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The RTX 3060 is a solid upgrade — if you can get it for its retail price

It’s a weird time to be reviewing a graphics card. I’ve spent the past week or so testing a GeForce RTX 3060, Nvidia’s latest GPU, but I’ve been able to do so only because the company sent a review unit to Polygon. If you’re a member of the public, it’s damn near impossible to get your hands on a graphics card from Nvidia or AMD. That’s the result of a confluence of factors, most notably a worldwide semiconductor shortage (which is limiting production capacity) and the skyrocketing values of cryptocurrency such as Ethereum (which is fueling increased demand for GPUs, since they can be used for mining operations).

All of this is relevant to a review of the RTX 3060 specifically because it’s the cheapest offering in Nvidia’s 30-series line of GPUs, with an MSRP starting at $329.99. That happens to be the price of the EVGA RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming, the card that Nvidia sent us because the company isn’t producing a Founders Edition for the RTX 3060.

Price-conscious gamers seeking a new graphics card right now may be forced to buy something at an inflated price and/or get a different GPU than the RTX 3060. Considered in a vacuum, the RTX 3060 is a very good midrange graphics card for people looking to play games at resolutions up to 1440p. But we don’t live in a vacuum, so the best I can do is evaluate the GPU itself and provide some context about the current market.

Note the single eight-pin power connector on top of the card.
Image: EVGA

Nvidia released the RTX 3060 in late February, about three months after the launch of the RTX 3060 Ti. That card, which starts at $399, offers a good deal of headroom at 1440p, although it’s not designed for 4K gaming. The RTX 3060, on the other hand, is a 1080p-oriented GPU at heart that can also handle 1440p. That made me particularly interested in trying it, because my desktop is hooked up to a 1080p screen — well, a 1920×1200 60 Hz monitor, to be precise — and because its CPU, a quad-core 3.4 GHz Intel Core i5-7500, is an older chip that barely meets the minimum specifications for some of the latest games.

The RTX 3060 that I’ve been testing is a standard dual-slot GPU with a pair of large fans that keep the card fairly quiet. I’ve noticed that there is a noise increase over my existing Gigabyte RTX 2060 Super — when it gets going, the RTX 3060 is a bit louder — but that makes sense, since the Gigabyte GPU features three fans.

The EVGA card’s port array comprises a single line of three DisplayPort 1.4 outputs and one HDMI 2.1 output. (I can’t test any HDMI 2.1 features because I don’t have a display that supports it.) And unlike the more powerful RTX 3060 Ti, the Founders Edition of which relies on Nvidia’s new 12-pin power connector, the RTX 3060 gets by with one traditional eight-pin hookup. It draws 170 W of power, with a recommended power supply of 550 W.

An intense battle in Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
Image: MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

In terms of how powerful the RTX 3060 is, well, it’s not a slam-dunk upgrade unless you’re coming from something as old as, say, a GTX 10-series card.

Now, that’s perhaps unsurprising for a GPU that is the cheapest ray tracing-capable card since Nvidia cut the price of the RTX 2060 to $299 in January 2020. And since I’m coming from an RTX 2060 Super — which is just one generation old, having been released in July 2019 — I didn’t expect to be blown away by the RTX 3060. Indeed, its performance will depend greatly on the specifics of your own PC and, of course, the games you’re playing.

The RTX 3060 can definitely offer some significant benefits over the RTX 2060 Super (and GPUs that are even older, obviously). Trying Wolfenstein: Youngblood at 1920×1200 on max settings, my average frame rate in both the Riverside and Lab X benchmarks jumped from approximately 124 frames per second with the RTX 2060 Super to around 170 fps with the RTX 3060 — an increase of about 38%.

Once I turned on ray tracing (which Youngblood supports only for reflections), the improvement was smaller but still impressive. In Riverside, the average frame rate went from 88 fps with the RTX 2060 Super to 109 fps with the RTX 3060, an increase of nearly 24%; in Lab X, the figure went from 75 fps to 91.5 fps, a 22% leap. And I was able to claw back a few frames while maintaining image quality by enabling Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) technology.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood benchmarks

BenchmarkRTX 2060 SuperRTX 3060Improvement
BenchmarkRTX 2060 SuperRTX 3060Improvement
Riverside123169.537.8%
Lab X12417238.7%
Riverside (RTX on)8810923.9%
Lab X (RTX on)7591.522%
Riverside (RTX & DLSS on)97125.530.1%
Lab X (RTX & DLSS on)759222.7%

I also got good results with the RTX 3060 in Control, a terrific showcase for ray tracing. I previously played through the whole game using my RTX 2060 Super, with all five ray tracing effects turned up all the way to high. In stress tests like the corridor above the NSC Control Room and intense battles in the Central Research atrium, the frame rate usually hovered in the 45-60 fps range. Of course, that was with DLSS enabled, which renders the game at an internal resolution of 1280×800 — two-thirds of my monitor’s native 1920×1200. Playing with the RTX 3060 using those same settings, the frame rate was typically in a more playable range of 60-75 fps, with rare drops into the mid-50s.

However, my crusty PC and I had a very different experience with Hitman 3, a game whose complex underlying simulation relies heavily on CPU power. If you’re stuck with a 4-year-old CPU that isn’t even a Core i7 chip, like I am, take note of my results.

At 1920×1200 on max settings, swapping out my RTX 2060 Super for the RTX 3060 yielded frame rate improvements of less than 10% for the game’s two static benchmarks — from 99.92 fps to 106.92 fps in Dubai (7.01%), and from 103.85 fps to 112.99 fps in Dartmoor (8.8%). When I turned on supersampling at 1.3x (to approximate running the game at a resolution around 1440p) and 2x (to approximate 4K), the gains became even slimmer. With 2x supersampling enabled, the average frame rate in Dartmoor increased only from 42.68 fps to 43.87 fps — just 2.79%.

A scene from Hitman 3’s Dartmoor level.
Image: IO Interactive

So what’s the verdict? In my experience, you should be able to run games on high to max settings with the RTX 3060 if you’re gaming at 1080p/1200p. And you’ll see a significant benefit if you’re upgrading from anything older than Nvidia’s 20-series cards; even with ray tracing enabled, you can play at 60 fps as long as the game in question also supports DLSS.

But people with 1440p monitors would be better served by the RTX 3060 Ti instead (if they can find it in stock, that is). While it’s possible that we could start seeing a raft of games that would make the most of the RTX 3060’s 12 GB of GDDR6 video memory, it’s hard to imagine the 8 GB of RAM on Nvidia’s other 30-series cards (except for the RTX 3090) becoming a significant bottleneck soon. And in his review of the RTX 3060 at The Verge, my colleague Sean Hollister found that the RTX 3060 Ti “almost always” performed “between 15 percent and 35 percent faster” than the RTX 3060 when gaming on max settings at 1440p. At $399 — a premium of $70, or 21.2%, over the RTX 3060’s MSRP — you’ll simply get better value.

Of course, as I’ve noted, all of this is contingent upon actually being able to find any of these graphics cards (and at their retail prices, to boot). If you get the opportunity to buy an RTX 3060 and it makes sense for your particular situation — your screen resolution, the age of the GPU you’d be replacing, and your budget — it’s a solid card that should provide a noticeable upgrade. You’ll have to make that call for yourself.

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is available now. (Theoretically.) This review was conducted using an EVGA RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming provided by Nvidia, on the author’s PC, which contains an Intel Core i5-7500 CPU and 16 GB of RAM. All games tested were installed to a 2 TB 7200 rpm hard drive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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