The NVIDIA GTX 950 Review; Feat. EVGA

Author: SKYMTL
Date: August 19, 2015
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NVIDIA’s Maxwell lineup has seen its fair share of successes but there was a noteworthy omission: a card in the key $150 price bracket. While enthusiasts may roll their eyes at anything under the GTX 960’s already-affordable $199, there’s a huge market out there for even more affordable options. Many just don’t have the money for higher end solutions and quite frankly, they don’t even require the additional performance. This is where the new GTX 950 gets factored into the equation.

The GTX 950’s mission statement is an extremely simple one. It needs to deliver high performance in popular MOBA-style games while still retaining enough in the tank to power through triple-A titles at 1080P. With that in mind, NVIDIA expects this card to offer a natural upgrade path from their GTX 650 Ti and GTX 650, two cards that are still among the most popular around due to their low initial cost and respectable power consumption numbers. To a lesser extent, GTX 750-series owners may want to sit up and take notice too. Replacing these GPUs may sound like a tall order but the GTX 950 seems to have what it takes to offer exactly that and eventually become NVIDIA’s volume-mover.

At the GTX 950’s heart beats what may be a surprising core design to some. Instead of using a new xx7-series core like the Kepler-based cards did, this one uses a cut down version of the 2.94 billion transistor GM206 found in NVIDIA’s GTX 960. To create a “new” core design all that’s been done is the elimination of two Streaming Multiprocessors and voila, a lower priced version is born.

The end result of this cutting is actually a very appealing product for the budget-minded market. The GTX 950 boasts 768 CUDA cores and 48 Texture Units which should be more than adequate for most of today’s games, not to mention upcoming DX12 titles. Meanwhile, the back-end setup hasn’t been touched so it boasts 32 ROPs and two 64-bit memory controllers feeding into 2GB of GDDR5. Those two aspects are arguably the biggest selling points here when compared against the relatively anemic 16 ROP / 1GB setup of previous generations. Add to that Maxwell’s new compression color compression algorithms that significantly optimize memory bus usage and there’s potential for some serious improvements.

From an architectural standpoint there may only be a pair of disabled SM’s to separate the GTX 950 and the GTX 960 but NVIDIA has added a few other points of distinction. First and foremost, the GTX 950 operates at 1024MHz and 1188MHz for the Base and Boost frequencies respectively but, as with all NVIDIA cards, expect the Boost speed to go well above that when given adequate cooling. The memory has been downclocked in relation to the GTX 960 but only by 400MHz. That should easily be overcome with a bit of judicious overclocking.

With all of these changes this new iteration of GM206 has a TDP of just 90W. This is actually quite a bit more than a GTX 750 Ti but notably better than what the GTX 650 Ti offered up. From a performance per watt standpoint though, the GTX 950 will blow both of those solutions straight out of the water.

One of the most talked-about items of this launch will likely be NVIDIA’s starting price of $159. That number represents a significant premium over initial cost for the GTX 650 Ti and about 50% more than the GTX 650 but happens to be almost right in line with the GTX 750 Ti 2GB’s $149. The question is whether or not buyers of $129 and $109 Kepler cards will feel like the GTX 950’s heavily expanded feature set and better performance is worthy of spending more money. Essentially NVIDIA is pushing their entry-level customers to a higher price point but they believe there's a ton of value in what they're offering versus previous sub-$200 generations.

Another point to bring is how this launch is being approached by NVIDIA’s board partners. There isn’t a GTX 950 “reference” design to speak of so every one of them is free to design cards to their own specifications. Not only does that mean a wide variety of options but there will also be numerous performance and price points between NVIDIA’s baseline spec and the GTX 960.

Competition against the GTX 950 boils down to a single card: AMD’s R7 370. Priced at exactly $149, this very capable GPU seems to have a significant edge over NVIDIA’s offering in some respects but it is based off of an architecture that started it life as Pitcairn, is well over three years old and can’t even begin to approach the feature set of today’s front-line Maxwell offerings. In a straight-up fight for value, the 370 is decidedly outmatched here.

On the flip side of that equation, AMD’s card does have a notable memory bandwidth advantage with up to 4GB of GDDR5 and a 256-bit bus width. While that may not prove to be a telling factor at the 1080P resolution these affordable graphics cards play in, numbers do help move product sometimes.

While we can debate all day about the merits of GeForce Experience, DX12.1, GameWorks, G-SYNC and many of NVIDIA’s other features against those which AMD offers on their rebrands, there’s no denying the GTX 950 will be an appealing GPU for gamers on a budget. Whether or not it will be enough to sway folks away from their precious Kepler cards remains to be seen.

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