Please note I am planning a video version of this review as well.
Hello all. Today I will be giving my review of the Nvidia GTX 960. A bit farfetched to do it now considering that it has been around for more than a year, and with AMD Polaris and Nvidia Pascal up on the horizon, how does this card hold up today? While I’ll be focusing on my KFA2 card, I’ll also do a general summary of the 960 cards as well.
Now, the model I have is the KFA2 reference cooler model. Aesthetically, simple, what you’d expect from a reference design card of course, usual 9.5 Inches length and dual slot, but the interesting thing is that the PCB is actually very small, and that the cooler is what’s big about it. The reference blower design also isn’t the most desirable, but you’d be surprised to know that this card handles temperatures very easily, and that it doesn’t whine very heavily unless set to high fan speeds above 70%. At least that’s my interpretation of it, but otherwise, a non-reference card would be a better choice.
My GTX 960, like I’ve mentioned, is a reference model from KFA2 with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM.
Now the basic specs of the 960 of course are…
Shading Units: 1024
SMM Count: 8
GPU Clock: 1127Mhz
Boost Clock: 1178 Mhz
Memory Clock: 1753 Mhz, 7012Mhz Effective
Memory Size: 2048/4096 MB (2GB/4GB)
Memory Type: GDDR5
Memory Bus: 128 bit
Bandwidth: 112 GB/s
Now, it’s not exactly meant to wow like a 970 would, but this is what it is, a mid-range card specifically targeting mid-range performance.
With my model, strangely enough, default clocks are 1157Mhz, though not a game changing difference. I’ve previously done a review the GTX 750 Ti, and that card would be considered two steps back, with the 950 filling the gap. So, what does two steps above the 750 Ti mean? Well, let’s get into the benchmarks!
Test System is a Dell Precision T5500, so not exactly a typical built system today but it uses older hardware, so more or less performance should be more akin to a typical midrange PC today.
CPU: Xeon X5690 Hexa-Core (12 Threads)
RAM: 16GB DDR3 ECC 1333Mhz
SSD/HDD: Samsung 256GB SSD P50 Pro, 1TB Seagate Barracuda, 1TB Western Digital Black Enterprise
GPU: GTX 960 KFA2 4GB
PSU: Dell 825W Silver
Operating System: Windows 10 Pro
GPU is overclocked 175Mhz Core and 250Mhz Memory via MSI Afterburner. GPU still managed to boost itself up to about 1490Mhz sometimes 1500Mhz.
For Synthetic benchmarks…
In 3DMark Firestrike:
3DMark Score: 7162
Graphics Score: 8108
Physics Score: 12233
Combined Score: 2869
Test 1: 38.7 fps
Test 2: 32.37 fps
Physics Test: 38.84
Combined Test: 13.35
Please note that with Unigine tests, that MFAA was on, and also that with the Heaven benchmark, I recorded the entire test with Shadowplay, impacting performance to some degree. Framerates will be rounded up to nearest .5 decimal from here on.
Unigine Valley. Max Settings, 1080p, MSAA x8 with MFAA
Unigine Heaven Max Settings, 1080p, MSAA x8 with MFAA.
And now for some of the game benchmarks. All tests were done at 1080p and measured with FRAPS benchmarking tool. Bear in mind that these are guidelines as different configurations will have varying performances.
GTA V. Ultra settings, no advanced settings and MSAA off. Population options were also maxed out, tested with the in-game benchmark.
Do not be fooled. The maximum only occurred whilst loading the benchmark. I WILL say however that the game does run around 75-90FPS, at least with my system in normal gameplay. It is very playable, though GTA V isn’t the most demanding of games when you use modest settings. MSAA is the main killer of framerate in this game, so use at your own risk.
Battlefield 4. Ultra settings, MSAA x2 and MFAA on. Two tests, one with 100% Resolution Scale and 120% Resolution Scale.
100% Resolution Scale
120% Resolution Scale
Battlefield 4 isn’t as demanding as it used to be, at least with current gen hardware. Do note however that increasing the resolution scale doesn’t reflect performance as using DSR or using higher resolutions, and is a little finicky with performance. Nonetheless, 1080p in BF4 with this card is easily playable at Ultra settings, and more so when overclocked. In the 100% test, I almost never dipped below 60, staying around 65-70 in most scenarios. In the 120% test, it was more around the low to mid 50’s at best, but still, not bad at all! Since Battlefield 4 uses a similar engine to Star Wars Battlefront, performance should be around the same level, if not a little less. To compare, with my 750 Ti, playing at similar settings gave me about 40-45fps minus the MFAA, so there was a good jump there.
Killing Floor 2. Maxed out settings, no Nvidia Flex.
Killing Floor 2 is a great game to test this card out. While it’s not as crazy as such as Crysis 3 or something like Witcher 3 in terms demand, it is actually quite demanding when zeds and gore fill the screen excessively. Nonetheless, this card trumps it with more than playable framerate, though due to its early access nature, it does have very minor hitching, hence the 0 frames recorded on the minimum. It is improving fast however! Turning on Flex will impact performance, bear that in mind.
Metro Last Light. Maxed out settings, Advanced PhysX off, SSAA off. Tested via the Benchmark tool.
The benchmark tool is much more demanding than normal gameplay, but that’s to be expected. Turning on SSAA or PhysX in the benchmark and game will impact performance, but for the most part, in actual game I was able to play it without so much of a problem, sticking around the 60-70s. Very demanding sections can drop frames to lower numbers but never expect it to be a major problem. I do know however that Metro does prefer Nvidia cards by a slight amount, so it’d be difficult to give an apples to apples comparison, but in general with my 750 Ti, I was getting about 35fps Average.
Performance is all fine and dandy, running well with a lot of games right now. Take into account other benchmarks with other games as well, and with modest settings, you can still play your favourite Triple A type games without compromising heavily on fidelity or framerate.
Temperatures are also good despite it being a reference card. With 70% fan speed, I get an idle of 30C and on load, around 55-60C in Unigine tests and games. Fan also didn’t seem to whine heavily at this speed and was not very audible, if at all. Non-reference design fans will prove to be quieter and better at cooling however, as well as being quieter in general.
So, right now practically it’s the perfect mid-range card, right? Almost. The competing cards, the Radeon 380 and the Radeon 380X, offer better stock performance. The 380X especially outclasses both the 380 and 960, so it’d be easier to give an apples to apples comparison to the 960 to the 380 since the 380X is designed to be the gap filler between mid-range and high end.
However, the 380X is more expensive than both cards, but if you’re willing to throw in the extra £30, it can be worth it. The AMD cards however do not have the same overclocking potential as the 960, though the 960 HAS to be overclocked to have similar performance to its primary competitor, the Radeon 380, and the 380 can get a slight boost when that card is overclocked. Not everyone would be familiar with overclocking, and it can be risky in on itself, especially if you are tampering with the voltage. For the average PC user, they buy a card, stick it in and play games. In general, the 380 and 960 are very close to performance in most games when at their highest potential, and some games favouring one over the other can also be a factor.
So why would you buy the 960 when the 380 and 380X just offers more performance without overclocking?
I can think of several reasons:
1: Nvidia’s GeForce Experience and Shadowplay. Some people may not like proprietary software, but GFE is actually a good one in my books. It can schedule updates and you can check if there are any updates needed, and express install from GFE itself. It also scans for games, and notifies what features your system is capable of such as LED Visualizer and Shield, and Shadowplay. Shadowplay itself is quite lovely, allowing users to record gameplay footage, and stream directly to Twitch, with minimal impact to performance. It has a range of tools to help with such features as well, and one of my favourite features is Game Optimization, which allows users to optimize a game by changing several in-game settings to provide the best balance between performance and looks. This makes the 960 a little bit user friendly for less Computer Savvy gamers.
2: Small Form Factor 960s. Small form factor versions of the 380 exists, but it’s 4GB variant is marginally more expensive than a 960 4GB SFF. On Scan.co.uk, the 960’s cheapest ITX 4GB variant was £163, vs the 380’s ITX 4GB variant is £183, which is £20 more for a small gain in stock performance. Now for most users, a full sized 960 or 380 would suffice, but for users who are building HTPCs in small cases or users with small cases that can fit full size cards but want as much breathing room as possible, it would make sense to go with the ITX cards, and the 960’s ITX offerings are usually cheaper and perform similarly when tuned correctly. Some users have strangely designed cases that are height conscious, or length conscious. The 960 has a slew of different SFF based 960s, 2GB and 4GB variants, and do not trade any performance whatsoever. The card I have in question has a small PCB and only the fan makes it longer than it is. Most of the SFF 960s have above reference design clock speeds, and have varying voltage profiles, perhaps offering better overclocked performance than my reference 960 in the end. I am limited by height due to the design favouring side mounted HDDs. Previously I fitted a 660 Direct CUII, but was forced to remove one of the HDD mounting points to close the case due to the copper heat pipes making the card very tall. The reference 960 is just short enough to allow the case to close and allow me to fit back the HDD mount. Some 380s however will also not have that problem if you’re willing to go for the full sized card.
3: Power cables. Power consumption to me is something I don’t personally care about. What I’m more concerned about is whether I have enough cables, or the right cables, to fit my specific card in to work. For most enthusiasts, they would probably have a good PSU to handle any single card they can throw at them, but what about the budget builders and OEM system users with restrictive PSUs? My T5500 has two 6-Pin PCIe connectors, and can easily fit a full sized 380, but the 960 in most cases require only one 6-pin connector. You could use a molex adaptor, but such adaptors may not provide enough power for cards in general, especially when it comes to 6-pin to 8-pin adaptors, take that into account. For users with lower end PSUs or PSUs with lower wattages, they will be limited by the connectors they have. For the 380, it requires two 6-pin connectors as mentioned, whilst the ITX version requires an 8-pin (or a 6+2-pin) connector. Some 960s and 380s require 6-pin and 8-pin connectors, but all in all, you can easily fit a 960 to most systems that has 6-pin connectors with its PSU, whilst the 380 won’t be as easy to fit in budget minded builds or OEM systems that do not have the extra connectors to spare. Also consider that for my system, it is SLI or Crossfire compatible, and since I have an extra 6-pin, I can easily fit a second 960 down the line. Neato. Then again I could’ve bought a 970 and not have considered that possibility.
4? Performance with lower end CPUs. With recent tests with Digital Foundry, they have discovered that AMD isn’t as friendly with lower end CPUs like the i3, losing some of their performance more so than Green Team offerings. This is HIGHLY subjective however and may be due to system configuration more than anything.
Of course, I’m not saying to ignore the 380 or 380X. Actually, have a look at those cards. If nothing is holding you back, then just go for it! But if you prefer Green team, still, props to the decision in the end. All three cards are well placed in the performance spectrum, and if you really want the features more and don’t mind losing a few frames vs Red Team’s cards, the 960 is the perfect midrange card for you! If raw performance is more your game, the 380 or 380X are great cards to look at, but consider that the 380X is a little oddly placed as the 390 and 970 aren’t that far up in price but offer a substantial jump in performance.
For me, it was a big jump from a 750 Ti, and the 750 Ti was a jump for me when considering I have an 850M Laptop GPU.
The 960 4GB KFA2 Reference gets a Pa-Proval, and I give it a respectful 9/10.
In general, the 960 cards get 9/10
It’s a great mid-range card, and while Red Team has slightly better offerings in performance right now, the extra features, the use of few connectors and the slew of different variants offering extra advantages makes a 960 one of my favourite cards of all time. It misses the 10 score since it loses to the 380 and 380X in stock raw performance, but those cards came after the 960, meaning Red Team had an edge in fine tuning the competing cards. Overall, overclocking the 960 helps it compete more closely with the 380, so to really differentiate the two cards, you have to consider whether the extra GeForce based features are for you, or whether you prefer slightly better general performance.