Nvidia GeForce GTX 960: Maxwell In The Middle

Maxwell’s Efficiency Arrives At The Mid-Range

Before we talk about Nvidia's GeForce GTX 960, let’s recap the 1080p benchmark results (we aren't including the 4K numbers because they're a stretch for this class of card). Bear in mind that we didn't test a reference card for today's launch. The product representing GeForce GTX 960's performance is Asus’ Strix, a board with a significant 135MHz factory overclock and, more notably, a 140W power target instead of the reference 120W specification.

On average, Asus' factory-overclocked Strix GTX 960 performs 5% better than a Radeon R9 285, and a little closer to the GeForce GTX 770 than the 760. A reference-clocked GeForce GTX 960 would have been slower than Asus' specimen, which could have made it slightly slower than, but still competitive with, a reference-clocked Radeon R9 285.

The Radeon R9 285 sells on Newegg between $210 and $260, and the GeForce GTX 960’s MSRP of $200 is notably less. Most of the models we've seen with lofty factory overclocks are expected to land around $210. With average performance so close, though, other factors come into play when picking a favorite. The most obvious difference is that the GeForce GTX 960 offers better efficiency than the Radeon, which is a boon in small cases. The second main differentiator is Nvidia’s MFAA technology, which does a good job of increasing anti-aliasing quality while minimizing the performance impact compared to MSAA. Finally, I continue to be surprised at the increasing popularity of recorded video game footage. ShadowPlay does an exceptional job of enabling this use case without negatively affecting performance. I've recommended GeForce GPUs to friends based on this feature alone.

To be fair, AMD’s Raptr-enabled GVR video recording software is significantly better than Fraps, but it’s just not as efficient as ShadowPlay. Nvidia offers G-Sync monitor support today, too (though we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that AMD-compatible FreeSync-capable displays are expected soon). MOBA players will appreciate what DSR can do on a GeForce card. However, AMD has an answer to that with its recently-released VSR feature. And of course, there’s AMD’s Mantle API to think about as well. We just wish more titles supported it.

As performance purists, it’s rare that we recommend a graphics card based on features. But if power usage matters to you, the GeForce GTX 960 is the right choice. If you record a lot of your online exploits, Nvidia’s ShadowPlay recorder is the best option out there. And if the GeForce MFAA implementation suits your fancy, it’s a great way to increase anti-aliasing quality without sacrificing frame rates. None of those options change the competitive landscape like the GeForce GTX 970’s disruptive price tag did when it was launched, but they do make the GeForce GTX 960 a lot more interesting up against AMD's Radeon R9 285. When you consider the fact that you can get a factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 960 for $210, there's even less reason to look elsewhere.

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  • Novuake
    This seems meh... Impressive but not phenomenal power consumption to performance numbers. Especially compared the GTX970/980.

    Would have liked to see two more things.

    1. More extensive AA. post processing and memory bandwidth testing. Pretty sure Nvidia hamstrung the card a bit in some scenarios with a 1280bit interface. I had to read it 4 times before I believed it and still am skeptical.

    2. Overclocking benchies.


    So otherwise I guess we are back to the "old" ti-designation setup where the GTX960ti SHOULD be based on GM206 and vanilla GTX960 is not.
  • sconzen
    I may be blind, but I don't see the Zotax Amp! edition in the temperature and noise tests. Confirm?
  • damric
    The R9 280 is the fast and cheap elephant in the room that was never mentioned in this review,
  • Grognak
    Well, I'm not saying a 10% improvement on top of a reduced power consumption isn't nice, because it really is, however we're still quite far away from the 770. I suppose Nvidia has a card planned to fill the massive performance gap between the 960 and 970, one at 4Gb of VRAM maybe?
  • ykki
    The damn arrows are STILL blocking the charts!
  • sconzen
    I may be blind, but I don't see the Zotax Amp! edition in the temperature and noise tests. Confirm?
  • ykki
    Great review.
    Now AMD, time to bust out the 270x!
  • ykki
    Lol I meant the 370x!
  • Novuake
    1427918 said:
    The damn arrows are STILL blocking the charts!


    I am not the only one! Thank you!
  • ykki
    Novoake, I am very sorry but I stole your comment from an earlier review.
    But seriously, those arrows can block out the sun if tom's put 'em right.
  • ImDaBaron
    The Gainward version of this card has to be the ugliest video card I've ever seen
  • maestro0428
    Yes, the arrows on the charts bug me too. I am a bit let down by the performance here. Sure, the efficiency is great, but bandwidth is just to low to play above 1080p. I was hoping to put two of these in SLI, but I am afraid it won't do my Surround set up justice. Looks like I may be going with a single 980 or eventually two 970s. Bummer.
  • Novuake
    1427918 said:
    Novoake, I am very sorry but I stole your comment from an earlier review. But seriously, those arrows can block out the sun if tom's put 'em right.


    I do not recall posting such a comment? But I may have been frustrated that day. Hehe I am quite outspoken.
  • silverblue
    Not bad at all. R9 285 or better performance for 2/3 the power (or better), and for a little cheaper as well - a great 1080p card.
  • xXComputer_Nerd1625Xx
    Honestly I'm a little let down by the specs. I know specs aren't everything, but I really would've liked to see a beefier GPU compared to the last-gen 760 (which on paper looks better) and that also surpassed the last-gen 770, which this card can hardly do. I've got to admit though, at $200 it still is a great card, and maybe I'm asking for too much.
  • gudomlig
    power charts seem questionable to me. 10 minutes running furmark drew an average of 280 watts with my sapphire 7950 boost and draws about 330 watts with my MSI gaming gtx 970. the power consumption torture charts show GTX 970 running at less watts than a 7950...I call BS. Even the older reviews here on Tom's show GTX 970 draws more power than 7950 boost so not sure where they pulled these numbers and makes me question the integrity of the entire article
  • Agera One
    Why don't you always put the Anti-aliasing GIF on a screen with no moving objects? That would be more accurate to see what changes !!
  • cmi86
    I appreciate what this card was able to do in regards to the lower TDP and slightly higher performance than the 760. That said I don't think this card did enough to win my vote. I am currently shopping for a new GPU and was really looking forward to this release thinking it would be a huge game changer like the 760 but it just wasn't. Now I'll be waiting for the 3XX release before making a decision.
  • mapesdhs
    Where are the EVGA ACX 2.0 960 results?

    Ian.
  • elbert
    It requires an overclock to match the 280/285 in 1080p and totally gets crushed in 4k. While costing more than 280. Most of the gtx960 8 pin overclocking versions are more than the 285. The power saving may offset one disadvantage but costing more while under performing lol.

    I was planing on buy two but this so bad ill wait and check out GTX960ti 1280sp.
  • salgado18
    And why did you use the Asus Strix overclocked card for performance benchmarks, but for power you use Gainwards, which can be downclocked to reference specs? That's heavy bias on the numbers, and saying "A reference-clocked GeForce GTX 960 would have been slower than Asus' specimen..." is no excuse, when you did make one! Come on, great review and writing, but that is one major slip!
  • logainofhades
    Really disappointed with this card. Hopefully a 960ti will be released to be what this card should have been. Guess I am going to buy a GTX 770, from a friend of mine instead. Odd to see that all the sudden the HD 7970/R9 280x is faster than the GTX 770 now. First time I have really seen that.
  • cleeve
    120171 said:
    And why did you use the Asus Strix overclocked card for performance benchmarks, but for power you use Gainwards, which can be downclocked to reference specs? That's heavy bias on the numbers, and saying "A reference-clocked GeForce GTX 960 would have been slower than Asus' specimen..." is no excuse, when you did make one! Come on, great review and writing, but that is one major slip!


    The answer is timing.

    Game benchmarks were don in our Canadian lab. The Asus card was the only one sent early enough for us to get game benchmarks in time.

    Power tests are done at the German lab, where the Asus card arrived later than the other samples. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable.
  • fw1374
    At page 9 three times it is written GeForce GTX 690 instead of 960. Just a typo but it is there :)