Nvidia's new mid-range marvel is ideal for 1080p gamers, sips power and is practically silent
GPU: Nvidia GTX 960, Memory: 2GB GDDR5, Graphics card length: 211mm
Nvidia’s 900-series GPU range has been sorely in need of a mid-range champion; the £300 GTX 970 is overkill for anyone gaming at 1,920×1,080, while the Kepler-based GTX 760 is power-hungry and beginning to show its age in the latest titles. Enter the GTX 960 – a mid-range card that shouldn’t break the bank or slam your electricity bill, yet will cope with 2015’s new releases in Full HD.
Based on the same highly efficient Maxwell architecture as the top-end GTX 980, the 960 has a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of 120W and only needs a single 6-pin PCI-Express power connector. Effectively, anyone upgrading from a GTX 660 or similar won’t need to upgrade their power supply to use the new card. According to Nvidia, the reference card is so efficient that playing less intensive games, even when running at 1080p, should only produce around 30W of heat – meaning the card’s fans won’t need to spin up at all.
The GTX 960 uses a brand new GM206 GPU with 1,024 CUDA cores running at 1,127MHz. When thermal limits allow, that clock can boost up to 1,178MHz. Shared L1 cache has been increased and redistributed, which means each CUDA core should deliver around 1.4x the performance of a Kepler core, at 2x the performance per watt.
The GPU is paired with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM via a 128-bit memory bus. This may seem like the memory will be starved of bandwidth, but because the GM206 GPU uses fewer bytes per frame compared to the previous generation Kepler GPUs it should use that bandwidth more effectively. In real world terms it will be ample for playing most games at 1080p; it’s only when increasing resolutions beyond Full HD that memory bandwidth truly becomes an issue, which is reflected in our benchmark results further into this review.
The GTX 960 is fully compatible with the upcoming DirectX 12 API and OpenGL 4.4 standards, so it won’t be immediately out of date when Windows 10 arrives later in the year. The card also has support for multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing (MFAA) and Nvidia’s dynamic super resolution (DSR) technology.
MFAA anti-aliasing uses the Maxwell hardware to provide high quality AA without the performance hit associated with other techniques, while DSR renders games at a higher resolution than your monitor can support, before scaling the graphics down to the native resolution; this should improve visual quality and make games more detailed, although the performance hit is more severe than when using anti-aliasing.
The GM206 GPU also has native H.265/HEVC encoding and decoding, meaning it will be able to play 4K content – as soon as such content arrives in any meaningful form or quantity.
The GTX 960 is designed primarily for anyone that hasn’t upgraded their graphics card in the past two or three years, and is looking to play games at 1080p. Based on the specifications it should be able to handle most games, but for benchmark results head over to page 3.
As with other 900-series GPUs, the GTX 960 includes the GeForce Experience software suite, which optimizes graphics settings for supported games to ensure you’re getting the best possible frame rate and/or visual fidelity. It’s a one-button process, saving you from diving into menus and experimenting with settings, although it edges on the side of caution with anti-aliasing to ensure frame rates are smooth.
It also supports GameStream, for playing games remotely on an Nvidia Shield or Shield Tablet, ShadowPlay for recording gameplay ready to stream online or upload to social networks, and automatic driver downloads for hassle-free gaming.
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 960|
|Graphics card length||211mm|