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GTX 960 Review (ASUS, MSI and Palit)

GTX 960 Review (ASUS, MSI and Palit)

As much as NVIDIA and AMD would like to have the fastest, highest spec graphics card around the number of consumers able to afford luxuries such as that are limited. Its the lower price points where the large groups of consumers sit and as far as gamers go the £150/$199 level is where we often find the balance of performance and value. Today NVIDIA are refreshing their product which sits at that point and here we test three versions, in our GTX 960 Review.

GTX 960 Review – Packaging and Bundles


gtx-960-review-msi-bundle gtx-960-review-palit-super-jetstream-bundle

The three models being tested today are the ASUS GTX 960 STRIX (with DirectCU 2 cooler), MSI’s GTX 960 Gaming 2G and Palit’s GTX 960 Super JetStream. All have familiar packaging for the brand and inside each has very similar bundles. The ASUS arrives with software disc, small manual, sticker and DVI to VGA adapter. MSI go with documentation software disc, DVI to VGA Adapter and power convertor (6 to 8pin). Palit also include a sticker, manual, DVI to VGA adapter and disc with their power cable converting 2x Molex to 6pin PCIe.

GTX 960 Review – ASUS GTX 960 Strix

gtx-960-review-asus-strix-top gtx-960-review-asus-strix-back

ASUS have the most compact GTX 960 on show today and attached to the front of the black PCB is a dual slot cooler, from their DirectCU II range. It uses four chunky heatpipes which start at a copper GPU block and as standard a set of aluminium fins helps disperse the heat. ASUS note that their Strix cards are designed to offer silent gaming in games which require lower workload, for example Counter Strike Online as the fans remain off when the temperature is below a set level.

Enhancing the build quality of the card is a large metal backplate which ensures stability and also ensuring a high level of build are the Super Alloy Power components. These work together to reduce power loss, run cooler and enhance durability. For example the chokes used eliminate buzz at full load while the capacitors used by ASUS are designed to offer twice the lifespan of standard parts. Asus offer a 3-year warranty on this product.


Along the top edge of the card we find a six pin power connector which help the PCIe slot supply the cards 120w of power and closer to the outputs we have an SLI connector. ASUS go with a five output configuration of 3x DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI.

Looking at the key specifications of the card NVIDIA use their Maxwell GPU for the GTX 960 in its GM206 variant. It is a 28nm part with 32 ROPS and 64 TMUs with 1024 CUDA cores and uses a 128-bit memory bus. ASUS go with a core speed of 1253MHz with boost set at 1317 MHz and their memory spec (2048MB of Samsung GDDR5) is 1800MHz. This is of course a card which supports the latest DirectX as well as the key NVIDIA technologies of PhysX, G-Sync, Gamestream, Dynamic Super Resolution, Voxel Global Illumination, MFAA and 3DVision. GPU compute is also supported as is 7.1 audio over HDMI.

Also worthy of note is the inclusion of ASUS GPU tweak software which allows us to monitor and overclock our card and they round things off with an X-split premium licence for 1-year.

asus-gtx-960-strix-review-gpuz asus-gtx-960-strix-review-tool

GTX 960 Review – MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G

gtx-960-review-msi-geforce-top gtx-960-review-msi-geforce-back

MSI go with a black and red colour scheme on their Gaming 2G card use a cooler from their Twin Frozr V range. This model uses TORX fans which turn off at low temperature/load and beneath them are four heatpipes (SuperSU) and aluminium fins. MSI use a custom PCB on this card, one which is closer in size to the likes of the GTX 970 than the GTX 960 from competitors and we get a single SLI connector and 8-pin PCIe input along the top edge. (The MSI logo on the top edge also lights up from beneath)


As far as outputs go, MSI use 3x DisplayPort 1.2, DVI and HDMI. This of course means we can connect multiple displays at one time, for example 3x1920x1080 in surround gaming and 4K is also supported. MSI of course use the standard NVIDIA Maxwell GPU for their GTX 960 in its GM206 configuration. It is a 28nm part with 32 ROPS and 64 TMUs with 1024 CUDA cores and uses a 128-bit memory bus. MSI go with a core speed of 1216MHz with boost set at 1279 MHz and their memory spec (2048MB of GDDR5) is 1753MHz. This is of course a card which supports the latest DirectX as well as the key NVIDIA technologies of PhysX, G-Sync, Gamestream, Dynamic Super Resolution, Voxel Global Illumination, MFAA and 3DVision. GPU compute is also supported as is 7.1 audio over HDMI.

msi-gts-960-gaming-2g-review-specs msi-gts-960-gaming-2g-review-afterburner

MSI also offer their own monitoring/tweaking software with the GTX 960, in the detailed form of Afterburner along with the more streamlined Gaming App with its one click tweaking.

GTX 960 Review – Palit GTX 960 Super Jetstream

gtx-960-review-palit-super-jetstream-card gtx-960-review-palit-super-jetstream-back

Palit are fond of the red and black colour scheme which is great as it matches many mainstream and high end motherboards. Two 9cm fans are present which rotate in alternate directions, passing air through the aluminium fins. This is a cooler which is designed to run in passive mode when at low load/temperature and Palit also install a set of LEDs in the transparent, jet engine inspired, fans for some added aesthetic appeal. Turning the card we see that it uses a compact black PCB with support section on the end to accommodate the large cooler. The standard GTX 960 configuration of 6pin power connector and one SLI connector are also present.


Round at the outputs Palit go with dual DVI, DisplayPort and HDMI and the card will happily power multiple displays such as 2x4k. As expected Palit use the standard NVIDIA Maxwell GPU for their GTX 960 in its GM206 configuration. It is a 28nm part with 32 ROPS and 64 TMUs with 1024 CUDA cores and uses a 128-bit memory bus. Palit go with a core speed of 1279MHz with boost set at 1342 MHz and their memory spec (2048MB of Samsung GDDR5) is 1800MHz. This is of course a card which supports the latest DirectX as well as the key NVIDIA technologies of PhysX, G-Sync, Gamestream, Dynamic Super Resolution, Voxel Global Illumination, MFAA and 3DVision. GPU compute is also supported as is 7.1 audio over HDMI.

palit-gtx-960-super-jetstream-review-specs palit-gtx-960-super-jetstream-review-thunder

As is standard for NVIDIA cards, Palit offer their own monitoring and tweaking software on the GTX 960 Super JetStream. In their case Thunder Master.

GTX 960 Review – Performance

Test Spec:
Intel Core i7-5960X on X99
16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2800
Samsung 850 Pro 512GB
Corsair AX1500i Antec Kuhler 1250

Sapphire Radeon 285 OC
Gainward GTX 760 OC

Installed on a Dimastech EasyXL Test Bench

Intel Wireless AC 7260
Razer DeathAdder
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate
ASUS 120Hz/3D Display

Windows 8.1 64-bit
AMD Drivers: 14.12
NVIDIA Driver 347.25
Assassins Creed Unity
Alien Isolation
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare
F1 2014

The test system was built from scratch, a format of the hard drive was performed (NTFS) and then Windows 8.1 was installed. Following the completion of the installation, the video drivers were installed. All windows updates were then installed as were the latest builds of the benchmarking tools. Finally, the hard drives were de-fragmented (where appropriate). For each test, the video drivers were set to default quality/optimizations (unless otherwise stated).

Good Benchmarking Practice

Where possible, each benchmark was performed three times and the median result for each resolution/setting is shown in the tables that will follow. All applications had their latest patches applied and all hardware features the latest BIOS/Firmware.

1920×1080 + Thermals and Power

3DMark FireStrike Extreme
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Assassins Creed Unity 1920×1080 Medium Detail
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Alien Isolation 1920×1080 Max Detail FXAA
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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare 1920×1080 Maximum Detail FXAA
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DOTA 2 1920×1080 Maximum
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F1 1920×1080 Ultra Detail 8xAA
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Alien Isolation 4K High Detail
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GTX 960 Review – Conclusion

Looking at the GTX 960 GPU first we have a chip which brings all of the features from the GTX 980/970 and offers them to consumers at a much more affordable price point. Of course the core configuration as far as performance goes is different but the features are the same… with one added bonus, full encode/decode of H.265 (GTX 980 offers encode only) and HDCP 2.2 over HDMI.

Although there is no retail reference card as such, NVIDIA state that the reference specifications for the GTX 960 are 1126MHz with a boost clock of 1178MHz and all of the cards on show today go past that in their specifications which is great to see. And this is the reason we tested against OC versions of the GTX 760 and Radeon 285.

As far as the individual cards go, ASUS offer a well build GTX 960 with low noise operation and the most impressive software bundle of the lot. MSI, in our opinion, have the most pleasing card for those who are building a system with case window. Their software is also good and cooler very quiet. Palit then offer the fastest of the cards on test today, though with a slightly louder cooler than the other two (that said, it is still low noise).

Our time with the GTX 960 cards has been limited however the overclocking potential from our initial testing is very promising. Both ASUS and Palit overclocked by well over 200Mhz on the core. The MSI card has gone even further and we will update the results as we confirm the maximum stable clocks.

In terms of comparison with other cards, we do get feature improvements over the part it replaces, the GTX 760. Silent/passive use is a big win for example as is the improved power use. However as is often the case with new NVIDIA cards it will be most desirable to those on the GTX 660 and older. The comparison with AMDs 285 is also decent, with the two architectures splitting the wins and loses on a game to game basis. We can of course play at 1080 resolution in recent games without issue on GTX 960 and while we can bump things up to 4k in some games, the most useful feature for many will be Dynamic Super Resolution which allows (in games such as RTS, MOBA etc) the card to render at higher detail and maximise the display output at 1080.

Summary: The GTX 960 offers a lot of flexibility for NVIDIAs partners. These initial cards are all well priced as long as they stay as close to the £159/$199 reference price point as possible. Each offers good performance at 1080 resolution and low noise operation, in fact silent much of the time. We also like the low power use and the presence of cutting edge features. The GTX 960 is a very well rounded product worthy of our recommended award.

Recommended Award

Available from Overclockers.

About Author

Stuart Davidson


  1. IvanV

    Meh… 18 months pass since the release of GTX 760 and its replacement increases the performance at the same price point by exactly 0% (the new card lost 4/6 game tests to the old one). Bring the next Radeons.

    • Laur

      Well, it may be true that GTX 960 isn’t any better performance wise, however, GTX 960 is 25% cheaper even right now and offers same amount of performance. As such, GTX 960 offers more power per unit of currency and that is a good thing.

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