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ASUS, MSI, EVGA GTX 950 Review

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Category: Video Cards
Price: Starting @ $159
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ASUS, MSI, EVGA GTX 950 Introduction:

Today, NVIDIA and its partners are delivering the next installment in the Maxwell plan for world domination, the GTX 950. Having seen Maxwell grow up from the earliest example, the GTX 750 and 750 Ti, to and through GTX Titan X, we now go back to the beginning to take all the innovation and work on the hardware back to the entry level price points. Starting at an opening price of $159, NVIDIA is not only beefing up the hardware, but thoroughly developing its ecosystem based around three key principles: to provide the best hardware, the best experience, and to give the gamer more platforms to enjoy the gaming experience.

NVIDIA has had the hardware for a while, but have really ratcheted up the ecosystem side of the equation over the past couple years through its GameWorks initiatives. It does this by getting in on the ground floor and offering up a whole platform of technology, like VisualFX (HBAO+, FaceWorks, HairWorks, WaveWorks, GI Works, etc.), PhysX, FleX,OptiX, a core SDK with sample code, debuggers, and profilers. It enables those game developers to input realistic shadows, smoke, fur, clothing, destruction, various fluid effects, and global illumination. Add in the latest DX12 feature sets and you end up with a much improved gaming experience.

Today, I will be taking a look at a trio of these entry level gaming solutions based on NVIDIA's 28nm GM 206 core. I have the ASUS GTX 950 Strix, the EVGA GTX 950 SSC, and the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G, all of which start with the same core and 2GB of GDDR5 memory, but take different paths to get to the finished product. It should prove interesting to see how this trio performs against not only the GTX 750, but how well it fares against the competition from AMD.

ASUS, MSI, EVGA GTX 950 Closer Look:

Starting with a look at NVIDIA's Maxwell GM 206 architecture, it is based around two Graphics Processing Clusters, each with its own raster engine. Packed with two GPCs featuring six Maxwell Streaming Multi Processor units, each has a Polymorph engine; 128 CUDA cores; and eight texture units. A pair of 64-bit memory controllers are used to manage 2GB of 6600MHz rated GDDR5. Built on NVIDIA's 28nm process, this implementation houses only 2.94 billion transistors compared to 5.4 billion under the lid on the GTX 980. Being built for efficiency and performance, you can see how less yet more efficient hardware should relate to the much improved 90 watt power envelope used on the GTX 950.

The reference core clock speeds for the GTX 950, as stated, are 1024MHz with a boost clock of 1188MHz. Those numbers pale in comparison to the clock speeds seen on these three factory overclocked cards. Each one comes to us with a healthy overclock right out of the box, ranging from  a base core clock of 1127MHz on the MSI GTX 950 Gamig all the way up to an 1190MHz base clock on the EVGA GTX 950 SSC. Clock speeds used for the 2GB of GDDR5 come in at 1650MHz, or an effective rate of 6600MHz running through a 128-bit bus. While this may initially seem to be cause for concern, the smaller bus width proved a non-issue with earlier Maxwell-based cards, delivering higher memory bandwidth through the narrower bus. NVIDIA has some additional tech up its sleeves for improving the memory compression techniques to reduce the memory bandwidth needs. By using the new third generation lossless Delta Color compression algorithms, you see a benefit as data is written to and from the GDDR5 memory at up to an 8:1 ratio depending on the size of the pixel block being written. This results in Maxwell needing 25% less bytes of data than a comparable Kepler core. A Kepler core would need a memory data rate of 9.3Gbps to run comparable throughput numbers to Maxwell's memory architecture.

 

 

At this point in time, NVIDIA has been working to not only deliver the hardware side of the business, but to find the tools it needs to really drive the experience part of the puzzle. The work NVIDIA does with game developers is only part of the work it does. NVIDIA has identified MOBA gaming as one of the opportunities to improve that overall experience. With an unbelievable growth curve, this category is one where high FPS and responsiveness are one of the keys to success. Dota 2 is one of the more, if not most popular titles in this genre. NVIDIA has found a way to improve responsiveness and reduce input lag through GPU optimizations available in its GeForce Experience back end. NVIDIA has updated this valuable tool to include not only low latency optimization files, but with more and more game optimization as time passes. A new technology called Share will replace ShadowPlay and allow gamers to share a gaming experience in real time by using the hardware decoders built into the Maxwell architecture.

It's an exciting time for gamers to be sure. Let's dig into each of the offerings I have and see just how they perform.




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