The GTX 950 is powerful without being power-hungry; Nvidia’s new cut-price champion is ideally suited to 1080p gaming

Specifications

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 950, Memory: 2GB GDDR5, Graphics card length: 256.5mm

Nvidia has had the high-end pretty much to itself for some time now, with incredibly powerful cards like the GTX 980 Ti wiping the floor with the AMD competition. It’s not quite the same story with less expensive mid-range cards, however; AMD typically has the value for money advantage once prices drop below £180. Nvidia is looking to put a stop to that with the GTX 950, a new mid-range GPU that is aimed at anyone still using older graphics cards that want to play modern titles at 1,920×1,080.

The GPU

The GTX 950 is based on Nvidia’s GM206 GPU, which was first seen in the GTX 960. Although the underlying architecture remains the same, using a 28nm process, Nvidia has reduced the number of CUDA cores from 1,024 in the GTX 960 to 768 here. There are also fewer texture units – 48 rather than the 64 found in the GTX 960. Interestingly, while the 1,024MHz core clock is lower than the GTX 960’s 1,126MHz, the GTX 950 can actually boost higher than the more expensive card; the boost clock can hit 1,188MHz, compared to the 960’s 1,178MHz.

Games are frequently demanding more and more video memory in order to run smoothly, so Nvidia has wisely paired the GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. It runs at an effective 6,600MHz and operates on the same 128-bit memory bus as the GTX 960, although the 105.6GB/s memory bandwidth is slightly lower than the 960’s 112GB/s. Like the GTX 960, third party board partners will be quick to launch 4GB cards at a small price premium, but when the GPU is designed for 1080p gaming it remains to see whether the 4GB versions will be worth the upgrade.

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Our Rating
Price when reviewed
£140 inc VAT (estimated)

Specifications

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 950, Memory: 2GB GDDR5, Graphics card length: 256.5mm

Nvidia has had the high-end pretty much to itself for some time now, with incredibly powerful cards like the GTX 980 Ti wiping the floor with the AMD competition. It’s not quite the same story with less expensive mid-range cards, however; AMD typically has the value for money advantage once prices drop below £180. Nvidia is looking to put a stop to that with the GTX 950, a new mid-range GPU that is aimed at anyone still using older graphics cards that want to play modern titles at 1,920×1,080.

The GPU

The GTX 950 is based on Nvidia’s GM206 GPU, which was first seen in the GTX 960. Although the underlying architecture remains the same, using a 28nm process, Nvidia has reduced the number of CUDA cores from 1,024 in the GTX 960 to 768 here. There are also fewer texture units – 48 rather than the 64 found in the GTX 960. Interestingly, while the 1,024MHz core clock is lower than the GTX 960’s 1,126MHz, the GTX 950 can actually boost higher than the more expensive card; the boost clock can hit 1,188MHz, compared to the 960’s 1,178MHz.

Games are frequently demanding more and more video memory in order to run smoothly, so Nvidia has wisely paired the GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. It runs at an effective 6,600MHz and operates on the same 128-bit memory bus as the GTX 960, although the 105.6GB/s memory bandwidth is slightly lower than the 960’s 112GB/s. Like the GTX 960, third party board partners will be quick to launch 4GB cards at a small price premium, but when the GPU is designed for 1080p gaming it remains to see whether the 4GB versions will be worth the upgrade.

EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 - rear ports

Nvidia’s reference design for the GTX 960 specifies a dual-slot cooler, but as the card has a single 6-pin PCI-Express power socket and an underlying GPU based on the company’s energy-efficient Maxwell architecture, you won’t need a hefty power supply in order to run it. In fact, with a Thermal Design Point (TDP) of just 90W, the GTX 950 consumes considerably less power than any other current Nvidia GPU – even the GTX 960 has a 120W TDP. This means that with a well-designed heatsink, the cooling fans won’t need to spin up at all while you’re on the Windows desktop.

You get a standard set of video outputs on the back of the card, with three DisplayPort 1.2 ports, a single dual-link DVI and an HDMI 2.0 port for 4K video output at 60fps. It’s great to see this included on a budget card, as it means you’ll be able to use it to watch 4K content if you have a compatible TV or display. None of AMD’s 300-series cards support HDMI 2.0, meaning you’re forced to use DisplayPort or drop down to 30fps playback on an ultra-HD TV.

Nvidia Experience

As with all Maxwell-based graphics cards, the GTX 950 supports Nvidia’s proprietary technologies including PhysX hardware-accelerated physics effects and Gameworks hair and cloth effects in supported games, G-Sync adaptive refresh rates on compatible monitors, and the Nvidia Experience software suite which automatically tweaks your games’ graphics settings in order to get the best possible performance from a particular GPU.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 - Nvidia Experience

If you’re running Windows 10, the GTX 950 also supports DirectX 12, including feature level 12_1.

Currently, AMD’s graphics cards only support feature level 11_1, meaning they miss out on visual effects such as conservative rasterization, which has the potential to create much more convincing shadows in games once developers start supporting it.

Nvidia is also making big claims about input latency with the GTX 950. By shortening the rendering pipeline and lowering the number of pre-buffered video frames to 1, latency in games like DOTA 2 drops from 80ms on the GTX 650 to 45ms here. This is incredibly difficult to test, but it will likely come as good news to anyone seriously invested in the frantic clicking action of MOBA titles.

Finally, the GTX 950 is the first card to launch with support for Nvidia’s new GameStream Co-op, a game-sharing system similar to the Share Play feature found on Sony’s PS4. It uses the same technology as Nvidia already uses to stream games over the internet as part of its GameStream service, but here it streams the game you’re hosting on your PC over the internet to another user.

Primarily this lets your friends observe your game, but you can also mirror the controls onto the guest PC to let them take over your gameplay, or even share controls and play cooperatively if the game supports it. The service is currently limited to 720p at 60fps, and you need a minimum 6Mbit/s upload speed for smooth gameplay. We didn’t get the chance to fully test GameStream Co-op in time for Nvidia’s review embargo, but will update this article with our initial impressions as soon as we’ve spent more time with it.

The card

As with other recent mid-range launches, Nvidia hasn’t developed a GTX 950 reference card for the media to test. Instead, it has let its board partners supply their own cards, which use custom coolers and out-of-the-box overclocks. The EVGA GTX 950 2GB SSC is no different; the 256mm-long card is easily one of the biggest GTX 950s currently available, and it needs its bulk to make room for the twin-fan ACX heatsink.

If you’ve got the room inside your case for the large card, however, there’s no denying the cooling system is effective.

The fans don’t spin up at all until the GPU hits 60 degrees C, meaning that it’s completely silent on the Windows desktop and even when playing less demanding games. The fans didn’t spin up to noticeable levels at any point during our testing, with the three-heatpipe heatsink proving incredibly effective at taking heat away from the GPU without serious intervention from the fans.

The EVGA card’s base clock has been pushed up from 1,024MHz to 1,190MHz and the boost clock has been increased from 1,188MHz to 1,393MHz, roughly a 15% improvement over Nvidia’s reference design. The memory also gets a small 10MHz push to 6,610MHz effective.

EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 - Bios switch

EVGA clearly intends gamers to overclock its GPUs, as it includes the comprehensive PrecisionX software utility in the box for tweaking clock speeds and voltages within Windows. It has also fitted an 8-pin PCI-Express connector, rather than the standard 6-pin, in order to ensure the card gets enough power once overclocked. There’s even a toggle switch on the card to alternate between two graphics BIOS chips, which contain different fan profiles for more effective cooling at higher clock speeds. It’s almost overkill for a card aimed at 1080p gaming, but you can at least be sure that cooling is sufficient regardless of your clock speeds.

Performance

The GTX 950 is performs brilliantly at 1,920×1,080, as long as you’re realistic with detail settings and anti-aliasing – after all, this is a sub-£150 graphics card. We saw a perfectly smooth 71.9fps in Dirt Showdown, and while 39.1fps in Tomb Raider is an improvement over the Xbox One version’s capped 30fps, swapping out the very demanding super sampling anti-aliasing (SSAA) for the less resource-hungry FXAA resulted in 77.5fps. The GPU-intense Metro: Last Light Redux was just below what we’d judge playable with SSAA enabled, averaging 26.6fps, but disabling it and dropping tessellation and texture details from maximum to high boosted the frame rate considerably to 64.9fps. We’ve yet to publish our AMD Radeon R9 370 review, but based on our early benchmark results the GTX 950’s closest competitor is between 5% and 10% slower across the board in our chosen game tests.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 benchmark results - 1080p

At higher resolutions, you may not be able to run the latest games at their highest graphical details and stay above 60fps, but if you’re prepared to make a few detail level compromises, gaming at 2,560×1,440 is certainly possible. Unsurprisingly, the four-year-old Dirt Showdown fared best at this resolution, with 50.4fps, meaning you only have to disable anti-aliasing to get over 60fps. Tomb Raider wasn’t far behind, though; we saw 47.8fps with FXAA enabled, a big improvement over the 22.5fps average with SSAA turned on. Metro was the toughest challenge, as with SSAA enabled we only saw 14.8fps. Turning this off helped improve things to a just-playable 29.2fps. Again, the GTX 950 outperforms the Radeon R9 370, although the gap begins to close in seriously demanding games like Metro.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 benchmark results - 2560p

This card isn’t meant to cope with 4K resolution gaming, even if it will happily play 4K video. None of our test titles broke the 30fps ‘playable’ barrier at our preferred detail settings, although Dirt Showdown came close at 26.9fps. Disabling anti-aliasing and dropping detail levels to High actually resulted in a perfectly playable 67.3fps. Both Tomb Raider and Metro plummeted to single-figure frame rates, but this is mainly down to the use of super-sampling anti-aliasing. We eventually got a playable 48.2fps frame rate out of Tomb Raider by dropping all details to High and forcing off Tessellation, but Metro wasn’t playable at anything above minimal quality settings. Interestingly the AMD Radeon R9 370 pulls ahead slightly in Tomb Raider at this resolution, although the frame rate is still in single figures.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 benchmark results - 4K

Conclusion

At roughly £130 depending on factory overclocks and third-party coolers, the GTX 950 is looking like an absolute bargain for anyone looking to game at 1,920×1,080 for the foreseeable future. AMD’s R9 370 costs roughly the same, yet at the time of writing, it was consistently slower in all our tests. It also uses significantly more power than the energy-efficient GTX 950, and lacks HDMI 2.0 for 4K output at 60fps.

Nvidia has proved yet again just how effective its Maxwell GPU architecture can be, even when the number of CUDA cores and clock speeds are reduced in order to keep the price as low as possible. The GTX 950 is easily able to deliver smooth frame rates at 1,920×1,080. You’ll need to sacrifice anti-aliasing and possibly drop detail settings to stay above 60fps in the newest titles, but considering the price this is a minor concession to make. If £150 is your limit for buying a graphics card, the GTX 950 is a superb buy.

Hardware
Slots taken up 2
GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 950
GPU cores 768
GPU clock speed 1190MHz
GPU clock boost speed 1393MHz
Memory 2GB GDDR5
Memory interface 128-bit
Max memory bandwidth 105.76GB/s
Memory speed 6610MHz effective
Graphics card length 256.5mm
DVI outputs 1
D-sub outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
Mini HDMI outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 3
Mini DisplayPort outputs 0
Power leads required 1x 8-pin PCI Express
Accessories 2x Molex to 8-pin PCI-Express, VGA to DVI adapter

Source: ExpertReviews