NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 960 2GB Video Cards ArriveNVIDIA has had tremendous success with GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970 video cards. NVIDIA has sold over 1 million GTX 980/970 cards since their introduction in September 2014. Saying that Maxwell has been successful is an understatement as no other flagship GPU surpassed the million sold mark so quickly. NVIDIA hopes that success multiples as they roll out Maxwell to the sweet spot, which means the $200 price point. Yes, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2GB video card will be priced at $199! In comparison, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 was priced at $249 and the GeForce GTX 660 was priced at $229 when they were introduced in previous years. NVIDIA is giving gamers more performance and power efficiency than ever before and they are doing it while lowering the price point! Not bad considering the GeForce GTX 960 video card uses the new GM206 Maxwell GPU that also brings new features like MFAA, Dynamic Super Resolution and VXGI to the table. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 specifications leaked out over a week ago, but at least now we can confirm what they are and talk about them. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2GB video card has 1,024 CUDA cores that are clocked at 1127MHz with a boost clock of 1178MHz. The 2GB of GDDR5 memory is clocked at 7.Gbps (7000MHz) and does indeed run on a rather narrow 128-bit bus. This means that the GeForce GTX 960 is capable of 148.8GB/s, which is slightly better than say the 144.2GB/s seen on the GeForce GTX 660 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory at 6.0Gbps on a 192-bit bus. NVIDIA has done an overhual on the memory subsystem on the GM206, so the effective memory speed is actually 9.3Gbps. This is due to the fact that NVIDIA is now using a third-generation delta color compression engine with new modes for color compression, allowing the GPU to more effectively use its available memory bandwidth. So, at the end of the day the refined GM206 GPU uses roughly 25% fewer bytes per frame compared to prior generation Kepler GPUs, so it can get away just a 128-bit bus. Other key specifications on this card would have to be the rather low 120W TDP, the use of just a single 6-pin PCIe power header. The 120W TDP rating might is actually pretty high as NVIDIA says that most games will never draw that kind of power on a GTX 960. For example if you are playing a title like League of Legends at 1080P with max settings and Vsync on the power draw of the card will be just 30 Watts and many retail cards won't even need the fans spinning at those low power levels. NVIDIA has worked on the fan stop algorithms with GM206, so you'll see many NVIDIA board partners introducing silent or 0dB cards at idle and with light gaming. When it comes to video outputs you have a pair of Dual-Link DVI's, HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2. NVIDIA knows that gamers love to overclock their video cards, so the GeForce GTX 960 has plenty of overhead left in it to be overclocked well beyond the factory boost clock of 1178MHz and 7000MHz memory clock. Without any voltage adjustments we were told that future GTX 960 owners could easily hit 1500MHz on the core and over 7500MHz in the memory. The GeForce GTX 960 is the first video card to use the new GM206 Maxwell GPU. The GM206 GPU is basically a GM204 GPU cut in half with some minor improvements and modifications done to it. The GM206 is made on the 28nm manufacturing processor and measures 227mm2 with 2.9 billion transistors. The GM206 used on the GeForce GTX 960 is fully enabled with two Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs) that each have four SMM's . Each of those have 128 CUDA cores, so that is how you end up with 1,024 CUDA cores on the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 video card. Since this is a fully enabled GPU it means this will likely not be the GPU used on a GeForce GTX 960 Ti if a card would ever come to market. Each Maxwell SMM is partitioned into four distinct 32-CUDA core processing blocks (128 CUDA cores total per SM) and each has its own dedicated resources for scheduling and instruction buffering. To further improve the efficiency of the GPU's onboard caches, NVIDIA made some changes to the cache hieracry in Maxwell. Each of GM206’s SMM units features its own dedicated 96KB shared memory, while the L1/texture caching functions are combined into a 24KB pool of memory per pair of processing blocks (48KB per SMM). Prior generation Kepler GPUs had a smaller 64KB shared memory function that was also shared as L1 cache. This means that each GM206 CUDA core is able to deliver roughly 1.4x more performance per core and 2x the performance per watt when compared to a GK106 Kepler CUDA core, which was the direct predecessor of GM206. Now that we have the basics out of the way we can take a look at the ASUS STRIX GTX960 and get to the benchmarks!
ASUS STRIX GTX960 DC2OC Overview and Retail BoxWe have been told that ASUS will have just a single GeForce GTX 960 video card at launch, the ASUS STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II OC (part number STRIX-GTX960-DC20C-2GD5). This is a fully custom, factory overclocked card that carries an MSRP of $209.99. For that price you end up with a card that is said to be 12% faster than the NVIDIA reference card thanks to the 1291MHz core clock with a 1317MHz boost clock. ASUS also overclocked the 2GB of GDDR5 memory up to 7200MHz from 7000MHz, so there is a slight bandwidth improvement on the memory side there as well. The retail box for the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX graphics card is a pretty slick looking box. The front of the STRIX packaging above puts emphasis on a couple of key features, though mentioned twice is the silent gaming. Obviously ASUS is focusing on the silent gaming aspect of the GeForce GTX 960 STRIX! Up along the top of the packaging, the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX packaging points out that it is using the DirectCU II cooler, 20% cooler and silent. Towards the bottom edge of the packaging ASUS lists out a couple more key aspects of the GeForce GTX 960 STRIX. Along the bottom edge it's pointed out that it's the OC Edition, 2GB of GDDR5 memory, 0dB fan, and Super Allow Power with a 2.5x longer lifespan. The back of the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX packaging has no shortage of marketing text. The first feature that ASUS shows off back here is the DirectCU II - 0dB fan. Top center of the box is the super alloy power for enhanced durability and cooling. The Super Allow power consists of a couple different components that all work together for the utmost efficiency and overclocking ability. The third key feature back here is the GPU Tweak with XSPlit Gamecaster. The GPU Tweak software is a handy little utility that makes overclocking the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX simple to do. The XSplit Gamecaster will make it easy to record and share all your gaming glory with the click of a button. Opening up the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX packaging, the card is securely packed inside the box. No chance of it shifting in here and getting damaged! There certainly isn't much included with the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX, but not much is needed with it. There's a little bit of paperwork, driver and utility disc, 15pin D-Sub to DVI adapter, case sticker, and of course the ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX card in all of it's glory!
ASUS STRIX GTX960 DC2OC Video Card DesignThe ASUS STRIX GTX960 DirectCU II OC 2GB video card features the usual black design with red accents and measures in at 215.2 x 121.2 x 40.9 mm in dimension. That would be just 8.5-inches in length, so this card is fairly small and will have no issue fitting inside the vast majority of PC cases on the market now or in yesteryear. The STRIX GTX 960 has a 5-phase Super Alloy Power design that should give you plenty of smooth power and minimal choke noise. Along the top edge of the STRIX GTX960 you'll find a single NVIDIA SLI multi-GPU interconnect and then a rear-facing 6-pin PCIe power connector. ASUS even put LED indicator lights below this power connector to ensure you connect the power properly. If the LED light is white you have the power cable completely plugged in and it is feeding the card power properly. If the LED indicator light is red it means that you don't have the power connector pressed in tight enough or there is a power supply issue. The ASUS STRIX GTX 960 DC2OC might be a mainstream graphics card, but it comes with a black back plate to help protect the components on the back of the card and it helps lower the PCB temperature. ASUS went with three DisplayPort 1.2 outputs as well as single HDMI 2.0 and Dual-Link DVI-I when it comes to video outputs. ASUS includes a DVI to VGA adapter in the accessory bundle, so the STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-2GD5 should be able to connect to pretty much any monitor that you own or that is coming out in the years ahead. It is nice to see some many DisplayPort connections as that it what you need to run NVIDIA G-Sync monitors and you can easily run a set of them out of the box with this card. Here you can make out the four large heat pipes that make up the DirectCU II GPU cooler. These heat pipes don't make direct contact with the GPU, but they connect to the copper base plate that does. The heatsink on this card is 220% larger than the NVIDIA reference design and there are dual 80mm cooling fans being used on the STRIX GTX 960. The DirectCU II GPU cooler design is certainly one of the big selling points of this video card. The ASUS STRIX GTX960 features a DirectCU II GPU cooler with 0dB fan technology. On this particular model that means the fans don't kick on until the GPU temperature hits ~55C. This means when you aren't gaming or are playing games that only slightly load the GPU the fill will likely not kick on! We found that in game titles like League of Legends that the ASUS STRIX GTX 960 often had no running at all and at other times one or two fans would kick in. The image above shows just one fan running with the card around 52C. The reason both fans didn't kick in is because there are slight variations between fans as we were told by ASUS that there shouldn't be a single fan mode. NVIDIA said that most Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game titles will be able to run in silent operation! The ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX will be able to take advantage of the latest GPU Tweak software from ASUS. The GPU Tweak software is able to display the specifications of the card, as well as the current status of of the card. The Tweak software also has a couple of overclocked presets that you can take advantage of, or you can make your own presets for the card. The GPU Tweak software comes with a customized version of XSplit Gamecaster. The Gamecaster and GPU Tweak work together as an overlay on your games. The Gamecaster can be configured to stream you game and/or record your gameplay while the GPU Tweak software will let you change your settings on the fly through the presets. Now that we have a good understanding of what the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 brings to the table and how ASUS used the GM206 GPU to design the STRIX GTX 960 2GB video card we can take a look at the test system and get straight into testing!
Test SystemBefore we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. There has been some concern of people testing a cold card versus a hot card, but we've always done out testing 'hot' since the site started back more than a decade ago. Video Cards & Drivers used for testing:
- AMD CATALYST Omega (14.12)
- NVIDIA GeForce 347.25
Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform
|The Intel X79 Test Platform|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4960X|
ASUS P9X79-E WS
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
|Solid-State Drive||OCZ Vertex 460 240GB|
|Cooling||Intel TS13X (Asetek)|
|Power Supply||Corsair AX860i|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit|
|Monitor||Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K|
Batman: Arkham OriginsBatman: Arkham Origins is an action-adventure video game developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it follows the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City and is the third main installment in the Batman: Arkham series. It was released worldwide on October 25, 2013. For testing we used DirectX11 Enhanced, FXAA High Anti-Aliasing and with all the bells and whistles turned on. It should be noted that V-Sync was turned off and that NVIDIA's PhysX software engine was also disabled to ensure both the AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards were rendering the same objects. We manually ran FRAPS on the single player game instead of using the built-in benchmark to be as real world as we possibly could. We ran FRAPS in the Bat Cave, which was one of the only locations that we could easily run FRAPS for a couple minutes and get it somewhat repeatable. The CPU usage for Batman: Arkham Origins was surprising low with just 10% of the Intel Core i7-4960X being used by this particular game title. You can see that the bulk of the work is being done by one CPU core. Benchmark Results: We started over our benchmark charts for the GeForce GTX 960 and will be focusing on the GeForce GTX 960, GeForce GTX 760 and Radeon R9 285 video cards in this review. These cards all have 2GB of GDDR5 memory and are priced in the $199-$235 price range. The ASUS STRIX GTX 960 2GB video card didn't blow the GTX 760 reference card away, but was found to be 7% faster. The AMD Radeon R9 285 put up a solid score, but the STRIX GTX 960 was 10% quicker on average.
Battlefield 4Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. It is a sequel to 2011's Battlefield 3 and was released on October 29, 2013 in North America. Battlefield 4's single-player Campaign takes place in 2020, six years after the events of its predecessor. Tensions between Russia and the United States have been running at a record high. On top of this, China is also on the brink of war, as Admiral Chang, the main antagonist, plans to overthrow China's current government; and, if successful, the Russians will have full support from the Chinese, bringing China into a war with the United States. This game title uses the Frostbite 3 game engine and looks great. We tested Battlefield 4 with the Ultra graphics quality preset as most discrete desktop graphics cards can easily play with this IQ setting at 1080P and we still want to be able to push the higher-end cards down the road. We used FRAPS to benchmark with these settings on the Shanghai level. All tests were done with the DirectX 11 API unless noted in the chart. Battlefield 4 is more CPU intensive than any other game that we benchmark with as 25% of the CPU is used up during gameplay. You can see that six threads are being used and that the processor is running in Turbo mode at 3.96GHz more times than not. Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at Full HD 1080P resolutions we found that all three video cards were pretty much dead even with less than a 3 FPS difference between them. None could average over 60FPS, but they are all close.
Crysis 3Like the others, it is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek, using their CryEngine 3. Released in February 2013, it is well known to make even powerful system choke. It has probably the highest graphics requirements of any game available today. Unfortunately, Crytek didn’t include a standardized benchmark with Crysis 3. While the enemies will move about on their own, we will attempt to keep the same testing process for each test. Crysis 3 has a reputation for being highly resource intensive. Most graphics cards will have problems running Crysis 3 at maximum settings, so we settled on no AA with the graphics quality mostly set to Very High with 16x AF. We disabled v-sync and left the motion blur amount on medium. Crysis 3 appeared to run for the most part on just 3 CPU threads and used up about 15-18% of our Intel Core i7-4960X processor with these settings. Notice that the processor speed was at 3.53GHz and we very seldom, if ever, saw the processor go into turbo mode on Crysis 3. Benchmark Results: The GeForce GTX 960 and GeForce GTX 760 are very similar in Crysis 3 as we are being limited by the 2GB frame buffer with very high image settings more than anything else. The AMD Radeon R9 285 also has 2GB of memory, but that card was able to outperform the GeForce GTX 960 on this particular game title.
Far Cry 4Far Cry 4 is an action-adventure first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One video game consoles, and Microsoft Windows. It is the sequel to 2012's Far Cry 3. The game was released on November 18th, 2014 in North America and Europe. Far Cry 4 follows Ajay Ghale, a young Kyrati-American who returns to his native country Kyrat to spread his deceased mother's ashes. He finds the country in a state of civil war between Kyrat's Royal Army led by the country's eccentric and tyrant king Pagan Min and the Golden Path, a rebel movement fighting to free Kyrat from Min's oppressive rule. Far Cry 4 uses the heavily modified Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to Ultra image quality settings and did not adjust any of the advanced settings. Far Cry 4 uses about 30% of the processor and is running on multiple cores as you can see from our screen capture above. One core has more of a load on it than the others, but all logical processors are being uses to some degree when playing Far Cry 4.
Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 285 and the GeForce GTX 960 are pretty much dead even in Far Cry 4 as you can see in the chart above. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2GB reference card didn't stand a chance to the higher clocked retail GTX 960 that we compared it to.
Metro Last Light
Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013. Metro: Last Light was benchmarked with very high image quality settings with the SSAA set to off and 4x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. We benchmarked this game title on the Theater level.
We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the Radeon R9 285 averaged 76.17 and the GeForce GTX 960 averaged 77.31! There is just a single frame per second difference between these two competing cards in this particular benchmark with these drivers. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2GB reference card averaged 64.24 FPS.
ThiefThief is a series of stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix on February 25, 2014. We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled. Thief appears to be running on the six physical cores of the Intel Core i7-4960X processor and averages around 17-24% CPU usage from what we were able to tell from the CPU utilization meter that is built into the Windows 8.1 task manager. Benchmark Results: The ASUS STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II OC 2GB video card blew the Gigabyte Radeon R9 285 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 video cards out of the water in our Thief benchmark run.
3DMark 20133Dmark Fire Strike Benchmark Results - For high performance gaming PCs Use Fire Strike to test the performance of dedicated gaming PCs, or use the Fire Strike Extreme preset for high-end systems with multiple GPUs. Fire Strike uses a multi-threaded DirectX 11 engine to test DirectX 11 hardware.
Fire Strike Benchmark Results:
Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the ASUS STRIX GTX 960 video card coming in with an overall score of 7,050 versus a score of 5,768 on the GeForce GTX 760 reference card. The Gigabyte Radeon R9 285 might not have won the majority of the actual real world game benchmarks, but it did end up leading in 3DMark with a score of 7,232.
Temperature & Noise TestingTemperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on the the ASUS version of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 video card. ASUS Strix GTX 960 Direct CU II OC 2GB Idle Temps: The ASUS Strix GTX 960 DirectCU II video card has no fans spinning at idle, so the card is dead silent. Even with no fans spinning at all we found a rather impressive idle temperature of just 45C. When gaming we hit 63C in a room where the temperature was 67F (20.5C), so we have no complaints at all. As you can see when we were gaming the GM206 Maxwell GPU was running at 1404.8MHz as you can see above.
We test noise levels with an Extech sound level meter that has ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 36dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.The ASUS STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II OC 2GB video card has no fans running, so the card is dead silent. The only reason the system is above ambient noise levels is due to water cooler fans and pump noise. Even with the fans running the ASUS STRIX GTX 960 hit just 41.2dB, so this is a very quiet card and that will appeal to many gamers. We didn't notice any choke noise when gaming, but we did notice a little bit when we were loading up Far Cry 4. When the opening credits are showing the video card is putting out over 2,000 FPS according to FRAPS and you'll hear the chokes a bit. Once the game starts and the GPU is loaded up normally there is no choke noise to be heard from the card on our open air test bench. Placing this card inside a case will only improve noise levels (granted it isn't overheating), so the thermals and noise levels from this card are damn impressive.