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Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition

Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition

January 27, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition

(STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-2GD5)


Graphics Card
Manufacturer
Asus
Street Price
US$210

The launch of the second generation Maxwell GPU architecture was met with great
fanfare. The GeForce GTX 900 series is a highly potent addition to Nvidia's
lineup that also delivers incredibly high energy efficiency compared to AMD's
current offerings. The GTX 980 and 970 not only outperform the R9 290X and 290
respectively, they do so with barely half the TDP of their AMD counterparts.
Cooling and noise can be a huge problem for high-end cards but with such low
power draws, the 980/970 make it an almost non-issue. In a segment of the PC
market that's been conditioned to expect incremental improvements with each
generation of technology, this is a giant leap.

The 980/970 cards are priced at US$549/$329, not unreasonable considering
their capabilities, as demonstrated by how quickly they flew off store shelves.
However, the pricing still keeps them out of the hands of the majority of PC
gamers who can't afford to upgrade on a whim. The 980/970 are best suited for
QHD/UHD resolutions and are somewhat overkill for standard 1080p displays. For
most users, this makes them a poor value for compared to older, lower tier offerings.
This week, Nvidia finally rectified this issue with the release of the GTX 960,
a Maxwell 2 card for the masses.

GTX 900 Series Comparison
Model
GTX 980
GTX 970
GTX 960
Transistor Count
5.2 billion
5.2 billion
2.9 billion
SMM count
16
13
8
CUDA Cores
2048
1664
1024
Core Frequency
1126 MHz
1050 MHz
1127 MHz
Boost Frequency (max)
1266 MHz
1250 MHz
1228 MHz
Memory Frequency
7010 MHz
Memory Size
4GB
4GB
2GB
Memory Bus
256-bit
256-bit
128-bit
TDP
165W
145W
120W
Starting Price
US$550
US$330
US$200

If you look underneath the hood you'll find that in many ways, the GTX 960
is almost like a GTX 980 split in half. The SM count, CUDA cores, and even the
memory size and bus are exactly half that of the 980, making it much more stripped
down model compared to the 970. On the plus side, the TDP is a mere 120W, which
is very low for a US$200 card.

Like its big brothers, the 960 offers up to four simultaneous 4K MST displays
and supports HDMI 2.0, with the only notable addition being the ability to hardware
decode H.265 (HEVC) video, whch should come in handy as more 4K content becomes
available.



The Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition.



GPU-Z screenshot.

Our first GTX 960 sample comes courtesy of Asus, belonging to their illustrious
Strix line of graphics cards. Asus says the card is factory-overclocked to 1291
MHz (up to 1317 MHz with GPU Boost), sports high-end power deliver components,
and a dual fan cooler with the ability to shut down the fans completely when
it they're not needed. The Strix model has a shorter than normal PCB and the
entire card measures just 21.3 cm across (8.4 inches) giving it a size advantage
over competition. Like the 970, the 960 seems to be available in both small
and large versions, though there doesn't seem to be any disadvantage to opting
for a more compact model, at least not on paper. The GTX 960 Strix is currently
selling for US$210.



The box.



Package contents.

While the Strix series is considered more high end, you wouldn't know it by
the accessories. Only included are a brief user guide, a software disc, a Strix
sticker, and a DVI to VGA adapter.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Asus GTX 960 Strix OC Edition has a 17 cm long circuit board braced by a metal backplate. Its sizable heatsink hangs over the PCB by 1.6 cm, and the plastic fan shroud extends past by that another 1.8 cm. The total weigh is 610 g, with the cooling solution accounting for 360 g on its own.



The heatsink is a two slot solution but it isn't particularly thick/long. It is however equipped with a pair of 80 mm fans and a nice four heatpipe design (2 x 6 mm and 2 x 8 mm).



A metal backplate protects the trace-side of the PCB and stiffens the card so it doesn't bend from the weight of the cooler.



The fan shroud is clipped on with a couple of tabs on each side. As the GTX 960 has modest power requirements, only a single 6-pin PCI-E power connector is necessary.



The back panel has five output options in total, one DVI-I, one HDMI port, and three DisplayPort connectors.



Heatsink removal is easy as it's held on by just four small spring-loaded screws at the back and the 4-pin fan cable. A small black heatsink near the rear panel is secured with screws to the VRMs. The GPU core left bare without a heatspreader or even a shim to protect it.



The card's DirectCU II cooler utilizes four direct-touch heatpipes that
transfers heat from GPU core without using a copper plate as a go-between.
The nickel-plating doesn't extend to the base to ensure more direct contact.



As the card does not extend past the boundaries of a standard mATX/ATX motherboard, it fits comfortably in most tower cases.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Platform



Our GPU test system.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Testing Procedures

Our test procedures are designed to determine the power consumption, noise, and heat produced by the card/cooler with the system in various states. In addition to testing under "normal" conditions, we also perform a torture test consisting of FurMark running in conjunction with Prime95 to stress both the graphics card and processor simultaneously. This combination is more demanding on the CPU and GPU than any real gaming session. This final result is not indicative of a real-world situation, but rather a worse-case scenario; If it can cool the card and its components adequately it means there will be some degree of thermal headroom when deployed in a more conventional situation.

By adequately cooled, we mean cooled well enough that no misbehavior
related to thermal overload is exhibited. Thermal misbehavior in a graphics
card can show up in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sudden system shutdown, reboot without warning, or loss of display signal
  • Jaggies and other visual artifacts on the screen.
  • Motion slowing and/or screen freezing.

Any of these misbehaviors are annoying at best and dangerous at worst —
dangerous to the health and lifespan of the graphics card, and sometimes to
the system OS.

Aftermarket coolers are installed on an ASUS GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II OC, a factory-overclocked single GPU card that draws 225W by our estimates. The stock VRM heatsink is left on if possible. The cooler's fan(s) is connected to the motherboard (if possible) and its speed is changed to various levels to represent a good cross-section of its airflow and noise performance.

Ambient Noise Level

For noise measurements, our mic is positioned at a distance of one meter from the center of the case's left side panel at a 45 degree angle.

Our test system's CPU fan is a low speed Scythe that is set to full speed at all times while the two Fractal 140 mm case fans are connected to case's integrated fan controller. Three standard speed settings have been established for testing.

GPU Test System:

Anechoic chamber measurements
Case Fan Setting
High
24 dBA
Med
15 dBA
Low
12~13 dBA

When testing video cards and coolers with active cooling, the low setting will be used. For passive cards and heatsinks, all three settings will be tested to determine the effect of system airflow on cooling performance.

Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Kingwin LZP-1000
used in our test system:

Kingwin LZP-1000 Test Results
DC Output (W)
22.2
41.9
65.5
90.7
149.0
199.6
251.2
300.3
400.9
AC Input (W)
35
56
81
105
166
211
265
322
426
Efficiency
63.6%
74.9%
80.8%
86.4%
89.8%
92.8%
92.9%
93.5%
94.1%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our
test system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power
input based on this data. We won't go through the math; it's easy enough
to figure out for yourself if you really want to.

TEST RESULTS

Baseline Power with Integrated Graphics:

Power Consumption Measurements:

GPU Test System w/Intel HD 2000 IGP
System Power
Idle
Prime95
AC
36W
71W
DC (est.)
23W
56W
CPU fan at 500 RPM, system fans at 580 RPM.

Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA

System noise level: 12~13 dBA

Ambient temperature: 21°C

System with Discrete Graphics:

System Measurements: GPU Test System w/Asus GTX 960 Strix
State
Idle
Prime95
RE6 Demo (Peak)
Prime95 + FurMark
Prime95 + FurMark
GPU Fan Speed
off
1550 RPM
2000 RPM
1120 RPM*
CPU Temp
17°C
35°C
35°C
46°C
46°C
PCH Temp
39°C
41°C
45°C
46°C
49°C
GPU Temp
36°C
36°C
62°C
62°C
75°C
GPU Core Clock
135 MHz
1418 MHz
1380 MHz
1367 MHz
System Power (AC)
46W
84W
191W
218W
219W
System Power (DC)
32W
69W
177W
206W
207W
12~13 dBA
18 dBA
20 dBA
14 dBA
*manually adjusted fan speed

CPU fan at 500 RPM, system fans at 580 RPM.

Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA

System noise level (on int. graphics): 12~13 dBA

Ambient temperature: 21°C

Like the rest of the GTX 900 Strix line, the 960 model's fans stay inactive at low temperatures so it's effectively silent when the system is performing tasks that don't greatly tax the GPU. As a result, when the machine was idle and when the CPU was loaded using Prime95, the test system produced the same 12~13 [email protected] as it did when running on integrated graphics. Temperatures were low across the board and power consumption was quite modest.

Despite running at default settings, the GPU core frequency jumped up to 1418 MHz during the Resident Evil 6 Demo benchmark test, a full 100 MHz higher than specified. The built-in fan control was surprisingly aggressive, keeping the GPU at 62°C with a speed of 1550 RPM. At this level, the machine emitted 18 [email protected] This is a fairly demanding real game test, but even at its peak, the total system power consumption was well under 200W AC. This system could be run comfortably on a 350W power supply.

Our full load test of Prime95 + FurMark, required 2000 RPM to keep the GPU at the same temperature, resulting in a noise increase of 2 dB. The clock speed dropped to 1380 MHz at this point, but this is still well above stock. 20 [email protected] is very quiet for even a mid-range graphics card, but it can easily be made quieter by overriding the fan controls. Dropping it down to 1120 RPM caused the GPU to hit 75°C and the CPU and PCH to warm up by an additional 3°C, but at this speed, it measured only 14 [email protected], just a hair louder than when the GPU fans were turned off altogether.

Typically I try to shoot for a standard GPU temperature of 85°C but unfortunately an odd bug that caused our test system to crash the moment the GPU temperature reached 77°C with the GTX 960. However, this seems to be an isolated problem as it easily handled temperatures of 90°C and above when tested in two different systems.

Altogether The Strix GTX 960 is quite promising as it clocks fairly high on
its own, the power draw is modest, and the fans spin faster than they need to.
There's plenty of thermal headroom for those in warmer environments, and for
overclocking.

At lower speeds, the stock fans were quite smooth with a modest amount of rattling
from the bearings when observed at close proximity (within one foot). Starting
at about 1500 RPM it started to become increasingly whiny; to be expected for
fans of this size at this speed. Even so, with the side panel of the case muffling
much of the noise produced, it was fairly quiet.

I did notice some coil whine during the Resident Evil 6 test (even with V-Sync enabled) but it manifested as a tolerable low pitched buzz rather than an annoying high pitched squeal.

Noise & Cooling Comparison

Comparison: GPU Test System (FurMark + Prime95)
GPU Model
Est. Power Draw (DC)
GPU Temp
SPL @1m
Asus GTX 960 Strix
151W
75°C
14 dBA
Asus GTX 960 Strix
150W
62°C
20 dBA
Asus GTX 980 Strix
198W
71°C
22 dBA
Zotac GTX 970
168W
78°C
23 dBA
Asus GTX 680
DirectCU II OC
226W
70°C
24 dBA
AMD R9 290X
308W
92°C
39 dBA
CPU fan at 500 RPM, system fans at 580 RPM.

Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA

System noise level (on int. graphics): 12~13 dBA

Ambient temperature: 21°C

We recently updated our GPU test system, transplanting it in the larger Fractal Design Define R5 to create extra space for water-cooled video cards and coolers. The new case actually allows some cards to perform better thermally/acoustically so I only have four cards to compare the GTX 960 Strix to directly, but the results are very promising. On load, the 960 runs quieter and cooler than most higher tier cards, and slowing the fan manually puts it in its own league.

System Power Consumption Comparison

The GTX 960 Strix has a lower TDP than its big brothers so naturally it has an energy efficiency advantage on heavy load, beating out the 970 and 980 by about 30W in the Resident Evil 6 test. It also unexpectedly bested them when idle and during video playback as well. While I wouldn't recommend a mid-range card for a non-gaming PC, it looks like it can pull double duty without drawing too much power from the wall.

GPU Power Consumption Comparison

The power consumption of an add-on video card can be estimated by comparing the total system power draw with and without the card installed. Our results were derived thus:

1. Power consumption of the graphics card at idle: when Prime95 is run on a system, the video card is not stressed at all and stays idle. This is true whether the video card is integrated or an add-on PCI-E x16 device. Hence, when the power consumption of the base system under Prime95 is subtracted from the power consumption of the same test with the graphics card installed, we obtain the increase in idle power of the discrete card over the integrated graphics chip.

2. Power consumption of the graphics card under load: the power draw of the system is measured with the add-on video card, with Prime95 and FurMark running simultaneously. Then the power of the baseline system (with integrated graphics) running just Prime95 is subtracted. The difference is the load power of the add-on card. Any load on the CPU from FurMark should not skew the results, since the CPU was running at full load in both systems.

Both results are scaled by the efficiency of the power supply (tested here) to obtain a final estimate of the DC power consumption.

Note: the actual power of the add-on card cannot be derived using this method because the integrated graphics may draw some power even when not in use. However, the relative difference between the cards should be accurate.

By my estimates, the GTX 960 Strix uses just 13W, the lowest of any mid/high-range card we've ever tested. The entire 2nd generation Maxwell cards do well in this metric but the 960 in particular stands out. On full load, the GTX 960 Strix uses about 150W, a considerable savings compared to most older cards.

Software

The aforementioned thermal headroom can be taken advantage of by the included GPU Tweak utility. Asus' video card tuning app allows you to increase the GPU voltage by 50 mV and raise the power target by 15%, enabling to hit higher clock speeds automatically. The app has a nice charting/monitoring function and the ability to dynamically control the fan speeds as well.

MP3 Sound Recordings

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The consensus among other review sites pegs the GTX 960's performance at a level similar to the GTX 760 and AMD's R9 285/280X, making it a perfect mid-range option for those interested in a good gaming experience at 1080p resolution. If prices had stayed status quo, it would have been a coup for the GTX 960, but AMD has recently lowered their prices so their counterparts can now be found at the US$200 price-point as well. If you look at it from a purely performance:price standpoint, the new Maxwell card doesn't have an edge.

Energy efficiency and size is really where the GTX 960's strengths truly lie, with the Strix OC Edition acting as a fine example of all that entails. The card's power demands are impressively low, so with a decent sized cooler, you're almost guaranteed quiet and cool operation. Under a heavy synthetic load, our sample card managed to stay relatively cool, even with reduced fan speeds that brought the noise level down to near silent levels.

Along with quieter operation, gamers can expect a lower power bill, possibly
less reliance on air conditioning, and the ability to push the clock speeds
higher without much cost in noise or cooling, even if it's already overclocked
out of the box as is the Strix Edition. Those in the market for a new system
can now look at lower wattage power supplies and smaller cases thanks to the
shorter PCB.

The GTX 960 isn't quite the game changer some expected it to be, but it does bring all the advantages of Nvidia's second generation Maxwell technology to a much larger crowd. The hardware has been significantly cut-down compared to its big brothers so it doesn't outperform its direct competitors, but all the side benefits give it a clear advantage, making it easily the best option in its price range.

Our thanks to Asus for the GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition video card sample.



Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix OC Edition wins the SPCR's Editor's Choice Award

* * *

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