With the launch of Nvidia’s mainstream GeForce GTX 1660 Ti video-card family (and our first review of one of the cards, above), many gamers have been left with a philosophical question on their hands: to RTX, or not to RTX?
That’s actually a tough one. The two card families in question here (the GTX 1660 Ti, and the step-up GeForce RTX 2060 that debuted in January) hail from the same silicon source, are relatively close in price, and are based on the same GPU architecture. But that’s where the similarities end.
Indeed, their core identities are polar opposites, in one key way. And each card has its own additional merits and drawbacks. Let’s lay it all out to see which one is right for your next PC upgrade or brand-new PC build.
First, a Specifications Breakdown
Because (unlike the GeForce RTX 2060) the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti doesn’t come in a “reference” version straight from Nvidia, we’ll be using the first GTX 1660 Ti card we’ve reviewed (the MSI GTX 1660 Ti Gaming X 6G) as a stand-in. We’ll compare it with a rough-equivalent MSI card in the GeForce RTX 2060 family that we have also tested, the MSI GeForce RTX 2060 Ventus OC. (We’ve tested a couple of other RTX 2060 cards, too. For Nvidia’s “official” card among the RTX 2060 line, check out our review of the GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition.)
Here’s the nitty-gritty ways in which these specific MSI cards compare. Other third-party GTX 1660 Ti and RTX 2060 cards will be similar in most respects, beyond some clocking subtleties.
RTX Tech: Is it Worth Paying More For?
Beyond the specs above, the most obvious difference that anyone will notice on the face of these two cards is in the prefixes “GTX” versus “RTX.” The GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is based off the same basic “Turing” architecture as the GeForce RTX 2060, albeit with a different core graphics processor, the TU116. Versus the TU106 in the GeForce RTX 2060 cards, the TU116 employs billions fewer transistors, has a slower memory-bandwidth throughput, and features roughly 400 less CUDA cores.
The key thing, though: The GeForce RTX 2060 also comes with the ray-tracing and Tensor cores that power nifty new lighting and anti-aliasing technologies, respectively. (The latter is deployed via a technology called DLSS; for more, see our deep dive in our Best Graphics Cards of 2019 roundup.) These cores add a sort of “future-proof” element to the RTX 2060 card, because even though both ray-tracing and DLSS are a long way off from universal adoption in mainstream gaming, more and more titles will be adding these technologies in the coming years.
That said, unlike with the highest-end RTX cards, there is a caveat to consider around the ray-tracing aspects in the GeForce RTX 2060. Many analysts in the industry question whether the TU116 in the GeForce RTX 2060 is powerful enough to handle the demands of ray-tracing as it’s currently implemented in today’s game titles.
For example, we ran the benchmark in the spanking-new Metro: Exodus at 1440p resolution on both cards. While the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti struggled at the Extreme preset (19 frames per second, or fps), the GeForce RTX 2060 didn’t deliver a much better result with ray-tracing and the ostensibly performance-boosting DLSS option turned on (23fps). What this means: While ray-tracing technology is technically available in the RTX 2060, the ability to use it in daily gaming might not pay off unless you’re running a GeForce RTX 2070 or above.
So to answer the question: Early returns suggest that no, RTX isn’t really worth the investment with the RTX 2060 at the moment, unless, at least at 1440p, you’re happy gaming at less than 30fps in graphically demanding titles like Metro: Exodus at high detail levels. Lowering graphics levels should boost performance with ray-tracing on, but doing so runs counter to the purpose of ray-tracing in the first place, for the handful of games that support it so far: niftier shadows and reflections. You’d be turning down one kind of eye candy to gain a different one. (Battlefield V, the other big ray-tracing title to date, has shown a performance penalty, as well, when turning it on.)
Future implementations of ray-tracing may well change the dynamic and make it more attractive in cards in this price band. But we’ll have to see. That said, with a GeForce RTX 2060 card you’ll be ready for that day, if and when it comes; with the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, you’ll simply be shut out.
Let’s look at the two MSI cards here, as they are the closest and fairest formal comparison we can make between these two card families. Here’s a sequence of games we ran pairing off the two…
In many cases, the average difference in power between the two cards (about 11 percent) isn’t far off their difference in price (about 15 percent, with the two MSI cards). In the cases of these games, the GeForce RTX 2060 is the clear winner, due to the fact that on top of performing right in line with its price-to-power ratio, it also includes the Tensor and ray-tracing cores that the GTX 1660 Ti purposefully lacks.
Wrap-Up: Weighing the Future Against Today
So, in summary, who’s the winner here? As in so many things…it depends. But we do have an overall fave.
From raw numbers alone, the GeForce RTX 2060 takes the trophy, as you’d expect given the pricing. Beyond being right in line with the price-to-performance ratio of the GTX 1660 Ti, it includes those two additional sets of cores that may come in handy in the future, if not today.
Now, bear in mind the pricing in the charts above for the two MSI cards we tested. Realize that it puts these two card families closer than they might seem. Base models of the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti come in at $279 ($30 less than the GTX 1660 Ti card we tested), while base models of the GeForce RTX 2060 start at $349. By that notion, there’s a $70 gap between the families rather than the $50 one between our test cards. Each of these MSI cards will give you a boost over a base-clocked card, but know that there’s actually more daylight between the GTX 1660 Ti and the RTX 2060 lines than may first seem, if you opt for a lesser sample of either one.
Ourselves, we’re bullish on the GeForce RTX 2060 in this bout. If that $50-to-$70 price difference between the two cards is the make-it-or-break-it factor for you, though, the Turing-based GTX 1660 Ti is still a great card in its own right that performs well above the grade set by the last-generation “Pascal”-based GeForce GTX line. As we detail in our deep-dive review of the GTX 1660 Ti card, it also hits excellent frame rates with many games at 1080p for high-refresh-rate play. If you have a gaming monitor with a refresh rate higher than the 60Hz norm, the card will serve you well today and save you some bucks.
That said, if you can swing it, the GeForce RTX 2060 card is superior in every way. You’ll get higher frame rates, alongside the ray-tracing and Tensor cores, two features that will future-proof this card well into the next cycle of GPUs that come off Nvidia’s manufacturing line. You could also get a VirtualLink port, if you opt for a different RTX 2060 model than the one here.
Our closing thoughts? A video card in the $150-to-$200 range has a reasonable expectation to be replaced in a couple of years. Once you get into the $300-to-$400 zone, though, most folks want more longevity than that for the more Benjamins. We have no way of knowing what kind of momentum DLSS and ray-tracing will gain, and how quickly. But even if both fall flat, you’re still getting more overall grunt with the GeForce RTX 2060. Look at the premium you’ll pay for one as the cost of a performance gain over the GTX 1660 Ti, plus an insurance policy on the side.