A baker's dozen of GTX 960
Back on the launch day of the GeForce GTX 960, we hosted NVIDIA's Tom Petersen for a live stream. During the event, NVIDIA and its partners provided ten GTX 960 cards for our live viewers to win which we handed out through about an hour and a half. An interesting idea was proposed during the event - what would happen if we tried to overclock all of the product NVIDIA had brought along to see what the distribution of results looked like? After notifying all the winners of their prizes and asking for permission from each, we started the arduous process of testing and overclocking a total of 13 (10 prizes plus our 3 retail units already in the office) different GTX 960 cards.
Hopefully we will be able to provide a solid base of knowledge for buyers of the GTX 960 that we don't normally have the opportunity to offer: what is the range of overclocking you can expect and what is the average or median result. I think you will find the data interesting.
The 13 Contenders
Our collection of thirteen GTX 960 cards includes a handful from ASUS, EVGA and MSI. The ASUS models are all STRIX models, the EVGA cards are of the SSC variety, and the MSI cards include a single Gaming model and three 100ME. (The only difference between the Gaming and 100ME MSI cards is the color of the cooler.)
To be fair to the prize winners, I actually assigned each of them a specific graphics card before opening them up and testing them. I didn't want to be accused of favoritism by giving the best overclockers to the best readers!
Battlefield 4 Results
At the end of my first Frame Rating evaluation of the GTX 970 after the discovery of the memory architecture issue, I proposed the idea that SLI testing would need to be done to come to a more concrete conclusion on the entire debate. It seems that our readers and the community at large agreed with us in this instance, repeatedly asking for those results in the comments of the story. After spending the better part of a full day running and re-running SLI results on a pair of GeForce GTX 970 and GTX 980 cards, we have the answers you're looking for.
Today's story is going to be short on details and long on data, so if you want the full back story on what is going on why we are taking a specific look at the GTX 970 in this capacity, read here:
- Part 1: NVIDIA issues initial statement
- Part 2: Full GTX 970 memory architecture disclosed
- Part 3: Frame Rating: GTX 970 vs GTX 980
- Part 4: Frame Rating: GTX 970 SLI vs GTX 980 SLI (what you are reading now)
Okay, are we good now? Let's dive into the first set of results in Battlefield 4.
Battlefield 4 Results
Just as I did with the first GTX 970 performance testing article, I tested Battlefield 4 at 3840x2160 (4K) and utilized the game's ability to linearly scale resolution to help me increase GPU memory allocation. In the game settings you can change that scaling option by a percentage: I went from 110% to 150% in 10% increments, increasing the load on the GPU with each step.
Memory allocation between the two SLI configurations was similar, but not as perfectly aligned with each other as we saw with our single GPU testing.
In a couple of cases, at 120% and 130% scaling, the GTX 970 cards in SLI are actually each using more memory than the GTX 980 cards. That difference is only ~100MB but that delta was not present at all in the single GPU testing.
A Summary Thus Far
UPDATE 2/2/15: We have another story up that compares the GTX 980 and GTX 970 in SLI as well.
It has certainly been an interesting week for NVIDIA. It started with the release of the new GeForce GTX 960, a $199 graphics card that brought the latest iteration of Maxwell's architecture to a lower price point, competing with the Radeon R9 280 and R9 285 products. But then the proverbial stuff hit the fan with a memory issue on the GeForce GTX 970, the best selling graphics card of the second half of 2014. NVIDIA responded to the online community on Saturday morning but that was quickly followed up with a more detailed expose on the GTX 970 memory hierarchy, which included a couple of important revisions to the specifications of the GTX 970 as well.
At the heart of all this technical debate is a performance question: does the GTX 970 suffer from lower performance because of of the 3.5GB/0.5GB memory partitioning configuration? Many forum members and PC enthusiasts have been debating this for weeks with many coming away with an emphatic yes.
The newly discovered memory system of the GeForce GTX 970
Yesterday I spent the majority of my day trying to figure out a way to validate or invalidate these types of performance claims. As it turns out, finding specific game scenarios that will consistently hit targeted memory usage levels isn't as easy as it might first sound and simple things like the order of start up can vary that as well (and settings change orders). Using Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare though, I think I have presented a couple of examples that demonstrate the issue at hand.
Performance testing is a complicated story. Lots of users have attempted to measure performance on their own setup, looking for combinations of game settings that sit below the 3.5GB threshold and those that cross above it, into the slower 500MB portion. The issue for many of these tests is that they lack access to both a GTX 970 and a GTX 980 to really compare performance degradation between cards. That's the real comparison to make - the GTX 980 does not separate its 4GB into different memory pools. If it has performance drops in the same way as the GTX 970 then we can wager the memory architecture of the GTX 970 is not to blame. If the two cards perform differently enough, beyond the expected performance delta between two cards running at different clock speeds and with different CUDA core counts, then we have to question the decisions that NVIDIA made.
There has also been concern over the frame rate consistency of the GTX 970. Our readers are already aware of how deceptive an average frame rate alone can be, and why looking at frame times and frame time consistency is so much more important to guaranteeing a good user experience. Our Frame Rating method of GPU testing has been in place since early 2013 and it tests exactly that - looking for consistent frame times that result in a smooth animation and improved gaming experience.
Users at reddit.com have been doing a lot of subjective testing
We will be applying Frame Rating to our testing today of the GTX 970 and its memory issues - does the division of memory pools introduce additional stutter into game play? Let's take a look at a couple of examples.
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 28, 2015 - 10:21 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: nvidia, memory issue, maxwell, GTX 970, GM204, geforce
UPDATE 1/29/15: This forum post has since been edited and basically removed, with statements made on Twitter that no driver changes are planned that will specifically target the performance of the GeForce GTX 970.
The story around the GeForce GTX 970 and its confusing and shifting memory architecture continues to update. On a post in the official GeForce.com forums (on page 160 of 184!), moderator and NVIDIA employee PeterS claims that the company is working on a driver to help improve performance concerns and will also be willing to "help out" for users that honestly want to return the product they already purchased. Here is the quote:
First, I want you to know that I'm not just a mod, I work for NVIDIA in Santa Clara.
I totally get why so many people are upset. We messed up some of the stats on the reviewer kit and we didn't properly explain the memory architecture. I realize a lot of you guys rely on product reviews to make purchase decisions and we let you down.
It sucks because we're really proud of this thing. The GTX970 is an amazing card and I genuinely believe it's the best card for the money that you can buy. We're working on a driver update that will tune what's allocated where in memory to further improve performance.
Having said that, I understand that this whole experience might have turned you off to the card. If you don't want the card anymore you should return it and get a refund or exchange. If you have any problems getting that done, let me know and I'll do my best to help.
This makes things a bit more interesting - based on my conversations with NVIDIA about the GTX 970 since this news broke, it was stated that the operating system had a much stronger role in the allocation of memory from a game's request than the driver. Based on the above statement though, NVIDIA seems to think it can at least improve on the current level of performance and tune things to help alleviate any potential bottlenecks that might exist simply in software.
As far as the return goes, PeterS at least offers to help this one forum user but I would assume the gesture would be available for anyone that has the same level of concern for the product. Again, as I stated in my detailed breakdown of the GTX 970 memory issue on Monday, I don't believe that users need to go that route - the GeForce GTX 970 is still a fantastic performing card in nearly all cases except (maybe) a tiny fraction where that last 500MB of frame buffer might come into play. I am working on another short piece going up today that details my experiences with the GTX 970 running up on those boundaries.
NVIDIA is trying to be proactive now, that much we can say. It seems that the company understands its mistake - not in the memory pooling decision but in the lack of clarity it offered to reviewers and consumers upon the product's launch.
A few secrets about GTX 970
UPDATE 1/28/15 @ 10:25am ET: NVIDIA has posted in its official GeForce.com forums that they are working on a driver update to help alleviate memory performance issues in the GTX 970 and that they will "help out" those users looking to get a refund or exchange.
Yes, that last 0.5GB of memory on your GeForce GTX 970 does run slower than the first 3.5GB. More interesting than that fact is the reason why it does, and why the result is better than you might have otherwise expected. Last night we got a chance to talk with NVIDIA’s Senior VP of GPU Engineering, Jonah Alben on this specific concern and got a detailed explanation to why gamers are seeing what they are seeing along with new disclosures on the architecture of the GM204 version of Maxwell.
NVIDIA's Jonah Alben, SVP of GPU Engineering
For those looking for a little background, you should read over my story from this weekend that looks at NVIDIA's first response to the claims that the GeForce GTX 970 cards currently selling were only properly utilizing 3.5GB of the 4GB frame buffer. While it definitely helped answer some questions it raised plenty more which is whey we requested a talk with Alben, even on a Sunday.
Let’s start with a new diagram drawn by Alben specifically for this discussion.
GTX 970 Memory System
Believe it or not, every issue discussed in any forum about the GTX 970 memory issue is going to be explained by this diagram. Along the top you will see 13 enabled SMMs, each with 128 CUDA cores for the total of 1664 as expected. (Three grayed out SMMs represent those disabled from a full GM204 / GTX 980.) The most important part here is the memory system though, connected to the SMMs through a crossbar interface. That interface has 8 total ports to connect to collections of L2 cache and memory controllers, all of which are utilized in a GTX 980. With a GTX 970 though, only 7 of those ports are enabled, taking one of the combination L2 cache / ROP units along with it. However, the 32-bit memory controller segment remains.
You should take two things away from that simple description. First, despite initial reviews and information from NVIDIA, the GTX 970 actually has fewer ROPs and less L2 cache than the GTX 980. NVIDIA says this was an error in the reviewer’s guide and a misunderstanding between the engineering team and the technical PR team on how the architecture itself functioned. That means the GTX 970 has 56 ROPs and 1792 KB of L2 cache compared to 64 ROPs and 2048 KB of L2 cache for the GTX 980. Before people complain about the ROP count difference as a performance bottleneck, keep in mind that the 13 SMMs in the GTX 970 can only output 52 pixels/clock and the seven segments of 8 ROPs each (56 total) can handle 56 pixels/clock. The SMMs are the bottleneck, not the ROPs.
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 23, 2015 - 11:09 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: nvidia, gtx 960, graphics drivers, graphics cards, GeForce 347.25, geforce, game ready, dying light
With the release of GTX 960 yesterday NVIDIA also introduced a new version of the GeForce graphics driver, 347.25 - WHQL.
NVIDIA states that the new driver adds "performance optimizations, SLI profiles, expanded Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing support, and support for the new GeForce GTX 960".
While support for the newly released GPU goes without saying, the expanded MFAA support will help provide better anti-aliasing performance to many existing games, as “MFAA support is extended to nearly every DX10 and DX11 title”. In the release notes three games are listed that do not benefit from the MFAA support, as “Dead Rising 3, Dragon Age 2, and Max Payne 3 are incompatible with MFAA”.
347.25 also brings additional SLI profiles to add support for five new games, and a DirectX 11 SLI profile for one more:
SLI profiles added
- Black Desert
- Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
- Zhu Xian Shi Jie
- The Talos Principle
DirectX 11 SLI profile added
- Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
The update is also the Game Ready Driver for Dying Light, a zombie action/survival game set to debut on January 27.
Much more information is available under the release notes on the driver download page, and be sure to check out Ryan’s chat with Tom Peterson from the live stream for a lot more information about this driver and the new GTX 960 graphics card.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | January 22, 2015 - 06:44 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, tom petersen, nvidia, maxwell, live, gtx 960, gtx, GM206, geforce
UPDATE 2: If you missed the live stream you missed the prizes! But you can still watch the replay to get all the information and Q&A that went along with it as we discuss the GTX 960 and many more topics from the NVIDIA universe.
UPDATE (1/22): Well, the secret is out. Today's discussion will be about the new GeForce GTX 960, a $199 graphics card that takes power efficiency to a previously un-seen level! If you haven't read my review of the card yet, you should do so first, but then be sure you are ready for today's live stream and giveaway - details below! And don't forget: if you have questions, please leave them in the comments!
Get yourself ready, it’s time for another GeForce GTX live stream hosted by PC Perspective’s Ryan Shrout and NVIDIA’s Tom Petersen. Though we can’t dive into the exact details of what topics are going to be covered, intelligent readers that keep an eye on the rumors on our site will likely be able to guess what is happening on January 22nd.
On hand to talk about the products, answer questions about technologies in the GeForce family including GPUs, G-Sync, GameWorks, GeForce Experience and more will be Tom Petersen, well known on the LAN party and events circuit. To spice things up as well Tom has worked with graphics card partners to bring along a sizeable swag pack to give away LIVE during the event, including new GTX graphics cards. LOTS of graphics cards.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 Live Stream and Giveaway
10am PT / 1pm ET - January 22nd
Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!
Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:
- 3 x MSI GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards
- 4 x EVGA GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards
- 3 x ASUS GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Cards
Thanks to ASUS, EVGA and MSI for supporting the stream!
The event will take place Thursday, January 22nd at 1pm ET / 10am PT at http://www.pcper.com/live. There you’ll be able to catch the live video stream as well as use our chat room to interact with the audience, asking questions for me and Tom to answer live. To win the prizes you will have to be watching the live stream, with exact details of the methodology for handing out the goods coming at the time of the event.
Tom has a history of being both informative and entertaining and these live streaming events are always full of fun and technical information that you can get literally nowhere else. Previous streams have produced news as well – including statements on support for Adaptive Sync, release dates for displays and first-ever demos of triple display G-Sync functionality. You never know what’s going to happen or what will be said!
If you have questions, please leave them in the comments below and we'll look through them just before the start of the live stream. Of course you'll be able to tweet us questions @pcper and we'll be keeping an eye on the IRC chat as well for more inquiries. What do you want to know and hear from Tom or I?
So join us! Set your calendar for this coming Thursday at 1pm ET / 10am PT and be here at PC Perspective to catch it. If you are a forgetful type of person, sign up for the PC Perspective Live mailing list that we use exclusively to notify users of upcoming live streaming events including these types of specials and our regular live podcast. I promise, no spam will be had!
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 22, 2015 - 01:44 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: video, nvidia, msi gaming 2g, maxwell, gtx 960, GM206, geforce
Did Ryan somehow miss a benchmark that is important to you? Perhaps [H]ard|OCP's coverage of the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G will capture that certain something. MSI runs their 960 at a base of 1216MHz with the boost clock hitting 1279MHz, slightly slower than the ASUS STRIX at 1291 MHz and 1317 MHz. At the time this was posted the cards were available on Amazon for $210, that is obviously going to change so keep an eye out. As [H] states in their conclusions, it is a good value but not the great value which the GTX 970 offered at release, check out their full review here or one of the many down below.
"NVIDIA is today launching a GPU aimed at the "sweet spot" of the video card market. With an unexpectedly low MSRP, we find out if the new GeForce GTX 960 has what it takes to compete with the competition. The MSI GTX 960 GAMING reviewed here today is a retail card you will be able to purchase. No reference card in this review."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Nvidia's GeForce GTX 960 @ The Tech Report
- Zotac GTX 960 AMP!-edition @ Bjorn3d
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960: A Great $200 GPU For Linux Gamers @ Phoronix
- Palit GTX 960 Super JetStream 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming 2GB @ Modders-Inc
- NVIDIA, MSI, EVGA GTX 960 Review @ OCC
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 SLI @ techPowerUp
- EVGA GTX 960 Super Superclocked Video Card Review @ Hardware Asylum
- ASUS STRIX GTX 960 Review @ Neoseeker
- MSI GTX 960 Gaming OC 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- GTX 960 @ HardwareHeaven
- Gigabyte GTX960 G1 Gaming SOC @ Kitguru
- EVGA GTX 960 SSC 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- ASUS GTX 960 STRIX OC 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Asus GTX960 Strix OC Edition @ Kitguru
- ASUS Strix Edition GeForce GTX 960 Graphics Card Review @ Techgage
- Palit GeForce GTX 960 JetStream @ Legion Hardware
- The NVIDIA GTX 960 Performance Review @ Hardware Canucks
- EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SSC ACX 2.0 @ HardwareOverlock
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970/980: Windows vs. Ubuntu Linux Performance @ Phoronix
- 22-Way AMD+NVIDIA Graphics Card Tests With Metro Redux On Steam For Linux @ Phoronix
A new GPU, a familiar problem
Editor's Note: Don't forget to join us today for a live streaming event featuring Ryan Shrout and NVIDIA's Tom Petersen to discuss the new GeForce GTX 960. It will be live at 1pm ET / 10am PT and will include ten (10!) GTX 960 prizes for participants! You can find it all at http://www.pcper.com/live
There are no secrets anymore. Calling today's release of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 a surprise would be like calling another Avenger's movie unexpected. If you didn't just assume it was coming chances are the dozens of leaks of slides and performance would get your attention. So here it is, today's the day, NVIDIA finally upgrades the mainstream segment that was being fed by the GTX 760 for more than a year and half. But does the brand new GTX 960 based on Maxwell move the needle?
But as you'll soon see, the GeForce GTX 960 is a bit of an odd duck in terms of new GPU releases. As we have seen several times in the last year or two with a stagnant process technology landscape, the new cards aren't going be wildly better performing than the current cards from either NVIDIA for AMD. In fact, there are some interesting comparisons to make that may surprise fans of both parties.
The good news is that Maxwell and the GM206 GPU will price out starting at $199 including overclocked models at that level. But to understand what makes it different than the GM204 part we first need to dive a bit into the GM206 GPU and how it matches up with NVIDIA's "small" GPU strategy of the past few years.
The GM206 GPU - Generational Complexity
First and foremost, the GTX 960 is based on the exact same Maxwell architecture as the GTX 970 and GTX 980. The power efficiency, the improved memory bus compression and new features all make their way into the smaller version of Maxwell selling for $199 as of today. If you missed the discussion on those new features including MFAA, Dynamic Super Resolution, VXGI you should read that page of our original GTX 980 and GTX 970 story from last September for a bit of context; these are important aspects of Maxwell and the new GM206.
NVIDIA's GM206 is essentially half of the full GM204 GPU that you find on the GTX 980. That includes 1024 CUDA cores, 64 texture units and 32 ROPs for processing, a 128-bit memory bus and 2GB of graphics memory. This results in half of the memory bandwidth at 112 GB/s and half of the peak compute capability at 2.30 TFLOPS.
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 14, 2015 - 10:49 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: rumors, NVIDA, leak, gtx 960, gpu, geforce
The GPU news and rumor site VideoCardz.com had yet another post about the GTX 960 yesterday, and this time the site claims they have most of the details about this unreleased GPU with new leaked photos from a forum on the Chinese site PCEVA.
The card is reportedly based on Maxwell GM206, a 1024 CUDA core part recently announced with the introduction of the GTX 965M. Clock speed was not listed but alleged screenshots indicate the sample had a 1228 MHz core and 1291 MHz Boost clock. The site is calling this an overclock, but it's still likely that the core would have a faster clock speed than the GTX 970 and 980.
The card will reportedly feature 2GB of 128-bit GDDR5 memory, though doubtless 4GB variants would likely be available after launch from the various vendors (an important option considering the possibility of the new card natively supporting triple DisplayPort monitors). Performance will clearly be a step down from the initial GTX 900-series offerings as NVIDIA has led with their more performant parts, but the 960 should still be a solid choice for 1080p gaming if these screenshots are real.
The specs as listed on the page at VideoCardz.com are follows (they do not list clock speed):
- 28nm GM206-300 GPU
- 1024 CUDA cores
- 64(?) TMUs
- 32 ROPs
- 1753 MHz memory
- 128-bit memory bus
- 2GB memory size
- 112 GB/s memory bandwidth
- DirectX 11.3/12
- 120W TDP
- 1x 6-pin power connector
- 1x DVI-I, 1x HDMI 2.0, 3x DP
We await official word on pricing and availability for this unreleased GPU.