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Today Nvidia is releasing its most affordable GeForce GTX 900 series GPU yet, bringing Maxwell to the masses by essentially halving a GTX 980 in parts and price. Billed as the company's 'sweet spot' card, the GTX 960 is meant to deliver on value, offering more performance than the competition with considerably better power efficiency.
Because they're meant to provide the best bang for your buck, sweet spot GPUs have typically been an affordable way to achieve high-end performance via SLI or Crossfire. One of the best examples I can recall was the Radeon HD 4770, which cost just $200 for a two-way Crossfire setup and could outpace GPUs that cost two or three times as much.
We also have fond memories of GTX 460 SLI setups and although a pair ran $400, neither AMD nor Nvidia flagships of the time stood a chance. With its predecessors having that sort of history, it seems reasonable to expect big things from dual GTX 960s. They probably won't tackle the GTX 980 but for under half the price they might come close enough.
Gigabyte sent us a pair of GTX 960s for testing. We have a GTX 960 G1 Gaming card as well as a GTX 960 WindForce 2X. Before we jump to the benchmarks, let's take a moment to explore these Gigabyte graphics cards in greater detail. For single-GPU results and a full review of the GTX 960, we have an entirely separate article.
Gigabyte GTX 960 Models
When Gigabyte released its GTX 980 and GTX 970 range it added the elite G1 Gaming series to the mix. Using a rigorous cherry-picking process, the company guarantees higher overclocking capabilities with their G1 Gaming series.
This makes the GTX 960 G1 Gaming the best choice for those not just planning on overclocking, but also for those seeking a graphics card with the best possible air-cooling. The GTX 960 G1 Gaming is armed with a huge triple-fan cooler with a 300w cooling capacity that is typically reserved for higher-end GPUs. That said, please note that the card is armed with a cooler claiming a 600w cooling capacity.
The WindForce 3X cooler featured on the GTX 960 G1 Gaming has three fans with a unique triangle design at their edges that is designed to smoothly guide the blades through the air. Gigabyte says this design improves airflow by 23% over traditional fans whilst reducing air turbulence.
The massive heatsink features a huge copper base complete with four 6mm thick heatpipes. Something new to the GTX 960 G1 Gaming's cooler are the 'silent' and 'stop' indicators, which are part of the semi-passive design. Because Nvidia's spec has a 120w TDP, Gigabyte's 300w cooler can get away with very low fan speeds or at times no fan speed at all.
Gigabyte has designed this graphics card so that the fans will not spin when the GPU isn't being heavily accessed in low powered gaming scenarios where the temperate remains at less than 62 degrees Celsius. The fan shroud features blue LED lights that indicate if that fan is stopped or spinning in silent mode.
Gigabyte says even under full load the GTX 960 G1 Gaming only generates 18.1dB, while reference cards produce 32.6dB. When testing we can confirm that under full load using stress test programs such as FurMark, the GTX 960 G1 Gaming remains virtually silent.
Not only has the cooler been significantly upgraded but so too has the PCB, which now features a 6-phase GPU power design. Reference cards only sport a 3-phase design, which means each phase is dealing with a 40w load before any overclocking takes place to achieve 120w. The GTX 960 G1 Gaming can load balance and with just 27w per phase a maximum power rating of 162w can be achieved.
Having armed the GTX 960 G1 Gaming with exceptional cooling and a more efficient power delivery system, the next step for Gigabyte was to do a little factory overclocking. It pushed the base clock from 1127MHz to 1241MHz, a 10% boost, which pushed the maximum turbo frequency to 1304MHz. The GDDR5 memory has been left at 7GHz, though we are sure there is plenty of overclocking headroom here as well.
Therefore, Gigabyte has also developed a more mid-tower friendly version based on the WindForce 2X cooler.
The PCB itself is exactly the same, the key changes have been made to the cooler itself and the operating frequencies. The GTX 960 WindForce 2X features a base clock of 1216MHz, which is just 2% lower than the G1 Gaming version.
Although a more compact dual-fan cooler has been used, Gigabyte has still employed the semi-passive stop fan feature.
The cooler also still has four 6mm copper heatpipes and a rather large array of aluminum fins which are cooled by two of those uniquely designed 92mm fans with triangle blades.
Both versions feature dual 6-pin PCIe power connectors, while the I/O panel includes three standard DisplayPort connectors, a HDMI 2.0 output and two Dual-Link DVI outputs.