The GTX 960 is a powerful card, that's quieter than you'd think, for under £200
The Nvidia GTX 960 is a mid-range GPU, built for 1,920×1,080 gaming at 60 frames per second with all graphics settings enabled. It uses similar Maxwell architecture to the GTX 750, albeit with a redesigned GM206 GPU with 1,024 CUDA cores running at 1,127MHz. When thermal limits allow, these cores can boost up to 1,178MHz.
The GPU is paired with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM via a 128-bit memory bus. This reduces the overall memory bandwidth compared to the 256-bit bus we see on AMD cards at this price, but the GM206 GPU is designed to use that bandwidth more efficiently than previous-generation Nvidia cards. In real world terms this bandwidth will be ample for playing most games at 1,920×1,080; it’s only when increasing resolutions beyond Full HD that memory bandwidth truly becomes a concern.
According to Nvidia, the reference card is so efficient that when rendering less intensive games it should only produce around 30W of heat – meaning the card’s fans won’t need to spin up at all.
|Price inc VAT
|Asus STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II 2GB
|MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
With minimal power requirements and a large amount of thermal headroom, the GTX 960 is ripe for tweaking, so it should come as no surprise that it’s virtually impossible to find a board running at Nvidia’s reference speeds. Asus has opted for custom cooling as well as an out-of-the-box overclock with the Asus STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II, which goes some way to justifying the over-£180 price.
STRIX DirectCU II cards use a twin fan cooler to blow hot air back into the case, rather than vent it directly out the back, and the GTX 960 variant is no different. However, because the GPU produces so little heat when idle on the Windows desktop, the heatsink alone is enough to keep it cool. The fans won’t even spin up for less demanding games like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and StarCraft II, letting you play in peace. The twin fans eventually spin up when the GPU hits 65 degrees, but they never became loud enough to notice over the other fans in our test system, even during our intensive game tests.
The STRIX GTX 960 only needs one 6-pin PCI Express power connector, and at 211mm long it’s fairly compact for a powerful card; you’ll be able to fit it inside most Mini-ITX cases without any trouble. The single HDMI 2.0 and three DisplayPort 1.2 ports on the back of the card all support 4K displays at 60fps, which will definitely stretch the GTX 960’s gaming abilities but means you’ll be able to have an enormous amount of desktop space in a multi-screen setup. There’s also a dual-link DVI connection.
With the GPU clocked to 1,228MHz and boosting to 1,317MHz, and the 2GB of RAM overclocked to 7.2GHz, the STRIX GTX 960 scored an incredibly smooth 87.7fps in Dirt Showdown at our standard 1,920×1,080 and Ultra detail settings. We saw playable frame rates in Tomb Raider and Metro: Last Light Redux with Ultra and Very High detail, with 53.1fps and 30.4fps respectively, although switching from SSAA to FXAA bumped Metro up to 52.8fps.
Once we increased the resolution to 2,560×1,440, the card had no problem in Dirt Showdown, and we saw a just-playable 31.9fps in Tomb Raider, increasing to 49.6fps once we exchanged SSAA for FXAA anti-aliasing. Even Metro ran at a smooth 33.4fps at this resolution once we disabled SSAA, and Dirt Showdown ran at a playable 32.8fps at a huge 3,840×2,160.
Thanks to excellent performance and near-silent operation, the STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II is an impressive card. The MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G is slightly larger, but has similar performance and is significantly cheaper, so is a better buy if you want an Nvidia GTX 960 card. However, if you have the space and power supply for it, the XFX Radeon R9 280X is far more powerful for the price.
MSI has used its own TwinFrozr custom cooler for the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G. The two-fan cooling system uses massive 100mm fans that ensure the underlying GPU is kept as cool as possible. These fans won’t actually spin up until temperatures hit around 65 degrees, meaning silent operation on the Windows desktop.
MSI has stuck to Nvidia’s reference design when it comes to ports on the back of the card, meaning one DVI, one HDMI and three DisplayPort outputs. The latter two both support 4K screens – even if the GPU will struggle to run newer games at such high resolutions.
Like the Asus card, this model is overclocked out of the box, with the GPU core running at 1,190MHz and boosting to 1,253MHz when thermal limits allow. This is slightly lower than the Asus card, and the MSI model was slightly slower in our benchmarks. 51.6fps in Dirt Showdown and 30.9fps in Tomb Raider, both at 1,920×1,080 with Ultra quality, are still perfectly playable frame rates, however. The card also managed 29.5fps in Metro: Last Light at 1,920×1,080 with Very High detail and SSAA enabled, but turning off SSAA led to a seriously smooth 51.7fps.
Like the Asus GTX 960, the card could handle 2,560x,1440 gaming in Dirt Showdown and Tomb Raider, and in Metro once we turned off SSAA. Its results at these resolutions were very similar to those from the Asus card.
The MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G is larger than Asus’ GTX 960 card and isn’t quite as fast, but there’s not a huge amount in it performance-wise. It’s slightly cheaper, so is our Recommended card if you’re after a GTX 960 model. However, if have a powerful enough PSU and a big enough case, the XFX Radeon R9 280X provides far mode power for your money.
|STRIX GTX 960 DirectCU II 2GB
|GTX 960 Gaming 2G
|Slots taken up
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 960
|GPU clock speed
|GPU clock boost speed
|Max memory bandwidth
|Graphics card length
|Mini HDMI outputs
|Mini DisplayPort outputs
|Power leads required
|1x 6-pin PCI Express
|1x 8-pin PCI Express
|DVI to VGA adaptor, 6-pin to 8-pin PCI Express adaptor
|Price including VAT
|Three years RTB
|GTX 960 GAMING 2G