Wrapping Things Up & Individual Conclusions
Wrapping Things Up & Individual Conclusions
This has actually been an interesting roundup as it gives a pretty accurate cross-section of what’s available on the market. All of these cards are infinitely more appealing than the GTX 960 reference design and routinely offer between 7% and 10% more performance than cards sporting NVIDIA’s stock specifications. That’s significant since it allows the GTX 960 to effectively move past the performance offered by AMD’s R9 285 and come a bit closer to the R9 280X.
Unfortunately, there are still more than a few instances where higher core frequencies don’t have much effect on in-game framerates since memory bandwidth is the primary bottleneck. If you buy any of these cards the first thing that should be done is to maximize GDDR5 speeds. Don’t believe us? Let’s have a chart do the talking.
As you can see, adding just 10% to the memory frequencies can somewhat open up performance in games that are obviously too much for the GTX 960 to handle. Compare and contrast that to the R9 280X’s -a card that doesn’t have such a narrow interface- near lack of improvements with a similar 10% GDDR5 overclock and it becomes obvious where NVIDIA’s shortcomings lie. This is also why ASUS’ STRIX with its slight memory overclock is able to pull ahead of the EVGA SSC, a card that outweighs its core frequency by a decent amount.
With all of that being said, every one of these pre-overclocked versions of the GTX 960 offer very good value if someone is looking for an efficient, ridiculously quiet, affordable and feature rich graphics card. Their performance is very good at 1080P (we’ve already pushed aside the possibility of using the GTX 960 at higher resolutions) but there are still individual foibles and accomplishments we need to discuss.
EVGA GTX 960 SSC
EVGA’s SSC is obviously the heavy hitter of this group with its sky-high clock speeds but what surprised us the most was its acoustical results. We used EVGA’s “silent” BIOS setting which, interestingly enough, resulted in exactly the same performance as the higher rotational speed setting. This in itself is impressive since the fans remained completely off in Alien: Isolation and spun up to just 10% of their maximum rotational speed in higher-load games despite the core churning along at 1456MHz. Whatever EVGA did to this heatsink, it is working wonders and overclocking is quite decent as well.
With a cost that’s just $10 more than the reference version, the EVGA GTX 960 SSC is the card to get if you’re looking for the absolute best out-of-box performance without any associated noise issues.
Galax GTX 960 EXOC
Galax has been launching some interesting cards as of late and their GTX 960 EXOC is no different. It hits the exact same clock speeds as GIGABYTE’s G1 Gaming while even offering similar acoustics and temperatures. Those two last points are somewhat ironic considering the EXOC is significantly smaller than its identically-priced competitor and it still offers clone-like performance metrics. In many ways this more compact approach allows Galax’s offering to have much boarder appeal.
While there really aren’t many reasons to recommend Galax’s offering over those of more-known competitors, the EXOC is an overclocking monster. Galax leads the pack with an actual Power Limit overhead of 22% and despite having just 50mV of additional voltage on tap, the card burst through the 1.6GHz mark like a boss. We can only imagine what the EXOC would have done if it used the 100mV setting all the competitors came with.
GIGABYTE GTX 960 G1 Gaming
One of the primary selling points of the GTX 960 is its efficiency which results in lower heat output. This allows board partners to use more compact cooling designs without offering up temperatures like a sacrificial lamb. GIGABYTE meanwhile has added what can only be termed a preposterously large heatsink onto a core that produces a mere modicum of heat, resulting in an ungainly design. In many ways it runs contrary to the GTX 960’s original design intents.
One would think that with the raw mass of cooling capabilities and the G1’s supposedly hand-picked core, GIGABYTE would have found some unique way to take advantage of their engineering accomplishments. Unfortunately, once the dust settled the G1 Gaming wasn’t the fastest, coolest running or quietest, nor did it reach anywhere near the massive clock speeds of GALAX’s more compact EXOC. For the most part, it proved to be an unexceptional graphics card wrapped up in a stunning yet pointless exterior.
Had GIGABYTE not launched a more compact version of the GTX 960 we would have been much harsher in this conclusion but as it stands the G1 Gaming is a competent performer that offers and great value…provided your case is compatible with its immense stature.
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
The MSI Gaming 2G may not be the fastest card in this roundup but in our eyes it is one of the best since it takes advantage of the GTX 960’s various strengths. Performance is a just few percentage points above the reference card but MSI has leveraged their heatsink technology to provide absolutely silent performance in nearly every instance. The Gaming’s fans “pulse” to very low RPMs in order to keep temperatures in check during higher loads but they remain completely off for the most part. This makes it the quietest card we’ve ever come across.
MSI’s GTX 960 may not be the most compact card around but it delivered excellent temperature results and put its heatsink’s size to good use. The only thing that may cause gamers to hesitate is the Gaming 2G’s price which is the most expensive among GTX 960 cards we’ve tested.
Zotac GTX 960 AMP!
If there’s one card here which personifies what a GTX 960 should be, it is the Zotac GXT 960 AMP! Edition. While many of the other board partners (with the exception of ASUS) have simply recycled older, larger heatsink designs, Zotac took the path less travelled by engineering a card that is compact, quiet and capable of delivering low temperatures while also featuring excellent out-of-box clock speeds. The end result is an elegantly simple graphics card that will fit into just about any case while delivering very good performance at 1080P.
Even in the overclocking department, the diminutive AMP! Handles itself quite well and hangs with every other card. If we were to name a “winner” in this roundup it would be Zotac’s offering.