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The NVIDIA GTX 950 Review; Feat. EVGA

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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NVIDIA’s Maxwell lineup has seen its fair share of successes but there was a noteworthy omission: a card in the key $150 price bracket. While enthusiasts may roll their eyes at anything under the GTX 960’s already-affordable $199, there’s a huge market out there for even more affordable options. Many just don’t have the money for higher end solutions and quite frankly, they don’t even require the additional performance. This is where the new GTX 950 gets factored into the equation.

The GTX 950’s mission statement is an extremely simple one. It needs to deliver high performance in popular MOBA-style games while still retaining enough in the tank to power through triple-A titles at 1080P. With that in mind, NVIDIA expects this card to offer a natural upgrade path from their GTX 650 Ti and GTX 650, two cards that are still among the most popular around due to their low initial cost and respectable power consumption numbers. To a lesser extent, GTX 750-series owners may want to sit up and take notice too. Replacing these GPUs may sound like a tall order but the GTX 950 seems to have what it takes to offer exactly that and eventually become NVIDIA’s volume-mover.


At the GTX 950’s heart beats what may be a surprising core design to some. Instead of using a new xx7-series core like the Kepler-based cards did, this one uses a cut down version of the 2.94 billion transistor GM206 found in NVIDIA’s GTX 960. To create a “new” core design all that’s been done is the elimination of two Streaming Multiprocessors and voila, a lower priced version is born.

The end result of this cutting is actually a very appealing product for the budget-minded market. The GTX 950 boasts 768 CUDA cores and 48 Texture Units which should be more than adequate for most of today’s games, not to mention upcoming DX12 titles. Meanwhile, the back-end setup hasn’t been touched so it boasts 32 ROPs and two 64-bit memory controllers feeding into 2GB of GDDR5. Those two aspects are arguably the biggest selling points here when compared against the relatively anemic 16 ROP / 1GB setup of previous generations. Add to that Maxwell’s new compression color compression algorithms that significantly optimize memory bus usage and there’s potential for some serious improvements.


From an architectural standpoint there may only be a pair of disabled SM’s to separate the GTX 950 and the GTX 960 but NVIDIA has added a few other points of distinction. First and foremost, the GTX 950 operates at 1024MHz and 1188MHz for the Base and Boost frequencies respectively but, as with all NVIDIA cards, expect the Boost speed to go well above that when given adequate cooling. The memory has been downclocked in relation to the GTX 960 but only by 400MHz. That should easily be overcome with a bit of judicious overclocking.

With all of these changes this new iteration of GM206 has a TDP of just 90W. This is actually quite a bit more than a GTX 750 Ti but notably better than what the GTX 650 Ti offered up. From a performance per watt standpoint though, the GTX 950 will blow both of those solutions straight out of the water.

One of the most talked-about items of this launch will likely be NVIDIA’s starting price of $159. That number represents a significant premium over initial cost for the GTX 650 Ti and about 50% more than the GTX 650 but happens to be almost right in line with the GTX 750 Ti 2GB’s $149. The question is whether or not buyers of $129 and $109 Kepler cards will feel like the GTX 950’s heavily expanded feature set and better performance is worthy of spending more money. Essentially NVIDIA is pushing their entry-level customers to a higher price point but they believe there's a ton of value in what they're offering versus previous sub-$200 generations.

Another point to bring is how this launch is being approached by NVIDIA’s board partners. There isn’t a GTX 950 “reference” design to speak of so every one of them is free to design cards to their own specifications. Not only does that mean a wide variety of options but there will also be numerous performance and price points between NVIDIA’s baseline spec and the GTX 960.


Competition against the GTX 950 boils down to a single card: AMD’s R7 370. Priced at exactly $149, this very capable GPU seems to have a significant edge over NVIDIA’s offering in some respects but it is based off of an architecture that started it life as Pitcairn, is well over three years old and can’t even begin to approach the feature set of today’s front-line Maxwell offerings. In a straight-up fight for value, the 370 is decidedly outmatched here.

On the flip side of that equation, AMD’s card does have a notable memory bandwidth advantage with up to 4GB of GDDR5 and a 256-bit bus width. While that may not prove to be a telling factor at the 1080P resolution these affordable graphics cards play in, numbers do help move product sometimes.

While we can debate all day about the merits of GeForce Experience, DX12.1, GameWorks, G-SYNC and many of NVIDIA’s other features against those which AMD offers on their rebrands, there’s no denying the GTX 950 will be an appealing GPU for gamers on a budget. Whether or not it will be enough to sway folks away from their precious Kepler cards remains to be seen.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the EVGA GTX 950 FTW

A Closer Look at the EVGA GTX 950 FTW



For this review, EVGA sent us their GTX 950 FTW which is nothing short of a revelation when it comes to pre-overclocked cards. Its Base clock is about 175MHz faster than NVIDIA’s reference specifications while the Boost speeds see an eye-watering 217MHz increase. Meanwhile, the GDDR5 remains at the reference speed.

As you can imagine, these kinds of speeds and feeds don’t exactly come cheap. At $179, the FTW strides extremely close to the $199 GTX 960, a card that can also overclock like nuts if given the chance.


If you’re in the process of scratching your head and wondering what differentiates the exterior design of EVGA GTX 950 FTW from their GTX 960 cards, you’re not alone. Due to the identical (although cut-down) GM206 core being used, they were able to simply use the exact same components, from the ACX 2.0 heatsink to a 6+2 phase PWM. The length also remains a constant 10”.


As with its more expensive sibling, the GTX 950 FTW’s ACX 2.0 heatsink The ACX 2.0 heatsink boasts a triple 8mm heatpipe design, a low slung yet extensive aluminum fin array and double ball bearing fans (for a massively increased lifespan and less rotational resistance) with 3-phase motors. It’s one heck of a cooling solution for a relatively inexpensive GPU but we can’t forget what kind of clock speeds this particular sample is pushing.


Around the backside, EVGA has added a standard full-coverage backplate (this is an option for their SSC version) with EVGA branding and plenty of holes to aide ventilation to critical components. Again, this is a welcome addition for a sub-$200 graphics card.


Unlike some previous NVIDIA cards in the lower-end price brackets, the GTX 950 fully supports 2-way SLI. This was something of a foregone conclusion given it utilizes a core that has no trouble with multi card communications.


Power input is handled by a single 8-pin PCI-E connector. This may prove to keep this particular card out of the hands of anyone who is trying to upgrade an older system.


Output connectors are par for the course with a single DVI-D, three DisplayPort 1.2 connectors and a single HDMI 2.0. That HDMI 2.0 may look great but it’s important to remember that NVIDIA hasn’t enabled HDCP 2.2 support on their Maxwell cores. This means the GTX 950 won’t be able to stream protected 4K content over HDMI 2.0 to many current UHD televisions.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


We’ve already established that EVGA pushed this card’s clock speeds to the moon and back but the GM206 core, particularly a cut-down one is supposed to be highly efficient. Given the fact that the GTX 950 FTW uses a cooler designed for a much larger card, we have absolutely no worries about the cooler overheating or even reaching its thermal limits. However, the question remains: how far does it actually allow the core to Boost?


Our first chart should provide a pretty good indication of what EVGA has done here. By equipping an efficient core with a completely oversized heatsink, they’ve allowed the GTX 950 to retain some of the coolest temperatures we have ever seen from a graphics card. The core levels out at just 66°C.


The temperatures have absolutely no correlation to the core throttling since the GTX 950 FTW is able to nearly hit 1500MHz without any overclocking. That’s nothing short of intractable given the fact that NVIDIA’s reference design is supposed to level out around the 1200MHz mark. We need to remind you: this is a retail card in its original packaging, one that was destined for channel sales before it was rerouted to us.


Since we don’t have anything to compare it to, let’s just say that the GTX 950 FTW seems to be quite fast since it can retain playable framerates in our Hitman: Absolution test at 1080P and 8xMSAA. Impressive for a sub-$200 card.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging



Even though this card is overclocked so high, all of its parts remain blissfully cool to the eye of our thermal imager.


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.


Fan speeds on the FTW are some of the lowest we have ever seen. We’re not sure if this is an anomaly but given that in most games the fan blades actually stopped spinning at some points, it is completely believable. If anything, this proves that the ACX 2.0 heatsink is doing its job quite well indeed.


As you can imagine, the low RPMs and a complete lack of coil whine made the FTW one of the quietest cards we have come across. In addition, the fans completely shut off in idle situations so the card won’t be any louder than a system’s background noise.


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.


Power consumption is a bit of a red herring for the GTX 950 FTW. While a reference GTX 950 boasts a reasonable TDP of 90W, overclocking the snot out of it like EVGA did was bound to increase power needs. That’s exactly what happened, resulting in consumption numbers that were just south of a GTX 960.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup



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 15.7.1
NVIDIA 355.38


*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
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


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While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.




Battlefield 4


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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
Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


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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
Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

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.




Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

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.




Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

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.


 

SKYMTL

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



 

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