Home Computing The most popular GPU fails the 2024 litmus test

The most popular GPU fails the 2024 litmus test

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Nvidia’s RTX 3060 is the most popular GPU around, and it’s not even close. According to the latest Steam hardware survey, the 2021 GPU is in close to 7% of gaming PCs. That’s a huge slice of the pie. For reference, the second most popular GPU, the RTX 2060, sits at just under 4%. It’s easy to see why the GPU is popular, too. You can pick it up for between $250 and $300 — and for even less used — and it comes with a critical 12GB of VRAM.

It’s the go-to GPU for maxed-out 1080p gaming in 2024, but based on my testing, it probably shouldn’t be. The RTX 3060 is a workhorse, and for a large range of games, it’s one of the best graphics cards you can buy. When it comes to the latest, most demanding games, however, the RTX 3060 struggles to keep up.

The litmus test

Digital Trends

I put together a range of benchmarks to represent the most recent, most popular, and most demanding games released in the past year. Not every game is the most popular, and not every game is the most demanding, but the collection represents the titles from the past year that you might want to play on a gaming PC. Here’s the list:

  • Horizon Forbidden West
  • Dragon’s Dogma 2
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Hogwarts Legacy
  • The Last of Us Part One
  • Helldivers 2
  • Immortals of Aveum
  • The Lords of the Fallen
  • Remnant 2
  • Starfield

If you’ve read any of our GPU reviews, there’s not a lot of crossover here. Games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2 are demanding, but they’re mature; they provide a solid foundation for comparing graphics cards. Here, I’m taking a different approach. If you picked up an RTX 3060 in 2024, you’re probably going to want to play at least one of the games on the list above, and likely a few of them.

I restricted the tests to 1080p with the highest graphics preset available, minus ray tracing. Ray tracing is definitely possible on the RTX 3060 with the help of Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), but the goal here was to focus on the raw performance without upscaling. If the RTX 3060 can nail that, then upscaling is just gravy.

The mark is 60 frames per second (fps). I’m looking to see that level of performance in real gameplay — not scripted benchmarks — in the most demanding areas of a game. And for a lot of the titles on this list, the RTX 3060 is a little too close for comfort.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

You can see my results above. You’re getting 60 fps in games like Dragon’s Dogma 2, Resident Evil 4, and Hogwarts Legacy, but a lot of titles fall short of the mark. The wildly popular Helldivers 2 is too demanding for 60 fps at Ultra settings, as is Starfield, even outside of the demanding city zones.

I included the 1% low average frame rate here, too. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an average among the 1% lowest frames, and it’s good for indicating how stable the frame rate was. It’s important because some of these games have performance issues across PCs, most notably Immortals of Aveum, Hogwarts Legacy, and Lords of the Fallen. 

Still, there are several games that are stable here and still show performance issues. Helldivers 2 is the best example of that. The game is remarkably stable, with only a minor deviation between the average frame rate and 1% lows, but the RTX 3060 still isn’t able to muster 60 fps.

The RTX 3060 is capable enough at 1080p. You could turn down some graphics settings or enable upscaling and get above 60 fps. The problem is that there are far better options around the same price in 2024.

The GPU market in 2024

Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

The RTX 3060 hasn’t really dropped in price. You can still find it in stock, but you’ll still spend around $300 on one — that’s the same price it launched at more than three years ago. Given the demands of modern games, it’s just not worth it to pick up the RTX 3060 when there are other more powerful options at around $300.

For example, the RTX 4060 is around 19% faster at 1080p, and it’s available for around $300. It should say a lot that the RTX 4060 is a better option considering its lukewarm reception (read our RTX 4060 review for more on that). But the RTX 4060 has access to Nvidia’s DLSS 3.5, adding frame generation into the mix, which can help a lot in these modern single-player games.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s not just Nvidia. AMD’s RX 7600 is around 17% faster than the RTX 3060 on average, and it comes in at a lower price. You can pick one up, such as

this XFX Speedster model

, for $260. It doesn’t have DLSS, but the performance advantage is hard to ignore, especially when the card is so much cheaper.

Even the weakest alternative is quite a bit faster than the RTX 3060. Intel’s

Arc A770 is around $280

, and it’s close to 15% faster than the RTX 3060 based on our testing. It even comes with 16GB of RAM, while both the RTX 4060 and RX 7600 are locked to 8GB.

Hold on a little longer

Digital Trends

Now, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand this revisit to the RTX 3060. If you already have an RTX 3060 in your gaming PC, it’s still a solid GPU. As shown through my testing, it can handle the demands of modern games with a few compromises, and hopefully that holds true for a few more years. Even a game like Alan Wake 2 is playable if you turn down enough settings.

Still, an RTX 3060 isn’t a great investment if you’re buying a GPU in 2024. Even among the mediocre options in budget graphics cards right now, the RTX 3060 is behind. If you’re looking at making an upgrade to your PC, a current-gen GPU, be it from AMD, Nvidia, or Intel, is your best bet.

If you’re using an RTX 3060 right now, I’d hold off on upgrading to one of these GPUs, however. There are strong rumors that we could see new GPUs this year. Intel is rumored to launch its Battlemage GPUs in the fall, while some leakers say Nvidia will kick off its RTX 50-series in the last few months of the year. AMD, for its part, is rumored to launch its RDNA 4 GPUs in the back half of the year, too. There will be a lot more options soon.

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