Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 was exceptionally well-reviewed when it was released in 2016—offering performance a bit better than previous-generation flagships for a downright reasonable price of $250. PC gamers responded accordingly. Within a year of its release, the 1060 became the most-used GPU in Steam’s Hardware and Software Survey, a position it occupied from June 2017 until October 2022.
The 1060 owes its longevity to a unique combination of factors—its original value, plus a years-long GPU shortage and inflated pricing for newer models like the RTX 3050 and 3060. But its long reign finally ended in November’s data, where the midrange GeForce GTX 1650 finally unseated the 1060. (The same shortage and pricing issues that kept the 1060 on top for so long have also contributed to the 1650’s continued availability and viability four years after its release.)
The nature of Steam’s stat gathering makes its data inherently noisy; it can only capture data volunteered by users who happen to open and use Steam while the data is being collected. This makes it useful for identifying broad trends over time—CPU and GPU market share, the number of CPU cores in most systems, the rough adoption rate of new Windows versions—but not quite as good at measuring data points as specific as “which individual GPU is the most popular?” The GTX 1060 actually gained share in the Steam data for September and October, which strikes us as not particularly likely given the age of the 1060 and steadily improving availability and pricing for newer models.
Even so, it has been so many years since any GPU other than the 1060 topped the charts that we thought we’d run down some of the things that have changed in PC gaming over the last five years. If you bought a GTX 1060 when it first took over the Steam leaderboard and then hibernated until 2022, here’s just a bit of what you’d notice (strictly PC gaming-wise):
- All new GPUs support some kind of hardware-accelerated ray tracing, though performance still varies.
- The amount of graphics RAM has gone up. The 1060 came in both 3GB and 6GB versions, and high-end GTX 1080 and Titan GPUs from that generation shipped with between 8GB and 12GB. Current GPUs ship with as much as 24GB, and 8GB or 12GB is closer to the floor.
- AMD’s Ryzen CPUs have returned AMD to competitiveness in gaming PCs; AMD’s CPU market share in the Steam data rose from 19.01 percent in June 2017 to 32.87 percent in November 2022. That success didn’t rub off on AMD’s GPU hardware, which saw its share drop from 20 to 15 percent over the same period.
- A majority of PCs use processors with six or more CPU cores. In mid-2017, nearly all PCs in Steam’s data used either two or four CPU cores.
- Fancy upscaling technologies like Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FSR 2.0 have made games look nicer when your GPU can’t quite play them at your monitor’s native resolution. DLSS doesn’t support the GTX 1060, but FSR 2.0 does, and if you’re still getting by with a 1060, it’s one option to make newer games run well on it.
- Monitors have gotten more advanced, with technologies like adaptive sync, high refresh rates, and 4K becoming much more common in new displays. In Steam’s data, 1080p is still overwhelmingly the most popular resolution for primary displays, though 1440p and 4K screens have gotten more popular since 2017.
- Fast SSDs are becoming more important for game load times, partly thanks to a new console generation that comes standard with speedy PCIe SSDs. It’s also cheaper than ever to pick up a decent 1TB or 2TB drive! This is good because game installs are bigger than ever.
- There’s a third competitor in the GPU market for the first time in a couple decades—Intel’s Arc GPUs are actually decent, despite bumpy development and launch periods.
Will we ever see another individual GPU become as popular as the GTX 1060 was at its peak? Never say never. But re-creating the conditions of its success—starting with Nvidia launching an RTX 4060 that outruns an RTX 3080 for just $250—doesn’t seem especially likely right this minute.