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The NVIDIA GTX 960 Performance Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Conclusion

Conclusion


NVIDIA’s GTX 960 is meant as a budget-friendly upgrade for 1080P gamers that are enticed by low power consumption, good performance and a wide-ranging feature set. This card has all of the elements we’ve come to expect from Maxwell in a smaller, more efficient and very affordable package. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a slam dunk in every department.

At the beginning of this review we posed a question: would the GTX 960 cause GTX 460, GTX 560 and GTX 660 owners reason to celebrate skipping over NVIDIA’s GTX 760? The answer to that is a firm “maybe, but probably not”. Perhaps we were all too spoiled by what the GTX 970 brought to the price / performance table and expectations were raised to a stratospheric level as a result.

While the GTX 960 offers high efficiency and consistent benchmark numbers that put it ahead of its predecessor, that likely won’t be enough to convince the holdouts that waiting an extra nine months was worthwhile. In fact, when you take the ~7% boost in framerates granted by ASUS’ OC Mode our tests peg NVIDIA’s new card at just 6% faster than its predecessor and that number shrinks to virtually nothing when a bandwidth-limited situation like Shadow of Mordor pops up. We’ll be testing a reference-clocked GTX 960 in the coming days to get a truer apples to apples comparison.

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Against AMD’s current lineup and only taking raw performance numbers into account, the GTX 960 isn’t a clear winner either. It trades punches with the R9 285 (granted, if the Metro 2033 numbers were included here things would look a bit better), both winning and losing even though the STRIX OC boosts framerates by a notable amount. Had we included one of the many slightly more expensive pre-overclocked 285’s it would have been a dead heat. Meanwhile, the ancient but still potent R9 280X is a very capable competitor in its own right since 3GB of GDDR5 and wider memory interface allow it to pull double duty with high detail settings at both 1080P and 1440P. The GTX 960 on the other hand is purely targeted towards 1080P gaming.

With performance pretty much being a wash between the GTX 960 and the similarly-priced R9 285, each card’s respective feature sets should be taken into account as well. NVIDIA has MFAA, G-SYNC, GameWorks, Dynamic Super Resolution, VR Direct and other noteworthy features in their stable. On the AMD side they have Mantle, Gaming Evolved, TrueAudio, Virtual Super Resolution and the upcoming Freesync. All in all, we’d call this a draw regardless of how much each company likes to extol their technologies as being superior.

While the GTX 960 doesn’t move the performance yardsticks in any measurable way, its price and efficiency are two stand-out benefits. It consumes significantly less power than the GTX 760 and AMD’s cards while also outputting less heat. This makes it a prime candidate for small form factor builds. Meanwhile the $199 price has already succeeded in pushing the cost of several R9 285 SKUs down to a comparable level.

Now what about ASUS’ GTX 960 STRIX OC? As we’ve come to expect from this brand it runs cool, performs well, is extremely quiet and has a good amount of overclocking headroom. The minor $15 premium is a small price to pay for the benefits it brings to the table.

All in all the GTX 960 is a well-placed, very affordable shot into a competitive market segment. While it doesn’t rewrite the performance book or provide any new competition to AMD’s price-cut rivals, it does deliver competent framerates and high efficiency for anyone playing their games at 1080P. However, if you are planning to take advantage of the plunging prices we’ve seen for 1440P displays or were expecting a card that would pick up and drastically improve framerates where the GTX 760 left off, there will be some understandable disappointment in what the GTX 960 offers.
 
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