Pricing, Availability and Closing Thoughts

Editor's Note: Don't forget to join us today for a live streaming event featuring Ryan Shrout and NVIDIA's Tom Petersen to discuss the new GeForce GTX 960. It will be live at 1pm ET / 10am PT and will include ten (10!) GTX 960 prizes for participants! You can find it all at http://www.pcper.com/live

The GTX 960 is here; what have we learned?

Performance

The GeForce GTX 960 using the new GM206 GPU fits into an interesting place in the world of PC graphics. Compared only to NVIDIA GPUs the GTX 960 can range from being 33% faster than the 18 month old GeForce GTX 760, to being only even in performance (see Crysis 3 at 1080p for example). My testing shows that it is consistently 15-18% faster than the GTX 760 with a couple of edge cases in our test suite, more than enough to warrant a generation leap as the naming scheme suggests. When we toss in the 3 year old GTX 660 to the mix, the GTX 960 will offer as much as a 52% increase in performance (GRID 2) for gamers that are still using that class of GPU or older.

NVIDIA does have some comparison issues when we go looking at the AMD Radeon lineup as it currently stands. The Radeon R9 280 and the Radeon R9 285 both sell in the $200 range (R9 280 a bit lower, R9 285 a bit higher) and remain very competitive with the GTX 960 in our testing. Even though the R9 280 is based on Tahiti (the same GPU that launched with the HD 7970) it still offers a lot of performance for your dollar, several times passing up the R9 285 based on an updated Tonga GPU (that includes TrueAudio support, etc.). In my testing, I would consider the R9 285 and R9 280 to mix favorably with the GTX 960, giving you slightly better performance in the majority our testing. Not all of it, but most of it. None of the performance leads are incredibly substantial though, and I would lean towards calling these three cards as close to a tie in overall performance as you can get with three different, distinct GPUs.

When it comes to resolutions, the GTX 960 is definitely aimed at the 1920×1080 landscape with the ability to stretch to 2560×1440 for some games and gamers that are okay not cranking up the quality settings to their peak. If you are playing DOTA 2 or League of Legends you might be able to hit 4K if you try hard enough. The Radeon R9 285 and R9 280 do a bit better at resolutions higher than 1080p and the 384-bit memory bus and 3GB of frame buffer will help with 4K performance without a doubt – but even then a single card configuration is going to struggle to run anything other than MOBA's or the likes at 3840×2160.

Power Efficiency

On the other side of performance is power, and here the Maxwell architecture and the GTX 960 GPU are able to easily walk away with the advantage over both the GTX 760 and the pair of Radeon R9 cards used in our comparison. The GTX 960 has a TDP of 120 watts, the R9 285 has a TDP of 190 watts, but that difference is actually more dramatic than those numbers would indicate. As our new advances power testing methods showed, we actually measured more than a 100 watts of power consumption difference while using Metro: Last Light.

In theory, you could actually run a pair of GTX 960 cards and be within the same power consumption as a single Radeon R9 285.

It stands to reason, as you should all be able to tell that the GTX 960 will have nearly 2x the power efficiency as the R9 285 using Tonga. That is not an insubstantial feat! Clearly NVIDIA's doubling down on efficiency for its GPU designs is paying off in this regard.

The question is how much will consumers care? At the high end of the market where users are more willing to pay a premium for more advanced features, and power efficiency can be viewed as that, selling a card that is quiet and cool is pretty easy. But at the mainstream level where dollars count more than elsewhere, how concerned with a gamer be that their new graphics card runs nearly silently and sips power? Hard to say until we see how the GTX 960 sells but I tend to think that the hive mind of the Internet has shifted in favor of NVIDIA's methods in this regard.

Features

The GTX 960 and the GM206 share the exact same feature set as the GTX 980 and GTX 970. The $199 GTX 960 will now be the lowest priced card that supports HDMI 2.0 so users of 4K TVs and monitors that have HDMI 2.0 support (3840×2160 at 60 Hz) will be able build a reasonably priced home theater PC using this card and take full advantage of the specification. MFAA support means that consumers with the GTX 960 will be able to improve performance without sacrificing much image quality and our benchmarks showed that in some cases the performance difference is substantial. DSR, or Dynamic Super Resolution, wasn't discussed in this review as I see it as a feature to utilize additional GPU horsepower that would otherwise go unused. While the GTX 960 doesn't fall into that category often, it might do so with DOTA 2 and LoL for example. Being able to run games at 4K and have them downsampled back to 1080p is a good option for gamers not interested in getting to that 30-40 watt mark in those particular games.

There are other features as well to mention. VXGI is a custom global illumination engine that requires some hooks from Maxwell and VR Direct using warping and low latency techniques to improve experience in with Oculus headsets.

Support for the new feature set of DirectX 12 is included: rasterizer ordered views, typed UAV loads, volume tiled resources, conservative raster. If you don't know what those all mean, you're not alone, but they are new features being added to improve functionality of DX12. As it turns out, not everything in DX12 will be backwards compatible with your current hardware.

Pricing and Availability

Pricing came down the wire just about 48 hours ago. Starting prices on the GeForce GTX 960 cards will be $199 with overclocked versions ranging from $209 to $239 depending on the vendor. Here is a break down of the cards and configurations we tested here today:

UPDATE: Amazon.com has an entire landing page of GTX 960 cards for you to look through.

UPDATE 2: Even BHPhoto.com is getting in the game. They have a good collection of GTX 960 cards available to ship as well!

If you look around on both Amazon.com and Newegg.com you are likely to see some offers on the R9 280 and R9 285 with rebates that will take the cards under the $200 mark. In terms of raw performance per dollar, the R9 285/280 is definitely coming out ahead of the new GTX 960. But that is a stance NVIDIA has been willing to take in the past and it didn't seem to falter because of it. Take the GTX 980 for example – launching at $549 it was $75 more than than the Radeon R9 290X at the time and depended on the features and power efficiency to swing gamers to it. NVIDIA is going to do the same with the GeForce GTX 960.

As for availability you should expect the GTX 960 to be available starting today from just about all the normal vendors. My hope is that we do not see the substantial stock issues that we saw with the first couple of months of the GTX 980/970 release.

Final Thoughts

NVIDIA is clearly comfortable with where it stands in the discrete GPU market. The last five months have been very good to the GeForce brand when it comes to market share and because of that I believe the company feels very little pressure to be more aggressive on the pricing and performance of the new GTX 960. The GM206 GPU offers just enough performance to be considered at the same level as AMD's current product stack, the R9 285 and R9 280. But rather than taking an aggressive move on the Radeon line with a more aggressive performance or pricing stance, NVIDIA will instead depend on its investment in software (GeForce Experience, GameWorks, MFAA, VXGI) and power efficiency to make the case for its product over all others.

And honestly, they're right. The GeForce GTX 960 isn't a breakaway hit like the GTX 750 Ti was when it launched in February of 2014 or like the GTX 970 was in September. Those cards offered better features AND better performance. But the GTX 960 just feels like a product built from the ground up for this market, something that is innovative in a way the GTX 750 Ti was last year. I mean, you could almost run this card without an ATX power connection if you shaved another 20 watts off it!

AMD has another tough road ahead – do they count on the performance per dollar advantage they have over the GTX 960 to hold its ground or do they drop prices again? We haven't heard any rumors of any competing products right around the corner so don't expect help from a new GPU anytime soon. Price drops are a scary place to look for AMD; a company that is losing money while dropping prices on Radeon products like the R9 290X from $479 in September to $329 today has less room to maneuver. Something needs to give though: new prices, new GPUs, new offers – anything.

For gamers with a $200 budget, the battle is just beginning and NVIDIA has made its case with the GTX 960. We are planning a handful of retail card reviews for the coming days so we can help you pick which is the best for you; stay tuned for that if you know this is the route you are taking. The ASUS Strix card is definitely a great combination of performance and quiet cooling for that price but EVGA, MSI and others will have their say as well. And hey, who knows, there is still a sizeable gap between the $199 MSRP of the GTX 960 and the $329 MSRP of the GTX 970…

GeForce GTX 960 2GB

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