardly slower and it still manages to keep the heat and noise production well within limits. Saving $70 has rarely been more appealing, provided you don't care too much about impressive looks.
The best GTX 1660 Ti
If we look at the five GTX 1660 Ti cards, we see practically the same picture. Only Nvidia itself is missing from the list, because there is no Founders Edition of this chip. Again, the ASUS ROG Strix OC variant is by far the best in the table; fast, very quiet and a lot cooler than the rest. If you put it in 'quiet mode', it is even more than the quietest, while still remaining cooler than its competitors. Are you looking for the most impressive GTX 1660 Ti physically? Then this is your card, because except for some details, it looks the same as the RTX 2080 Ti top model.
But here too the price rises. At 369 euros, it is more expensive than the cheapest RTX 2060, while on average it is about 15 percent faster. More money and lower frame rates come at a high cost to a more attractive look and lower noise production.
The same fate befalls MSI, because the Gaming X also does everything well in terms of content: performance, cooling, sound production, appearance ... Except for the price unfortunately, because with 345 euros it is too close to an RTX 2060 to deserve a recommendation, although it is certainly a card to consider if the price drops. But at the time of writing it is the Gigabyte Gaming OC (319 euros) that takes our editorial tip; attractive, perfectly cool, only slightly louder than the MSI and ASUS. The Windforce OC (309 euros) works well if you really want something smaller, but ignore the 299 euros 'Gigabyte OC'; slightly slower, louder, and simply not worth the $10 savings.
The best GTX 1660
Our claim that the GTX 1660 Ti is the sweet spot for most gamers is confirmed by the attention that manufacturers have for the cheaper brother: only MSI and Gigabyte submitted GTX 1660 cards for testing. ASUS probably already recognized that a luxury ROG variant of a cheap chip would have a hard time.
Presumably rightly so. Because if we look at the mutual performance differences between the three GTX 1660 variants, they are actually too small to mention. In addition, we believe that the best implementation of a product from the budget class actually takes the price into account. MSI's Gaming X is narrowly the most efficient model, but you will not notice the differences in practice, while the price is a lot higher. We therefore regret that both ASUS and MSI were unable to provide us with cheaper alternatives in time, even though they do make them.
If you like to spend a little more because you find the design of the MSI Gaming X or Armor OC more attractive, then you have good cards. But with its all-round good performance and the most favorable pricing of the three, we think the Gigabyte GTX 1660 Gaming OC is the best choice right now for gamers looking for a new video card for around 250 euros.
Many video cards boost their speed at the beginning of their workload. This makes them seem faster in traditional benchmarks (which only take a few minutes), while you don't benefit from that in daily use. We therefore look at the average performance between the 30th and 40th minute: what the clock speed is at that moment, how hot they get and how much noise they make at a distance of 50 centimeters.
We look at the consumption of the PC when only the video card is loaded and when the entire system is used intensively. We tested with an Intel Core i7-8700K, ASUS ROG Strix Z370-F Gaming, 16 GB Corsair DDR4, a Samsung 960 PRO SSD and a Seasonic Prime Titanium 850W power supply, and measured the consumption 'on the wall'.
Do you want to game with very limited resources? The AMD Radeon RX 570 may be a bit older, but it really is the best choice if your budget doesn't come close to the price of a GTX 1660. With a budget from around 250 euros, the choice for Nvidia is almost self-evident and the question is simply what is feasible. A GTX 1660 Ti is the sweet spot with top performance today and some extra power for tomorrow, but with a GTX 1660 you also buy a great video card for modern games.
The correct answer to the question “which variant?” may vary from day to day. Modern video cards, and especially entry-level ones, are so enormously efficient that even less luxurious coolers manage to achieve an excellent balance between noise production and heat dissipation. The right purchase then seems to be the variant that is competitively priced at the time of purchase. At the moment, Gigabyte seems to be doing good business by selling nice cards for a competitive price, where MSI and ASUS are asking just a little too much for only slightly better variants. But a small price change or offer can turn things around. Staying sharp on the daily price is therefore the best advice we can give.
There is an even more extensive table with benchmark results of the chipsets.