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Nvidia’s recently released GTX 960 proudly positions itself as the $199 ‘sweet spot’ GPU for mid-range PC gamers. The official press release boasts about power efficiency of the card through Maxwell architecture and how much of a ‘perfect upgrade’ the GTX 960 is from the GTX 660 and earlier cards. Marketing buzzwords aside, is there enough of a performance difference to justify upgrading to this card from the GTX 760 or even to jump ship from the AMD R9 285? The aforementioned cards are optimized for 1080p gaming since they all use 2GB of RAM in stock configurations. Anandtech has discovered some peculiarities under the hood of the GTX 960 that seem to put the card at an intentional disadvantage. The most apparent oddity is that the GTX 960 opts to use a 128-bit memory bus instead of the 256-bit memory present in the GTX 760 and R9 285. The significance of this difference is that the GTX 960’s width for accessing its memory is half that of the other cards and this places it in a problematic position. For perspective, 256-bit memory buses are present in the Xbox One and Playstation 4  The risk is that performance of the GTX 960 may be bottlenecked in future multiplatform titles. This leads to one major question: is the GTX 960 merely a stopgap until the next generation of GPUs from Nvidia? Will the ‘1060’ in the next series absolutely bury this card?

While it is impossible to predict the performance of a ‘GTX 1060’ GPU at this time, there are already multiple benchmarks that have compared the GTX 960 with the GTX 760 and various AMD cards. Digital Foundary’s tests used a 1440p resolution instead of the suggested 1080p to see how well the GTW 760, GTX 960, R9 280X and R9 285 perform outside of the comfort zone. The results show that the cards generally perform in the 30fps range on existing titles on high settings above 1080p. Their choice in titles for the test aren’t exactly optimized for PC, so performance may vary on how titles are optimized. Depending on personal preference, this may or may not seem to be a pressing issue. The nature of technology is usually to improve incrementally prior to a revolutionary jump towards the next standard. This is currently an era of transition from 1080p to 4K, which seems to predict the GTX 960 may age to obsolescence prematurely. It’s only a slight improvement at a point where paying a bit more could cover the cost of the truly 4K capable GTX 970. Though, in the wake of the recent issues with the GTX 970, it may be best to wait until everything is sorted out.

Who then is the intended market for this GPU? People in dire need of an upgrade such as the GTX 400 series/Radeon HD 5000 series and those who are making new mid-range PC builds would benefit the most from this card. Even then, the latter group might be better off ordering one of the competing cards used from on-line services such as eBay. The question of ‘needing’ to upgrade is entirely subjective and dependent upon an individual PC build. Those on the fence might stand to benefit the most in the long run if they wait just a bit longer. After all,we are likely not too far from the next generational leap in graphics cards.

For those interested in the GTX 960, Amazon has a ‘super superclocked’ version of the card from EVGA for $210 at the time of writing.

At what point do you feel the need to upgrade or replace a PC? Barring necessary upgrades to keep the system running, what are the bare minimums to justify an upgrade?

Matt M

I'm a contributor to the tech and gaming sections here on TechRaptor. I hold a B.A in English from University of California at Davis. It took me this long to realize just how much of a buzzkill my 'bio' makes me come across as. My hobbies include accumulating more games on Steam than I'll ever have time to play and discussing everything apart from video games on video game forums. Feel free to add other things expected in a corporate news letter blurb. I like long walks on the beach to escape from my video game backlog.

  • Timothy Lastovica

    Matt M, please be a little careful about judging a card by its memory bus width. It is only part of the picture. If you take the memory bus and divide it by 8, 8 bits in a byte, you get 128/8 = 16. Take the 16 and multiply it by the memory clock in MHz and you get 16*7000=112,000. That is the memory bandwidth in megabytes a second. Divide that by 1000 and you get the 112 GB/s which you can cross check me on with the spec sheet on Nvidia’s website. A card can have the same bus width as another card but beat it in total memory bandwidth by having a much higher memory clock. A card with a lower memory bus width can also beat a card with a higher bus width by having a much higher memory clock. To compare memory just use the memory bandwidth as it is the most accurate picture.

    That being said, the 960 is still low in overall memory bandwidth even once you account for the 7 GHz memory clock. I can’t factor in Nvidia’s trickery when it comes to Maxwell and the new color compression. So benchmarks are the best way to judge how color compression helps. The 2 GBs of Vram is also a bit concerning.

    Thank you for the article.

  • I tend to upgrade my PC when things are on the cheap, or when they die. 🙂 I haven’t had that many die on me (that I couldn’t bring back to life), and with my $20 eBay Pentium IV’s, I always have a PC to tinker with (so I don’t render my everyday PC inoperable installing weird packages and futzing with Linux.)

    I guess I’m a cheap bastard. 😉 I do update the GFx cards sooner rather than later though. I don’t spend more than $100 on any one card, because I am not an FPS gamer. The monitor I am using on my current KVM’ed setup cost more than my primary Linux PC (before I upgraded the PS, added a 2nd 1TB HDD, and a Geforce GTX-610 video card.) Now they cost about the same. 🙂 heh. 27″ monitors are so great on my old eyes. 🙂

    When my Windows PC quits being able to play Civilization IV (or Europa Universalis IV), I’ll get another one. 🙂

  • Bobbbbby5

    I’m not one to continually upgrade just because I can’t max a game, it’s when I can’t actually play a game that I do.

    With that said, I’ve been holding off for a lot longer than usual for that “sweet spot” between price and performance. The 960 would be significantly better than what I have now, but as expected it’s specifically designed to make buyers think “well, if I just spend a little more I can get a 970.” I am done with AMD and their drivers though, so that makes card buying a little easier. They’ve gotten better, but not by much.

  • Typical

    I’m trying to hold off upgrading my 660ti until something comes along I can’t play. I really haven’t played anything that stresses it too much on a 1080p monitor, with 2 additional displays running.

    That said, I’m not using my desktop that often, and I’ll probably update my gaming laptop sooner. since I use it more often.