Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Graphics Card Roundup

Gainward GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Phoenix GS

With its GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Phoenix "GS", Gainward aims for a slightly more demanding enthusiast without giving in to excessive overclocking madness. You can think of the company as a sort of luxury brand belonging to Palit, so it benefits from the organization's substantial resources. It's only a shame that our U.S. readers don't have access to the board. According to Gainward's webpage, the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Phoenix "GS" is only available in Europe and Asia.

Gainward labels its top-performing cards in a given product family with the Golden Sample (GS) suffix, and that's exactly what our German lab received for testing.

Technical Specifications

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Exterior & Interfaces

The cooler cover is made of black plastic with various metal highlights. It is designed to be used as an attachment, just like the fan modules. Thus, a Palit card could easily be transformed into a Gainward one and vice versa.

Although the card weighs a moderate 31oz (875 grams), it is fairly compact, measuring 9½ inches (24cm) long and 4 3/5 inches (11.7cm) tall. However, it's also 4.7cm wide, nearly requiring three expansion slots and making installation in mini-ITX motherboards difficult.

The back of the board is covered by a single-piece plate that lacks openings for ventilation and does nothing to cool the PCB. Because of the backplate, though, you must plan for an additional one-fifth of an inch (5mm) of clearance to avoid collisions with your CPU's cooler, particularly in small form factor cases.

The top of the card features a Gainward logo back-lit with customizable RGB LEDs. A single six-pin power connector is rotated by 180° and positioned at the end of the card.

A closer look at the bottom reveals that the heat pipes aren't embedded in a heat sink, but rather lay flat behind the base of the board. You can bet we'll explore how well this cost-effective implementation holds up to taxing graphics workloads.

Horizontally-oriented fins allow some waste heat to escape from an externally-facing slot bracket loaded with ventilation holes. This also applies to the card's other end, though, where hot air dumps out into the middle of your case. Good circulation is critical as a result.

The slot cover exposes five outputs, four of which can be used simultaneously to drive multi-monitor configurations. In addition to one dual-link DVI output (which lacks an analog signal), you also get one HDMI 2.0 interface and three DisplayPort 1.4-capable connectors.

Board & Components

The PCB that Palit and Gainward use features some prominent differences compared to Nvidia's reference design.

Right off the bat we see four power phases, just like Nvidia's card. Three are meant for the GPU and one corresponds to the memory. Two of the three GPU phases are fed by the auxiliary power connector. The third GPU phase and the one for the memory get power from the motherboard slot.

While, in theory, Gainward's PCB offers the option to use one more power phase, the company went with a rarely-used and rather inexpensive NCP81174 for its PWM controller, which can only control up to four phases. Thus, the vacant emplacement you see in the image above could only have been populated by another parallel regulator circuit (via doubling).

The three GPU phases utilize a highly integrated Vishay SiC632, which combines the gate driver, high- and low-side MOSFET, and Schottky-diode in one convenient package. Meanwhile, the memory is driven by a pair of N-Channel MOSFETs, including one SM4503NHKP (30A, high-side) and one SM4377NSKP (50A, low-side), both manufactured by Sinopower. The MOSFETs are also fairly cost-effective choices.

Overall, the board reflects that Gainward didn't spend big on pricey components. Even the Foxconn Magic chokes are middle-of-the-road. They get their job done in a rather unremarkable way.

Two capacitors are installed right below the GPU to absorb and equalize voltage peaks.

Only six of the eight available memory emplacements are populated with Samsung K4G80325FB-HC25 modules. Each one adds 8Gb (32x256Mb) and operates at voltages between 1.305 and 1.597V, depending on clock rate. In total, they add up to this card's 6GB of GDDR5.

Power Results

The GPU Boost frequency and core voltage curves are particularly interesting to us. Our data shows that frequency drops slightly as the card heats up during a gaming session.

The 2025 MHz GPU Boost frequency we initially measure falls to 1949 MHz under load. Voltage behaves similarly: we measured 0.975V on average, with readings varying between 1.025 and 0.9V. All of this points back to GPU Boost 3.0 and a relatively low power target that limits consumption to a maximum of 130W.

The lowest GPU clock rate measured with an idle card is about 253 MHz.

We took our measurements using a variable low-pass filter, so we mention short load peaks only as a side note (see the grayed-out bar in the chart below), since those peaks are rarely relevant in practice.

A low power target causes GPU Boost to cut the voltages dramatically during our stress test, resulting in power consumption numbers that are lower than what we measure during a worst-case gaming workload.

Power Connector Load

Load distribution from the four voltage regulators to their respective power phases isn't problematic at all. However, there's little headroom for overclocking, even if it wasn't already limited by the firmware's power target and voltage settings.

Here's the data for the gaming and stress tests:

Power consumption on its own only tells us part of the story. The PCI-SIG specifies a maximum of 5.5A at the motherboard slot, and we're showing a reading under 5A, which puts Gainward's GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Phoenix "GS" in the green.

Of course, we have the data for measured currents as well:

The Cooler And Its Performance

As mentioned, Gainward's backplate is purely aesthetic; it doesn't help cool the PCB at all. Four screws secure it to the top of the board, shielding the card from curious customers.

Though the Gainward and Palit shrouds look a little different, everything else is mostly identical (at least up to the geometry of their respective 9cm fans; Gainward went with a conventional straight edge).

Again, the delicate-looking cooler sports horizontally-oriented fins, as well as a quartet of 4mm heat pipes made from sintered composite material. Those pipes are not integrated into the bottom of the cooler. Instead, they merely touch the back of the thin base plate. Expensive copper is nowhere to be found.

We're glad to see that the base plate has a specific area to help cool the MOSFETs. However, the coils have to live without the benefit of active cooling.

Registering between 156 and 158°F (69 to 70°C) in our gaming loop, and a maximum of 167°F (75°C) in a closed case, the cooler does a fair job. It would almost assuredly perform better if the heat pipes were attached more securely, though.

Measurements collected with the backplate removed also reveal acceptable values. A peak of approximately 181°F (83°C) from the VRMs is reasonable, in our opinion.

While the readings generated during our stress test aren't exactly worrisome at ~192°F (89°C), they also reveal the cooling solution's weaknesses.

Gainward's cooling performance is thus regarded as merely acceptable. We get the impression that one member of the finance team was assigned to each engineer, keeping costs in check more than enthusiasts like to see.

Sound Results

Hysteresis is not an issue for most manufacturers. However, Gainward implemented a fan curve with too-low of an initial rotational speed for the transition between passive and active mode. As a result, the fans simply stop, and need to be restarted repeatedly. Even the best hysteresis won't help when a manufacturer overestimates the quality of its components this grossly.

When the card is idle, noise is not measurable due to a semi-passive mode. A reading of 35.6 dB(A) under load is acceptable, but not great. So much air has to be moved through the thermal solution because Gainward's cooler isn't as efficient as it should be. Spending a few dollars more would have gone a long way. On the bright side, we measure very little low-frequency bearing noise. What remains is the sort of acoustic energy that's easily absorbed by a case with sound insulation.

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