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ASUS Strix Edition GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Card Review

Date: January 22, 2015
Author(s): Rob Williams

NVIDIA’s much-anticipated mid-range 900 series card is here. It’s called the GeForce GTX 960 (no need to act surprised) and it brings a couple of surprises. As NVIDIA’s “sweet spot” GPU, the GTX 960 is designed to be an affordable option that lasts the long haul, so let’s see what the green team’s latest $199 option brings to the table.



Introduction

Bringing a four-month GPU launch drought to an end is NVIDIA’s mid-range GTX 900 series model: The GeForce GTX 960. At first glance, it looks modest – perhaps even underwhelming – but, looks can be deceiving.

The GTX 960 is a card that follows in the footsteps of the GTX 460, 660, and of course, the 760. It targets those gamers who want an affordable card that’s going to offer great performance in current games, and is guaranteed to last them a couple of generations. NVIDIA prides itself on this particular part of its product lineup.

There is a little surprise with the GTX 960, though. Whereas the GTX 760 was priced at $249, and the GTX 660 at $229, the 960 is priced at an attractive $199. As the card competes with AMD’s Radeon R9 285, which has cards hovering closer to the ~$230s price point, that price tag becomes even more notable.

That might all sound attractive, but the GTX 960 does have one stand-out spec that’s sure to cause some concern: Its 128-bit memory bus. That’s unusual for a model at this point point, but lest we forget that both the GTX 980 and 970 had an atypical bus for high-end cards (256-bit), yet both still soared to the top of GPU performance charts.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Boxed

Still, there’s just something about that number that makes a card feel low-end. I get that, and it’d be absurd to insinuate that a 256-bit bus on this card wouldn’t improve its performance – to which degree, I’m not quite sure. The fact that NVIDIA could put a 128-bit bus on a card of this price range does highlight one thing, though: Maxwell helps prove that smaller buses don’t have to be a huge limitation.

Based on 3DMark’s Fire Strike test, the GTX 960 is about 25% faster than the GTX 760. That’s despite the GTX 760 having a bus twice as wide. That comparison isn’t too apples-to-apples beyond that, though, as the 760 has 12.5% more cores, whereas the GTX 960 has a higher clock speed.

That tease aside, let’s take a brief look at the hardware we’re dealing with. As the block diagram below highlights, the GTX 960 is composed of two clusters that include four SMM modules each – for a total of 1,024 cores. Other specs include a 2GB framebuffer, 1,126MHz reference clock speed, and also a 7GHz memory speed. Because of the memory optimizations that come with Maxwell, NVIDIA says that this 7GHz is actually equivelent to 9.3GHz.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 - Block Diagram

Based on specs alone, the GTX 960 is one-half of a GTX 980. Cores are halved, as is the memory and memory bus. Core and memory clocks are left in tact, whereas the TDP drops 45W to settle in at 120W. That might not seem too significant, but consider the fact that the 960’s predecessor, the GTX 760, had a TDP of 170W.

NVIDIA GeForce SeriesCoresCore MHzMemoryMem MHzMem BusTDP
GeForce GTX 980204811264096MB7000256-bit165W
GeForce GTX 970166410504096MB7000256-bit145W
GeForce GTX 960102411262048MB7010128-bit120W
GeForce GTX TITAN Black28808896144MB7000384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 780 Ti28808753072MB7000384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 78023048633072MB6008384-bit250W
GeForce GTX 770153610462048MB7010256-bit230W
GeForce GTX 76011529802048MB6008256-bit170W
GeForce GTX 750 Ti64010202048MB5400128-bit60W
GeForce GTX 75051210202048MB5000128-bit55W

NVIDIA admits that even at $199, this positioning in the market can sometimes make for a hard sell. But, unlike its competitor, it’s offering a more modern architecture (where are those 300 series cards, AMD???), which includes such features as MFAA, VXGI, much-improved power consumption, as well as support for HDMI 2.0 and H.265. For a run-down of those features and more, head right here.

Because the GTX 960 has low power requirements, certain gaming scenarios might allow a given card to turn its fan off. An example would be with MOBA games, especially League of Legends. While a game like that features a ton of eye candy, it simply doesn’t need to take full advantage of a GPU like this all the time. So in a situation like that, the card can turn the fan off and drop its power requirement to as low as 30W. If this feature sounds familiar, it might be because the ASUS GTX 970 Strix I took at look at in September offered the same exact perk.

Speaking of Strix, the GTX 960 model I received happens to be part of the same series. Outside of some obvious size differences, this card looks little different than the 970 model I looked at in September. It features a DirectCU II cooler (which is special because the heatpipes connect directly to the copper base) and aesthetics that I’m sure will suit most gamers.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX - Card Overview

As with all Strix models, this GTX 960 model includes a factory overclock – and it’s not that subtle. ASUS boosted the GTX 960’s reference clock speed from 1,126MHz to 1,291MHz, and interestingly enough, has given a 200MHz boost to the memory, as well.

Ideally, we’d always receive a reference clocked card for launch, but considering the fact that most GPUs to hit market after launch are pre-overclocked, it almost seems more accurate to receive a pre-overclocked model at this point. Still, that hurts our desire to provide apples-to-apples comparisons, but if there’s one upside, even if you do purchase a reference-clocked model, there’s a good chance that these same clocks can be reached manually.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX - Card Back

That sure is a good-looking card, isn’t it? As the picture above shows, GTX 960 cards will require only one 6-pin PCIe connector. It seems fairly unlikely that a second one would help in overclocking, but we might very well see some high-end models (like EVGA’s Superclocked and FTW series) include two.

Most GTX 960 models available at launch are going to feature the same video output configuration as this Strix card. That involves triple DisplayPort, one DVI, and one HDMI. Some models, especially reference-clocked, will forego a DisplayPort connector or two in lieu of including two DVI ports.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX - Video Connectors

Like the GTX 970 Strix I looked at before, this one promises 0dB gaming with select games and graphics configurations (tying into what I talked about above with MOBAs). As we’ll see later, this card has a rough time breaking 60°C even when stressed hard, so for low-requirement games, 0dB shouldn’t be too hard to acquire. And, if you don’t mind your card getting a little hotter in the quest for silence, you can manually set a fan speed inside of ASUS’ GPU Tweak tool.

ASUS’ GTX 960 Strix also features a 5-phase “alloy” power design that includes super alloy MOSFETs and chokes, as well as SAP caps. ASUS implements these high-quality components to not only help improve overclocking, but also improve the card’s durability, which hopefully means it’ll have a long, healthy life.

Before moving on, I have to give ASUS kudos for a simple, but neat, feature of this Strix card. Situated at the PCIe power port is an LED, and when the power cable isn’t plugged in, it’s lit up red. With the cable plugged in, it’s white. See? Simple. But, it was this feature that clued me in; I was about to put the door back on our test PC’s chassis until this red LED caught my eye.

Alright, now we can move on. The following page lists everything you need to know about how we conduct our benchmarking, including the specs of our test PC. If you don’t care about any of that, head on over to page 3.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our test-bed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

Our Graphics Card Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the GPU. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used.

Graphics Card Test System
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-4960X – Six-Core @ 4.50GHz
MotherboardASUS P9X79-E WS
MemoryKingston HyperX Beast 32GB (4x8GB) – DDR3-2133 11-12-11
GraphicsAMD Radeon R9 280X 2GB – Catalyst 13.12
AMD Radeon R9 285 2GB (MSI Twin Frozr IV) – Catalyst 14.30
AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB – Catalyst 13.12
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB – GeForce 340.52
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB – GeForce 331.93
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB – GeForce 331.93
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2GB (ASUS Strix) – GeForce 347.25
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB (ASUS Strix) – GeForce 344.11
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB – GeForce 344.07
AudioOnboard
StorageKingston HyperX 240GB SSD
Power SupplyCooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1300W
ChassisCooler Master Storm Trooper Full-Tower
CoolingThermaltake WATER3.0 Extreme Liquid Cooler
DisplaysASUS PB278Q 27″ 2560×1440
Dell P2210H 22″ 1920×1080 x 3
Et ceteraWindows 7 Professional 64-bit

Notes About Our High-end System

The goal of our performance content is to show you as accurately as possible how one product compares to another – after all, you’re coming to us for advice, so we want to make sure we’re giving you the best possible information. Typically, one major step we take in ensuring that our performance results are accurate is to make sure that our test systems are void of all possible bottlenecks, so for that, high-end components must be used.

In the case of our graphics card test system, the processor chosen has six-cores and is overclocked far beyond reference clocks. Most games nowadays are not heavily CPU-bound, but by using such a chip, we feel that we completely rule it out as a potential bottleneck. The same can be said for the use of an SSD (as opposed to latency-ridden mechanical storage), and even our memory, which is clocked at the comfortable speed of DDR3-2133.

Why this matters to you: Our test PC is high-end, and it’s very likely that you’d encounter a bottleneck quicker than us. Our goals are to rid all possible bottlenecks, whereas yours is to build the PC you need. In our case, we need to go overboard to attain as accurate a representation of a graphic card’s performance as possible.

If your PC has at least a modern (~2-years-old) quad-core or better processor, and at least 8GB of fast memory (DDR3-1866+), that chances of you running into a bottleneck with today’s hottest game is admittedly low. If you’re using lower-end gear, you can absolutely expect that the rest of your system could be a bottleneck. It should be noted, though, that if you’re seeking out a lower-end graphics card, the importance of a bottleneck would of course be lessened.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to test a single card on multiple PC configurations; each single card we test takes at least 3 hours to test, with another 2 hours added on for each additional resolution, and at least another 1~2 hours for our Best Playable results (for up to 11 hours of mostly hands-on testing for a high-end model).

Please bear all of this in mind. If you’re unsure if your PC could prove to be a bottleneck, our comments section exists for such questions.

When preparing our test-beds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

General Guidelines

To aid with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

The services we disable are:

For further fine-tuning, we also use Windows’ “Classic” desktop theme, which gets rid of the transparency that can sometimes utilize a GPU in the background.

Vendor Favortism

Sometimes, either AMD or NVIDIA will work with a game studio to help their development process along. As history has proven, this often results in a game that is tuned better for one vendor over the other, although sometimes the tides can change over time, resulting in the competing vendor offering the better experience.

One of our goals is to provide as neutral a benchmarking suite as possible, so while it’s impossible to avoid games sponsored by either of these companies, we can at least make an effort to achieve a blended list. As it stands, our current game list and their partners are:

(AMD) – Battlefield 4
(AMD) – Crysis 3
(AMD) – Sleeping Dogs
(NVIDIA) – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
(NVIDIA) – Metro: Last Light
(NVIDIA) – Splinter Cell Blacklist
(Neutral) – GRID 2
(Neutral) – Total War: SHOGUN 2

With that, let’s move on to a quick look at the game settings we use in our testing:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Benchmark Settings

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 Benchmark Settings

Note: The “High” preset is used for multi-monitor configurations.

Crysis 3

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

Note: The “Medium” preset is used for multi-monitor configurations.

GRID 2

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Total War SHOGUN 2 Benchmark Settings

Unigine Heaven

Unigine Heaven 4 Benchmark Settings

Game Tests: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4

Given the sheer number of titles in the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s a little hard to believe that the first game came out a mere seven years ago. You could definitely say that Ubisoft hit the ball out of the park with this one. To date, we’ve never considered an AC game for benchmarking, but given the number of graphical goodies featured in the PC version of Black Flag, that trend now ends.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The saved game starts us not far from the beginning of the game under a small church which can be climbed to synchronize with the environment. To kick things off, I scale this church and rotate the camera around once, making sure to take in the beautiful landscape; then, I climb back down and run all the way to the water (the top of this small church and the water can be seen in the above screenshot).

Note: For some reason, Ubisoft decided to cap the framerate to 60 FPS in Black Flag even if Vsync is turned off. For most games, this would ruin the chance of it appearing in our benchmarking, but because the game is graphically intensive, I’ve chosen to stick with it, as at higher resolutions, reaching 60 FPS is a perk that will belong only to high-end graphics cards.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2560x1440)

At 1080p, an expensive graphics card just isn’t needed for this game, and some might even say that the same applies to 1440p. While the GTX 960 failed to exceed 50 FPS at that resolution, a quick disabling of a luxury feature, such as SSAO, could help push performance much closer to 60 FPS.

Battlefield 4

Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than a lot of developers, the Battlefield series tends to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. Battlefield 3 offered incredible graphics and became a de facto benchmark immediately, so it’s no surprise, then, that BF4 follows right in its footsteps.

Battlefield 4 - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The Singapore level is the target here, with the saved game starting us on an airboat that must be driven to shore, where a massive battle is set to take place. I stop recording the framerate once the tank makes its way to the end of this small patch of beach; in all, the run takes about 3 minutes.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Battlefield 4 (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Battlefield 4 (2560x1440)

Battlefield 4 is a gorgeous game, and with the GTX 960, or at least ASUS’ overclocked version, it can nearly reach 60 FPS at maxed-out details, at 1080p resolution. Performance is maimed when moving up to 1440p, but as mentioned in the last test, that can be easily remedied with the turning off of some intensive features, like ambient occlusion and perhaps even antialiasing.

Game Tests: Crysis 3, GRID 2

When the original Crysis dropped in late 2007, it took no time at all for pundits to coin the phrase, “Can it run Crysis?“, almost to the point of self-parody. At the time, the game couldn’t have its graphics detail maxed-out on even top-of-the-line PCs, and in reality, that’s a great thing. I’d imagine few are opposed to knowing that a game could actually look better down the road as our PCs grow into them. As the series continued, Crytek knew it had a legend to live up to, and fortunately, Crysis 3 (our review) lives up to the original’s legacy.

Crysis 3 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: There’s no particular level in Crysis 3 that I could establish was “better” for benchmarking than another, but I settled on “Red Star Rising” based on the fact that I could perform a run-through with no chance of dying (a great thing in a challenging game like this one). The level starts us in a derelict building, where I traverse a broken pipe to make it over to one rooftop and then another. I eventually hit the ground after taking advantage of a zipline, and make my way down to a river, where I scurry past a number of enemies to the end spot beneath a building.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Crysis 3 (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Crysis 3 (2560x1440)

The GTX 960 continues to perform well, even exceeding the Radeon R9 285 at 1080p by 5 FPS. At 1440p, the performance of both cards is exact.

GRID 2

For those who appreciate racing games that are neither too realistic nor too arcade-like, there’s GRID. In GRID 2 (review), the ultimate goal is to build a racing empire, starting from square one. Unlike most racing titles that have some sort of career, the goal here isn’t to earn cash, but fans. Whether you’re racing around Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina or tearing through a gorgeous Cote d’Azur coastline, your goal is simple: To impress.

GRID 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The track chosen for my benchmarking is Miami (Ocean Drive). It’s a simple track overall, which is one of the reasons I chose it, and also the reason I choose to do just a single lap (I crash, often, and that affects both the results and my patience). Unlike most games in the suite which I test twice over (save for an oddity in the results), I race this one lap three times over.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - GRID 2 (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - GRID 2 (2560x1440)

All of our mid-range and higher cards eat this game right up, even at 1440p.

Game Tests: Metro Last Light, Sleeping Dogs

Crysis has become infamous for punishing even top-end systems, but let’s be fair: The Metro series matches, if not exceeds its requirement for graphical horsepower. That was proven by the fact that we used Metro 2033 in our testing for a staggering three years – only to be replaced by its sequel, Last Light. I’m not particularly a fan of this series, but I am in awe of its graphics even at modest settings.

Metro Last Light - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: Because this game is a real challenge to benchmark with for both the reasons of variability in the results and the raw challenge, I choose to use the built-in benchmark here but rely on Fraps to give me more accurate results.

Note: Metro Last Light‘s built-in benchmark is not representative of the entire game; some levels will punish a GPU much worse than this benchmark will (namely, “The Chase”, which has lots of smoke and explosions). What this means is that while these settings might suffice for much of the game, there might be instances where the performance degrades enough during a certain chapter or portion of a chapter to force a graphics setting tweak.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Metro Last Light (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Metro Last Light (2560x1440)

The GTX 960 handles Last Light no problem, but as mentioned in the note above, some situations in the game might still end up being quite taxing (that’s something that could apply to even the highest-end cards).

Sleeping Dogs

Many have called Sleeping Dogs (our review) the “Asian Grand Theft Auto“, but the game does a lot of things differently that helps it stand out of the crowd. For example, in lieu of supplying the player with a gazillion guns, Sleeping Dogs focuses heavily on hand-to-hand combat. There are also many collectibles that can be found to help upgrade your character and unlock special fighting abilities – and if you happen to enjoy an Asian atmosphere, this game should fit the bill.

Sleeping Dogs - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The run here takes place during the chapter “Amanda”, on a dark, dank night. The saved game begins us at the first apartment in the game (in North Point), though that’s not where I begin capturing the framerate. Instead, I first request our motorcycle from the garage. Once set, I begin recording the framerate and drive along a specific path all the way to Aberdeen, taking about two minutes.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Sleeping Dogs (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Sleeping Dogs (2560x1440)

1080p is an absolute breeze for all of our cards here, while 1440p drops the FPS delivered by the GTX 960 to sub-50 levels. Fortunately, a decrease of the game’s subpar antialiasing implementation can patch that right up.

Game Tests: Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Total War: SHOGUN 2

Tom Clancy is responsible for a countless number of video games, but his Splinter Cell series has become something special, with each game released having been considered “great” overall. The latest in the series, Blacklist, is no exception, and thankfully for us, its graphics are fantastic, and not to mention intensive. For those who love a stealth element in their games, this is one that shouldn’t be skipped.

RIP, Tom Clancy.

Splinter Cell Blacklist - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: From the start of the ‘Safehouse’ level in Benghazi, Libya, we progress through until we reach an apartment building that must be entered – this is where we end the FPS recording.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2560x1440)

These FPS levels are quite similar to what we saw with Sleeping Dogs – the GTX 960 just falls short of 50 FPS at 1440p. And like Sleeping Dogs, it doesn’t take much to fix that, without making a stark difference to the graphics detail.

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Strategy games are well-known for pushing the limits of any system, and few others do this as well as Total War: SHOGUN 2. It fully supports DX11, has huge battlefields to oversee with hundreds or thousands of units, and a ton of graphics options to adjust. It’s quite simply a beast of a game.

Total War: SHOGUN 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: SHOGUN 2 is one of the few games in our suite where the built-in benchmark is opted for. Strategy games in particular are very difficult to benchmark, so this is where I become thankful to have the option of using a built-in benchmark.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Total War: SHOGUN 2 (1920x1080)

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Total War: SHOGUN 2 (2560x1440)

Rounding out our apples-to-apples benchmarks, SHOGUN 2 puts the GTX 960 where it’s been most of this review – just ahead of the R9 285. Time to move onto some synthetic tests.

Synthetic Tests: Futuremark 3DMark, 3DMark 11, Unigine Heaven 4.0

We don’t make it a point to seek out automated gaming benchmarks, but we do like to get a couple in that anyone reading this can run themselves. Of these, Futuremark’s name leads the pack, as its benchmarks have become synonymous with the activity. Plus, it does help that the company’s benchmarks stress PCs to their limit – and beyond.

3DMark

While Futuremark’s latest GPU test suite is 3DMark, I’m also including results from 3DMark 11 as it’s still a common choice among benchmarkers.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Futuremark 3DMark

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Performance

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Extreme

Interestingly, despite the fact that the GTX 960 outperformed the R9 285 in most of our real-world tests, all but 3DMark 11’s Extreme test reflects that. It’s almost as though NVIDIA decided to optimize its driver more for regular games than benchmarks this time around.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

Unigine might not have as established a name as Futuremark, but its products are nothing short of “awesome”. The company’s main focus is its game engine, but a by-product of that is its benchmarks, which are used to both give benchmarkers another great tool to take advantage of, and also to show-off what its engine is capable of. It’s a win-win all-around.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark is so relied-upon by benchmarkers is that both AMD and NVIDIA promote it for its heavy use of tessellation. Like 3DMark, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results are not going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Unigine Heaven 4.0 (1920x1080)

As with 3DMark, the GTX 960 somehow falls behind the R9 285, despite being faster in most of the real-world tests.

Best Playable: Single Display

For about as long as GPU-accelerated games have existed, an ideal performance target has been 60 frames-per-second. Owing thanks to this is the standard 60Hz monitor, which delivers its best result when the framerate matches its refresh rate. To make sure the monitor’s refresh rate and game’s framerate keep aligned, to avoid visible tearing, VSync should be enabled.

While I believe our Best Playable results will appeal to any gamer, they could especially prove useful to those intrigued by livingroom gaming or console replacements. The goal here is simple: With each game, the graphics settings are tweaked to deliver the best possible detail while keeping us as close to 60 FPS on average as possible.

Because our Metro Last Light and Total War: SHOGUN 2 tests are timedemos, and because this kind of testing is time-consuming, I am sticking to six out of the eight games I test with for inclusion here.

NVIDIA’s GTX 960 has AMD’s R9 285 in its sights, something I’m sure the results on the previous handful of pages highlighted. Because the performance of both cards is about equal, all of the best playable settings are shared between them here. For the sake of reference to what NVIDIA’s last “sweet spot” card offered, I’ve also included best playable results for the GTX 760.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix4657
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Environment:HighShadow:High
Texture:HighReflection:High
Anti-aliasing:FXAAGod Rays:High
Ambient Occlusion:OffVolumetric Fog:On
Motion BlurOn
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV4757
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Environment:HighShadow:High
Texture:HighReflection:High
Anti-aliasing:FXAAGod Rays:High
Ambient Occlusion:OffVolumetric Fog:On
Motion BlurOn
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC4657
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 1920×1080
Environment:Very HighShadow:Very High
Texture:HighReflection:High
Anti-aliasing:FXAAGod Rays:High
Ambient Occlusion:OnVolumetric Fog:On
Motion BlurOn
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

While the ultimate goal is to hit 60 FPS in any of these best playable tests, we didn’t quite hit that on any of these cards. That’s because at the performance exhibited, it made little sense for me to decrease settings further. Should you really want to hit a clean 60 FPS and at least 50 FPS on the minimum, God Rays can be decreased in detail. Also, because it might appear that the GTX 760 runs higher settings than the new GTX 960, note that that card was limited to 1080p, whereas the 960 handles the game just fine at 1440p.

Battlefield 4
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix5368
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Quality:UltraTexture Filtering:Ultra
Lighting:UltraEffects:High
Post Processing:UltraMesh:Ultra
Terrain:UltraTerrain Decoration:Ultra
Anti-aliasing Deferred:OffAnti-aliasing Post:Off
Ambient Occlusion:SSAO
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV5469
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Quality:UltraTexture Filtering:Ultra
Lighting:UltraEffects:High
Post Processing:UltraMesh:Ultra
Terrain:UltraTerrain Decoration:Ultra
Anti-aliasing Deferred:OffAnti-aliasing Post:Off
Ambient Occlusion:SSAO
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC4561
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Quality:HighTexture Filtering:High
Lighting:HighEffects:High
Post Processing:HighMesh:High
Terrain:HighTerrain Decoration:High
Anti-aliasing Deferred:OffAnti-aliasing Post:Off
Ambient Occlusion:SSAO
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

Versus the outgoing GTX 760, the GTX 960 is able to handle this game at Ultra detail with antialiasing off, whereas the 760 had to go the same route while also decreasing the rest of the detail to High.

Crysis 3
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix4467
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 1920×1080
Anti-aliasing:FXAATexture:Very High
Effects:HighObject:High
Particles:HighPost Processing:High
Shading:HighShadows:High
Water:HighAnisotropic Filtering:x16
Motion Blur:MediumLens Flares:Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV4262
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 1920×1080
Anti-aliasing:FXAATexture:Very High
Effects:HighObject:High
Particles:HighPost Processing:High
Shading:HighShadows:High
Water:HighAnisotropic Filtering:x16
Motion Blur:MediumLens Flares:Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC4363
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 1920×1080
Anti-aliasing:FXAATexture:High
Effects:HighObject:High
Particles:HighPost Processing:High
Shading:HighShadows:High
Water:HighAnisotropic Filtering:x16
Motion Blur:MediumLens Flares:Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

Unfortunately, 1440p is a bit harsh on a card like the GTX 960, something I’d blame on the 2GB framebuffer if not for the fact that the 3GB R9 285 suffered the same fate. So, 1080p it is, with texture detail bumped up to Very High. Interestingly, this change didn’t affect the average FPS at all versus keeping texture detail to High.

GRID 2
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix6369
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Multisampling:4x MSAANight Lighting:High
Shadows:HighAdvanced Fog:On
Particles:UltraCrowd:Ultra
Cloth:HighAmbient Occlusion:Ultra
Soft Ambient Occlusion:OnGround Cover:High
Vehicle Details:HighTrees:Ultra
Objects:UltraVehicle Reflections:Ultra
Water:HighPost Process:High
Skidmarks:OnAdvanced Lighting:On
Global Illumination:OnAnisotropic Filtering:Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV5766
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Multisampling:4x MSAANight Lighting:High
Shadows:HighAdvanced Fog:On
Particles:UltraCrowd:Ultra
Cloth:HighAmbient Occlusion:Ultra
Soft Ambient Occlusion:OnGround Cover:High
Vehicle Details:HighTrees:Ultra
Objects:UltraVehicle Reflections:Ultra
Water:HighPost Process:High
Skidmarks:OnAdvanced Lighting:On
Global Illumination:OnAnisotropic Filtering:Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC5562
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Multisampling:4x MSAANight Lighting:High
Shadows:UltraAdvanced Fog:On
Particles:UltraCrowd:Ultra
Cloth:HighAmbient Occlusion:Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion:OffGround Cover:High
Vehicle Details:HighTrees:Ultra
Objects:UltraVehicle Reflections:Ultra
Water:HighPost Process:High
Skidmarks:OnAdvanced Lighting:On
Global Illumination:OffAnisotropic Filtering:Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

It’s not the most intensive game out there, but GRID 2 is still gorgeous – and, it’s able to be run at over 60 FPS with a GTX 960 at 1440p resolution. It’s worth noting that even the GTX 760 could handle this game at similar settings just fine; the swap has to do with decreased shadow settings versus enabling global illumination (the latter of which is more evident in game).

Sleeping Dogs
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix6580
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Anti-aliasing:NormalHigh-res Textures:On
Shadow Resolution:HighShadow Filtering:High
Ambient Occlusion:HighMotion Blur:High
World Density:Extreme
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV6881
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Anti-aliasing:NormalHigh-res Textures:On
Shadow Resolution:HighShadow Filtering:High
Ambient Occlusion:HighMotion Blur:High
World Density:Extreme
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC6173
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Anti-aliasing:NormalHigh-res Textures:On
Shadow Resolution:HighShadow Filtering:High
Ambient Occlusion:HighMotion Blur:High
World Density:Extreme
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

All three of the cards here used the exact same best playable settings, fueled by the fact that only one (antialiasing) makes a huge difference in performance. Faster cards simply boost the average framerate, naturally.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
MinimumAverage
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix5466
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Detail:UltraShadow:High
Parallax:OnTessellation:On
Texture Filtering:16xAmbient Occlusion:Off
Anti-aliasing:FXAA
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix
MSI R9 285 Twin Frozr IV5563
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Detail:UltraShadow:High
Parallax:OnTessellation:On
Texture Filtering:16xAmbient Occlusion:Off
Anti-aliasing:FXAA
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - MSI Radeon R9 285 Twin Frozr IV
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC5265
Graphics Settings
& Ingame Screenshot
Resolution: 2560×1440
Texture Detail:UltraShadow:High
Parallax:OnTessellation:On
Texture Filtering:16xAmbient Occlusion:Off
Anti-aliasing:FXAA
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC

Wrapping up with Blacklist, the GTX 960 once again matches the settings of the R9 285, but tacks on a couple of extra frames for good measure.

Power & Temperatures, Final Thoughts

To test graphics cards for both their power consumption and temperature at load, we utilize a couple of different tools. On the hardware side, we use a trusty Kill-a-Watt power monitor which our GPU test machine plugs into directly. For software, we use Futuremark’s 3DMark to stress-test the card, and AIDA64 to monitor and record the temperatures.

To test, the general area around the chassis is checked with a temperature gun, with the average temperature recorded. Once that’s established, the PC is turned on and left to site idle for ten minutes. At this point, we open AIDA64 along with 3DMark. We then kick-off a full suite run, and pay attention to the Kill-a-Watt when the test reaches its most intensive interval (GT 1) to get the load wattage.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Temperatures

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Power Consumption

Given what we saw from both the GTX 980 and 970 in terms of power and overall temperature, the GTX 960’s results don’t come as a surprise. Of all the cards we tested, it’s the most power-efficient and the coolest-running. Power consumption doesn’t matter to everyone, but it’s still notable that NVIDIA was able to shave 67W off of the R9 285’s power draw but deliver the same (or better) performance.

Final Thoughts

NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 960 is an easy card to sum up, something I’m thankful for considering I only just received our sample late on Monday (I just have to live in eastern Canada, don’t I?).

When I evaluated AMD’s Radeon R9 285 in September, prior to NVIDIA’s Maxwell launch, I liked what I saw. In fact, I gave the card one of our Editor’s Choice awards. It had some of the typical downfalls AMD’s suffered in recent years (power consumption, temperatures), but for its price-point, it offered some great performance – on par with what we now see from NVIDIA’s $199 GeForce GTX 960.

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 STRIX - Card Overview

Today, an R9 285 can be had for $230, or even less if you want to mess around with mail-in rebates. But price isn’t the only thing NVIDIA beats AMD on with its GTX 960. NVIDIA’s competitor draws much less power, runs cooler, and features a number of useful features that came with Maxwell, such as memory compression and multi-frame antialiasing. Maxwell’s dynamic super resolution (DSR) is also notable, but with last month’s massive Radeon driver update, AMD’s begun offering a similar solution.

On the overclocking front, I don’t have too much to report. It seems that with the GTX 960, success is hit-or-miss, although you’re pretty much guaranteed to hit a clock well beyond stock. The Strix card I tested peaks at about 1,400MHz with GPU Boost at default settings, whereas my overclock pushed that to about 1,500MHz (dialed to 1,440MHz in GPU Tweak). This resulted in a gain of about 3 FPS in most games – not entirely impressive given the gains we saw from overclocking both the GTX 980 and 970 – but, the lack of impressiveness does owe most of its thanks to the Strix’s factory overclock already pushing things well beyond reference. Nonetheless, I’ll be able to make better sense of the overclocking abilities of the GTX 960 once I get additional samples in.

So, there we have it. The GTX 960 is as fast as the more expensive R9 285, draws far less power, runs cooler, and offers the suite of benefits that Maxwell brings to the table. Given its price and featureset, NVIDIA’s done well here. If there’s a sticking-point, it’s the 2GB framebuffer. It almost makes me wonder if a GTX 960 Ti is en route which will feature a 192-bit bus and 4GB framebuffer to be priced at around $250. That sounds tasty.

Pros

Cons

ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix - Techgage Editor's Choice
ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Strix

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