Wrap Up: 'Sweet Spot' GPU, or Not?
Late last year we put together a big graphics card roundup where we compared the value of all current-generation GPUs and broke them down into six categories based on price.
The $200-$250 range, where the GTX 960 belongs, was previously occupied by the GTX 760, the Radeon R9 280 and the R9 285. In that face-off, the R9 285 was cut for being too expensive while the GTX 760 was 10% pricier and 2% slower than the R9 280.
Has the new GeForce GTX 960 changed this?
Well, we expect it to be priced in line with the GTX 760 and we found it to be ~9% faster on average, with up to 34% more performance in Metro Redux and 17% in Watch Dogs, though it was 5% slower in Crysis 3 and 2% in BioShock Infinite.
Next to competing Radeons, the GTX 960 was on average 5% faster than the R9 280 and R9 285, but 5% slower than the R9 280X. As of writing, the R9 285 can be had for just $210, down from $250 when we wrote our roundup late last year. The R9 280 still costs around the same, though some cards have dipped to $190, while the R9 280X sells for $240 now, just $30 more than the R9 285.
At those prices the R9 280 is still better value than the R9 285, though the margins are much narrower. The GTX 960 could be compared to any of these R9 280 GPUs, but to simplify things let's face it against the R9 285 since that is based on AMD's latest technology.
On average, the GTX 960 was 5% faster than the R9 285 despite being slower in BioShock Infinite, Battlefield 4 and Thief. Even though the GTX 960 might not have offered much of a performance advantage, it reduced system power consumption by up to 36%.
The GTX 960's power consumption was comparable to the R9 270X's, though interestingly the latter has a higher 180W TDP (120W for the GTX 960). Moreover, on paper the GTX 960 should consume around 30% less power than the GTX 760, but we saw figures that weren't even half of that.
There is no denying that the GTX 960 is faster and much more efficient than the R9 285, making it our preferred GPU. Despite that, we can't help but feel it isn't the all-new 'sweet spot' GPU that Nvidia is billing it as.
As we had pointed out earlier, the GTX 970 is just 18% slower than the GTX 980 but costs 40% less, making it an incredible bargain for high-end games. The GTX 960 is also 40% cheaper than the GTX 970 but it's 30% slower. For the GTX 960 to really impress and bring that next-gen sweet spot it should have been at least 10% faster than it is.
Notwithstanding, the GTX 960 is a great GPU, the card's low power consumption means it generates very little heat and allows for graphics cards such as Gainward's to run almost silently when gaming. The GTX 960 Phantom peaked at just 71 degrees when gaming, but more impressively, the card couldn't be heard under full load. It was extremely quiet even after overclocking to a boost clock of 1402MHz for a 14% boost.
Pros: Cool and quiet should be the norm for GTX 960 cards, while decent performance and DX12 support should offer some future-proofing.
Cons: Modest gains versus other mainstream cards, including the last-gen part it replaces, and it's a little long for a mid-range graphics card.
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