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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 950 graphics card reviewed

...alongside the Radeon R7 370

So far, 2015 has given us a bounty of high-end graphics cards. If you want to spend somewhere north of three hundred bucks on a graphics card—and heck, maybe three times that—then you have plenty of shiny new options from which to choose. I've spent a borderline scandalous amount of time testing graphics cards in 4K resolutions in the past six months.

Playing with the fancy toys is nice, but it's not very realistic. The vast majority of PC gamers play at resolutions of 1080p or below, and for the most part, you can get away with using a much more affordable graphics card when you "only" have a couple of megapixels to paint.

Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 950 Xtreme Gaming

That's pretty much the rationale behind the GeForce GTX 950, a new entry in Nvidia's graphics card lineup that promises a nice mix of price and performance. The GTX 950 isn't especially revolutionary in technology terms. It's based on a somewhat hobbled version of the same GM206 graphics chip used in the GeForce GTX 960. So no new silicon here. But the GTX 950 does bring a full Maxwell 200-series feature set to cards priced well under $200, and its performance is more than credible. In fact, as Nvidia points out, this card is "faster than any current console," with the obvious targets being the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. As a result, the GTX 950 ought to be a popular choice for an awful lot of PC gamers, especially those folks with 1080p displays.

If you keep on top of these things, you may be aware that the GTX 950 has been on the market for over a month now. Our review has been lingering deep in the bowels of Damage Labs for . . . reasons. However, our delay has been somewhat fortuitous. Not only do we have our hands on three different versions of the GTX 950, but we also have a couple of variants of the competing card from the red team, the Radeon R7 370. We should be able to give you a bit deeper look not just at these mid-range GPUs but also the particular cards you might be buying.

GTX 750 Ti 1020 1085 16 40 640 128 5.4 2 GB 60W $119.99
GTX 950 1024 1188 24 48 768 128 6.6 2 GB 90W $159.99
GTX 960 1126 1178 32 64 1024 128 7.0 2 GB 120W $199.99
GTX 970 1050 1178 56 104 1664 256 7.0 4 GB 145W $329.99
GTX 980 1126 1216 64 128 2048 256 7.0 4 GB 165W $549.99

The table above offers a look at how the GTX 950 fits into the current GeForce lineup. The mighty-mite GTX 750 Ti has dropped to $119.99 in order to make room for its new big brother. Since it's based on a larger chip with more of everything, the GTX 950 represents a nice step up at $159.99.

At just 90 watts, the GTX 950 technically would only require a single six-pin aux power input to do its thing. Board makers like Gigabyte, whose Xtreme Gaming version of the 950 is pictured above, have taken things up a notch, as they tend to do. The cards we have from both Gigabyte and EVGA feature an eight-pin input. The extra juice might ensure more overclocking headroom. The Xtreme Gaming also happens to look like Batman's hovercraft, which I find strangely appealing.

EVGA offers no less than four versions of the GTX 950, and the FTW edition shown above is the most extreme, with base and boost clocks of 1203 and 1405MHz, respectively. (Incidentally, that's exactly the same rated clock speeds Gigabyte has assigned to the Xtreme Gaming.) The FTW edition is selling for $179.99 at Newegg, a price that may be justified by the presence of a "full-sized" board and cooler combo that measures just over 10" in length.

Asus has taken a bit of a different approach with some of its mid-range graphics cards recently, and the Strix GTX 950 follows suit. This card has a capable dual-slot cooler, but it sports a six-pin power input and has somewhat more conservative clock frequencies of 1165/1355MHz. Don't discount the Strix's performance based on those specs just yet, though. We've found that actual clock speeds—and thus performance—with today's GeForces depend quite a bit on cooling and board power delivery, and Asus has a good record on this front.

Since the Strix was the first example of the GeForce GTX 950 to arrive in Damage Labs, we've used it to represent this GPU in the bulk of the performance results on the following pages. That said, we have tested the various flavors of the GTX 950 against one another, as well.