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Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 review

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Battlefield 4
  • Crysis 3
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Metro Last Light

Summary

Our Score:

7

Pros

  • Solid 1080p performance
  • Low power consumption and temperatures
  • Available in ITX and overclocked versions

Cons

  • Surrounded by strong AMD competition
  • Poor memory interface

Best Deals for Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

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Key Features

  • 1,127MHz core clock
  • 1,753MHz 2GB GDDR5 memory
  • 2.9 billion transistors
  • 1,024 stream processors
  • requires 1 x 6-pin power connector
  • Manufacturer: AMD
  • Manufacturer: Nvidia
  • Review Price: £160.00

What is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960?

The second generation of Nvidia’s Maxwell hardware arrived with the high-end GTX 980 and GTX 970 cards back in September, but it’s taken until now for mainstream parts to arrive. That's where the GTX 960 comes in; it's designed for 1080p gaming, and its £160 price is far more palatable than its high-end stablemates.

This card also has plenty of competition. AMD has a pair of mid-range parts that have been made more tempting because of recent price drops. There's the Radeon R9 285, which is ten pounds cheaper than Nvidia’s latest card, and the R9 280X that now starts at £175.

SEE ALSO: The Best FPS Games

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960: Under the Hood

Maxwell is all about achieving better performance while cutting power consumption. Nvidia has done this by rearranging its stream processors – the parts that do the heavy lifting inside a GPU core.

Nvidia has long arranged these processors into blocks called streaming multiprocessors, which are then crammed inside larger structures called Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs). Cards from Nvidia’s previous generation had 192 stream processors inside each multiprocessor, but that figure has now been cut down to 128. Each multiprocessor now has its own scheduling hardware, and the new card has double the number of geometry units when compared to last-generation GPUs.

There are four of those smaller multiprocessors inside each GPC, which allows Nvidia to delegate tasks with more precision – and, therefore, operate more frugally. It’s an improvement over the “brute force” approach used on older cards, like the GTX 760, which had two larger multiprocessors per GPC. Maxwell’s revised GPCs don’t need as much resource-sharing hardware, either, which further cuts down power draw.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Maxwell’s more precise approach means fewer stream processors are used overall. The GTX 960 has 1,024 divided across two Graphics Processing Clusters, which is down on the 1,152 installed inside the older GTX 760. That’s allowed clock speeds to increase: the GTX 960’s core runs at 1,127MHz with a maximum boost speed of 1,228MHz. The GTX 760, by contrast, was limited to 980MHz and 1,124MHz.

Nvidia’s changes result in a peak processing level of 2,308 GFLOPs. That's a minor improvement on the 2,257 GFLOPs of the GTX 760 but it does of course come with those power saving benefits. It is, however, further below its AMD rivals, both of which offer at least 3,290 GFLOPs.

The GTX 960’s memory configuration isn’t all that impressive. Its 2GB of GDDR5 is accessed using a 128-bit wide bus, which falls behind AMD’s cards – the 280X used a 384-bit interface, while the R9 285 relies on 256-bit hardware. Nvidia’s memory is clocked to 1,753MHz, but we’re not convinced that this higher speed will make up the deficit. The GTX 960’s memory bandwidth sits at 224GB/s, which is higher than the R9 285 but lower than the R9 280X.

Evidence of Maxwell’s increased efficiency can be seen at the back of every card. The GTX 960 requires just one six-pin power connector, which compares well to AMD’s hardware – the R9 285 needs two six-pin connectors, and the R9 280X needs a six- and eight-pin plug.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

How We Tested

We’ve locked and loaded five games for this GPU test. Battlefield 4, Bioshock Infinite and Crysis 3 all return from our previous reviews, and we’ve added Metro: Last Light and Batman: Arkham Origins to the mix. We’ve tested at 1,920 x 1,080, 2,560 x 1,440 and even 3,840 x 2,160 to see which card is best across single-screens – and to check if any of them can handle 4K.

We’ve used 3D Mark’s Fire Strike test and four Unigine Heaven benchmarks to test theoretical performance, and we’ve taken idle and load temperatures and power requirements to see which card is the coolest and most frugal.

Our test rig consists of an Asus X79-Deluxe motherboard, Intel Core i7-4960X processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard disk.

To get prices for each card we visited www.scan.co.uk and noted down the cheapest stock-speed card we could find, although we will be referring to the various overclocked and tweaked models available for each GPU, which will be more expensive, later on in the review.

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Jonathan Wright

February 20, 2015, 8:59 am

The review seems overly biased against the nVidia. Starting off by complaining about the width of the memory bus being less than both of them, even going as far to say "but we’re not convinced that this higher [memory] speed will make up the deficit." Yet it beat the lower R9 285 in three out of the five games. Even then, the difference for the other two was relatively small. When combined with the comparison to the R9 280X the higher-price card (which was the faster in all but one test) seamed to be pulling along the weaker R9 285 and helped to bias the review against the GTX 960.

Granted, while it does praise the frugal power draw, the conclusion that as the ATI's are about £10 cheaper for (sometimes) a few FPS more and therefore are the better buy doesn't look at the whole picture: Within 4-6 months (conservatively) you could have made that £10 back, and more, in energy savings, not to mention that those looking to upgrade from a more basic system could save substantially by not having to outlay for a larger PSU.

Purely for gaming, the (cheaper) ATI may have the slight edge in some games, but there are substantial advantages to be had I think for the nVidia when wider considerations are taken into account. Its a shame this review seems to gloss over that.

Bugblatter

February 20, 2015, 10:37 pm

You mention how quiet these cards can be but you don't mention how noisy the AMD cards can be. That matters a lot to some people.

Ed

February 23, 2015, 11:43 am

Hi Jonathan,

I get where you're coming but the numbers really do favour the AMD cards when it comes to pure bang-for-buck. They are definitely better value at point of sale and although you will pay back the difference over the period of a year or so (that's two hours gaming or ten hours idling a day every day) that's still a year of use you've had, with the better performance to boot. Plus there's the free games. Admittedly they're not all must-haves but there's a few good ones in there.

That said, if you're building a system from scratch with a focus on low-cost and simply getting adequate 1080p gaming performance then the gtx 960 is probably the better card due to its lower power, use of fewer power cables and long term savings. I'll tweak the conclusion to better reflect this.

Bill Jones

February 23, 2015, 1:01 pm

Would of preferred to of seen branded GTX 960 cards reviewed rather than a general NVIDIA review, especially when they didn't release reference models as they did with the 980 launch.

Jonathan Wright

February 25, 2015, 12:20 pm

Ed,

Thank you for the feedback and for the update to the article.

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