GTX 960 Reference Performance
The GTX 960 card used in our previous testing was overclocked out of the box. The ASUS GTX 960 Strix offers a 12% increase in rated Boost clock though we usually do prefer to use reference designs in our launch stories. However, both the Radeon cards in our test were also retail, overclocked models. The MSI R9 280 Gaming and Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X both have slightly higher GPU clocks than a reference design, so I think the comparison is a fair one.
Obviously I used a non-reference card for our testing with the GTX 960 because we had too – only those models were provided by AICs at this time. But in this instance it makes sense as there is a heavy weight to custom designs versus reference designs that will be on sale today. In fact, based on the data I've seen, I expect to see a 6:1 ratio of overclocked:non-overclocked models from all the partners you would expect including ASUS, MSI, EVGA, Gigabyte, Galax and more.
Still, we were curious what the difference would be for a user with a reference design compared to the ASUS GTX 960 Strix card we used so we decided to try to test it. These "reference" results are emulated and it must be said that it isn't exact. Because of the nature of Boost clocks and dynamic clocking, it is impossible to mirror another clock configuration by simply downclocking the GTX 960. My results will be close though: at stock settings the GTX 960 Strix rested at a 1404 MHz clock speed during gaming while in the downclocked state it was down at 1315 MHz. Also, memory speed was reduced from 7200 MHz to 7000 MHz in the emulated configuration.
In BF4 the difference between the two cards is minimal with both the Strix and emulated reference card able to stay ahead of the AMD options.
In Crysis 3 you can see the overclocked settings result in about a 5% performance lead over the reference settings, getting the GTX 960 closer to the performance of the R9 285 and R9 280.
A similarly small lead is seen in Metro: Last Light for the GTX 960 Strix over the emulated reference card but it does move the GTX 960 above the performance of the R9 280 that it wasn't able to do before.
As is usually the case, the out-of-box overclock of retail cards provides some modest performance boosts but it does not fundamentally change the positioning of the GTX 960 as a whole in the market. We'll see if some more manual overclocking can change that though…