Zotac GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition Review

Zotac’s GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition sure looks good, thanks to its sleek metal shroud and dual fan design, but does it perform as good as it looks?

Introduction

Anyone familiar with Zotac knows that the company has a history of offering some of the best values for Nvidia-based graphics cards. Not only does Zotac often hit attractive price points, but its engineers also come up with some of the highest-clocked components. The board we're looking at today is no exception, sporting a 1266MHz base clock rate and GPU Boost rating of 1329MHz. Couple that with a $210 price tag, and we could be looking at one of the better GeForce GTX 960s out there.

Grab the GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition and you'll immediately notice how sturdily-built it feels. There is a solid metal back-plate that wraps around the top and rear of the card. This protects the PCB from damage during handling, while significantly improving the card's rigidity.

Not that stiffness is all that important in a card this size. The GeForce GTX 960 AMP! is one of the smaller overclocked boards in our lab. A standard PCB is around 117mm tall. This one comes in at 111.15mm. Its not a dramatic difference, but when you consider that the GTX 980 AMP! Omega is 133mm tall, more diminutive dimensions are refreshing. Not only is the 960 AMP! shorter than most of its competition, but it's also 208mm long, so its length measurement registers on the more compact side. And despite that beefy-looking heat sink up front, the card is quite light as well, weighing in at 590 grams.

Zotac does a commendable job with its aesthetics. The gunmetal-colored shroud with carbon fiber accents looks fantastic, and the wrap-around back plate really complements the card.

Hidden below that lovely shroud is a large aluminum sink with two copper heat pipes running through aluminum fins. To bring in fresh air, dual 90mm fans are used. Zotac calls this its IceStorm Cooling System.

Given the card's conservative power specification, the GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition uses a single six-pin PCIe connector. Zotac's maximum consumption is rated for 120W, which matches Nvidia's reference. That's interesting if only because this board is running at a higher clock rate, suggesting Nvidia's spec had some headroom built in or Zotac has some hand-picked GPUs.

When it comes to display outputs, Zotac has you covered. Again sticking closely to the reference design, we find one dual-link DVI-I connector, full-sized HDMI and three DisplayPort outputs. Four of the five can be used simultaneously. And as with all GeForce GTX 960s, there is only one SLI bridge connector, enabling two-way configurations.

There really isn’t much to say about the bundle. You get the graphics card, a driver disc and a user manual in the box. Additionally, there is a dual four-pin molex to six-pin PCIe adapter. There are no included games, nor any stickers or posters. You get what you need and nothing else.

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How We Tested

Test System Specs






Drivers

DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics
GeForce 344.16

Benchmarks

Battlefield 4Version 1.3.2.3825, Custom THG Benchmark, 10 Minutes

By now you undoubtedly know all about Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960. If by some chance you missed the launch, check out Nvidia GeForce GTX 960: Maxwell In The Middle for thorough coverage of the card's features and performance.

In this piece, we're focusing on what makes Zotac’s GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition stand out from the rest by examining its thermal capabilities, power consumption and acoustic attributes. Naturally, we'll also be looking at this card's overclocking potential.

Normally we would compare our results against a reference GeForce GTX 960. But like the 970, Nvidia didn't create one. As such, we're dropping the frequencies of this board down to Nvidia's reference clock rates. And we're comparing it to offerings from Asus and EVGA as well.

Load Temperature

Since there is no reference cooler for GeForce GTX 960 cards, all we can do is test against competing models with the same GPU. For this metric, we're comparing Zotac's GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition to EVGA's GTX 960 SSC ACX 2.0+ and Asus’ GTX 960 Strix.

The graph above illustrates the thermal differences between all three cards. Zotac’s cooler is ample, but the GPU underneath runs much hotter than the competition. Nvidia specifies its processor for a 98-degree ceiling, and we're nowhere close to that. But still, if you plan to keep your hardware running reliably for several years, Asus' 20-degree advantage is unquestionably favorable.

Acoustics

Maybe Zotac is allowing those higher temperatures in a bid to attack acoustics though. In order to emphasize the noise each card makes, we stop all fans in the test system and take our measurement in a quiet room. Readings are collected two inches away from the card's rear I/O bracket.

The chart starts at 30 dB(A), which is the practical floor of what a human might consider silence. Given that the fans don’t even start to spin until Nvidia's GPU reaches 60 degrees, the noise levels at idle are essentially non-existent. Under load, the fans still don’t generate much audible noise. These are quiet graphics cards, to be sure.

What the graph fails to show is the brief spike when the fans first start up. They ramp up to a much higher RPM, generating quite a din for a second or two. Then, they throttle back to near-silence.

Power Usage

The floor of this chart is 80W, which is the approximate power draw of the system at idle minus its graphics card.

Zotac’s GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition consumes 8.2W at idle, which is slightly higher than the competition but hardly worth worrying about. Under full load, it's comparable to the other two 960s. The story changes under our torture test, though. The limitation of a single six-pin auxiliary connector becomes apparent by maxing out at 124W. This might cap our overclocking effort. Then again, if you're more interested in efficiency, that could be a good thing.

Overclocking Performance

Before we embark, remember that every GPU is different, and our results won't necessarily mirror yours. With that said, we still want to see what Zotac’s GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition can do, regardless of the variables beyond our control.

Back in November, Don Woligroski took a look at Zotac’s 980 AMP! Omega and had issues starting the company’s Firestorm overclocking utility. That was not the case this time around. Using version 1.0.44.008, we didn't need to launch the software as an administrator. Unfortunately, there has been no obvious attempt at making the interface easier to use. The 2D, 3D and 3D+ fields are still as ambiguous as they were previously. This card doesn’t have OC+, so the Gamer option isn't exposed, though there's nothing indicating why. 

Ironically, once you click on the “Advance” button, the options become easier to understand. The familiar GPU Clock Offset, Mem Clock Offset, GPU Temp Target and so on are all available. When Don looked at Firestorm, the GPU voltage slider was visible but not usable. Thankfully, that's no longer the case. The slider is locked by default, though clicking on the padlock icon enables it.

We started by adjusting the Power limit to its maximum of 108%. The GPU Temp Target rose to 95 °C in response. Next, we adjusted the GPU clock rate. Starting with modest increments of 20MHz, I got up to +120MHz before encountering instability. In the end, I was able to dial in a 1449MHz GPU Boost frequency, which was reported in-game as 1524MHz by GPU-Z.

After finding the highest stable GPU clock, we moved on to the memory. Fifty-megahertz bumps make the best use of time, since most of the Maxwell-based cards we've seen seem to be good for significant overclocks. That ended up being a smart strategy in this case, since the memory didn't have much headroom.

At +150MHz we couldn’t complete a run of 3DMark; it'd crash every time. Sadly, +125MHz wasn't stable either, so we dropped down to +100MHz and started adjusting in 5MHz increments. Ultimately, +120MHz was the best we could do.

Hoping for more, we started adjusting voltages (Firestorm lets you tune in 1mV steps). Unfortunately, that didn't seem to help. If anything, the GPU became even less stable after increasing the voltage setting.

Conclusion

Zotac’s GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition looks like a tunable card thanks to it aggressive cooler. From its beefy sink, high-quality materials, almost best-in-class stock clock rates and affordable price tag, this card has the makings of a winner.

While the company's Firestorm utility could still use some work, Zotac's hardware is what matters most to us. There are other overclocking tools out there, so don't worry too much about the bundled utility that seems a little half-baked.

We already know that Nvidia's GPU is both fast and efficient, even if the overclock we achieved wasn't particularly impressive. Unfortunately for Zotac, the competition's take on GM206 sells at a similar price, yet operates more quietly at lower temperatures. Other cards can pull more power for overclocking, too. You could do a lot worse than a Zotac GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition, but you could also do better.

Kevin Carbotte is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Graphics. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

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19 comments
    Your comment
  • Rattenmann
    Why did you not inlcude a benchmark comparing the three cards at stock and max overclock? That would actually be the most interesting part about this review / test.

    /sadface
    8
  • NinjaNerd56
    I have the EVGA SSC card, and it's a solid card.

    I use Afterburner with an anal retentive fan profile, so my card has never exceeded 56C. Unless I'm playing a game, the fans are idle...I have a slew of case fans installed.

    Performance is very good to amazing considering the 128bit handcuffs, and overall my rig is quieter, cooler, and uses less juice than my 'old' 650Ti board.
    1
  • Larry Litmanen
    Zotac does good stuff. My old rig came with a Zotac 9800 GT. To date still going strong in my brother's rig (he doesn't game).
    1
  • atheus
    Like Rattenmann, I'm a little puzzled that you compared the card against competing cards in power draw and related issues, but then stopped the comparisons there. Seems like an article that got published about half finished. Could it be that we are "looking at one of the better GeForce GTX 960s out there"? After reading this article, I still have no idea.
    2
  • Blueberries
    People are asking for overclocked comparisons when the card can't run 1080p without underclocking itself?

    Maybe they should have considered more than two heat pipes. This card is a joke considering other people are selling a much better product for the same price.
    1
  • atheus
    Anonymous said:
    People are asking for overclocked comparisons when the card can't run 1080p without underclocking itself?

    Maybe they should have considered more than two heat pipes. This card is a joke considering other people are selling a much better product for the same price.


    That's sort of what I take away from the little info that is here. It seems like the article is very positive about all these rather suspicious results, though. It leaves me wondering if there is some sort of bias going on, and if that's the reason it isn't being tested at its best against the other cards at their best. Well, not so much wondering as that is exactly what I wind up concluding.
    0
  • Blueberries
    Quote:
    Anonymous said:
    People are asking for overclocked comparisons when the card can't run 1080p without underclocking itself?

    Maybe they should have considered more than two heat pipes. This card is a joke considering other people are selling a much better product for the same price.


    That's sort of what I take away from the little info that is here. It seems like the article is very positive about all these rather suspicious results, though. It leaves me wondering if there is some sort of bias going on, and if that's the reason it isn't being tested at its best against the other cards at their best. Well, not so much wondering as that is exactly what I wind up concluding.


    Why bother with benchmarks and graphs and equipment and testing and swapping this and that and... the preliminary results tell the whole story to me.
    0
  • dcunited
    Perhaps I can add to the discussion here. The smaller size makes this an excellent buy for those with smaller, noncustomizable mid towers. A lot of these cases comfortably house one fan models but can squeeze in a 8-9 inches.

    TLDR: this model is more powerful than comparable single fan models for those concerned with size.
    0
  • atheus
    Anonymous said:
    Perhaps I can add to the discussion here. The smaller size makes this an excellent buy for those with smaller, noncustomizable mid towers. A lot of these cases comfortably house one fan models but can squeeze in a 8-9 inches.

    TLDR: this model is more powerful than comparable single fan models for those concerned with size.


    I see. This may be a good angle, but although the Zotac's size was discussed in the article, this is not the angle the article has taken. The opening paragraph states "we could be looking at one of the better GeForce GTX 960s out there", and the card is compared against two variants with coolers that mop the floor with this Zotac's cooler. The analysis and the data do not match up. What you say may be true, but you would have to read some other article to know it.

    Anonymous said:
    Why bother with benchmarks and graphs and equipment and testing and swapping this and that and... the preliminary results tell the whole story to me.

    Well, I can see that this card's cooler isn't all that great, but the author is hypothesizing they may have hand-picked GPU's for these cards. I would think floating this kind of statement should justify some comparisons beyond how the power and cooling stack up. Besides, although it is clear that it will run hot as hell I don't see clear evidence that this will cause throttling, or how its performance will pan out against other cards running 25 degrees cooler.

    I guess the main complaint though is this general super-positive review with a bunch of very unimpressive data, and a bunch of other data with no context so I can't really tell if it's good or bad.
    1
  • Calculatron
    Interesting review!

    I'm surprised no reviewing sites have done a GTX 960 4gb SLI benchmark, yet, however.
    0
  • tsnor
    "...The limitation of a single six-pin auxiliary connector becomes apparent by maxing out at 124W. .... " huh ?

    Typically the connector will pull the power it needs, potentially exceeding the current per connector design point. There isn't typically a 'too many amps for a single 6 pin' throttle.

    The 124w max power might be the GPU, which is up against power and cooling constraints, start to throttle which in turn cuts down the power consumed.

    For example, "...The problem is that today's video cards are bound strictly by Thermal Design Power specifications, or TDP. Both NVIDIA and AMD lay strict guidelines on the GPUs ability to draw power. If the video card reaches this thermal design cap, the clock speed and voltages will start clock throttling to keep the power usage in check....." http://www.hardocp.com/article/2015/02/02/msi_geforce_gtx_960_gaming_overclocking_review/2#.VTV-ZCFVhBc
    1
  • somebodyspecial
    "Normally we would compare our results against a reference GeForce GTX 960. But like the 970, Nvidia didn't create one. As such, we're dropping the frequencies of this board down to Nvidia's reference clock rates. And we're comparing it to offerings from Asus and EVGA as well."

    I just stopped reading :( I wish they'd all stop giving you cards for review. Neutering cards so they don't act like SHIPPED should be illegal.
    0
  • somebodyspecial
    Why not compare the card to others? It is so hard to throw it into the same chart from the original 960 article to save people from jumping around trying to see this data? At least you didn't lower the clocks in case (but complain about not being able to get a ref card anyway...LOL). Basically the data from the two articles need to be merged etc. Just firestrike? Run the tests you ran in the original and throw the results into the other article's charts or repeat them here. Maybe I'm just getting lazy.
    1
  • kcarbotte
    Quote:
    Why did you not inlcude a benchmark comparing the three cards at stock and max overclock? That would actually be the most interesting part about this review / test.

    /sadface


    That is a good point. I will definitely keep that in mind for the future.

    Quote:
    "Normally we would compare our results against a reference GeForce GTX 960. But like the 970, Nvidia didn't create one. As such, we're dropping the frequencies of this board down to Nvidia's reference clock rates. And we're comparing it to offerings from Asus and EVGA as well."

    I just stopped reading :( I wish they'd all stop giving you cards for review. Neutering cards so they don't act like SHIPPED should be illegal.


    I'm sorry you felt that way. The card was tested at shipped speeds as well. The reason it was down clocked is to compare what Nvidia had intended as the reference spec against what AIB partners chose to ship.
    There is nothing wrong with factory overclocked cards.

    Quote:
    That's sort of what I take away from the little info that is here. It seems like the article is very positive about all these rather suspicious results, though. It leaves me wondering if there is some sort of bias going on, and if that's the reason it isn't being tested at its best against the other cards at their best. Well, not so much wondering as that is exactly what I wind up concluding.


    No bias at all. The article opened up by stating this may be one of the better cards. The results showed otherwise and the conclusion reflected that.
    The opening of the review is never meant to allude to any one side. On paper it seemed very compelling. simple as that.


    Thank you all for the feedback. I will certainly be taking it into account in future reviews.
    1
  • McDuncun
    Quote:
    Interesting review!

    I'm surprised no reviewing sites have done a GTX 960 4gb SLI benchmark, yet, however.

    Quote:
    Interesting review!

    I'm surprised no reviewing sites have done a GTX 960 4gb SLI benchmark, yet, however.


    Hahahahahaha
    0
  • rwinches
    I agree EVGA FTW 960 4GB GDDR5 SLI three 1080p monitors gaming performance. OK it could be the Super SC.
    That is what we want to see.
    I am ready to get a new card one now then add one later I have the system except for the VGA I'd like to get it up and tested before the warranties expire.
    The R9 280 or 280X are nice but draw a lot of juice in Crossfire. R9 290 or GTX 970 yeah if I was going there, I would wait for the R9 3XX.

    When the GTX 960 first came out there were so many comments here about only 2GB.

    I for one would never expect any 960 to be great at 4K except for movies.

    Can we get a review that tries to get the most out of a card in stead of finding way to show shortcomings.

    Yeah and throwing in results from cards that cost double or triple distracts and skews all the charts and graphs.

    Many are never going to purchase a $500-600 card or $300-1000+ CPU and are fine with that, so the inclusion of their stats adds nothing when real world priced components are reviewed.

    Thanks
    1
  • stoned_ritual
    Why no mention of fan speeds?
    0
  • BobRoberts363
    Why didn't you rate this compared to any of the 700 series say like the 760??? I mean this is a total waste of time the whole 900 series as far as I'm concerned is a joke. For all that extra money it hardly justifies the little bit of performance gain over the already 780ti. I'll wanted to do a new build now on intel but I can't see pumping out extra for so little on this series GPU. I run two 760's sli and they rock together and both are under a year old. I think the only comparison I seen you do with this card is with the 750 or the 600 series Why is that???????? sheesh big let down when I was waiting for a real boost in the next series and all I see is all talk with out the walk.
    0
  • ElectroMagneto
    For $199 its a pretty good value when you consider Nvidia is selling Gt740 for $99 which is only a third as powerful . But then R9 290 at 250 is a better value.
    0