Today NVIDIA are launching their latest mainstream GPU which looks to take on the Radeon 370 and offer excellent 1080p gaming. NVIDIA have also given some of the features a real eSports/MOBA focus… so if you are a DOTA, LoL or Heroes of the Storm player then you’ll want to read our GeForce GTX 950 Review.
GeForce GTX 950 Review – What is the 950 and what are these eSports features?
The GeForce GTX 950 is based on NVIDIAs Maxwell GPU, thats the chip which also features on the likes of the GTX 980. The code name of this version of the chip is GM206 and it supports the latest DirectX 12 API (at feature level 12.1 with volume tiled resources for higher quality graphics with less memory used). All of the other standard NVIDIA features such as CUDA, Dynamic Super Resolution, 3D Vision, SLI, G-Sync, MFAA are all supported too.
NVIDIA have tweaked the memory subsystem for GM206, giving each SM its own 96KB of shared memory. L1/Texture Caching functions are combined into a shared 24kb poll of memory per pair of processing blocks (48KB per SMM). The GPU also has access to 1MB of L2 cache and all of this ensures a reduced number of requests to the cards DRAM which also minimises power use.
NVIDIA have also upgraded the video engine within the GTX 950 adding support for H.265 (HEVC) encode and decode. The GPU also supports up to four displays at 5K resolution.
As far as the key specs go, the GeForce GTX 950 uses 6 SMM units with 768 CUDA Cores in total. 48 texture units are available along with 32 ROPs and the GTX 950’s memory interface is 128-bit with initial models using 2GB of GDDR5 memory.
For most gamers, framerate is key… and the GTX 950 those moving from a GTX 650 will see around 3x the performance which is great. Every little thing counts though when it comes to competitive gaming and this is something NVIDIA have looked to address with the GTX 950. As the above graph shows, the GTX 950 will cut response time in DOTA 2 almost in half, 80ms down to 45ms.
How does this happen? On the standard/older render path the game creates a frame and then sends it on to DirectX where there are two layers of processing which include the API and driver before the render takes place on the GPU/Screen. This takes 80ms. With GTX 950 NVIDIA have optimised this process firstly through reducing the frametime (higher performance=lower frame time) and secondly they reduce the number of pre-rendered frames to 1. By removing that second stage (DX2) the frame gets produced faster, 45ms in this case. In summary, as NVIDIA put it “higher performance leads to a faster pipeline, and a pre-rendered limit leads to less latency.”
GeForce GTX 950 Review – EVGA FTW
We start our look at some of the GTX 950 cards which are available to buy today with EVGAs FTW Edition. It arrives in a fairly standard EVGA box, covering many of the key features and inside the bundled items include stickers, case badge, power cable and DVI to VGA dongle. EVGA also offer a free download, Precision X, which allows us to monitor and overclock the card in Windows.
The card itself uses the EVGA ACX 2.0 cooler so dual 8cm ball bearing fans (swept blades) which sit over a block of aluminum fins and running through them three copper heatpipes. A copper GPU block makes direct contact with the GPU and EVGA have added an extra level of quality by applying a chunky backplate to the standard length PCB.
A single SLI connector sits on the top edge of the PCB letting us know we can combine multiple cards for enhanced performance and there is a single 8pin power connector helping to provide the cards 90w (approx) of power.
EVGA go for a 1203MHz core, boosting to 1405MHz and memory is clocked at 1663MHz (Samsung GDDR5). As far as the outputs go, one DVI, one HDMI and three DisplayPort are present here and as this is a HDMI 2.0 part it can output 4k at 60fps.
GeForce GTX 950 Review – Gigabyte Windforce OC
There are no surprises on the Gigabyte packaging, some key info and their usual branding/style. Inside the bundled items, at least on our sample, were minimal… just product documentation. The card itself uses a compact PCB, around 2 inches shorter than the EVGA model and attached to it is the Windforce dual fan cooler. Gigabyte opt for a chunky heatsink underneath, a more solid block than the traditional array of fins (no heatpipes here either) and it makes direct contact with the GPU. On the back of the card we can see the SLI connector, two Samsung GDDR5 chips and that there is no backplate.
Gigabyte go with a single 6pin power connector on the top of the card (again 90w spec) and their clock speeds are 1102Mhz core (boost 1279Mhz) with memory speed of 1653MHz. Finally, outputs come in the form of dual DVI, HDMI 2.0 (4k 60fps) and a single DisplayPort.
GeForce GTX 950 Review – Palit Storm Dual
Palit also go for a pretty basic bundle on their card, some documentation and a software disc. The card itself uses a PCB which sits right in between the EVGA and Gigabyte in terms of length and sitting under the cooler shroud and dual fans are is a chunky heatsink which makes direct contact to the GPU (like Gigabyte, no heatpipes are present). There is no backplate on the Palit card and as the image above shows this card has a slightly brown PCB compared to the black used elsewhere in this review.
Palit stick with the recommended 6pin power input with 2GB of Samsung GDDR5 being the memory configuration and like the other GTX 950s SLI is supported. Clock speeds are 1064MHz core with a boost of 1241MHz and the memory speed set at the factory is 1653Mhz. Palit give us dual DVI, HDMI 2.0 (4k 60fps) and a single DisplayPort for outputs.
GeForce GTX 950 Review – Zotac AMP!
Our final card in this roundup arrives from Zotac and as their box notes this model is the AMP! (overclocked) Edition featuring 2GB of Samsung GDDR5. The PCB length here is near identical to Gigabyte but like that card the cooler extends a bit further taking it close to the Palit but smaller than EVGA. Attached to the front we have Zotacs IceStorm cooler which uses dual fans, a block of aluminum fins and two copper heatpipes. Worthy of note is that the cooler cover is a mix of metal and carbon fibre effect and that the backplate actually extends round to other sides of the card (Zotac ExoArmor).
A single 6pin power connector helps to provide the cards 90w (approx) of power and round at the outputs we find dual DVI, DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 2.0 (4k at 60fps). Core speed is 1203MHz with a boost setting of 1405MHz and memory clock is 1755MHz. Zotac also allow us to push the card further by downloading their FireStorm utility (Free).
GeForce GTX 950 Review – Performance
Testing was performed on the Intel Core i7-5960X running on an X99 board with 16GB of DDR4 and a Samsung 850 Pro SSD. Windows 10 was the OS and all games along with the OS were patched.
All testing was performed on a BenQ BL3201 4k Display at 1080p
NVIDIA Driver: 355.65
AMD Driver: 15.7.1
NOTE: We have marked the Radeon comparison below with 265/370 OC. Those two cards share the same architecture and essentially identical performance at the same clock speeds. The same can be said of the Radeon 7850 which also uses the same GPU config, however that was left out of the chart for size reasons. The GPU was clocked at 1050/5600Mhz and is the 2Gb model.
GeForce GTX 950 Review – Conclusion
Starting with the build quality and design of the cards being tested today we have a few different approaches to the GTX 950. The Palit is probably the “normal” card amongst the bunch, standard PCB, standard outputs. Decent dual fan cooler and solid core/memory speed. Everything most people would want from a GTX 950. Gigabyte look to make their card stand out from that by reducing the PCB length (though it does have a cooler which adds some back) and moving to a more stylish black PCB. EVGA go the opposite direction PCB wise, installing the GM206 GPU on a full length PCB and adding a cooler which could well be described as high end. They also tweak the output configuration to something a little more up to date with the multiple DisplayPorts complimenting DVI and HDMI. Then there is Zotac who offer a step up in terms of outer build quality (metal cover on all sides) while keeping size and outputs at a more standard spec.
As far as features go, all of the cards offer the same level of functionality. DirectX12, audio over HDMI/DisplayPort, 3DVision, G-sync, CUDA, MFAA and the like. 4K output is supported and the cards all support GeForce Experience which allows us to configure our games (individually) for the best balance of quality and framerate in just a couple of clicks. Something we haven’t touched on today, though will likely revisit, is the soon to be released, updated version of GeForce Experience which will include some crazy cool features such as the ability to stream your game to a friend (they use Chrome), invite them and have them join and play with you. That new version also includes an updated overlay for Instant Replay, Recording, Broadcasting (Twitch) and the ability to trim and upload videos to Youtube (4k/60fps) without needing to leave the game.
Turning back to the GTX 950 and looking at performance the obvious comparison to start with is the Radeon 370 (or 265/7850 as it was once known). In our testing the GTX 950 was, more often than not, faster than the Radeon 370. There were some engines where it was close, for example DOTA 2 Reborn, where the results were close but others where the GTX 950 had a clear win, for example Total War: Atilla and Heroes of the Storm. The cards, in the configurations tested today, offered similar power draw when gaming and it was great to see that the trend of silent operation in desktop use has continued. All of the GTX 950s we tested turn off their fans when not gaming.
Summary: It is great to see NVIDIA continuing to evolve their eco-system, not just focusing on FPS. The GTX 950 can game at 1920×1080 with high levels of visual quality, but aspects such as improvements in latency, the inclusion of HDMI 2.0 and the ever improving GeForce Experience are what makes it really stand out from the competition.