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Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 review

Tom Morgan
20 Aug 2015
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
140
inc VAT (estimated)

The GTX 950 is powerful without being power-hungry; Nvidia's new cut-price champion is ideally suited to 1080p gaming

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Specifications

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 950, Memory: 2GB GDDR5, Graphics card length: 256.5mm

Nvidia has had the high-end pretty much to itself for some time now, with incredibly powerful cards like the GTX 980 Ti wiping the floor with the AMD competition. It’s not quite the same story with less expensive mid-range cards, however; AMD typically has the value for money advantage once prices drop below £180. Nvidia is looking to put a stop to that with the GTX 950, a new mid-range GPU that is aimed at anyone still using older graphics cards that want to play modern titles at 1,920x1,080.

The GPU

The GTX 950 is based on Nvidia’s GM206 GPU, which was first seen in the GTX 960. Although the underlying architecture remains the same, using a 28nm process, Nvidia has reduced the number of CUDA cores from 1,024 in the GTX 960 to 768 here. There are also fewer texture units – 48 rather than the 64 found in the GTX 960. Interestingly, while the 1,024MHz core clock is lower than the GTX 960’s 1,126MHz, the GTX 950 can actually boost higher than the more expensive card; the boost clock can hit 1,188MHz, compared to the 960’s 1,178MHz.

Games are frequently demanding more and more video memory in order to run smoothly, so Nvidia has wisely paired the GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. It runs at an effective 6,600MHz and operates on the same 128-bit memory bus as the GTX 960, although the 105.6GB/s memory bandwidth is slightly lower than the 960’s 112GB/s. Like the GTX 960, third party board partners will be quick to launch 4GB cards at a small price premium, but when the GPU is designed for 1080p gaming it remains to see whether the 4GB versions will be worth the upgrade.

EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 - rear ports

Nvidia’s reference design for the GTX 960 specifies a dual-slot cooler, but as the card has a single 6-pin PCI-Express power socket and an underlying GPU based on the company’s energy-efficient Maxwell architecture, you won’t need a hefty power supply in order to run it. In fact, with a Thermal Design Point (TDP) of just 90W, the GTX 950 consumes considerably less power than any other current Nvidia GPU – even the GTX 960 has a 120W TDP. This means that with a well-designed heatsink, the cooling fans won’t need to spin up at all while you’re on the Windows desktop.

You get a standard set of video outputs on the back of the card, with three DisplayPort 1.2 ports, a single dual-link DVI and an HDMI 2.0 port for 4K video output at 60fps. It’s great to see this included on a budget card, as it means you’ll be able to use it to watch 4K content if you have a compatible TV or display. None of AMD’s 300-series cards support HDMI 2.0, meaning you’re forced to use DisplayPort or drop down to 30fps playback on an ultra-HD TV.

Nvidia Experience

As with all Maxwell-based graphics cards, the GTX 950 supports Nvidia’s proprietary technologies including PhysX hardware-accelerated physics effects and Gameworks hair and cloth effects in supported games, G-Sync adaptive refresh rates on compatible monitors, and the Nvidia Experience software suite which automatically tweaks your games’ graphics settings in order to get the best possible performance from a particular GPU.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 - Nvidia Experience

If you're running Windows 10, the GTX 950 also supports DirectX 12, including feature level 12_1. Currently, AMD’s graphics cards only support feature level 11_1, meaning they miss out on visual effects such as conservative rasterization, which has the potential to create much more convincing shadows in games once developers start supporting it.

Nvidia is also making big claims about input latency with the GTX 950. By shortening the rendering pipeline and lowering the number of pre-buffered video frames to 1, latency in games like DOTA 2 drops from 80ms on the GTX 650 to 45ms here. This is incredibly difficult to test, but it will likely come as good news to anyone seriously invested in the frantic clicking action of MOBA titles.

Finally, the GTX 950 is the first card to launch with support for Nvidia’s new GameStream Co-op, a game-sharing system similar to the Share Play feature found on Sony’s PS4. It uses the same technology as Nvidia already uses to stream games over the internet as part of its GameStream service, but here it streams the game you’re hosting on your PC over the internet to another user.

Primarily this lets your friends observe your game, but you can also mirror the controls onto the guest PC to let them take over your gameplay, or even share controls and play cooperatively if the game supports it. The service is currently limited to 720p at 60fps, and you need a minimum 6Mbit/s upload speed for smooth gameplay. We didn’t get the chance to fully test GameStream Co-op in time for Nvidia’s review embargo, but will update this article with our initial impressions as soon as we’ve spent more time with it.

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