Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition Review

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.

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Product 360

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 1.0.0.26, 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

Drivers

DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics
GeForce 344.16

Benchmarks

Battlefield 4Version 1.3.2.3825, Custom THG Benchmark, 10 Minutes

Comparison Units

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Temperature Benchmarks

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.

Noise Benchmarks

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.

Power Benchmarks

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.

Overclocking Performance

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

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  • TechyInAZ
    Very good card by asus, temps are great, size and weight are also surprisingly good for a card like this.

    However, the only thing I personally don't like is the looks. I never really liked Asus's cooler designs, I prefer the ACX cooler or Windforce coolers. However this is only a personal preference.

    BTW...OP, you put the wrong card on the amazon price list. I think that's the Zotac 960, not the Asus 960.
  • ldun
    So what's better (performance and value wise); 2 of these SLI or a 970 (or even a 980 might be fun to compare)
  • TechyInAZ
    Quote:
    So what's better (performance and value wise); 2 of these SLI or a 970 (or even a 980 might be fun to compare)


    Since this is only the 2GB version, the gtx 970 will run circles around 2 gtx 960s. Nearly every new game will fill that 2GB frame buffer quickly.
  • mlga91
    A little typo in the 1st paragraph of the 7th section, "When it comes to overclocking, you(r) never know what you’re going to get.".

    Looks like a great card, the cooler alone gives a great value for those extra $10, thought an optional second power connector would've been a nice addition, it never hurts to have more available power when it comes to overclocking.
  • panathas
    In your GTX 960 review article you wrote about the asus strix gtx 960 that it produced some power spikes in the motherboard slot. Specifically you wrote " the otherwise very good Asus GTX 960 Strix leaves the motherboard connector to deal with unprecedented unfiltered power spikes all on its own.The very frequent spikes beyond the motherboard slot’s supposed limit won’t cause immediate damage to the hardware, but there might well be long-term repercussions that are hard to judge now. The same goes for how the system might otherwise be impacted with problems such as “chirping” on-board sound when the mouse is moved. The Asus GTX 960 Strix should do a much better job smoothing these spikes out.

    Did you test this specific card to see if it still has the same behaviour and if this problem affects the entire asus gtx 960 strix line. I am asking because I was interested in buying this card until I read the above article where you reported this abnormal behaviour. I think you should further investigate this.
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    So what's better (performance and value wise); 2 of these SLI or a 970 (or even a 980 might be fun to compare)

    A single card is usually the better option. It's simpler, less headaches worrying about SLI/CFX profiles, etc. Dual GPUs start making sense when you're driving a LOT of pixels, like triple 1080 displays or 4K. But for a single display, even up to 1440 in some cases, get the single strongest card you can reasonably afford.
  • PaulBags
    The 960sli is an interesting idea, I wondered the same thing when I saw the 4gb 960 strix locally (New Zealand) for half the price of a 980 4gb strix. So for the same price or less you get twice the vram and it actually still works out lower wattage. Only down side I can see is sli support might not always be amazing.
  • PaulBags
    Oh, and 960 has a newer version on open gl than 980, also 960 has a native hvec decorder that 980 doesn't. Can't remember where I read that, but suprised info like that doesn't make it's way to toms.
  • skit75
    @OP

    Any speculation as to why the EVGA ACX 2.0 cooler has a lower unloaded temperature? It seems the DirectCU II cooler performs better at load and I would have thought this ratio would be more proportional on the unloaded test.
  • PaulBags
    Anonymous said:
    @OP

    Any speculation as to why the EVGA ACX 2.0 cooler has a lower unloaded temperature? It seems the DirectCU II cooler performs better at load and I would have thought this ratio would be more proportional on the unloaded test.

    It's not mentioned the article but strix has 0db at idle, no fans.
  • skit75
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    @OP

    Any speculation as to why the EVGA ACX 2.0 cooler has a lower unloaded temperature? It seems the DirectCU II cooler performs better at load and I would have thought this ratio would be more proportional on the unloaded test.

    It's not mentioned the article but strix has 0db at idle, no fans.


    Makes sense I suppose. I think my EVGA GTX 770 SC locks to 40% fan usage @ idle using the same cooler.
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    The 960sli is an interesting idea, I wondered the same thing when I saw the 4gb 960 strix locally (New Zealand) for half the price of a 980 4gb strix. So for the same price or less you get twice the vram and it actually still works out lower wattage. Only down side I can see is sli support might not always be amazing.

    The 960 was designed for good 1080p performance. It starts dropping off pretty quick as you increase resolution. Looking around other places, it looks like 960 SLI can give adequate 1440p performance, but nothing else. I can think of better ways for similar 1440 performance for $400 or less.
  • SirTrollsALot
    Why the i7 base system? would i5 bottleneck this card? Also why is put up vs other 960's. Lets see them put up vs some AMD R9 280X or 285 for unbiased benchmarks? Im considering getting a new card or is My AMD R9 280 OC'd to 1100gpu /1400mem worth holding on too?
  • RedJaron
    The original 960 review was done with the i7 so they kept using the same one here to make the results comparable. Also, since the reference 960 was already used and compared to various other cards, this particular 960 only needs to be compared against the reference 960 to show the differences.
  • soldier5637
    I just got the Evga GTX 960 SSC version. Ive been contemplating returning it because everyone hates on it and tells me im more or less stupid for not getting a 970. :/
  • mapesdhs
    Quote:
    I just got the Evga GTX 960 SSC version. Ive been contemplating returning it because everyone hates on it and tells me im more or less stupid for not getting a 970. :/


    I don't understand the hate - if it's providing what you wanted, then who cares? Sure, a 970 is faster, but costs more. If you're using a 1080 display then a 960 ought to be plenty for most games, though there are certainly titles which are better served with something faster.
  • agentbb007
    Where are the gaming benchmarks or am I missing something?
  • skit75
    Anonymous said:
    Where are the gaming benchmarks or am I missing something?


    See RedJaron's post above:
    "The original 960 review was done with the i7 so they kept using the same one here to make the results comparable. Also, since the reference 960 was already used and compared to various other cards, this particular 960 only needs to be compared against the reference 960 to show the differences."
  • soldier5637
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    I just got the Evga GTX 960 SSC version. Ive been contemplating returning it because everyone hates on it and tells me im more or less stupid for not getting a 970. :/


    I don't understand the hate - if it's providing what you wanted, then who cares? Sure, a 970 is faster, but costs more. If you're using a 1080 display then a 960 ought to be plenty for most games, though there are certainly titles which are better served with something faster.



    I am using a 1080p display, yes. I dont see the point in 4K honestly. Especially not for the money. But none the less I get people telling me that unless im playing league of legends that I need a 970.
  • BFU2Miners
    eh.. what about the other numbers... y'know... the... FPS.