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The new GeForce GTX 900 series
With the addition of the 960, the GeForce GTX 900 series now extends from $199 to $549. Like its big brothers, the GTX 960 inherits the benefits of being part of the Maxwell generation. Those include support for Nvidia's nifty Dynamic Super Resolution feature and some special rendering capabilities that should be accessible via DirectX 12. Furthermore, with a recent driver update, Nvidia has made good on its promise to deliver a new antialiasing mode called MFAA. MFAA purports to achieve the same quality as 4X multisampling, the most common AA method, with about half the performance overhead.

Also, the GTX 960 has one exclusive new feature: full hardware support for decoding H.265 video. Hardware acceleration of H.265 decoding should make 4K video playback smoother and more power-efficient. This feature didn't make the cut for the GM204, so only the GTX 960 has it.

GPU
base
clock
(MHz)
GPU
boost
clock
(MHz)
ROP
pixels/
clock
Texels
filtered/
clock
Shader
pro-
cessors
Memory
path
(bits)
GDDR5
transfer
rate
Memory
size
Peak
power
draw
Intro
price
GTX 960 1126 1178 32 64 1024 128 7 GT/s 2 GB 120W $199
GTX 970 1050 1178 64 104 1664 256 7 GT/s 4 GB 145W $329
GTX 980 1126 1216 64 128 2048 256 7 GT/s 4 GB 165W $549

While the GTX 970 and 980 have 4GB of memory, the GTX 960 has 2GB. That's still a reasonable amount for a graphics card in this class, although the creeping memory requirements for games ported from the Xbone and PS4 do make us worry a bit.

Notice that the GTX 960's peak power draw, at least in its most basic form as Nvidia has specified, is only 120W. That's down from 140W in this card's most direct spiritual predecessor, the GeForce GTX 660. Maxwell-based products just tend to require less power to achieve even higher performance.

A card for every style
After the success of the GTX 970 and 980, Nvidia's partners are understandably eager to hop on the GTX 960 bandwagon. As a result, Damage Labs is currently swimming in GTX 960 cards. Five of 'em, to be exact. The interesting thing is that each one of them is different, so folks are sure to find something to suit their style.


In many ways, the Asus Strix GTX 960 is the most sensible of the cards we have on hand. It's the shortest one—only 8.5" in length—and is the only one with a single six-pin PCIe aux power input, which is technically all the GTX 960 requires. Even so, the Strix has higher-than-stock GPU clock speeds and is the lone product in the bunch with a tweaked memory clock.

The Strix 960 was also first to arrive on our doorstep, so we've tested it most extensively versus competing GPUs.


Pictured above is EVGA's GTX 960 SSC, or Super Superclocked. I suppose that name does the work you need. True to expectations, the SSC has the highest GPU frequencies of any of these GTX 960 cards. At 1279MHz base and 1342MHz boost, it's well above Nvidia's reference clocks.

The SSC also has an unusual dual BIOS capability. The default BIOS has a fan profile similar to the rest of these cards: it tells the fans to stop completely below a certain temperature, like ~60°C. Above that, the fan ramps up to keep things cool. That's smart behavior, but it's not particularly aggressive. If you'd like to overclock, you can flip a DIP switch on the card to get the other BIOS, which has a more traditional (and aggressive) fan speed profile.

Also, notice the port config on the EVGA card. There are three DisplayPort outputs, one HDMI, and one DVI. A lot of GTX 970 cards shipped with dual DVI and only two DisplayPort outputs, which seemed like a raw deal to me. Most GTX 960s are like this one. Via those three DP outputs, they can drive a trio of G-Sync or 4K (or both!) monitors.


Gigabyte sent us a pair of very different GTX 960 offerings, both clad in striking flat black. The shorter and more practical of the two is the GTX 960 Windforce, with a more-than-adequate dual-fan cooler. The G1 Gaming version of the GTX 960 ups the ante with a massive cooler sporting triple fans and a max cooling capacity of 300W. That's total overkill—of exactly the sort I like to see.

Both of these cards have six-phase power with a 150W limit. Gigabyte says they'll deliver higher boost clocks, even under an extreme load like Furmark, as a result. We'll have to test that claim.

Another distinctive Gigabyte feature is the addition of a second DVI output in conjunction with triple DisplayPort outputs. Gigabyte calls this setup Flex Display. Although the GPU can't drive all five outputs simultaneously for 3D gaming, I like the extra flexibility with respect to port types.


Last, but by no means least, is the MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G. This puppy has a gorgeous Twin Frozr cooler very similar to the one used on MSI's GTX 970, and that card took home a TR Editor's Choice award for good reason. In addition to fully passive, fan-free operation below a temperature threshold—a feature all of these GTX 960 cards share—the Gaming 2G's two fans are controlled independently. The first fan spins up to keep the GPU cool, while the other responds to the temperature of the power delivery circuitry.

Also, notice that these cards have only a single SLI connector at the front. That means the GTX 960 is limited to dual-GPU operation; it can't participate in three- and four-way teams.

GPU
base
clock
(MHz)
GPU
boost
clock
(MHz)
GDDR5
clock
speed
(MHz)
Power
connector
Length Intro
price
GTX 960 reference 1126 1178 1753 6-pin N/A $199
Asus Strix GTX 960 1253 1317 1800 6-pin 8.5" $209
EVGA GTX 960 SSC 1279 1342 1753 8-pin 10.25" $209
Gigabyte Windforce GTX 960 1216 1279 1753 Dual 6-pin 10" $209
Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 960 1241 1304 1753 Dual 6-pin 11.25" $229
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G 1216 1279 1753 8-pin 10.75" $209-219

Here's a summary of the GTX 960s pictured above. Although Nvidia has set the GTX 960's base price at $199, each of these products offers a little extra for a bit more dough. I'd certainly be willing to spring another 10 or 15 bucks to avoid the somewhat noisy blower from reference versions of the GeForce GTX 660 and 760.