Last week Nvidia launched their GTX 950, a budget focused Maxwell card. At the launch I took a look at the Asus Strix 950. Well right after the Strix came in we had the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G come in as well. So today I’m going to see what sets the MSI apart and find out how it performs compared to the Asus as well as the two different R7 370’s that I have recently tested. This is a great chance to see how the Twin Frozr cooler on the MSI compares to the DirectCU II cooler on the Strix and to see what is the better option if you are on the market for a GTX 950.
Product Name: MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G
Review Sample Provided by: MSI
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
|Graphics Processing Unit||NVIDIA Geforce GTX 950|
|Interface||PCI Express x16 3.0|
|Boost / Base Core Clock||
1317 MHz / 1127 MHz (OC Mode)
1279 MHz / 1102 MHz (Gaming Mode)
1190 MHz / 1026 MHz (Silent Mode)
|Memory Size (MB)||2048|
|Memory Clock Speed (MHz)||6650 (OC Mode) / 6610|
|DVI Connectors||1 (Dual-link DVI-I), Max Resolution: 2560 x 1600 @60 Hz.|
1 (version 1.4a/2.0)
Max Resolution: 4096x2160 @24 Hz (1.4a), 3840x2160 @60 Hz (2.0)
3 (version 1.2)
Max Resolution: 4096x2160 @60 Hz
|RAMDAC speed (MHz)||400|
|DirectX Version Support||12|
|OpenGL Version Support||4.5|
|Multi-GPU Technology||SLI, 2-way|
|Card Dimension(mm)||270 x 137 x 37|
|Card Weight (g)||602|
|Power consumption (W)||90|
|Recommended PSU (W)||350|
|Power Connectors||6-pin x 1|
|Accessories||DVI to VGA Dongle x 1|
The packaging for the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G sticks with the same theme and styling that MSI has been using on all of their gaming series cards. Given they have moved away from that with their new Z110 motherboards I wouldn’t be surprised if they do as well on the video cards next product cycle. That said the front of the box has the large red gaming series dragon taking up most of the cover. The background is flat black with a circuit board design across it in a gloss black. They have the product name just above the normal Nvidia mandated green and black section with the card model. Then up along the time are the MSI and Gaming Series logos as well. The back of the box has more going on though. They have highlighted a few key features like the gaming app, zero frozr cooler, torx fans, and SU pipe with photos. Below that is a feature list as well as minimum system requirements and a specification listing. I would love to see them stick with what they have going on the back of the box but swap out the dragon with an actual photo of the card to show what the customer is actually getting.
Inside is a cardboard tray with a second box on top. That box covers the top of the tray like a lid and has a nice MSI Gaming Series logo on it. Up under the box the card is wrapped up in a static protective bag and is protected with inches of foam all around it. Inside of that lid/box are the accessories. I was a little surprised to see that all you get is a DVI to VGA adapter and the driver/software disc. For documentation you get a quick user guide that helps get things setup but doesn’t have to much information. Being a budget card they, much like Asus on our other 950 review, cut out things like extra power adapter cables.
Card Layout and Photos
Being the second GTX 950 that has come through the office I was especially curious how the cards compare specification wise. Both cards have the same 2GB video memory and 128 bit memory interface. The MSI has three different modes that effect the clock speeds of the GPU. The OC Mode runs with a 1127MHz base clock and 1317MHz boost clock. From there things drop slightly to the 1102MHz base clock and 1279MHz boost clock of the gaming mode. Then MSI added a silent more that turns things down more to 1026MHz base and 1190MHz boost. The Asus I tested was slightly faster with its gaming mode coming in slightly above the OC mode of the MSI so it will be interesting later to see how that changes the performance. The MSI does overclock the memory slightly from 6610MHz to 6650MHz from the stock clock, the Asus doesn’t touch the memory at all.
The GTX 950 Gaming 2G has the same black and red theme that the last few MSI cards have had. The new design drops the metal shroud that I loved but looks great. The coolers design uses two gigantic fans that are nearly taller than the card itself. This is MSIs Zero Frozr design that is just like their Twin Frozr cooler but when things aren’t running at max load the fans automatically turn off the keep things quiet. Not only is this card tall but it is considerably longer than the Asus GTX 950 that I reviewed previously.
The Zero Frozr cooler uses three heatpipes that run right on top of the GPU and pull the heat out over the extremely long card. The overall design uses the two large fans that blow down over the large heatsink and then out the open areas around the entire card. This means like all of the other non-reference cards that the 950 Gaming 2G will vent its heat into your case so keep that in mind. The top edge of the fan shroud looks great as well, the red trim wraps around and MSI slipped in a nice MSI logo.
Like I said before, the card is a little on the tall side. The PCB itself is slightly taller than the top of the PCI slot but it is the heatsink, fans, and especially the fan shroud that really adds to the height.
For power the 950 uses a six pin power connection. The plug faces up rather towards the back like the Asus. MSI did flip the plug backwards and as you can see in the photo below they had to notch the PCB to make that work. Flipping the plug lets them get the heatsink right up on the connection rather than having to work around leaving space to get your fingers to the clip.
Just like the Asus GTX 950, the 950 Gaming 2G does come with a single SLI bridge. Keep an eye out on the website next week as I will be taking a look at the SLI performance as well. Being just a single bridge you are limit to just two cards in SLI, but that isn’t a big deal.
For the display connections on the 950 Gaming 2G MSI went with something a little different than the Asus card I took a look at. They went with three DisplayPort connections, an HDMI, and one DVI. Typically I would call this a normal setup but at this price point the rest of the competition both on the GTX 950 side and the R7 370 side are all making sure to include two DVI ports because at this price range the likelihood of a lot of people running all DisplayPort monitors is a lot less likely. For cooling the rear PCI slot does have a half vent but given the cards design I don’t see it being used much.
The back side of the 950 Gaming 2G continues the black from the red and black theme. The PCB has a sharp flat black finish. It’s interesting to look at how empty the extended part of the PCB looks. Sometimes companies will expand the PCB and space everything out more to help with cooling but for the most part this time MSI just did it to move the power connection down farther to keep it from being in the middle of the cooler.
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 3K 240GB SSD||Live Pricing|
|Case||High Speed PC Test Bench||Live Pricing|
|Our Testing Procedures|
|3DMark||The same goes for the most current version of 3DMark using the Fire Strike benchmark in normal, extreme, and ultra settings|
|Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0||Using the “Extreme” preset|
|Unigine Valley Benchmark 1.0||Using the Extreme HD preset to get an average FPS|
|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 2014||We use the built in benchmark for F1 2014. We use the Ultra setting and then test at 2560x1440 and 1920x1080|
|Total War: ROME II||Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in forest benchmark|
|Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor||Using the built in benchmark we test with ultra settings at 1440p|
|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|
|Theif||Tested using the “Very High” setting at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440|
|Folding @ Home||Using the Folding @ Home benchmark we test both single and double precision using the explicit result|
|Cinebench R15||OpenGL benchmark|
|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.|
To start of my testing I ran the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G through our synthetic benchmark suite to get a good look at how it compares to the Asus 950 and the AMD R7 370’s that I have also recently covered. In 3DMark I ran through all three Fire Strike benchmarks, the performance benchmark best shows overall 1080p performance, the extreme benchmark shows 1440p performance, and ultra cranks things all the way up to 4k. So how did it perform? Well on the performance setting the MSI came in just below the Asus 950, given the higher overclock on the Asus this wasn’t a big surprise. The performance gap between the MSI and both R7 370’s was sill huge. With the extreme setting the results were similar as well but with the gaps a little smaller. Then at 4k with the ultra setting the R7 370’s actually pull ahead due to the limited memory bandwidth that the GTX 950 has. In the Heaven benchmark 4.0 the slight overclock difference was just enough of a difference to have the Asus 950 up above the two overclocked GTX 760’s with the MSI just below them. That said the FPS difference was about a half an FPS. This is still almost 10 FPS above the R7 370 results. The results in the more demanding Valley benchmark were similar as well.
As always the synthetic benchmarks are nice, but they don’t really show us how cards will perform in game and that’s what is really important. Because of that I ran through nine different modern games testing all but one at both 1080p and 1440p to get a better idea of the performance you should expect from the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G. To help make it easier to take all of the information in because nine different graphs with this many results is a little crazy I have split the results up into three categories. We have over 60 FPS and above as near perfect gameplay, over 30 FPS as playable but not perfect, and then under 30 as unplayable. From there I split things up between the two resolutions as well. So how will the 950 Gaming 2G perform? Well at 1080p none of the games came in as unplayable. Five of the 8 games weren’t perfect and fell into the 30-60 FPS range and then three were above 60. Basically everything is playable at this resolution but for a lot of games you will need to turn the settings down away from the ultra/max settings that we test at. At 1440p the results were a polar opposite with only three games being payable and the other 6 unplayable. This isn’t a big shocker, with 2GBs of memory and a 128 bit memory interface the 950 struggles with the higher resolution just like the GTX 960 did as well.
How does this compare to the competition? Well the Asus 950 does out perform the MSI in some of the games we test in due to its higher clock speed. That said I was surprised at how many games the clock speed didn’t make a difference as well. Not only that but if you were to compare our playability charts between the two cards they are exactly the same. Now comparing them to the R7 370 is a little different. Even the faster R7 370 had two games unplayable at our settings are 1080p and just one at 60 or above. In other words in the real world you will see a performance difference between the R7 370 and the GTX 950 but the difference between the Asus and MSI as far as overclocks didn’t translate to anything big in game.
Continuing through our benchmark suite we have our recently added Compute tests. Here I take a look at a few non-gaming tests to get an idea of how the GTX 950 Gaming 2G will help in day to day activities or in folding if you are interested in that. To start things off our folding at home single precision results have the MSI just behind the Asus and WELL above the two AMD cards. When I turn it up to double precision though that gap vanishes and we actually have one R7 370 up above both of the GTX 950’s. The other test I run is in Cinebench R15 using the OpenGL test. The benchmark renders a scene and the result is the average FPS that it renders at. Here the MSI managed to edge out the higher clocked Asus card, similar to how the Sapphire 370 did the same to the Asus 370 as well.
Cooling, Noise, and Power
For the last bit of my performance testing O change the focus and turn to things that are important when picking out your build parts like cooling and power usage. The cooling and noise tests are also a great way to compare the performance between cards that have the same GPU like the Asus 950 and the MSI 950 that I am testing today. To start my testing I went with the overall power consumption. To test this I load the card using Heaven Benchmark and the new more demanding Valley benchmark and note the highest peak wattage our entire test bench pulls. Given our test bench is on the high end of overall wattage draw itself this is a great way to see what to expect for in game power draw if you go with this card. As always some games will pull more than others and if you run things like furmark you can really push the limits, but I would prefer to see a more real world number. So how did the MSI perform? Well in our Heaven numbers it pulled 308, this is 12 watts less than the higher overclocked Asus card and 15 watts less than both of the R7 370’s. In the Valley test the result was a little higher at 319, but it was still 9 watts less than the Asus GTX 950 and 10 watts less than the Asus R7 370.
Next for noise testing I turn the fans up to 100% and then 50% and test their noise output. In the past I also included idle testing but with things like MSIs Zero Frozr, that this card has, most cards don’t even turn the fans on at or near idle anymore. The MSI 950 Gaming 2G falls into the middle of the pack at 100%, two decibels above the Asus. Oddly enough at 50% fan speed things really quiet down and the MSI is actually slightly quieter. The louder performance at 100% fan speed is I’m sure related to the two MSI fans being MUCH larger than the fans on the Asus Strix.
My last test is simple and to the point, here I heat the card up in Valley Benchmark and record when the highest temperature reached while it loops through the benchmarks. The large cooling fans on the MSI really came in handy here with it peaking at an impressive 64 degrees. This is 5 degrees less than the Asus GTX 950 and even more below both of the R7 370’s.
Overall and Final Verdict
So with this review I set out to see how the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G performs and to find out how it compares to the Asus GTX 950 Strix that I tested last week. Well now that I have run through our entire benchmark suite I finally have a better idea of how the cards fall. First though I do want to talk about the card itself. For starters I was surprised that Asus edged out a lead on the GPU clock speeds with their overclock, that said the MSI still had a decent clock speed over the suggested clock speeds from Nvidia. MSI stuck with the same black and bright red theme that they have had on all of their gaming series cards recently. The color combination always looks good and things were helped even more with nice styling on the fan shroud and the sharp MSI logo up on the top edge. I love that MSI isn’t trying to theme out their card to look like an owl like the Asus cards, not that MSI hasn’t done that in the past with dragons though. MSI’s Zero Frozr cooler has two huge fans that end up forcing the card to be considerably larger than it needed to be. To fit them the card goes about an inch above the top of the PCI slot and they added a few inches to the length of the card by extending the PCB as well.
When it came to actual performance the Asus 950 did pull ahead in a good portion of the benchmarks due to its higher clock speed but I was surprised that a lot of the in-game results didn’t really show much of an improvement. In fact the end result in our breakdown between the two cards was spot on. The MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G performed really well at 1080p, having each game playable or higher. This is different than the R7 370’s where at 1080p a few of the games fall into the unplayable category. The 1440p results were a little on the weak side though due to the limitations of the GTX 950’s 128 bit memory interface and the 2GB frame buffer. Cooling performance on the MSI was great, besting the Asus by a good margin as well as the R7 370’s.
So is the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G the card to get when shopping for a budget card? Well I think currently at these prices the GTX 950 is overall a much better value than the R7 370. So I would be shopping for a GTX 950 currently. But the differences between the Asus and MSI make things a little more complicated. For starters the Asus does have a higher clock speed and performance in most cases. The MSI runs quieter as long as the fans aren’t cranked up to 100% though and its cooling performance was great. I also think the MSI is a much better looking card. But if you are limited on space its larger size might be an issue. So would I pick one up? Well yes, I would actually take the better cooling and looks of the MSI and overclock it myself it I needed that extra bit of performance, as long as it fits in your case.
Live Pricing: HERE