Quiet, Efficient Gaming
The little Maxwell that could.
The last few weeks have been dominated by talk about the memory controller of the Maxwell based GTX 970. There are some very strong opinions about that particular issue, and certainly NVIDIA was remiss on actually informing consumers about how it handles the memory functionality of that particular product. While that debate rages, we have somewhat lost track of other products in the Maxwell range. The GTX 960 was released during this particular firestorm and, while it also shared the outstanding power/performance qualities of the Maxwell architecture, it is considered a little overpriced when compared to other cards in its price class in terms of performance.
It is easy to forget that the original Maxwell based product to hit shelves was the GTX 750 series of cards. They were released a year ago to some very interesting reviews. The board is one of the first mainstream cards in recent memory to have a power draw that is under 75 watts, but can still play games with good quality settings at 1080P resolutions. Ryan covered this very well and it turned out to be a perfect gaming card for many pre-built systems that do not have extra power connectors (or a power supply that can support 125+ watt graphics cards). These are relatively inexpensive cards and very easy to install, producing a big jump in performance as compared to the integrated graphics components of modern CPUs and APUs.
The GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti have proven to be popular cards due to their overall price, performance, and extremely low power consumption. They also tend to produce a relatively low amount of heat, due to solid cooling combined with that low power consumption. The Maxwell architecture has also introduced some new features, but the major changes are to the overall design of the architecture as compared to Kepler. Instead of 192 cores per SMK, there are now 128 cores per SMM. NVIDIA has done a lot of work to improve performance per core as well as lower power in a fairly dramatic way. An interesting side effect is that the CPU hit with Maxwell is a couple of percentage points higher than Kepler. NVIDIA does lean a bit more on the CPU to improve overall GPU power, but most of this performance hit is covered up by some really good realtime compiler work in the driver.
Asus has taken the GTX 750 Ti and applied their STRIX design and branding to it. While there are certainly faster GPUs on the market, there are none that exhibit the power characteristics of the GTX 750 Ti. The combination of this GPU and the STRIX design should result in an extremely efficient, cool, and silent card.
The STRIX Asus GTX 750 Ti
Asus has several levels of products ranging from the default reference designs up to the ROG series of products that define the high end. The STRIX branding takes many of the build quality characteristics of the ROG series, but applies a higher efficiency, cool and quiet philosophy to those products. STRIX typically offers higher overall performance than reference designs, but the focus is on keeping these products as quiet as possible.
There are relatively few changes to the STRIX GTX 750 Ti as compared to the stock unit, but the ones that are present have a big impact on the quality of the product. First and foremost Asus has designed a heatsink that is simply overkill for a GTX 750 Ti. This dual slot cooler features a unibody aluminum construction that also implements two heatpipes with direct contact to the GPU. The two 80 mm fans can push a significant amount of air over the cooler when going full bore. What is unique about this dual fan design is that there is enough thermal capacity in the heatsink by itself that under reasonable workloads the cooling fans will not even spin. Once the temperature of the GPU reaches a certain threshold, then the cooling fans will start to spin slowly. Only under pretty extreme circumstances will the fans ever start spinning enough for a user to hear.
The contents are pretty bare, even for a $159 card. The packaging is very good though, it is unlikely the card would suffer major damage in shipping.
The STRIX GTX 750 Ti also utilizes many of the higher end power components to improve stability and increase the lifespan of the product. At a TDP of less than 75 watts, the power phase requirements for the GTX 750 Ti are pretty minimal. Asus still provides an upgraded design with the higher end components, even in this midrange-budget oriented card. In theory the upgraded design and component choices should lose less power to heat. This should give better overclocking headroom even without the external PCI-E power connector to provide more juice to the card.
The overall design has some interesting compromises. Asus has removed the second DVI port from the reference GTX 750 Ti design. It only features a single dual link DVI port, a DisplayPort, and a HDMI port. The DVI port can be connected to a DVI to VGA adapter, but those are becoming more and more rare (thankfully). The loss of one DVI port does give extra room on the backplate for the outward facing vent. This vent is somewhat superfluous though, as the airflow from the heatsink is not directed towards the opening. This is really not all that problematic though, as we are still dealing with a chip that does not produce a significant amount of heat in the first place.