The Best CPUs for The GTX 1060 3GB & 6GB Cards

written by jacob tuwiner Jacob Tuwiner

Here’s the deal:

You’re looking for the best CPU for the GTX 1060, and I’m here to give you the answer.

I own a GTX 1060 3GB myself, and I’ve got it paired with a Ryzen 3 1200 - while great for most games, it’s certainly not ideal.

Without further adieu, let’s talk about the top 3 CPUs for the GTX 1060:

3 Best CPUs for 1060 Graphics Card

CPU Image Benefit See Price
AMD Ryzen 5 1600 AF best cpu for 1080 ti
  • Top Pick
View on eBay
Intel Core i5 8400 core i5 8400, another great cpu for the 1060
  • Runner Up
View on Amazon
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Best budget CPU for 1080 ti
  • Performance Pick
View on Amazon

Best CPU for GTX 1060 3GB vs 6GB Models?

A lot of people ask me what the best CPU is for the GTX 1060 3GB, and others ask what the best CPU for the GTX 1060 6GB.

The truth is, the cards are so similar in performance, the same CPU will be fine for either one.

That’s not to say the GTX 1060 3GB and the 6GB are the same card though - fundamentally they’re different cards, so I don’t know why NVIDIA decided to confuse their buyers with the weird naming. More on that below.

Anyway, I’d almost always recommend going for the GTX 1060 6GB and pairing it with a Ryzen 5 1600 AF - that’s probably the best price to performance CPU/GPU combo for 1080p gaming in 2020.

You’ll consistently achieve 60+ FPS in AAA titles at 1080p, using medium/high settings and sometimes ultra settings, depending on the game’s hardware optimization.

But to answer the question in short, the best CPU for the 1060 3GB is pretty much the same as the 1060 6GB.

Pros
  • Best gaming CPU for the money
  • Dude it's dirt cheap
  • Pairs perfectly with GTX 1060
Cons
  • Can't overclock past 4.0 GHz
Clock
3.2GHz
Boost
3.6GHz
Cores
6
TDP
65W
Type
Zen+
Cooler
Yes

Despite its name, the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is actually a Ryzen 2000 series processor based on the Zen+ 12nm architecture.

What does that mean in layman’s terms?

Ther Ryzen 5 1600 AF is basically a Ryzen 5 2600, but for a much cheaper price tag. Many in the PC building community regard the Ryzen 5 1600 AF as the best value CPU on the market today, and for good reason.

If you’re buying a GTX 1060 for your gaming PC and want a great AMD CPU that gets the job done at an unbeatable price, look no further than the 1600 AF. Just like the GTX 1060 it’s budget friendly, and for an insanely low price of less than $100 USD, the GTX 1060 rivals the Ryzen 5 2600 in performance.

ryzen 5 1600 af performance comparison chart

Source: Hardware Unboxed

The Ryzen 5 1600 released in 2017 for $220 USD, based on the original Zen 14nm architecture. A year later the 1600 was replaced by the 2600, priced at $200 USD using 12nm Zen+ cores.

The following year, Zen 2 processors dropped, along with the Ryzen 5 1600 refresh. Bizarrely AMD released a cheap version of the Ryzen 5 2600, and just called it the Ryzen 5 1600. It is based on the Zen + architecture and is now commonly referred to as the Ryzen 5 1600 AF.

Using a Ryzen 5 1600 AF with a GTX 1060 6GB is a killer combo.

Here are some of the games it can play:

  • PUBG: 70 FPS Average 1080p Ultra
  • Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order: 40 FPS Average 1080p High
  • Fortnite: 90 FPS Average 1080p Epic
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: 35 FPS Average 1080p High

The numbers above were tested with a GTX 1060 3GB, and in all of the games tested, GPU usage was at 99% while the CPU usage was sitting below 30% most of the time.

That means the GPU (GTX 1060 3GB) was the bottleneck in this scenario, not the Ryzen 5 1600 AF. If you want a CPU that will always allow the GPU to play at its full potential, using a Ryzen 5 1600 AF with your 1060 is your best bet, especially from a performance per dollar standpoint.

I’ve never seen a CPU with a better bang for your PC gaming buck, and I’m probably going to upgrade from my lowly Ryzen 3 1200 soon.

Still, it’s important to note that if 1080p, 60 FPS is your goal on max settings, you’ll probably need a better graphics card than the GTX 1060 6GB. I’d recommend at least opting for the GTX 1070 to ensure buttery smooth 60+ FPS gameplay in all titles with high settings in 1080p.

By the way, we have a guide on the best CPUs for the GTX 1070 as well if you want to check that out too.

As you can see in this video, the Ryzen 5 1600 AF’s performance is nearly identical to the Ryzen 5 2600, meaning you’re getting a second generation Ryzen 5 chip built on the 12nm architecture at the price of a first generation, 14nm chip.

Obviously the Ryzen 5 3600 based on the Zen 2 architecture is fastest in this video, but it’s $100 more than the 1600 AF, making the price increase not worth the added gaming performance (because the GPU will bottleneck here anyway).

I was going to make a section in this article about a cheap CPU for the 1060, but it didn’t make sense because the R5 1600 (12nm variant) is already so darn cheap.

Sure, you could save $20 and get a Pentium G4560, but that would bottleneck a 1060, and for an extra $20 you’re getting an insane amount of added performance with the 1600 AF.

Pros
  • Better gaming performance
Cons
  • More expensive than its Ryzen competitor
  • Locked at stock frequencies
  • Lags behind in workstation tasks
  • Included cooler kinda sucks...
Clock
2.8GHz
Boost
4GHz
Cores
6
TDP
65W
Type
Coffee Lake
Cooler
Yes

But I’d like to start by saying the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is better in practically every regard than the Core i5 8400 in terms of performance, except gaming where the i5 8400 pulls ahead ever so slightly.

For the purposes of this guide I’m going to use the Ryzen 5 2600 as a comparison processor since the Core 8400 and the R5 2600 are rivals - however, you can expect the 1600 AF’s performance to be nearly identical to the results shown with the Ryzen 5 2600 in the tests below.

Anyway, let’s talk specs. The Core i5 8400 is rocking 6 cores and, unlike its Ryzen counterpart, the i5 8400 only has 6 threads (as opposed to the Ryzen’s 12 threads).

In terms of clock speeds, the i5 8400 comes in at 2.8 GHz base with a turbo up to 4 GHz. Comparatively, the R5 2600 has a base/boost clock of 3.4 - 3.9GHz. However, the R5 2600 can overclock to a comfortable 4.1 - 4.2 GHz without issue, whereas the i5 8400 is locked, meaning you can’t overclock the CPU.

The Ryzen 5 2600 has a clear lead over the Core 8400 when it comes to multi-threaded performance, as shown in the chart below:

core i5 8400 performance comparison chart

Source: Optimum Tech

It’s also important to note that the R5 2600 at 4.1GHz OC is closing in on the stock i7 8700K performance, which is pretty insane.

And in terms of single-threaded performance, the i5 8400 does have a slight lead over the R5 2600, but normally Intel CPUs are known to knock AMD out of the park in single threaded applications, which is not the case here.

core i5 8400 performance comparison chart

Source: Optimum Tech

However, the i5 8400 is around 7-15% faster than the Ryzen 5 2600 in gaming performance, depending on whether or not the R5 2600 is overclocked or stock.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for the best gaming experience, I’d recommend the i5 8400 as a good CPU to pair with the GTX 1060.

However, if you’re going to be gaming and doing any other kind of workstation task, from video editing to rendering, the Ryzen 5 2600 (and the 1600 AF) is a better all around option.

Pros
  • Cheap
  • Great gaming CPU
  • High core count
  • Better than Intel by a longshot for (almost) all tasks besides gaming
Cons
  • Doesn’t match intel in gaming
  • Intel offering overclocks slightly better
Clock
3.6GHz
Boost
4.2GHz
Cores
6
TDP
65W
Type
Zen 2
Cooler
Yes

The R5 3600 is more or less superior in every way to competing Intel i5 parts - technically the i5 9600K does perform a bit better on average in gaming scenarios, and overclocks a bit better too.

So if you count overclock to overclock performance, technically the i5 9600K wins in that regard.

However, the i5 CPUs have a problem - they’re much harder to defend than say an i9 or an i7 CPU because threads are artificially turned off on the 9600K, meaning frametime consistency isn’t as reliable as it used to be.

Interestingly, back in the day people used to say “an i5 is enough for gaming”.

We’re now in a day and age where an i5 is not necessarily enough for gaming, but a Ryzen 5 from AMD is enough for gaming.

It’s important to note that while the 9600K beats the R5 3600 in gaming performance, that’s in a testing environment when paired with a graphics card like the GTX 1080 Ti, in which case the CPU is the bottleneck.

When you pair either the 9600K or the R5 3600 with a 1060, the GPU will be the bottleneck, meaning gaming performance will be more or less the same with either one.

That being said, your decision should come down to performance per dollar, and considering the R5 3600 outperforms the 9600K in most other aspects, and it’s cheaper, I have to go with the 3600 every time.

The R5 3600 is genuinely good, and versatile. If you’re building a budget gaming PC and you’re trying to get the cheapest CPU that gets the job done, opting for the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is still your best bet.

But if you have some extra cash to spend (around $100 more) and you want an all around CPU that can tackle any task, the Ryzen 5 3600 is a terrific all around performance pick.

For those that want to game and stream, and edit videos, and render videos (you get the picture) you can’t beat the Ryzen 5 3600.

CPU Image Benefit See Price
Ryzen 5 1600 AF best cpu for 1080 ti
  • Top Pick
View on Amazon
Ryzen 5 2600 i9 9700k, another great cpu for the 1080 ti
  • Runner Up
View on Amazon
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Best budget CPU for 1080 ti
  • Performance Pick
View on Amazon

How to Choose the Right CPU for You

how to choose the right cpu for you

As we’ve already mentioned, the “best CPU” is specific to you and your needs.

If you’re purely concerned with gaming, the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is your best bet.

But if you want to stream those games and maybe edit some videos, using a beefier model like the Ryzen 5 3600 is a better option.

Consider what kind of tasks you’ll be doing, and what kind of performance you’re expecting.

Then you can determine what your budget looks like to meet your needs, and purchase a CPU accordingly.

For more information on choosing the best CPU for your PC, View on Amazon out our guide by clicking that link.

GTX 1060 3GB vs GTX 1060 6GB: Which is Best?

The difference between the GTX 1060 3GB and 6GB models is (almost) negligible.

In nearly all gaming scenarios, the GTX 1060 3GB performs roughly 5-7% worse than its 6GB counterpart (at clock speeds). This is according to the awesome review from Gamers Nexus.

At the end of the day it really depends on whether or not you feel the ~$50 saved is worth losing ~5% of your gaming performance.

I would like to note that the 1060 3GB model is more than just a 1060 6GB with less RAM. It’s a different card altogether.

The 3GB model has an entire SM disabled including 1/10 of the card’s processors and half of the VRAM capacity.

Naming the 1060 3GB as a GTX 1060 will confuse buyers into thinking it’s just a 1060 6GB with half the VRAM, but that’s not the case.

In my opinion the 1060 3GB should not be called a GTX 1060, but of course, component manufacturers messed it up again. Oh well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get about this topic:

Can You Use GTX 1060 with AMD?

Yes, you ccan pair Nvidia GPUs with AMD CPUs, without any compatibility problems.

Which CPU is Best for GTX 1060?

There is no single ‘best’ CPU for a graphics card, it depends on your needs. But you can’t go wrong with the Ryzen 5 1600 AF (12nm).

What is the Radeon equivalent of GTX 1060?

Most people agree that the RX 480 is the Radeon equivalent of the GTX 1060 6GB model.

Is RX 480 Better than GTX 1060?

The RX 480 and GTX 1060 are practically neck and neck when it comes to performance. In some situations, the 1060 wins, such as DX11. But in DX12, the RX 480 wins.

Compare CPUs

If you want to compare different CPUs to help you decide which is best for your 1060, here are some awesome resources for you:

Those links should help!

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