What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

NVIDIA GTX 960 5-Way Roundup

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
It seems that we have been covering the GTX 960 quite a bit and there’s good reason for it: despite our love / hate relationship with it, NVIDIA has created an inexpensive, efficient card with plenty of interesting features. The GTX 960 may have severely limited abilities at higher resolutions but its performance at 1080P is more than adequate and when overclocked, it can really fly.

When we looked at the reference GTX 960, one thing was mentioned again and again: the lower base clock speeds NVIDIA specified for this card weren’t sufficient to make it competitive at $199. However, there are plenty of other options that use higher frequencies, upgraded components and advanced cooling solutions that go for the baseline cost of a few bucks more. The ASUS STRIX set the bar quite high and in this roundup we’ll take a look at several other GTX 960 cards from MSI, GALAX, EVGA, Zotac and Gigabyte.


In our relatively large cross section of GTX 960’s there are some pretty obvious trends that should be apparent right off the bat. First and foremost, every board partner (other than ASUS and their STRIX OC) seems hesitant to pre-overclock their GDDR5 modules. This is likely due to the intense binning necessary to achieve stable frequencies on every product but it is nonetheless disappointing considering the bandwidth limitations NVIDIA saddled the GTX 960 with.

Another interesting aspect of these cards is how close they adhere to the reference GTX 960’s starting price. Even MSI’s Gaming 2G, the most expensive product in this roundup, is less than 10% more than NVIDIA’s SRP. All of the other cards feature a mere $10 premium which is absolutely phenomenal. This is a huge point since it adds some much-needed value into the equation.

The lowest clocked card in this roundup is the Galax GTX 960 EXOC but that doesn’t mean it is a pushover since frequencies reach nearly 100MHz higher than the reference design. This is followed by the GIGABYTE G1 Gaming which, as we will see later, is an absolutely massive card that carries with it an impressive cooler despite the extreme efficiency of NVIDIA’s GM206 core. MSI’s slightly more expensive Gaming 2G uses the exactly same clocks as its GIGABYTE rival but there may be some differentiation when we look at true Boost speeds over time.

Zotac’s AMP! Edition is an interesting entry since it boasts some extremely high clock speeds even though it happens to be the most compact card in this particular roundup. It represents an amazing set of capabilities for ITX users.

Finally, the big daddy of this bunch is EVGA’s GTX 960 SuperSC or SSC. With a boost clock of 1342MHz and the ability to boost frequencies even higher in nearly every game, it goes like a scared cat and boasts an excellent price / performance ratio thanks to a cost of $210.


When placed alongside one another (with the previously-reviewed ASUS STRIX thrown in for good measure) we can see that the cards we chose vary wildly in their respective lengths. By far the longest of the lot is the GIGBAYTE G1 Gaming which measures a good 11 ¾” which looks titanic in proportion to Zotac’s higher clocked, 8” long AMP! Edition. The others round things out with MSI being on the larger end while Galax’s EXOC is relatively compact.

With so many different options, it should be nearly impossible to go wrong with one of these GTX 960’s but, as you will see a bit later, their specifications and respective prices only tell a small portion of the story.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
EVGA GTX 960 SSC

EVGA GTX 960 SSC



EVGA’s SSC is a usual addition to these roundups and that shouldn’t come as any surprise since these cards typically offer an awesome combination of price and overall performance. In this case, EVGA has outfitted their card with the new ACX 2.0 heatsink which comes with a pair of, double ball bearing fans (for a massively increased lifespan and less rotational resistance) with 3-phase motors and a very clean design. As with all GTX 960 cards it can also operate without its fans spinning in idle and low load scenarios due to the relative efficiency of NVIDIA’s GM204 core.


The ACX 2.0 heatsink is a relatively extensive affair with a triple 8mm heatpipe design and a low slung yet extensive aluminum fin array. There is also a secondary Memory / MOSFET cooling plate that is supposed to deliver substantially reduced temperatures for the primary components.


Alongside these features is an 8-pin power connectors alongside a BIOS switch. The switch doesn’t necessarily change clock speeds but rather incorporates one BIOS for completely silent operation until the core reaches 60°C while the other optimizes fan speeds for a balance of silent operation and low temperatures. In this review, we’ll use the so-called 0db BIOS since frequencies remained the same under both with Precision’s Temperature Target set to 80°C.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/65mjPjodnnk" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

We can also see that EVGA is using what they call an SHP or Straight Heat Pipe design. This layout places the heatpipes in a lengthwise configuration and supposedly allows for quicker heat transfer from the core to the heatsink’s cooling fins.


Unlike some other cards in this roundup, EVGA has decided to eschew the use of a backplate but on such an efficient card, such additions really aren’t necessary.


The SSC’s I/O area is a relatively straightforward with a single DVI connector, three DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI. EVGA has expanded the grilles for increased outwards airflow as well.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Galax GTX 960 EXOC

Galax GTX 960 EXOC



Galax’s EXOC has a more industrial look than some of its competitors but that will likely appeal to many. Its cooler has a very unique design with an integrated copper core contact plate and memory heatsink rolled into one component. This makes for an efficient all-in-one solution that maximizes cooling capacity since it allows for direct transfer to the primary fin array and tertiary heatpipes. Those heatpipes are composed of a single massive 8mm unit and a pair of 6mm pipes.


Galax’s approach to fan management follows the same lines as other cards in this roundup, though they have given it the Silent Extreme Plus moniker. This allows for the real-time monitoring of both the core’s power needs and its temperature so the fans won’t spin up until loads increase to a point where either the core requires over 60W of power or temperature exceed 59°C/

The EXOC also has an extensive PWM composed of four primary core phases and two dedicated phases for the memory. Component-wise there are premium low-noise shielded inductors help to eliminate coil whine, all solid capacitors and an MLCC / SP-CAP for better overclocking stability.


Around back, Galax has a specialized all-aluminum backplate that helps with cooling rear-mounted GDDR5 modules and also reinforces the PCB so it doesn’t flex. One interesting addition is an anti-conductive coating that is supposed to decrease the chance of shorts if another component mistakenly comes into contact with the card. It also looks pretty damn sweet.


Galax’s connector layout differs somewhat from the norm since they have a pair of DVI connectors rather than several DisplayPort outputs. There’s nothing stopping you from daisy-chaining several monitors together from the single DisplayPort if multiple DP monitors are being used (provided they support the necessary protocol) and the added HDMI connector facilitates compatibility with HDTVs.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming

Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming



Considering the GTX 960 is supposed to be one of the coolest-running cores on the market, the gargantuan 11.75” length of Gigabyte’s G1 Gaming came as a bit of a surprise. It reeks of overkill given that its competitors are able to achieve equal or higher clock speeds from their smaller designs. With that being said, Gigabyte also offers much smaller ITX-compatible alternatives if you are looking for something a bit more compact.

The G1 Gaming’s main claim to fame is its supposedly cherry-picked GPU which should grant higher overclocks, though how it will accomplish that under the auspices of NVIDIA’s strict voltage limits remains to be seen.


The WindForce cooler is one we’ve seen for the last two years or so. It comes equipped with a trio of large fans that have a slightly corrugated surface for optimal airflow and quiet operation. There are also a quartet of 6mm heatpipes that make direct contact with the core. All told, this design is supposed to offer up to 300W of thermal dissipation power which is far in excess of what the GM206 core can output, even when overclocked.


Another interesting feature here is the illuminated logo on the G1 Gaming’s side. Next two it there are two small “Silent / Stop” indicators that glow when the card enters its passive cooling mode. This is quite handy for those who are worried their fans have stopped working since the Windforce heatsink has the capability to idle its fans in certain low-load scenarios.


Under that massive heatsink, GIGABYTE has added a 6-phase all digital PWM with a unique load balancing technology that equally spreads current over all phases. Supposedly this lowers component temperatures and lengthens the card’s lifespan.


Around back there’s a full-length powder coated aluminum heat dissipation plate which reaches beyond the PCB to fully cover the heatsink. While it looks cool, this cantilevered design causes the last ~2” of thin aluminum to bend upwards at an odd angle. It looks atrocious when viewed side-on but luckily it can be bent back quite easily.


GIGABYTE has the only card in this roundup with six display outputs; two DVI’s three DisplayPorts and a single HDMI. These can be used for quad-screen gaming.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G

MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G



It has been a while since we last saw an MSI graphics card around these parts. During that time, their designs have changed quite a bit and the GTX 960 Gaming 2G perfectly shows their new direction. It looks absolutely stunning with a black and red Twin Frozr V heatsink and massive axial fans.


The fifth generation Twin Frozr heatsink incorporates a so-called SuperSU design which utilizes a copper base plate alongside four 8mm heatpipes. These are hooked up to a low-slung aluminum fin array and two large Torx fans. These fans are designed with alternating blade layouts: one of which maximizes downwards airflow while the other boosts static pressure for optimal movement through the dense heatsink. It is relatively straightforward affair but one that works extremely well.


MSI has equipped this card with a single 8-pin power connector which should allow for more Power Limit overhead provided it’s allowed in the AfterBurner software.


The backplate of this card is quite basic with a trio of DisplayPorts, one DVI and a single HDMI. This allows for triple monitor support.


One interesting addition to the Gaming 2G is a handy MSI Gaming App which provides an easy-to-understand performance modification interface for those who don’t want to get into the complexities of AfterBurner. On the primary page there are three Mode settings which, with the click of a single button, engage different performance profiles. OC Mode is the fastest with a Boost Clock of 1279MHz while Gaming and Silent modes provide Boost frequencies of 1253MHz and 1178MHz respectively. Each of these is paired up with a different fan speed profile as well, which cannot be modified from within the app.

There’s also a second tab that allows you to quickly modify display characteristics to better suit your viewing needs. It includes a “costomize” area as well which includes finer grain modifiers for gamma, brightness and contrast ratios.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Zotac GTX 960 AMP! Edition

Zotac GTX 960 AMP! Edition



Ah Zotac, where were you on our pages before this sexy little GTX 960 AMP! Edition as launched? Thankfully, all past transgressions can be forgiven since this card is downright beautiful in its approach and it epitomizes what the GTX 960 is all about: cramming great performance into an efficiently designed graphics card. While other board partners upsized their cards for nothing more than marketing purposes, Zotac took a completely different approach.


Despite being the smallest card in this roundup, the AMP! Edition doesn’t actually skimp on its features or cooling capabilities. Zotac’s Icestorm heatsink has been used which utilizes two 92mm fans, a copper contact plate and a pair of 6mm heatpipes to keep things cool. Now this may sound like a pathetic solution when compared against some of the other cards featured here but the design is more than sufficient to provide the necessary thermal capacity for cooling the overclocked GM206 core.


This card isn’t necessarily built for extreme overclocking so Zotac kept it simple with a single 6-pin power input. We can also see how the backplate and primary heatsink shroud both wrap around the card’s side, creating an extremely clean look.


The EXOArmor backplate on this card is actually functional since it makes direct contact with a couple of GDDR5 modules and helps further dissipate heat. Since it wraps around the card’s site, there’s a bit of added structural rigidity as well.


The I/O area is typically GTX 960 with three DisplayPort connectors and single HDMI / DVI outputs. Zotac did put their own spin on things by expanding the grille for some additional exhaust airflow but that’s where the differences between this card’s layout and the reference design end.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Rounding Up Clock Speeds & Temperatures Over Time

Rounding Up Clock Speeds & Temperatures Over Time


As we all know by now, higher levels of heat have a detrimental effect upon the clock speeds of NVIDIA’s newer architectures. If the GPU Boost algorithm senses increased temperatures (above 80°C) it reduces clock speeds accordingly but if there is thermal overhead, frequencies can also be pushed pass baseline specifications. For this reason it is imperative that board partners keep their designs at lower temperatures while also balancing acoustics to acceptable levels. Naturally, some do it better than others.


Temperatures for all of the cards in this roundup are extremely low and, more importantly, consistent across the board. Unlike the reference design which starts at a low temperatures and keeps on increasing as time goes on, these typically hit a point and don’t budge beyond it.

There are some standouts here, for both good and surprisingly average performance. EVGA’s SSC attains its temperatures with the highest overclock of the bunch but (as we will see later) the lowest fan rotational speeds. Meanwhile, despite its extremely compact cooler assembly, the Zotac AMP! Edition puts down some pretty reasonable results as well while MSI’s Gaming 2G runs around the middle ground despite some odd fluctuations as time goes on. Those fluctuations will be covered on the next page.

The Gigabyte and Galax cards feel like clones of one another since they have almost identical temperature results. Both are able to achieve some amazingly low numbers.


In terms of actual clock speeds, the EVGA card leads the pack by a wide margin while achieving a constant frequency of 1456MHz, the next best competitor being the diminutive Zotac AMP! at 1404MHz. MSI is able to compete quite well too with a core speed of 1366MHz. Finally, the lines of Gigabyte and Galax are one and the same since they were both able to achieve 1392MHz.


Naturally, all of these cards achieve consistent performance throughout the tests without any indication of lowered framerates as temperatures increase.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Fan Speeds & Acoustics

Fan Speeds Over Time


For the first time we logged each card’s fan speeds since they all claim to include some form of idling feature which is meant to shut down the fans if thermal and load conditions allow.


In these tests it looks like both EVGA and MSI have designed heatsinks that have enough thermal capacity to keep their cores cool even without the fans running. Despite its massive overclock, EVGA’s SSC’s fans remain off for a few minutes and then spin up to a mere 10% of their rated maximum RPMs for the remainder of the test. MSI’s heatsink behaves quite differently since it “pulses” to low RPMs rather than running continually. These pulses are what caused its slightly inconsistent –but still low- temperature curve.

The remainder of the cards do tend to feature slightly higher rotational speeds but none reach anything that approaches worrying levels.


Acoustical Results


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.


Given the number on the previous tests, these numbers weren’t a surprise. The MSI Gaming 2G is one of -if not THE- quietest card we have ever tested due to its ability to slowly pulse its fans as temperatures rise. EVGA’s SSC isn’t that far behind.

Given its massive heatsink and triple fan layout, we expected more from GIGABYTE’s monster but that didn’t happen. It posted numbers that are certainly respectable but they’re nowhere close to what we expected from its designs.

Finally the Galax and Zotac cards are still extremely quiet but on paper, they are slightly louder than their competitors. With that being said, it is doubtful you’d hear either one working.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD Catalyst Omega (public release)
NVIDIA 347.52


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results, other than 4K.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Alien: Isolation / Battlefield 4

Alien: Isolation


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gEyLgm0b8CM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Alien: Isolation isn’t a particularly demanding game but it does include some of the most realistic special effects in recent memory. We utilize a typical area within the game and add a few of the game’s more interesting visual effects to round things out.




Battlefield 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.


 
Top