With Asus' celebrated DirectCU II cooling, an attractive price tag and Nvidia's GM206 GPU, the GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition has all the makings of a winner.
Introduction And Specifications
Asus has been a top name in computer hardware for more than two decades, and for good reason. Its engineers often create products that are unique and stick out from the competition. Most of the cards the company releases are overclocked in some way, as is this one.
Today we're looking at the Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC. This is a custom-designed graphics card based on the Maxwell architecture. With an MSRP of $210, a factory overclock and the tried-and-tested DirectCU II cooling solution, we’re keen to see if Asus' latest lives up to the company’s reputation.
Asus has been using the Strix moniker on its top cards for a while now. The company started with the GTX 780 and R9 280, and continues with the latest Maxwell-based GPUs. Each of the cards in this line shares a common design based on the name. Strix is a Greek word meaning owl, and the designers took that as inspiration these cards' aesthetics.
The front of the cooling solution distinctly resembles the face of an owl. The fans are clearly used to represent eyes, and the way the shroud pinches at the top between them looks an awful lot like a forehead and nose. Even the sticker on the center cap of each fan is drawn in a way that makes it look like the glowing rings of an owl's eyes while it spins.
As has become typical of Asus cards, the GTX 960 Strix OC includes a black back plate. It covers the entire PCB. However, the heat sink itself is actually quite a bit longer than the PCB and back plate. It sticks out more than an inch in the rear.
Not to worry though, even with the extended heat sink, the card is quite short, measuring a scant 215mm long. It is a little taller than a standard expansion card though, at 121mm tall. Width is typical of a dual-slot card (41mm).
Using the company’s exclusive DirectCU II cooling solution, this card has four 10mm copper heat pipes surrounded by aluminum fins connected directly to an oversized copper contact plate. Asus claims the surface is 220% larger than reference designs, which should result in significantly lower temperatures. Even with all this added copper, the total weight of the card is only 600g.
Nvidia’s reference design for the GTX 960 calls for a single six-pin power connector. Given the GTX 960 Strix OC's overclocked nature, it is somewhat surprising to see that the company stuck with this guidance. Perhaps that's due to the Super Alloy Power components, purportedly made from specially formulated alloy and claimed to reduce power loss.
Display outputs follow the recent trend of including three DisplayPort, one DVI and one HDMI. This configuration is more compatible with newer monitors, but could be troublesome if you own a lot of older screens.
The package doesn’t include a lot of extras. You get the card itself, which is tightly held in form-fitting soft foam. There’s a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a driver disc, a quick-start manual, as well as a case badge and Strix decal.
The driver disc includes Asus APRP 22.214.171.124, Asus GPU Tweak Streaming 1.0.3, GeForce Experience, Google Chrome and Google Toolbar.
How We Tested
This evaluation focuses on Asus’ GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition specifically. We’re comparing it against other cards with the same GPU to highlight its benefits and disadvantages. For a thorough examination of the GeForce GTX 960, take a look at Nvidia GeForce GTX 960: Maxwell In The Middle.
Typically, a reference design would be used for comparison. Since there isn't one, though, we used a Zotac GTX 960 clocked as closely to reference as possible, since it has a similar power target compared to standard designs. We’ll also test it against this card at stock speeds, in addition to an EVGA sample.
The tests on our list include thermal capabilities, power consumption, acoustic levels and overclocking potential.
Test System Specs
|Battlefield 4||Version 126.96.36.19925, Custom THG Benchmark, 10 Minutes|
Given a lack of reference GeForce GTX 960 cards, we’re comparing Asus’ GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC against direct competitors (EVGA’s GTX 960 SSC ACX 2.0+ and Zotac’s GTX 960 AMP! Edition, to be specific).
As you can see from the graph above, the DirectCU II cooler is a cut above the rest. At no point did the GPU even hit 60 degrees under full load. It doesn’t drop as low as EVGA’s card, but it remains 10 degrees C cooler when it counts.
When testing audio levels of the card, we always remove outside noise by disconnecting all fans, and turning anything in the room off. Decibel measurements are recorded two inches from the card's output bezel.
We started this chart at 30dB, which is generally considered silence. Even under full load after 10 minutes, the meter never registered anything higher than 35dB. Suffice to say this is one quiet graphics card.
This chart begins at 80W, as this is the approximate power draw of the test system without the graphics card. The Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC draws only 7W at idle, and 100W under load. Both of these figures are lower than the competing cards we tested.
The power draw on the torture test tells a different story. Here the cooler and the Super Alloy components really show what they can do. Even with the single six-pin connection, Asus draws 144W.
When it comes to overclocking, your never know what you’re going to get. With that said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least try, especially given the GTX 960 Strix OC's cooling hardware.
GPU Tweak is Asus’ own overclocking utility. It allows for direct control of several parameters: GPU Boost Clock, Memory Clock and Fan Speed are available by default.
Enabling advanced mode grants access to GPU Voltage, Power and Temperature Targets, as well as FPS target and refresh rate. The software is fairly straightforward to use. You can adjust the slider bars, or you can click on the numbers and type in values.
Saving a profile is also quite easy. Simply set the parameters you want, click on the save button and a set of numbers appears below. Click on the profile number you want to save to, and that’s it. The next time you click on that profile number at the bottom of the screen, those settings are applied.
The first thing that should be done when overclocking an Nvidia-based GPU is to max the power target. This adjustment allows for the GPU to draw more power than stock. Manufacturers have control of how much power their cards can draw. In this case, Asus sets that to 115%.
Overclocking is a delicate process, so smaller adjustments are best. For this card we started with 20MHz increments. Using this method, the highest stable offset ended up being +120. Even at 125MHz, the GPU was unstable. This gave us a GPU Boost clock rate of 1437MHz, which in-game registers as 1461MHz
After finding the maximum GPU overclock, the memory was adjusted. Using the same method as the GPU, only with 50MHz adjustments, the maximum offset was reached at 250MHz. No amount of voltage would allow for even 5MHz more. After adjustments, the memory was running at 1863MHz.
Remarkably, even with the overclock the temperature of the GPU never exceeded 62 degrees Celsius.
With the DirectCU II’s proven track record paired with Nvidia’s GTX 960 GPU, it was pretty clear that Asus’ GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC could be a fantastic contender in the upper-mid-range graphics market. The thermal performance it delivered exceeded expectations and the competition equally, all while remaining nearly silent.
Asus' GPU Tweak software is easy to use and makes overclocking a simple process that anyone can figure out. This could be taken as a good or bad thing, as there are no safeguards in place to prevent someone who doesn’t know what they are doing from going too far and frying a piece of equipment. For those who do their homework, it can be a useful tool.
Despite the excellent bundled overclocking software, this particular example of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 960 isn’t as strong of an overclocker as other boards we’ve tested. As with anything being tuned, there are no guarantees. The power and thermal results suggest that this should not be the norm, however.