Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 2GB Review: feat. Gigabyte

Manufacturer: Nvidia
UK price (as reviewed):
MSRP £129 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): MSRP $159 (ex Tax)

Nvidia has been slowly filling out the GTX 900 series since the GTX 980 and GTX 970 launched in tandem last year, and today the firm is releasing its second GM206 desktop card, the GTX 950. Starting at £129, it's available today in a large variety of partner cards; there is again no set reference design, this being something that both green and red teams appear to reserve solely for flagship and high-end launches. As such, we'll be looking at Gigabyte's GTX 950 OC for this review.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 Review: feat. Gigabyte
Click to enlarge

The GTX 950 will sit between the GTX 750 Ti (first generation Maxwell) and the GTX 960, which is the full implementation of the GM206 GPU upon which this card is based. Nvidia is describing the new card as a gateway to GeForce gaming, and targeting MOBA players, not just with price but with specific features too. It is designed as an upgrade for anyone running anything from integrated graphics to a GTX 650 or equivalent and playing at 1080p. Nvidia also claims it offers twice the performance per watt of the GTX 650 and is three times as fast in raw power. At the given price, it's main competition comes from AMD's R7 370, which typically starts at £120. We haven't reviewed that card ourselves yet but have obtained its performance figures for the purpose of this review.

As a GM2xx product, the GTX 950 inherits all the second generation Maxwell features that we first saw in the GTX 980, including DirectX 12 support up to feature level 12_1.It benefits from the efficiency of a streamlined and more parallel streaming multiprocessor design, higher amounts of internal cache and Nvidia's third generation delta colour compression engine – all of this is discussed in detail in our GTX 980 review here in case you need a refresher.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 Review: feat. Gigabyte
Click to enlarge

The GTX 950 GPU comprises six Streaming Multiprocessors (SMMs) split between two Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs). This means Nvidia is disabling two of GM206's SMMs, as there are eight on the die, so stream processors and texture unit counts are down 25 percent in comparison to GTX 960: 768 and 48 respectively. We are assuming that Nvidia is disabling one SMM per GPC, although it never details the exact process; our block diagram is merely a visual aid. Elsewhere, GM206 remains intact, with a 128-bit memory bus and 32 ROPs.

The reference clock speeds are 1,024MHz on the base clock and 1,188MHz boost, though as ever you can expect to see a great deal of variety in the actual speeds offered by partners. Nvidia promises that it's also a good overclocker, claiming that boost speeds in excess of 1,400MHz are possible.

The GTX 950 is equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 as standard, running at 1.65GHz (6.6GHz effective) for a total memory bandwidth of 105.6GB/sec. It doesn't feel like long ago where 2GB was a flagship amount of memory, but with modern consoles having plenty more on tap it's actually starting to feel a little tight, and even with Maxwell's internal caches and colour compression engine, the memory bandwidth is decidedly low. Even at 1080p, these issues could prove problematic with more demanding games. It will be interesting to see if there are scenarios where the memory bandwidth or frame buffer size become bottlenecks.

 Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 4GBNvidia GeForce GTX 970 4GBNvidia GeForce GTX 960 2GBNvidia GeForce GTX 950 2GBNvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB
GPU
ArchitectureMaxwellMaxwellMaxwellMaxwellMaxwell
CodenameGM204GM204GM206GM206GM107
Base Clock1,126MHz1,050MHz1,127MHz1,024MHz1,020MHz
Boost Clock1,216MHz1,178MHz1,178MHz1,188MHz1,085MHz
Stream Processors2,0481,6641,024768640
Layout4 GPCs, 16 SMMs4 GPCs, 13 SMMs2 GPCs, 8 SMMs2 GPCs, 6 SMMs1 GPC, 5 SMMs
Rasterisers44221
Tesselation Units1613865
Texture Units128104644840
ROPs6456323216
Transistors5.2 billion5.2 billion2.94 billion2.94 billion1.87 billion
Die Size398mm2398mm2227mm2227mm2148mm2
Process28nm28nm28nm28nm28nm
Memory
Amount4GB GDDR54GB GDDR52GB GDDR52GB GDDR52GB GDDR5
Frequency1.75GHz (7GHz Effective)1.75GHz (7GHz Effective)1.75GHz (7GHz Effective)1.65GHz (6.6GHz effective)1.35GHz (5.4GHz effective)
Interface256-bit256-bit128-bit128-bit128-bit
Bandwidth224GB/sec224GB/sec112GB/sec105.6GB/sec86.4GB/sec
Card Specifications
Power Connectors2 x 6-pin PCI-E2 x 6-pin PCI-E1 x 6-pin PCI-E1 x 6-pin PCI-ENone
Stock Card Length267mm267mmN/AN/A147mm
TDP165W145W120W90W60W

The new card also sports the GTX 960's updated video engine, which includes full hardware support for H.265 encode and decode and support for four 5K (5,120 x 3,200) monitors. HDMI 2.0 is included so 60fps 4K content is not an issue, and naturally G-Sync is supported via DisplayPort.

We mentioned that Nvidia is introducing features that target MOBA players. What the company has worked on is reducing latency so as to make such games more responsive. It claims to have achieved a nearly 50 percent reduction in input latency in Dota 2 compared to using a GTX 650. This has been achieved in two ways; the first is simply having a faster GPU, which reduces the time taken in the actual rendering stage of the pipeline. Second, it has cut the number of pre-rendered frames from two to one in the DirectX stage.

For League of Legends, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm, Nvidia's GeForce Experience software will now have two auto-optimisation options – one to achieve maximum performance and one to achieve minimum latency. At present this is only available for GTX 950 users but Nvidia says it is working on making it happen for other cards as well.

The new version of GeForce Experience will also introduce an overly feature, allowing users to quickly access from within a game features such as instant replay, recording and Twitch streaming.
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