MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING Video Card Review

NVIDIA is today launching a GPU aimed at the "sweet spot" of the video card market. With an unexpectedly low MSRP, we find out if the new GeForce GTX 960 has what it takes to compete with the competition. The MSI GTX 960 GAMING reviewed here today is a retail card you will be able to purchase. No reference card in this review.


Continuing its proliferation of its next generation Maxwell GPU architecture, NVIDIA is launching a less expensive version of Maxwell today to hit the "sweet spot" pricing for video cards. On September 18th, 2014, only four months ago, NVIDIA launched its high-end Maxwell architecture based video cards, GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970. Being high-end video cards, these were both priced accordingly. The GeForce GTX 980 retails for around $549 and the GeForce GTX 970 retails for around $329.

The GeForce GTX 980 has proven to dominate video card performance, beating the competition's high-end video card. The GeForce GTX 970 is the video card that surprised us however. The GeForce GTX 970 delivers phenomenal performance for the price and has moved performance forward in that price range of $330. Naturally, NVIDIA was eventually going to fill in pricing below $300 with new GPUs, and today is that day to reveal what NVIDIA has up its sleeves.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960

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GeForce GTX 960 is the new video card being launched today. The GPU powering this video card is brand new silicon codenamed GM206 and is based on the new Maxwell architecture. This is still 28nm process and contains 2.94 billion transistors. All of the features supported on GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970 are also supported on GeForce GTX 960. We are not going to rehash all those here, but you can re-visit our GeForce GTX 980 evaluation to dive into the new features associated with the Maxwell GPU.


One thing very exciting about the new GeForce GTX 960, is the price point NVIDIA is targeting. NVIDIA is pricing the GeForce GTX 960 at an MSRP of $199. This surprised us and is lower than we were expecting. When we think of the "sweet spot" of video card pricing we generally think of a price point around $250, so it excites us to see NVIDIA being aggressive with this target.

This pricing could mean a few things, the GTX 960 is "slow" and needs to be priced low, or NVIDIA is leaving room for another product in the future to fill in between the GTX 960 and GTX 970, or NVIDIA is pricing with AMD’s competitive GPU in mind. Indeed, there does seem to be a wide gap in pricing between $200-$320 that exists between GTX 960 and GTX 970 where another video card could sit in the stack if desired.


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NVIDIA is targeting 1080p gameplay at 60 FPS. To accomplish this the GeForce GTX 960 consists of 1024 CUDA Cores via two Graphics Processing Clusters and eight Streaming Multiprocessors. There are 64 texture units and 32 ROPs backing up the GPU. The base clock will run at 1126MHz and the boost clock will run at 1178MHz. Thankfully, this video card should be very overclockable. NVIDIA is quoting an overclock up to 1.5GHz as possible.

The memory subsystem contains 2GB of GDDR5 at 7GHz on a 128-bit memory bus. This provides 112GB/sec of memory bandwidth. These memory specs may seem a bit low. However, remember that Maxwell architecture benefits from the new Delta Color Compression. Delta Color Compression is also supported on AMD Radeon R9 285 (Tonga) which reduces the need for higher memory bandwidths.

Similar to the GeForce GTX 960, AMD made a similar move with the Radeon R9 285 by reducing the memory bandwidth to 256-bit compared to 384-bit on the AMD Radeon R9 280. It seems both NVIDIA and AMD are on the same page on this GPU decision to lesson bus width on this level of video card at this price point. For the record, the R9 285 launched with an MSRP of $250, but it has dropped in price a bit overall, plus there are rebates available making it even less expensive.

The standout specification for the GTX 960 is its TDP is only 120 Watts. The recommended power supply needed is only 450 Watts. Only one 6-pin power connector is needed, and you may even see video cards that are very short in length as less power circuitry is needed. So it seems that NVIDIA’s trend of doing it cooler is not absent, and thankfully so.