Our test card, focused squarely on the needs of gamers playing at either 1080p or 1440p, is a better successor to the GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition. It does the job, but it doesn’t wow us as much as the rest of the Ampere line. For PC builders obsessed with keeping their desktops compact, the compact profile of EVGA’s card is its primary selling point. Most other shoppers will be better served in gaming with a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti or even an RTX 2060 (on discount, if you can find one) instead. Sure, 2020 was a crazy year, but with the Patriots failing to make the Super Bowl and Nvidia releasing its first ho-hum RTX 30 Series card, could this be a harbinger of an even more topsy-turvy 2021?
The Design: Filling a Founders Edition-Size Hole
Thus far in the GeForce RTX 30 Series, Nvidia has spearheaded each of its GPUs’ debuts with an Nvidia-designed Founders Edition card to represent the pack. Those cards have been complete with a revolutionary new PCB up to 50% smaller than the boards on previous-gen RTX cards and a push-pull cooling system unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Unfortunately the GeForce RTX 3060 is the first GPU in the RTX 30 Series not to get the same treatment. No Founders Edition RTX 3060s will be made available as a part of this launch, which leaves it up to third-party manufacturers to deliver the RTX 3060 goods with more-recognizable designs of their own.
EVGA’s GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G is a dual-slot, two-fan graphics card that measures barely shy of 8 inches long (7.94 inches, to be exact), just over 1.5 inches shorter than Nvidia’s Founders Edition design of the RTX 3060 Ti. For anyone who values a compact installation profile over nearly anything else, this card might be the better choice over the chunkier RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition.
The card uses a single traditional eight-pin power connector on the top of the card. Moving to the backplane of the card, it’s all standard fare for the RTX 30 Series, with three DisplayPort 1.4b ports, plus one HDMI 2.1 output.
The oft-seen VirtualLink from the RTX 20-Series “Turing” cards looks to be long in the dust for Nvidia at this point, so anyone still holding out for one of those would be better served going with a RTX 20 Series card instead. (Not that it’s useful for much more than as a USB-C port.)
GeForce RTX 3060 Specs: An RTX 3050 by Any Other Name…
Let’s look at some specs first. We’ll see how the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G stacks up against the two GeForce cards it’s meant to succeed, the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super, as well as AMD’s closest competition, in the Radeon RX 5700 XT and Radeon RX 5700…
First, the obvious: aren’t these two cards issued out of order? Save for a fringe case or two over the years, Nvidia releases the “Ti” variant of its various GPUs in their stack after the original model goes on sale, not the other way around. But the RTX 3060 Ti indeed debuted first, at the end of 2020. Second, there’s the difference in underlying GPU dies. While the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is based on the GA106 die, the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti is based on GA104 (the same die in the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080). Why has Nvidia decided to split a card tier in half by using different dies? We can’t say, but regardless of the reasoning, the end result is two very different RTX 3060s, one Ti and one not, that might as well have been released years apart, as far as benchmarks go.
The RTX 3060 GPU comes with twice the available VRAM of its predecessor, doubling the 6GB from the RTX 2060 Founders Edition to 12GB in the newer card. That’s also 4GB more than the RTX 3060 Ti, and, on the drawing board, this should give the RTX 3060 a viable lead over its predecessors in more intensive titles running at resolutions of 1440p or higher. But, as we’ll get into in the benchmarks, all the extra VRAM in the world may not be enough to obscure the RTX 3060’s own misbranding.
Next, there’s the price gap. The EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G, along with many other models of RTX 3060, will retail starting at $329, just $70 less than the MSRP of the RTX 3060 Ti ($399). And while that card did wow us with higher-than-expected results in almost every test we ran, it still doesn’t account for the significant gap in price-to-performance between itself and its non-Ti variant.
The performance makes perfect sense, though, when you consider the differences between GA106 and GA104. So the big question is why this GPU is called an “RTX 3060” at all.
It’s likely this card would have gotten higher marks if it were marketed (and priced) more in line with its performance. Say, for example, if the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti had launched as the RTX 3060 back in December, and this current RTX 3060 we’re reviewing today had been bumped down to a new entry-level ray-tracing card (and I’m just spitballing here): the “RTX 3050.” But as an “RTX 3060,” the named successor to the RTX 2060 and the RTX 2060 Super (both great cards in their own right), the GA106 die just isn’t up to the role.
Let’s Talk About Stock, Baby
And then there’s the stock situation. By this point, it’s no secret that graphics cards of all shapes, stripes, sizes, and brands are experiencing a stock squeeze at levels not seen since the first cryptocurrency mining boom a few years back, and the problem only looks to be getting worse as the months go on.
This time around it’s a double-header, with COVID-related delays and cryptocurrency price surges hitting Nvidia and AMD from both sides. As people find themselves spending more time indoors, the demand for PC components (especially gaming-focused ones) has risen across the board. Desktop GPUs and CPUs are already selling out minutes after they launch, and when you add cryptocurrency’s second renaissance on top of it—as of this writing, Bitcoin was trading above $45,000, a several-hundred-percent increase from the same time last year—you’ve got the perfect recipe for scalpers, high prices, and buying battles with bots.
As a response, Nvidia announced that the GeForce RTX 3060 will be the first graphics card in the RTX 30 Series to be released with a hash limitation baked into the hardware-level instructions of the GPU. The company claims this limiter will be “uncrackable,” and should, at least in theory, discourage cryptocurrency mining operations from using bots to sweep up the stock before anyone else has a chance to reserve their spot in the checkout line. (Scalpers, on the other hand, may well still try to gouge gamers.)
In case that’s not enough to deter them, though, the company also announced an entirely separate line of crypto-mining-specific cards under the “Nvidia CMP HX” brand. (CMP is for “Cryptocurrency Mining Processor.”) These CMP cards will specifically focus their efforts on mining coins like Ethereum more efficiently than standard GPUs, while also (hopefully) freeing up the rest of the supply chain to gamers instead.
It’s unlikely that the introduction of Nvidia CMP HX cards at an undetermined point somewhere “during Q1 and Q2” will affect the stock of RTX 3060 cards that are launching today, but we applaud the company for making an effort, at the least, to meet both markets’ ravenous demand for cards.
Testing the RTX 3060: Nvidia’s First RTX 30-Series Folly?
PC Labs ran the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G through a series of DirectX 11- and 12-based synthetic and real-world benchmarks. Our PC Labs test rig is Intel-based and employs a PCI Express 3.0, not 4.0, motherboard. It’s equipped with an Intel Core i9-10900K processor, 16GB of G.Skill DDR4 memory, a solid-state boot drive, and an Asus ROG Maximus XII Hero (Wi-Fi) motherboard. Given our tests with the Core i9-10900K and recent Ryzen 9 CPUs, this rig is the best reasonable configuration of the moment in 2021 to cut the CPU out of the equation for frame rates. (Read more about how we test graphics cards.)
For our testing, we focused some of the effort on the esports aspect of the RTX 3060 with games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Rainbow Six: Siege. We also ran the card through the rest of our standard benchmark regimen, which tests a card’s abilities to handle AAA games at the highest possible quality settings, as well as how it performs in synthetic benchmarks that stress the card in a variety of ways.
Also remember that almost every test we run (aside from the esports titles) is done at the highest possible quality preset or settings. If you have a higher-hertz gaming monitor and you’re worried your card might not make the frame-rate grade, it could still be possible with the right card and a combination of lower settings. Not only that, but many of these titles (including Death Stranding, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and F1 2020) have both DLSS and FidelityFX CAS with Upscaling integrated directly into the game. This can mean boosts of up to 40% more performance on top, depending on the setting and the card you’re playing with.
And so, onward to our test results. Note: If you want to narrow down our results below to a specific resolution (say, the resolution of the monitor you plan to game on), click the other resolution dots in the chart legends below to suppress them and see fewer results. Our list of AAA titles includes a mix of recent AAA titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and F1 2020, as well as some older-but-still-reliable pillars of the benchmarker’s toolkit, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 5.
Testing Results: Synthetic Benchmarks
Synthetic benchmarks can be good predictors of real-world gaming performance. UL’s circa-2013 Fire Strike Ultra is still a go-to as an approximation of the load levied by mainstream 4K gaming. We’re looking only at the test’s Graphics Subscore, not the Overall Score, to isolate the card performance. Meanwhile, we also ran 3DMark’s Time Spy Extreme test, which is a good test of how well a card will do specifically in DirectX 12 games at 4K resolution. Finally, there’s Port Royal, which is strictly a test for RTX cards right now, measuring how well they handle ray-tracing tasks. (Thus why blank results for the AMD cards on that one.) Also here are a handful of GPU-acceleration tests (Furmark and LuxMark); more details on those at the “how we test” link above.
In runs like 3DMark, the RTX 3060 XC Black looked to hit driver-level ceilings in both our Fire Strike Ultra and Port Royal runs, a result that proved anomalous from the rest of our synthetic testing, but not by much. These results signal the start of a long road for the RTX 3060 XC Black, where it almost always finds itself trailing the RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition by a margin that make it hard to put them in the same class.
Testing Results: Recent AAA Games
Now, on to the real-world games that you can play. We typically used in each case (for these AAA games) the highest in-game preset and, if available, DirectX 12. In contrast, the multiplayer-focused and esports titles (such as CS:GO and Rainbow Six: Siege) coming up in the next chart group were set slightly below top detail settings to maximize frame rates.
The RTX 3060 XC Black (like the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super before it) proves to be a contested consideration for anyone who wants to play AAA games at either 1440p or 1080p, however 4K gamers will want to lean more heavily into the performance of cards like the RTX 3070 to get them over the smooth 60-frame-per-second (fps) finish line. That said, it’s still behind where it should be, and it doesn’t justify its position enough with these results to stand out in the way Nvidia might have intended.
Testing Results: Multiplayer Games
Though most of PC Labs’ game tests are maxed out in graphical fidelity to push the cards to their limit, multiplayer gaming is all about maintaining the best balance between graphical fidelity and frame rate. With that in mind, we’ve kept CS:GO, Rainbow Six: Siege, and Final Fantasy XIV tuned to the best combination of necessary improvements in settings (higher anti-aliasing and lower shadows, for example), while still trying to keep frame rates for 1080p games above 144fps.
Why 144fps? That’s a coveted target for highly competitive esports gamers who have high-refresh-rate 144Hz or higher gaming monitors. For more casual players with ordinary 60Hz monitors, a solid 80fps or 90fps at your target resolution, with some overhead to prevent dips under 60fps, is fine.
This is an important category of games for the RTX 3060 to nail; the card is priced to straddle the line between midrange AAA gamers and ultra-high refresh multiplayer esports obsessives. In these tests, the RTX 3060 handles its job just fine. (Few cards except those at the low end struggle here.) However, it was still 27% slower than the RTX 3060 Ti in Rainbow Six at 4K, a common result as we’ve seen from the rest of the tests above.
If you’re looking for a good budget card to power reliably fast frame rates in most multiplayer games, your best bet continues to be (even in 2021), midrange cards like those based on the GeForce RTX 1660 Ti (we reviewed an MSI GeForce RTX 1660 Ti Gaming X 6G) or the AMD Radeon RX 5600XT. (For that one, we tested a Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5600XT.)
Testing Results: Legacy AAA Titles
Next, let’s see how the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 does with some past-their-prime AAA titles. We ran some quick tests on some oldies-but-goodies that still offer the AAA gaming experience. These legacy tests include runs of Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, Tomb Raider (2013), and Bioshock: Infinite, the last being a game that has no business still being as well optimized as it is here in 2020.
To round us out, the legacy tests tell more of the same story we’ve already seen in previous benchmarks. The RTX 3060 is regularly slower than the RTX 3060 Ti by a ratio that outstretches the price gap between the two, and its gains over the RTX 2060 (10% overall) aren’t enough to sell us on the idea that the two cards are supposed to be a generation apart from one another.
Overclocking and Thermals: A Choice for Compact Builders
We ran a 10-minute stress test in 3DMark Port Royal on the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G, and found that the card was hovering around a max of 68 degrees C, a full 8 degrees hotter than the RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition, which hit a max of just 60 degrees C in the same run.
In testing the overclocking capacity of the RTX 3060, I was able to achieve a stable OC profile of +225MHz on the boost clock speed, while adding 300MHz to the memory clock. This amounted to just over a 12% boost in clock, which translated to roughly 4% more performance across games like Far Cry 5, and some synthetic 3DMark runs. Not huge, but not nothin’.
Verdict: Suffering From Success
In nearly every test we ran, synthetic or otherwise, the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G was anywhere between 20% to 50% slower than the RTX 3060 Ti, while only costing roughly 20% less. The card was also slower than the AMD Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT in several runs, and it just barely manages to outpace the GeForce RTX 2060 Super by a few percentage points, in most cases.
The underwhelming launch of the RTX 3060 seems more a result of expectations set by Nvidia’s classic card-marketing names than the fault of the engineers at the company, who until now have issued great RTX 30-Series GPUs at prices that reflect the generational gap between 20 Series and 30 Series.
Prior to the GeForce RTX 3060, Nvidia was three for three on Editors’ Choice awards from PCMag on its Founders Edition cards in the RTX 30 Series. And while there’s nothing wrong with EVGA’s design here, the GPU engine powering the works underneath the shroud is ultimately the cause for concern.
For the first time since last September, a new GPU entering into the RTX 30 Series line won’t be receiving an Editors’ Choice award from us. If you can find one, the GeForce RTX 2060 Super will do the job nearly as well as the EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G, and perhaps for a lower cost depending on the source. Meanwhile, AMD-faithful shoppers can rest easy that both the RX 5700 XT and RX 5700 still provide viable alternatives to the RTX 3060, though their position in the marketplace is shaky with the stellar RTX 3060 Ti hanging around in the rafters.
We know the video-card stock situation is brutal out there, and that you’ll be lucky to find any of the alternatives to this card anywhere close to their launch prices at the moment. But skip the eBay gougers on this one and, if you simply have to pay too much money for a video card, let it be an RTX 3060 Ti instead.
EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming 12G Specs
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia Ampere GA106|
|GPU Base Clock||1320 MHz|
|GPU Boost Clock||1777 MHz|
|Graphics Memory Type||GDDR6|
|Graphics Memory Amount||12 GB|
|Number of Fans||2|
|Card Length||7.94 inches|
|Board Power or TDP||170 watts|
|Power Connector(s)||1 8-pin|