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 Reference Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
NVIDIA’s GTX 960 was launched amidst a flurry of reviews but its actual performance has been a bit hard to accurately nail down. On one hand its 1080P benchmarks were admirable but those metrics were obtained with pre-overclocked cards like ASUS’ STRIX which tended to inflate benchmark numbers. We wanted to get our hands on a reference-clocked card to get some idea of baseline tendencies and that’s exactly what PNY stepped up to deliver.

While the vast majority of GTX 960 cards use higher clock frequencies and heavily upgraded heatsink assemblies, they can also cost a fair bit more than NVIDIA’s stated starting price of $199. There have been a few examples (namely EVGA’s GTX 960 SC) where rebates have brought even these cards’ respective costs down to those of reference-based versions. However, the promotions are due to run out which leaves just a few SKUs left at NVIDIA’s advertised price. So what does $199 actually get you? That’s what we’re aiming to find out.


On paper at least, the reference GTX 960 really doesn’t have all that much going for it. It uses a fully enabled GM206 core but that only grants 1024 CUDA cores, 32 ROPs and 64 Texture units. While there are technical features within the Maxwell architecture which insure substantial performance enhancements over the Kepler-based GTX 760 on a per SM-basis, they can only go so far.

The most notable shortfall is in the memory bandwidth where the GTX 960 makes due with just a 128-bit bus spread over a pair of 64-bit controllers. Once again the Maxwell architecture does feature some memory efficiencies which increase theoretical bandwidth but even then the peak output of its GDDR5 pipelines remains behind the previous generation. If you want to know more about the architecture and how it really compares, check out our launch-day GTX 960 review.

Despite what sounds to be like a drastic specification shortfall in relation to the card it’s supposed to replace, the GTX 960 is supposed to surpass its processor in most respects. By how much? We’re going to find out in this reference versus reference showdown.


PNY’s reference GTX 960 is slightly different than their competitors’ solutions since instead of using an ITX-centric short design they have basically reinvigorated the GTX 760’s blower-style design. This is a great layout for exhausting hot air outside the case but there won’t be any ultra low temperature results. It also extends the card’s overall length to 9 ½” which certainly isn’t SFF friendly but compatibility issues should be minimal at best.


This card may not be all that much to look at but the price is certainly right provided you can find it for PNY’s SRP of $199. Another addition is PNY’s lifetime warranty (upon registration of course) which is now a unique feature among NVIDIA’s current crop of board partners.


NVIDIA mentioned to us that most board partners’ GTX 960 overclocking will likely be limited by their choice of input power connectors. In PNY’s case, they have decided to use a very basic single 6-pin which may reduce the amount of additional Power Limit headroom, thus things back on this front.


The selection of output connectors is quite wide and covers all the usual bases. There’s a trio of DisplayPorts and single HDMI / DVI connectors which provides native triple-screen support.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
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 347.25 Beta


*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
13,264
Location
Montreal
Clock Speed Consistency Over Time

Clock Speed Consistency Over Time


NVIDIA’s GTX 960 uses an extremely efficient GM206 core which reduces temperature output but we have to remember this PNY card does use a reference style cooler. It didn’t perform all that well on the GTX 970 but hopefully when paired up with a lower-end core, there won’t be any throttling.


The initial results are quite promising with the GTX 960’s temperatures remaining manageable and never approaching the 80°C throttle point. You may notice that we’ve also expanded these charts beyond the normal 10 minute mark since the reference cooler was allowing temperatures to gradually climb up until the 15 minute mark, after which they leveled off around the 62°C mark.


Even though temperatures did hit a higher mark than custom cards would allow them to, the reference card’s frequencies remained consistent at 1278MHz throughout testing. This is actually a good 100MHz over NVIDIA’s stated Boost clock.


Framerates are also consistent but we don’t have anything to compare them to as of yet since we’re using a new combination of settings for this test.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging



There isn’t really much to see on these images since, unlike most of the custom coolers installed by board partners, this one exhausts hot air outside the GPU’s confines. This leads to less heat buildup around critical components but it does cause slightly higher temperatures and an increased acoustical profile.


Acoustical Testing


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.


As we alluded to above, the reference cooler on this card isn’t the quietest around but luckily the efficient GM206 core allows for lower rotational speeds.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.


From a performance per watt standpoint the GTX 960 is one of the best cards currently available on the market and it is perfectly suited for lower power systems where larger, higher wattage PSUs aren’t optimal solutions.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1080P: 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.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1080P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.




Dying Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1080P: Far Cry 4 / Hitman Absolution

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.




Hitman Absolution


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1080P: Metro: Last Light / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Metro: Last Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/40Rip9szroU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest iteration of the Metro franchise once again sets high water marks for graphics fidelity and making use of advanced DX11 features. In this benchmark, we use the Torchling level which represents a scene you’ll be intimately familiar with after playing this game: a murky sewer underground.

* Please note that AMD's driver has issues in the level we are using as a benchmark. However, this problem does not seem to affect other areas of the game. As such, their results have been included for reference purposes only and ARE NOT factored into this review's conclusion.




Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.


 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1080P: Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.




Tomb Raider


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/okFRgtsbPWE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
1440P: 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.


 

Latest posts

Twitter

Top