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.