If no one had to worry about money we would all be running crazy high end PCs with 3 or 4 GTX 980’s or R9 290X’s. The reality is that most people can’t afford to do that and even when they can it’s hard to justify spending that much money on just one part of their PC. The fact is even just one of those cards can cost more than a budget PC and 4 of them can be more than some cars. Because of that we have to try to find a balance between price and performance and along with that make sure there is a card for every price point along the way. Nvidia launched their Maxwell based GTX 980 and GTX 970 back in September, they are now starting to fill in a little more of the 900 Series product line with the introduction of the GTX 960 today. So today I’m going to see how the GTX 960 performs by taking a look at the overclocked Asus GTX 960 Strix.   

Product Name: Asus GTX 960 Strix

Review Sample Provided by: Asus/Nvidia

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

 

Specifications

Model Name

STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-2GD5

Graphics Engine

NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960

Bus Standard

PCI Express® 3.0

OpenGL

OpenGL® 4.4

Video Memory

2GB GDDR5

GPU boost clock

OC Mode : 1317 MHz

Gaming Mode: 1291 MHz

GPU base clock

OC Mode : 1253 MHz

Gaming Mode: 1228 MHz

CUDA cores

1024

Memory Clock

7200 MHz

Memory Interface

128 bit

DVI Output

1x Native Dual-link DVI-I

HDMI Output

1x Native HDMI 2.0

HDCP compliant

YES

DisplayPort

3x Native DisplayPort 1.2

Accessory Bundled

1x DVI to VGA Adapter

Software Bundled

ASUS GPU Tweak & Driver

Dimension

215.2 x 121.2 x 40.9 mm

 

 

What is the GTX 960 all about?

Before we jump into everything else, let’s take a step back and find out what the GTX 960 is all about. By that I mean the reference design not specifically the overclocked card we will be testing today. For starters this is Nvidia’s latest Maxwell based video card. As with the GTX 980, GTX 970, and the GTX 750 Ti the GTX 960 is designed to be substantially more power efficient than previous cards. With that the card only has a TDP of 120 watts and requires just one 6 pin power connection. The goal is to have twice the performance per watt than the previous generation.

So what makes the GTX 960 tick? Compared to prior Maxwell products, the GeForce GTX 960 features an entirely new “GM206” GPU. On the GM206 the Maxwell SMM is partitioned into four 32 CUDA core processing locks giving you a total of 128 total CUDA cores per SM and 1024 total for the entire card. Like previous Maxwell cards each of those blocks has its own dedicated resources for scheduling and instruction buffering to run more efficiently than previous generations. This allows each core to be fully utilized more often speeding things up and being more power efficient. To go with this Nvidia made a few cache improvements as well by giving each SMM its own 96KB shared memory and then putting L1/texture caching functions into a 24KB pool of memory per pair of processing blocks. They also are using a new third-generation delta color compression engine that allows a little more efficiency as well (about 25% fewer bytes per frame). So in the end we have a 128 bit 7 Gbps memory interface with 2048MBs of GDDR5.

nvidia 2

nvidia 3

The GTX 960 shares the same new display engine that the GTX 980 has that allows up to four simultaneous 5K displays. With this card potentially being used in HTPCs more Nvidia also added support for H.265 encoding and decoding where the GTX 980 only has H.265 encoding support. You also get VXGI and MFAA support that was introduced on the 900 series as well as DSR. DSR stands for Dynamic Super Resolution, basically you can run higher resolutions than your monitor is capable of and the card will scale it down for you. By doing this they are able to get better clarity in a lot of games. The downside is that you are going to be doing the processing for a higher resolution, so it will slow things down.

So what does all of this mean? Well Nvidia is touting this as their sweet spot GPU for 1080p gaming. That means that without going all out with a flagship GPU you should still be able to get an ideal gaming experience with the GTX 960 at a more budget friendly price point. They go on to talk about how this is a perfect card for MOBA gaming as well, specifically mentioning League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Heroes of Newerth. I can see where they are coming from, none of those games are all that demanding. But Nvidia is saying that you can run those three games at a resolution of 4k with the GTX 960 so you can use their DSR processing to get a better game experience in all three games at 1080p.

nvidia 1

 


Packaging

The packaging for the GTX 960 Strix follows the same theme that other Strix cards have. Not being a ROG card means there isn’t any red, but the box is all blacked out. The front of the box has the standard green strip with the GTX 960 branding. In the background Asus has a photo of what I can only discrbe as a robotic owl. The front of the packaging also has a drawing of the heatsink and fans as well as a few highlights down at the bottom that point out that this card is overclocked, has 2 gigs of memory, has their Super Alloy power circuitry, and it runs at 0 decibels.

Around on the back of the box Asus goes into a little more detail on the Super Alloy Power and the 0 Decible cooling as well as a little but about the included Xsplit gamecaster software and GPU Tweak. They also include a short specification listing as well as a line drawing of the connection options. This is great because no one wants to get home from the store to find out that they need a different cable to hook their second monitor up or even worse that you will need a new monitor all together with additional connection options.

image 1

image 2

Inside the box they have a second box, this time with this a golden Asus logo on the top. Inside the GTX 960 Strix is wrapped up in a static protective bag and sitting in a cutout section in the foam. For accessories you only get a DVI to VGA adapter. Up under the foam you will also find the driver/software disc, a small guide, and a silver Strix sticker.

image 3

image 4

image 5

 


Card Layout and Photos

If you haven’t seen one of Asus’s Strix cards the GTX 960 Strix would be a bit of a surprise. The Strix lineup doesn’t really look like a traditional Asus card, but it does have its own look going on. They dropped the metal fan shroud for plastic and gave the new shroud a more aggressive look. Part of that is a more angular design but the red design in between the fans also contributes.

image 6

image 8

image 16

image 17

One of the biggest things that sets one manufacture apart from another in the video card market is in their cooler design. Form the Strix Asus uses a cooler design that is designed to run cool enough that the card will run with the fans off a good portion of the time. The card is designed to turn on 0dB mode at between 55 and 57 degrees. To keep things cool Asus uses four large heatpipes to pull the heat directly from the GPU out into the heatsink, spread out across the entire surface. Most manufactures put their heatpipes up top, Asus went a different direction with the GTX 960 Strix and put them on the bottom of the card. This keeps the cards height even with the PCI slots, something we don’t see very often anymore. Asus extended the length of the card by almost two inches to pack in its two fans and also to add a considerable amount of surface area to the heatsink. If you look from the top of the card we can see how thick the heatsink is beyond the PCB. This design is similar to other aftermarket coolers in that it blows air toward the PCB where a reference design typically pushes the air across the PCB toward the PCI slots. That means the GTX 960 Strix does vent almost all of its warm air into your case, so keep that in mind.

image 9

image 10

image 11

image 15

For power the GTX 960 Strix just has the single 6-pin power connection. Asus did flip the connection around from how they are traditionally orientated though. To make room for the clip the PCB is knocked as well. This allows them to fit the heatsink as close as possible to have the highest amount of surface area. The design also has two small LEDs on the back side of the PCB that will light up depending on if the card has power or not. This is a nice way to see if the connection is loose for example.

image 12

For SLI the GTX 960 has a single SLI bridge so you are limited to just two way SLI. That is more than enough to get you a healthy update later on in the cards life when the cards have gone down even more in price!

image 13

So the GTX 960 Strix has a whole selection of options on the rear of the card. You get an impressive three full-sized DisplayPort ports. Along with that you get a full sized HDMI port and a DVI connection that supports VGA pass-through. There is also a small half height vent, but the card isn’t really designed to push air out the back. I love the additional DisplayPort connections but I do still miss having two DVI ports.

image 14

So the GTX 960 Strix has a flat black PCB but you only get a small glimpse of it. Asus went with a full coverage backplate on the card. The backplate has the Asus logo on it flipped upside down so that when you have the card installed in a standard PC you can read the logo. The backplate helps protect the card from getting bumped and gives a little additional strength to the PCB to keep it from deforming. Having a backplate also helps spread out heat on the back of the card to keep temperatures low.

image 7

 


Our Test Rig and Procedures

Our Test Rig

CPU

Intel i7-3960X

Live Pricing

Memory

Corsair Vengeance 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM Quad Channel  (4x4GB)

Live Pricing

Motherboard

Asus Rampage IV X79 Motherboard 

Live Pricing

Cooling

Intel Active Thermal Solution RTS2011LC

Live Pricing

Power Supply

Cooler Master Gold Series 1200 Watt PSU

Live Pricing

Storage

Kingston Hyper X 120 SSD

Seagate Constellation 2tb Hard drive 

Live Pricing

Live Pricing

Case

High Speed PC Test Bench

Live Pricing

Our Testing Procedures

Bioshock Infinite

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Bioshock Infinite on the “Xtreme” quality setting. This has a resolution of 1920x1080, FXAA turned on, Ultra Texture detail, 16x Aniso Texture Filtering, Ultra Dynamic Shadows, Normal Postprocessing, Light Shafts on, Ambient Occlusion set to ultra, and the Level of Detail set to Ultra as well. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.

Tomb Raider

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Tomb Raider on the “Xtreme” quality setting. This has a resolution of 1920x1080, Exclusive Fullscreen turned on, Anti-Aliasing set to 2xSSAA, Texture Quality set to Ultra, Texture Aniso set to 16x Aniso, Hair Quality set to TressFX, Shadow set to Normal, Shadow Resolution on High, Ultra SSAO, Ultra Depth of Field, High Reflection quality, Ultra LOD scale, Post Processing On, High Precision RT turned on, and Tessellation is also turned on.  We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.

Hitman: Absolution

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Hitman: Absolution on the “Xtreme” quality setting other than the MSAA setting is turned down from 8x to 2x. That setting puts the resolution at 1920x1080, MSAA is set to 2x, Texture Quality is set to High, Texture Aniso is set to 16x, Shadows are on Ultra, SSA is set to high, Global Illumination is turned on, Reflections are set to High, FXAA is on, Level of Detail is set to Ultra, Depth of Field is high, Tessellation is turned on, and Bloom is set to normal. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above, except on the “high” setting.

Sleeping Dogs

Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Sleeping Dogs on the “Xtreme” quality setting. That means our resolution is set to 1920x1080, Anti-Aliasing is set to Extreme, Texture Quality is set to High-Res, Shadow Quality is High, Shadow Filter is set to high, SSAO is set to High, Motion Blur Level is set to High, and World Density is set to Extreme. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.

F1 2013

We use the built in benchmark for F1 2013. We set our resolution to 1920x1080 and then use the “Ultra” setting.

Total War: ROME II

Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in forest benchmark

Crysis 2

Using Adrenaline Crysis 2 benchmark.  1080p, 4x Anti-Aliasing, DX11, Laplace Edge Detection Edge AA, on the Times Square map, with hi res textures turned on.

Sniper Elite 3

Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in benchmark

GRID Autosport

Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in benchmark

Metro Last Light

Using the included benchmark tool. The settings are set to 1920x1080, DirectX 11, quality is set to very high, Texture filtering is untouched at 4x, and motion blue is set to normal. SSAA is unselected, PhysX is unselected, Tessellation is off. We run through scene D6 three times to get an average score.

Theif

Tested using the “Very High” setting at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440

3DMark

The same goes for the most current version of 3DMark using the Fire Strike benchmark in normal, extreme, and ultra settings

Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0

Using the “Extreme” preset

Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0 heat testing

We run through Unreal Heaven using the “Extreme” preset for 30 minutes to test in game cooling performance.

Power Usage

Using Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0, we get our “load” power usage number from the peak power usage during our test. We get our numbers from a Kill-A-Watt connected to the test benches power cord.

Noise Testing

Our Noise testing is done using a decibel meter 3 inches away from the video card on the bottom/fan side of the card. We test an idle noise level and then to get an idea of how loud the card will get if it warms all the way up we also turn the fan speed up to 50% and 100% and test both speeds as well. The 100% test isn’t a representation of typical in game noise levels, but it will show you how loud a card can be if you run it at its highest setting or if it gets very hot.

 


Synthetic Benchmarks

To start off my performance testing I ran the GTX 960 Strix through our synthetic test bench suite. That includes all three 3DMark Fire Strike benchmarks as well as a run through the Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0 as well. So how did the card perform? Well in 3DMark Fire Strike Performance and Extreme where we have tested a lot of cards the GTX 960 Strix comes in almost on par with the older GTX 770 and around the AMD r9 285. This puts it up in the top 1/3 of our results. That is also an improvement of about 1100 points in 3DMark Fire Strike Performance over the older GTX 760, a nice jump! With only 2 gigs of memory the bad performance in 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra wasn’t a big shock, that test is ran at 4k. That just isn’t enough VRAM to be able to handle that resolution. In Heaven Benchmark 4.0 the results were similar. We were 3 FPS lower than the GTX 770 but a little over a half PFS over the R9 285.  

graph1

graph2

graph3

graph4

 


In- Game Benchmarks

With the addition of a few more new in game benchmarks that include 1440p testing I can no longer split up our 1080p and 1440p testing cleanly so our in-game section is packed full of graphs, keep that in mind when scrolling down. So I ran the GTX 960 Strix through 11 different games to get a nice variety of games, hopefully a few of them match up with what you are hoping to play. Of those 11 games six of them run at 60 FPS or higher (going up over 100 even) and the other 5 all run above 30 FPS at 1080p. What that tells us is that the GTX 960 Strix isn’t going to have any problem running any game at its highest settings at a standard resolution. Turning things up to 1440 however put a bit of a strain on the card with 4/8 of the 1440p test results being under 30 FPS. It’s not all bad though, one was above 30 FPS and three had numbers above 60! I wouldn’t go with this card if I was planning on running 1440p unless I was only planning on playing a few of the less demanding games or willing to turn the settings down slightly. As for how the GTX 960 Strix performed compared to the other card, there weren’t any surprises. It came in just above the R9 285 and below the GTX 770 in most situations just like in our synthetic testing.

graph5

graph6

graph7

graph8

graph9

graph10

graph11

graph12

graph13

graph14

graph15

graph16

graph17

graph18

graph19

 


Cooling, Noise, and Power

I’ve mentioned it countless times before but the performance between matching model cards between manufactures is mostly dependent on the cards overclock. Where manufactures can really set themselves apart is in this section of our testing. They have a lot more control over their cooling performance and noise and power depends on both the cooling configuration as well as the overclock. So where does the GTX 960 Strix fall? Well starting in power consumption, I was very impressive with the cards performance. At 327 watts its load numbers are considerably lower than the GTX 760 that it replaced and the GTX 770 that is nearly matches in performance. Seriously, that is 37 watts less than the reference GTX 760 and 48 watts less than an overclocked GTX 760. Very impressive!

graph20

If you stand back you can see the two Asus Strix cards that I have tested right away. The big fat 0 for idle noise stands out against all of the other cards we test. Considering how often your PC runs are low load this is extremely impressive. You really will only have to worry about the GTX 960 Strix making any noise at all when you are in game. Even in game I don’t think that noise is going to be much of an issue unless you manually turn the fan speed all the way up. At 100% fan speed things did get a little noisy but at 50% fan speed it was hardly noticeable.

graph21

So with a nearly silent cooler we should expect temps to be a little high right? Well the low power usage and a good cooling design made for one of the lowest load temperatures that I have seen in a long time. The last time I saw something run this cool was the last Strix card I tested. Under load the card ran just a few degrees above 55-77 degree mark that the fans even turn on. This kept things quiet because at no point did the GTX 960 Strix really have to turn up the fan speed to keep things running cool.

graph22

 


Overclocking

So I couldn’t help but run the GTX 960 Strix through our overclock testing once I was done with everything else. I was curious if it overclocked as well as the Maxwell GTX 980 did. So what I did is use Asus’s GPU Tweak software to slowly overclock the GPU and Memory individually. After each overclock I would run through test 2 on 3DMark 11 to confirm that things are stable and to give us an average FPS to compare from overclock to overclock. For the GTX 960 Strix we already started with an overclock at 1317MHz for the GPU. I bumped it up to 1400 with good luck and then again to 1500MHz before our driver crashed. From there I knew I was close to the limit, so I just needed to inch my way up. In the end I was able to edge out a 1470MHz. I think I could put it a little more if I dug into voltage a little but I was very happy with this result and it was very stable.

For memory testing I started at 7200MHz and worked my way up 200MHz at a time until I got up into the higher clock speeds. I get a little more nervious with memory overclocks because it seems easier to cause damage and it doesn’t fail as quickly as a bad GPU overclock. Add to that as you can see even with a clock up to 8300MHz we got a total of 1 FPS. Once I finished that I turned both the GPU and Memory up to their highest passing clock speeds to make sure the card could handle both at the same time. The GTX 960 Strix passed without any trouble. In the end we went from an FPS of 49.92 up to 55.06 FPS.

GPU Clock Speed Overclocking

GPU Clock Speed

Pass/Fail

FPS Result

Notes

1317MHz

Pass

49.92

Stock

1400MHz

Pass

52.61

 

1500MHz

Failed

N/A

Driver Crash

1450MHz

Pass

53.59

 

1460MHz

Pass

54.02

 

1470MHz

Pass

54.27

 

1480MHz

Failed

N/A

Driver Crash

Memory Clock Offset Overclocking

Memory Clock Speed

Pass/Fail

FPS Result

Notes

7200MHz

Pass

49.92

Stock

7400MHz

Pass

50.42

 

7600MHz

Pass

50.48

 

7800MHZ

Pass

50.67

 

8000MHz

Pass

50.78

 

8200MHz

Pass

50.78

 

8300MHz

Pass

50.93

 

8400MHz

Failed

N/A

Artifacts then driver crash

GPU and Memory Overclocks Together

GPU Clock Speed

Memory Clock Speed

FPS Result

Notes

1470MHz

8300MHz

55.06

 

 


Overall and Final Verdict

With Nvidia finally expanding their Maxwell product line into the more budget friendly cards like the GTX 960 I was excited to see if it would be as power efficient as the GTX 980 and GTX 970. No big surprises here, the GTX 960 Strix was fast in all of our testing and pulled an extremely low amount of power. Sure you will need a 6 pin power connection, but you aren’t going to need to upgrade to a high wattage power supply for this card. The Strix also ended up being one of the coolest running cards that I have tested over the past few years. Being a Strix card it also shuts its fans off at lower temperatures, so you have silent performance in a lot of situations. Performance was basically spot on with what Nvidia suggested we might see. When gaming at 1080P you should be able to play just about anything and you can even take advantage of Nvidia DSR with less demanding games like LoL and DOTA2. That said If you are planning on running at 1440p for all of your gaming you are going to be disappointed. This is a sweet spot card, but only for 1080p or less.

So how does the GTX 960 Strix compare to the competition? Well for starters, comparing it to other GTX 960 models, you aren’t going to get the silent 0dB mode with the other cards. You are getting a healthy overclock but it does look like you might see a few other models with a slightly higher overclock. What about AMD? Well in most of my testing the GTX 960 came out slightly ahead of the R9 285. With an MSRP of $209.99 at launch the GTX 960 is going to sell just slightly above most R9 285’s, perfectly in line with the performance I saw. This is a great card to round out a budget build and at current prices I don’t think you are going to get a better value/performance.

fv42tophonors

Author Bio
garfi3ld
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: https://lanoc.org
Editor-in-chief
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

Log in to comment

garfi3ld's Avatar
garfi3ld replied the topic: #36194 22 Jan 2015 14:01
Today Nvidia launches their new GTX 960, I take a look at the Asus GTX 960 Strix to see what the new card is all about.

We have 866 guests and one member online

supportus