GeForce RTX 3060 12GB Review: Hope Springs Eternal
The Nvidia RTX 3060 12GB brings a new level of performance to the mainstream market–sort of. Officially, the RTX 3060 launches today with prices starting at just $329. Realistically? You’re as likely to find one at that price as you are to find an RTX 3060 Ti at $399, RTX 3070 at $499, or RTX 3080 at $699 — not entirely impossible, perhaps, but highly unlikely. Nvidia’s Ampere architecture now powers many of the best graphics cards, and they’re all seeing massive levels of demand from both gamers and cryptocurrency miners. Nvidia has added firmware and driver code to detect Ethereum mining, which should help a bit, but when people are willing to pay extreme scalper pricing on eBay, even for cards like the GTX 1660 Super and RTX 2060, everything in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy is pretty much sold out right now. Nvidia is even working with partners to bring back previous generation Turing and Pascal cards.
None of that makes this a bad GPU, but we expect the RTX 3060 to be just as difficult to acquire as any other modern GPU. Eventually, the current Ethereum mining boom will fade away, but it could take a year or more before we see the end of chip shortages. That shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point, but if you’ve been hoping for a reasonably priced gaming PC upgrade, it’s a depressing state of affairs.
Unlike the previous Ampere GPUs, Nvidia won’t offer an RTX 3060 Founders Edition, so we’re looking at a third-party card. Nvidia shipped us the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC for this launch review, a reasonably compact and relatively unassuming card. There’s no metal (or even plastic) backplate, no RGB lighting, and two custom-sized 87mm fans for cooling with a 2.0-slot form factor. The card measures 202x110x38mm and weighs 653g, which is quite the change of pace compared to the other third-party Ampere cards we’ve reviewed so far.
There are reasons for that, of course. Creating a mainstream card and decking it out with all the bells and whistles costs money. And we think most gamers shopping for a good value are far better served by modest designs with good performance. There will certainly be extreme variants of the RTX 3060, and some of them will be priced higher than the budget RTX 3060 Ti options. Let’s be clear: Even the fastest RTX 3060 won’t beat a 3060 Ti in most situations — yes, even with 12GB VRAM. That’s because memory capacity isn’t a huge factor once you go above 8GB, and having more memory bandwidth, thanks to its wider memory bus, gives the 3060 Ti a big advantage. Also, the 3060 Ti has 35% more GPU cores.
|Graphics Card||RTX 3060 Ti||RTX 3060||RTX 2060 Super||RTX 2060|
|Process Technology||Samsung 8N||Samsung 8N||TSMC 12FFN||TSMC 12FFN|
|Die size (mm^2)||392.5||276||445||445|
|Base Clock (MHz)||1410||1320||1470||1410|
|Boost Clock (MHz)||1665||1777||1650||1680|
|VRAM Speed (Gbps)||14||15||14||14|
|VRAM Bus Width||256||192||256||192|
|GFLOPS FP32 (Boost)||16.2||12.7||7.2||6.5|
|TFLOPS FP16 (Tensor)||65 (130)||51 (102)||57||52|
Here’s how things break down, comparing the RTX 3060 with its closest Ampere sibling and Turing predecessors. The RTX 2060 and 2060 Super show how much things have changed for the -60 suffix cards between Turing and Ampere. Ampere gives you a lot more shader cores, which means potentially much higher computational performance, and a minor improvement in memory bandwidth for the 12GB card. It also doubles VRAM capacity (at least until the anticipated RTX 3060 6GB shows up, though perhaps maybe Nvidia will just leave that for the RTX 3050 line) and boasts improvements in the RT and Tensor cores, as well as the memory subsystem, all leading to better performance. Power use remains similar, with a 170W TGP (Total Graphics Power), a decent step down from the RTX 3060 Ti’s 220W TGP.
One interesting tidbit is that this is the first time Nvidia has used 15Gbps GDDR6 memory. The RTX 20-series cards all used 14Gbps memory, except for the RTX 2080 Super that came equipped with 15.5Gbps VRAM. That narrows the bandwidth gap between the 3060 and 3060 Ti a bit, though the extra 64-bits of interface width still gives the GA104 cards a clear advantage. And GA106 doesn’t have an advantage is in ROPs, Render Outputs, as it only has 48 — the same as the RTX 2060.
However, the differences between Turing and Ampere GPUs don’t always show up in specs tables like the above. Theoretically, the RTX 3060 has up to 95% more FP32 performance and 97% more FP16 Tensor core performance than the RTX 2060. In practice, the actual performance difference is much less, as half of the FP32 pipelines share processing resources with INT32 pipelines. The 3060 shouldn’t ever be slower for gaming purposes, but most of the time, it will only be around 20-25 percent faster.
This is the first desktop card to use Nvidia’s GA106 processor. At a high level, there are three GPCs (Graphics Processing Clusters), each with up to 10 SMs and 16 ROPs (the two blocks of eight blue rectangles each at the bottom of the GPC). The full chip has 30 SMs while the 3060 disables two and ends up with 28 SMs, but everything else is left alone. (Note that the mobile RTX 3060 has all 30 SMs enabled, though it only comes with 6GB of memory, which is also clocked lower than on the desktop card.)
Each SM contains 64 dedicated FP32 CUDA cores, plus 64 more FP32+INT32 CUDA cores — only FP32 or INT32 can be used for each cycle. The SMs also contain one second-gen RT core and four third-gen Tensor cores, each of which is up to twice the performance as the previous generation cores, and with sparsity the Tensor cores are potentially four times as fast as on Turing. Finally, there are six 32-bit memory interfaces, each one linked to a single 8Gb or 16Gb GDDR6 module — the latter is reserved for desktops at present, with the 8Gb modules used on laptops.
The full GA106 chip has 12 billion transistors, down from 17.4 billion in GA104. That shrinks the die size from 393mm square to just 276mm square, which not only helps to reduce the cost of the chip, but also increases the number of chips Nvidia can get from a single wafer — and if you’re wondering, GA106 is less than half the size of GA102, which measures 628.4mm square and has 28.3 billion transistors. At an estimate, Nvidia can get around 130 dies per wafer with GA104 (some of which are defective, most of which end up as partially disabled chips), while the smaller size of GA106 allows for around 200 dies per wafer. More dies mean better yields and more graphics cards to go around. That’s the hope.
EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 12GB XC Teardown
As mentioned above, Nvidia isn’t doing a Founders Edition, AKA reference card, for the RTX 3060 12GB. That leaves us with third party cards, and Nvidia did ship us an RTX 3060 sporting a reference boost clock of 1777 MHz. This is as close as we’ll get to a baseline level of performance for the RTX 3060 12GB, in other words, and factory overclocked cards should be numerous and should all perform at least as well as the EVGA RTX 3060 XC. Let’s go ahead and quickly dissect the card to see what makes it tick.
There are eight screws on the back of the card holding the heatsink and shroud in place. Four of those surround the GPU, with the other four near the back of the card. As usual, one screw is covered by an EVGA sticker to detect tampering. Remove those, unplug the two fan connections near the bottom-left area of the card (when looking at the back), and with a little bit of effort, you can pull it apart.
The PCB is interesting, as it looks to be the same as some RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070 models. There are clearly two memory locations that go unused, except we’re pretty confident that Nvidia only has a 192-bit interface on the GA106 chip, so we don’t expect to see 8GB or 16GB graphics cards using GA106.
The six GDDR6 chips are from Samsung, model K4ZAF325BM-HC16, and they’re rated for 16Gbps operation. Not surprisingly, we could push the memory well beyond the stock 15Gbps clocks (see below). The memory is also actively cooled via thermal pads connecting it with the heatsink. And as you’d expect with a 170W card, the power delivery system isn’t nearly as robust as what we’ve seen on RTX 3080 and 3090 cards, because it doesn’t need to be.
EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 12GB XC Overclocking
While this particular card doesn’t come with a factory overclock, we did some manual overclocking to see what we might expect from higher-tier custom cards. Spoiler: You’re not going to come anywhere near RTX 3060 Ti levels of performance. That’s because the 3060 Ti has 35% more processing cores and 24% more memory bandwidth. We can make up some of the difference, but overclocking on graphics cards usually gets around 10% more performance at best.
After testing and tuning, we ended up with a maximum stable overclock of +200 MHz on the GPU core, and +1000 MHz (17Gbps effective speed) on the memory. We also pushed the power limit up by 11%, which provides at least some of the performance gains, and typical clocks during testing were in the 2.0–2.1GHz range. The cooling solution on the EVGA card is decent but not extravagant, so fan speeds ended up at around 80% with these settings, but GPU temperatures were fine with a maximum of 69C. Unfortunately, there aren’t any temperature sensors for the GDDR6 memory, so we don’t know if the chips were getting hot or not. But GDDR6 temperatures are usually quite a bit lower than GDDR6X.
We’ll include the results for our overclocked settings in the charts below. On average, the overclock improved performance by 8% at 1080p, 9% at 1440p, and 10% at 4K. That’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to GPU overclocking.
GeForce RTX 3060 12GB Gaming Performance
TOM’S HARDWARE GPU TEST PC
Our gaming benchmarks are all run using the same Core i9-9900K PC, which includes various high-end components that you can see in the boxout to the right. We enable the XMP memory profile, but the CPU runs at stock speeds, which basically means 4.7GHz for multi-threaded workloads. We’re using the same 13 game test suite as in recent reviews, with all games tested at ultra / highest / maximum settings (the label varies by game, but basically close to max settings without things like supersampling enabled). Each resolution was tested multiple times, discarding the first run and checking for consistency of performance.
As a mainstream card, the RTX 3060 primarily targets 1080p and 1440p gaming. Some lighter games may also run fine at 4K, or in some cases, you could shoot for 4K at medium settings. But despite having more VRAM than even the RTX 3080, frame rates definitely take a hit at the highest resolutions. We’ll start with our 1080p benchmarks, then move on to 1440p and 4K, but we won’t spend a lot of time on that last one as it’s mostly academic.
The RTX 3060 sits near the bottom of our charts, as expected considering the remaining GPUs are all higher-priced and higher-performance models. We’ve omitted some of the top-tier options like the 3090 and 6900 XT, as they don’t remotely compete for the same audience, as well as some previous generation cards like the 2080 Super and 2080 Ti — again, different targets, plus those overlap with the modern 3060 Ti and 3070. We also left off all of AMD’s earlier GPUs, since none of them can run the two games we tested with ray tracing enabled (Dirt 5 and Watch Dogs Legion) — not that you really need or should plan on using ray tracing with a mainstream GPU.
Overall, the 3060 ended up 20% slower than the RTX 3060 Ti, and 27% slower than the RTX 3070. That’s a bigger drop as you go down the GPU hierarchy, giving you proportionally less performance for your money — not a good thing. The RTX 3060 is also just 20% faster than the RTX 2060, and 7% faster than the RTX 2060 Super. Of course, 1080p is a low hurdle to clear and CPU bottlenecks come into play. Let’s quickly go through the individual 1080p game charts.
Of the 13 games tested, the largest differences in performance between the 3060 and 3060 Ti are around 25% — as in, the 3060 is 25% slower than the 3060 Ti, or if you prefer, the 3060 Ti is 32–35% faster than the 3060. Borderlands 3, The Division 2, Dirt 5, Metro Exodus, Strange Brigade, and Watch Dogs Legion all fall in that category, with a spread of 24–26%. That difference corresponds directly with the difference in shader computational performance. Other games show less of a gap, mostly due to CPU bottlenecks, with Far Cry 5 (12% slower) being the closest result.
The story doesn’t change much when looking at other GPUs. The 3060 delivered a 43% advantage over the RTX 2060 in Watch Dogs Legion, but that’s probably due to the increased memory requirements of ray tracing. In most other games, it was only 20–30% faster, and in Final Fantasy XIV it was only 6% faster. Against the RTX 2060 Super, the gap narrows considerably, with a tie in FFXIV and leads ranging from 3–13% elsewhere. So, about 18 months after the 2060 Super launched, Nvidia has a card that’s theoretically 5–10% faster and costs 18% less. That’s definitely progress, but it’s not a massive improvement.
Incidentally, we don’t have the full suite of results for older cards like the GTX 1060 6GB (again, due to including some ray tracing games), but in our limited test suite (which excludes Assassin’s Creed, Dirt 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Watch Dogs Legion), the 3060 is over double the performance. It’s also basically tied overall with the RX 5700 XT, but with ray tracing support and with lower power use.
Increasing the resolution to 1440p doesn’t radically alter the overall relative standing of the RTX 3060. Actual performance drops by 25%, and it’s now 22% slower than the 3060 Ti on average, but it’s also 24% faster than the RTX 2060 and 8% faster than the 2060 Super. Factory overclocked cards will do a bit better, but even though the card technically has 3584 GPU cores, compared to Turing it behaves more like a card with about 35% fewer cores (due to the shared FP32/INT32 cores).
About half of our test suite still averages over 60 fps, but Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Borderlands 3, Dirt 5, Metro Exodus, Red Dead Redemption 2, and of course Watch Dogs Legion (with ray tracing enabled) all come up short. Actually, even if we enabled DLSS Quality mode in Watch Dogs Legion, it can’t get to 60 fps at ultra quality with ray tracing enabled — even at 1080p.
That’s a good example of how far the RTX 3060 can go. If you’re running at medium to high settings and with DLSS, ray tracing at 1080p and maybe 1440p is viable. Maxed out quality in many of the games that support ray tracing is going to prove too much for the GPU. It’s slightly faster than the RTX 2060 Super, but that card was also at the bottom end of what we’d recommend if you want to run with all the eye candy enabled.
4K gaming proved to be a bit much for the RTX 3060, at least if you’re hoping for 60 fps gameplay. Some games can get there, especially if you’re willing to drop the settings a notch or two, but at our Ultra settings only two games in our suite managed smooth framerates: Forza Horizon 4 and Strange Brigade — neither of which are particularly demanding. A few others came close to 60 and should be fine with a G-Sync compatible monitor, but several games struggled to stay above 30 fps, and both games with ray tracing enabled (but no DLSS) dropped well below 30.
The 3060 fell 23% behind the 3060 Ti, but it also beat the 2060 by 32% — a bit of a pyrrhic victory, considering the actual fps, but having double the VRAM certainly helped. If you’re hoping to game at 4K native, we recommend stepping up to a more potent graphics card. Or you could do what the latest consoles do and shoot for 30 fps with dynamic resolution scaling. Basically, the RTX 3060 looks to be roughly the same level of performance as the PS5 GPU.
GeForce RTX 3060 Mining Performance
Nvidia made a big deal about crippling the RTX 3060’s mining performance. That doesn’t mean you can’t mine on the card, however; it’s just not as profitable as it otherwise could have been. We did a short test of mining performance, using NiceHashMiner, to see how the card managed with a variety of different mining algorithms. Here are the results.
The good news is that DaggerHashimoto, aka Ethash, which is the algorithm used by Ethereum, was definitely a lot lower than expected. It would start at 45-50MH/s and quickly drop to about half that speed. This happened with every piece of miner software we tried: Excavator, NBMiner, PhoenixMiner, and T-Rex. Of course, that doesn’t cover every possible miner, but it’s a fair start.
The bad news is that there are a lot of other mining algorithms, and in some of these — like Octopus — the RTX 3060 is still reasonably profitable. With the recent drop in Ethereum pricing, and the increased difficulty, at 45-50MH/s the RTX 3060 would have netted around $5.50 per day. In Octopus, it can still do around $4 per day, which means it could hit the break-even point in just 82 days at current rates.
Obviously, the rates are prone to wild swings, but given the potential profits, there’s no way miners don’t buy these cards. Plus, there’s no guarantee that some future miner update doesn’t figure out a way around Nvidia’s driver and firmware protections, and miners are probably counting on that. It would technically be more profitable to buy a different GPU — even the RTX 2060 can beat the 3060 in mining profitability right now — but the current shortages mean that miners will try to buy up any reasonably priced graphics card.
GeForce RTX 3060 12GB: Power, Temps, Fan Speeds, and Clock Speeds
Nvidia rates the GeForce RTX 3060 TGP (Total Graphics Power) at 170W, making it the lowest power Ampere GPU by 50W. It has a single 8-pin power connector, and combined with the x16 PCIe slot that’s enough for up to 225W of power — more than sufficient headroom for overclocking. We use Powenetics in-line power monitoring hardware and software to collect the real power use of the graphics card, which is relatively close to what software reports for Ampere GPUs. Powenetics also links up with GPU-Z to record the GPU temperature, fan speed, and GPU clock speed.
You can read more about our approach to GPU power testing, but the takeaway is that we’re not dependent on AMD, Nvidia or any other GPU vendor to accurately report how much power a GPU uses. We run FurMark as a worst-case stress test, and we also run five loops of the Metro Exodus benchmark at 1440p ultra (without ray tracing or DLSS) for the following charts. Because Metro loops every two minutes or so, you’ll see a saw pattern, but maximum power and temperature are pretty consistent.
On average, the EVGA RTX 3060 used 171W in our Metro Exodus test, matching up pretty much exactly with the TGP. FurMark reached a slightly higher power draw of 175W, but that’s not particularly worrisome. Our manual overclock bumped that up to 182W in Metro and 193W in FurMark, which is pretty much right in line with the power limit increase for the latter. For gaming purposes, it looks like something else was the limiting factor, at least on the EVGA card.
Temperatures were the same for both our stock and overclocked tests, coming in at 64C on the GPU core in Metro and just one degree higher in FurMark. There’s not a huge spread in thermals, mostly because the fan speeds automatically adjust to help keep the GPUs cool, which is where we start to see a lot of separation.
The EVGA RTX 3060 ended up with some of the highest fan speeds we’ve seen on recent cards. Granted, we’ve been looking at much larger cards, often with triple fan cooling solutions, but the fan RPMs here are higher than any of the other reference cards we’ve looked at. Part of that is likely due to the use of old-style fans, rather than the new higher static pressure models with an integrated rim — and the fan selection was likely done to keep costs as low as possible.
That makes EVGA RTX 3060 a less-than-stellar example of a quiet graphics card. It’s not horribly loud, but neither is it silent. We measured noise from 15cm away using an SPL meter, with dB(A) weighting and a noise floor of 34 dB. The card’s fans turn off at idle (provided the GPU is below 50C), but after gaming for a few minutes the fan speed ramped up to 1940 RPM, or about 71% of maximum. That resulted in 43.1 dB(A) of noise for gaming, and FurMark took that slightly higher to 72% and 43.9 dB(A). Overclocking naturally required even higher fan speeds, around 80% or 2350 RPM, with a very noticeable 49.3 dB result. If you’re looking for a quiet RTX 3060, you’ll be better off with a larger card that has a bigger heatsink and improved cooling.
Last, we have GPU clocks. With a boost clock of 1777 MHz for the reference cards, the RTX 3060 is the highest clocked Nvidia GPU from the Ampere family so far. As usual, the real-world clocks are even higher than the boost clocks (except in FurMark). The EVGA card averaged 1876MHz in the Metro test, and 1609MHz in FurMark. Overclocking allowed for average GPU clocks of 2085MHz. GA106 doesn’t clock quite as high as AMD’s Big Navi chips, but we expect we’ll see factory overclocked models running at well over 2GHz.
EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 12GB: Diminishing Returns
The launch of mainstream graphics cards always feels anticlimactic, particularly when it comes about half a year after the big splash made by the new halo parts. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with the RTX 3060, and it actually has a lot going for it. Performance is basically at the level of the RTX 2070 from 2018. Power use is slightly lower, and the price has dropped by at least $170 — $270 if you include the RTX 2070 Founders Edition that launched at $599. It also includes 12GB of VRAM, 50 percent more than most of the 20-series cards, double the VRAM of the 2060, and more than the 3060 Ti, 3070, and 3080. These are all good things.
There are two main concerns. First, we think the $329 asking price is basically fantasy land right now. Remember how the RTX 2080 Ti launched at $1,199, but there were supposed to be $999 models, which pretty much never existed in any real quantity? This will be like that, only so much worse with the current market trends. Even if we forget about miners for a moment, it’s clear there are a lot of other people wanting to buy mid-range and high-end graphics cards. There were GPU shortages back in September when the 3080 launched, and things have only gotten worse since then. Plus, let’s be real: AMD’s Ryzen 5000 parts are still in short supply, as are the best webcams, and it’s very unlikely all of those are being bought up by miners. Miners do make things worse in the GPU arena, but Ampere and Big Navi would still be selling out even without their ‘help.’
The other concern is with performance and features. If you look at the results, out of our current gaming suite, there were only a few instances where the 12GB VRAM had much of an impact (compared to the 8GB 3060 Ti and 2060 Super), and that was mostly at framerates that were already lower than most gamers would like. It’s nice that Nvidia equipped the card with 12GB (though we still think a 6GB 3060 is coming), but more VRAM can’t make up for the reduction in memory bandwidth and GPU computational prowess. Slightly better performance than an RTX 2060 Super at a moderately lower price is the least we could expect, and that’s pretty much what we got.
If you can’t afford a higher performance graphics card, and you can find an RTX 3060 12GB available for anything close to MSRP, in today’s world, that’s a great deal. Or wait until next year, and hopefully it will actually drop down to MSRP. Yeah, the prospect of waiting another 10 months to save some money doesn’t thrill us either. Anyone that already has an RTX 20-series card, particularly one of the higher-end models, has been able to enjoy this level of performance for quite a while.
There’s the other way of looking at things as well, which is that this is the current generation console equivalent. There are differences, of course, but an RTX 3060 should deliver pretty comparable performance to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 — and even better performance in games that support DLSS. It’s likely better for ray tracing as well, but it’s far enough down the totem pole that we feel ray tracing shouldn’t be high on your list of priorities if you’re shopping for this card.
We can’t predict the future, but all we have to do is look at current resellers and places like eBay to know that, no matter what Nvidia does to hinder mining performance, the GeForce RTX 3060 is going to sell out. You basically can’t buy any RTX 30-series or 20-series card on Newegg right now at less than double the original launch prices. The same goes for AMD’s RX 5000 and RX 6000 series cards, and even the GTX 16-series GPUs. If you can find an RTX 3060 on sale today for less than $400, grab it fast — heck, buying one for $500 would still be a better deal than the $800 RTX 2060 Supers we’ve seen floating around.
Sadly, this is likely to be yet another product that won’t be able to meet the demand for it any time soon. We hope we’re wrong, we really do. But hope doesn’t get you a shiny new graphics card.
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