MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review

January 26, 2015 | 10:37

Tags: #best-gtx-960 #factory-overclock #gtx-960 #maxwell

Companies: #msi

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G 2GB Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK price (as reviewed):
£175.99 (inc VAT)
US pirce (as reviewed): $219.99 (ex Tax)

Late last week, Nvidia launched its mid-range Maxwell graphics card, the GTX 960. While it uses a new GPU (GM206), it is essentially level with a GTX 760 in terms of performance, but comes with the benefit of Nvidia's latest features and Maxwell's outstanding efficiency. With prices starting at £160, its price-performance ratio is acceptable, but in terms of the reactions we've seen there's been a lot less excitement surrounding the launch compared to the GTX 970, for example.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
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With decent deals still to found on AMD's R9 280, R9 285 and R9 280X, there's certainly no dominant force or must buy card in this segment of the market. Adding to your choices is the fact that Nvidia's board partners naturally have a wide range of GXT 960 SKUs on sale. MSI is one such partner; its GTX 970 Gaming 4G was a fantastic card, and for this launch its back with the GTX 960 Gaming 2G, again featuring a factory overclock and the Twin Frozr V cooler.

Bundled in the box is a DVI to VGA adaptor, as well as a 6-pin to 8-pin PCI-E power cable, since MSI has upgraded the standard 6-pin power connector to an 8-pin one. This potentially will increase the power available for overclocking operations, while the cable ensures people with older PSUs still only need a single 6-pin connection.

The majority of GTX 960 cards on the market come with some form of factory overclock – there's no true reference design and it gives marketing teams another feature to boast about. The MSI GTX 960 Gaming is clocked at 1,216MHz, with a rated boost clock of 1,279MHz – in practice, it happily boosted to and stayed at 1,367MHz under load. This is a decent, middle of the road overclock of 8 percent, which is line with the card's middling price tag of around £175. There is no memory overclock, which is a shame but also the norm for GTX 900 series cards, all of which so far already run at 7GHz effective.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
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The Twin Frozr V cooler is responsible for making the card fairly hefty, taking it to 270mm long. Meanwhile, the two fans are each almost 100mm across, making it at least 30mm taller than the standard PCI bracket height. It also of course requires two expansion slots, though it's actually a little shallower than a full dual-slot card, meaning there's room a little extra room for airflow in tightly packed SLI situations. Still, while we're confident in the cooler's ability after seeing it at work on the GTX 970, it does seem a little bit like overkill. Most standard size cases will still be able to handle it without issue, but it's also more limiting than the Asus Strix GTX 960 we saw at launch, for example. We would like to see more manufacturers embracing the efficiency of Maxwell to produce more compact cards.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
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The cooler uses a plastic shroud, though it has no outstanding build quality issues. Its design is very open so air will be exhausted mostly back into your case. There's no metal backplate on the card either, so in most cases with windows you'll be looking at a bare PCB. We also see two of the Samsung memory chips on the rear exposed without any form of cooling, but honestly this has never made a difference to how well they overclock.

MSI sticks to the excellent reference connection set – a dual-link DVI-I, three DisplayPorts (1.2) and a HDMI 2.0 port.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
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A look at the PCB reveals the use of a 4+1 phase power delivery system – the same as we saw on the Asus card and more than enough for a card of this class. The MOSFETs have their own heatsink, and MSI has also upgraded the components to include its Super Ferrite Chokes (SFC) for the GPU power phases.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
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The GPU cooler is largely the same as we saw on the GTX 970 but with one less heat pipe. It uses a large contact plate, one u-shaped 8mm heat pipes and two 6mm s-shaped ones, and these copper components are nickel-plated too. The fin stack is very large, occupying the card's entire length. Neither of the front-facing memory chips are actively cooled.

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming 2G Review
Click to enlarge

There is unsurprisingly a lot of empty space on the 255mm long PCB. There's also a 4-pin header for controlling the functionality of both fans together. This includes the ability to shut them both off completely, since the GTX 960 Gaming is semi-passive in operation. Finally, there's a smaller 2-pin header along the top edge, which simply powers the white LED behind the MSI logo on the shroud.


  • Graphics processor Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, 1,216MHz (boost 1,279MHz)
  • Pipeline 1,024 stream processors, 64 texture units, 32 ROPs
  • Memory 2GB GDDR5, 7GHz effective
  • Bandwidth 112GB/sec, 128-bit interface
  • Compatibility DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.5
  • Outputs/Inputs 3 x DisplayPort 1.2, Dual Link DVI-I, HDMI 2.0
  • Power connections 1 x 8-pin PCI-E, top-mounted
  • Size 270mm long, dual-slot
  • Warranty Three years

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