Review: Silence all the time and decent gaming performance
Gigabyte’s GTX 960 G1 Gaming is one of the best, if not the best GTX 960 graphics card on the market, although it does not shine in terms of value.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at the recently introduced Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming graphics card (GV-N960G1 GAMING-2GD) with the company’s trademark Windforce triple-fan cooler. This is Nvidia’s first mainstream graphics card based on the new and extremely power-efficient Maxwell architecture.The GTX 960 graphics card is based on brand new silicon codenamed GM206. You can think about the GTX 960 as a replacement for outgoing GTX 660 and GTX 760 cards.
Nvidia launched the Geforce GTX 960 describing it as a “sweet spot” graphics card. Traditionally Nvidia’s “sweet spot” cards are 60-series models such as the GTX 460, 560, 660, 760 and so on. They tend to offer a good price/performance ratio and the current generation can run most titles at 1080p with high detail settings. The suggested MSRP for the GTX 960 is 200€.
The G1 Gaming card looks more like a high-end graphics card, and we really like the design.
The metal frame looks really nice and the backplate adds much to the good overall image of the G1 Gaming card.
The GTX 960 G1 Gaming is a factory overclocked card with bumped up GPU frequencies, yet thanks to the Windforce cooler it is supposed to be cooler and quieter than the reference card.
The GTX 960 G1 Gaming works at base clock of 1241MHz, while the reference GPU base clock is 1126MHz. Nvidia's GPU Boost 2.0 takes the average GPU clock to 1178MHz for the reference GPU and to 1304MHz for the G1 Gaming card. Note that the actual Boost clock will vary from game-to-game depending on system conditions, and one of the most interesting things with the G1 Gaming is that Gigabyte configured the BIOS to provide high Boost clocks.
To fulfill consumer’s needs, Gigabyte also showed off two other SKUs which are the WF2OC (1216 MHz base /1279 MHz boost) and IXOC (1165 MHz base /1228 MHz boost). The G1 Gaming comes with great performance and a cooling solution for enthusiasts, while the WF2OC is better for value-minded consumers.
The IXOC card is special by virtue of its short PCB, and this could be a selling point for HTPC builders. The WF2OC is showed on the image above, and below you can see the IXOC card. The MSRP of the GTX 960 G1 is €230, the Windforce OC is priced at €212, while the ITX version costs €195 in Germany.
The reference GTX 960 has a TDP of 120W, while the G1 Gaming goes up to 160W, but the 6-phase design ensures higher, solid boost clocks, while maintaining low temperatures. Two 6-pin power connectors provide additional power in case the user want to overclock the GPU even further. The reference GTX 960 card uses only one 6-pin power connector.
Gigabyte did not change the memory clock. The GTX 960 G1 Gaming features 2GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1752MHz (7010MHz effective), providing up to 112.16GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth.
The GM206 GPU
The GM206 GPU used in the GeForce GTX 960 features all the key architectural innovations first introduced in the GeForce GTX 980. Maxwell GPUs feature a new SM design that’s been tailored to improve efficiency.
The Maxwell SMM is partitioned into four distinct 32-CUDA core processing blocks (128 CUDA cores total per SM), each with its own dedicated resources for scheduling and instruction buffering. By giving each processing block its own dedicated resources for instruction scheduling and dispatch, Nvidia is able to keep the GPU’s CUDA cores fully utilized more often, improving workload efficiency and reducing the amount of power that usually goes to waste.
To improve the efficiency of the GPU’s onboard caches, Nvidia has also made a number of changes to the cache hierarchy in Maxwell. Each of GM206’s SMM units features its own dedicated 96KB shared memory, while the L1/texture caching functions are combined into a 24KB pool of memory per pair of processing blocks (48KB per SMM). Previous generation Kepler GPUs had a smaller 64KB shared memory function that was also shared as L1 cache.
As a result of these changes, each GM206 CUDA core is able to deliver roughly 1.4x more performance per core compared to a GK106 Kepler CUDA core (the direct predecessor of GM206), and 2x the performance per watt.
New features introduced with Maxwell also include as real-time voxel illumination, MFAA (multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing), Dynamic Super-Resolution (DSR), Turf Effects, VR Direct, PhysX Flex, G-Sync and ShadowPlay.
The memory subsystem of GM206 has also been revamped. Nvidia’s third-generation delta color compression engine offers new modes for color compression, allowing the GPU to use its available memory bandwidth more effectively. When combined with the aforementioned caching improvements in the Maxwell SM, GM206 uses roughly 25% fewer bytes per frame compared to Kepler GPUs. This means that from the perspective of the GPU core, a Kepler-style memory system running at 9.3Gbps would provide effective bandwidth similar to the bandwidth that Maxwell’s enhanced memory system provides.
The memory subsystem of GeForce GTX 960 consists of two 64-bit memory controllers (128-bit) with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The 128-bit, 7Gbps memory interface is able to effectively provide slightly more bandwidth than its direct predecessor (148.8GB/sec effective in GTX 960 vs 144.2GB/sec in GTX 660).
The rear of the box clearly indicates that the card features the Windforce cooler with three fans and FlexDisplay, a unique display output solution.
In the box you’ll find:
The graphics card
Quick installation guide and driver CD
2x Molex to 6-pin Power Adapter
A closer look at the G1 Gaming
Gigabyte decided to add a bit of value to the GTX 960 with a custom design and generous factory overclock.
It is important to note that Gigabyte sells two additional custom designed GTX 960 cards, with different coolers, as described earlier. The Windforce triple-fan cooler on the GTX 960 G1 Gaming uses metal shroud which looks quite good. The card is protected by a nylon, which must be removed.
The backplate adds to the overkill look of the card. The G1 Gaming card is 30cm long and 11.5cm tall. The GeForce GTX 960 reference board measures 9.5in or 22cm in length.
A 6+6 pin power connector setup is used on the GTX 980 and GTX 970, but the reference GTX 960 requires only one 6-pin power connector. Gigabyte provides more juice to the GTX 960 G1 Gaming by using two 6-pin power connectors and a 6+2 power phase design. The GTX 780, GTX 780 Ti and Titan have a TDP of 250W, compared to the GTX 980 with a 165W TDP, GTX 970 with a 145W TDP and GTX 960 with 120W.
The GTX 960 is built for standard dual-SLI, as it features just one SLI connector. The fact that this is a dual-slot design also helps.
The GTX 960 G1 Gaming features one standard HDMI connector (2.0 compatible, which includes HD audio and Blu-ray 3D movies support), two DVI ports, and three standard DisplayPort outs, a unique video-output configuration under marketing name “FlexDisplay”. The TMDS switch on the G1 Gaming card allows you to run 2x DVI, 1x HDMI, 1x DP or 3x DP, 1x DVI and 1x HDMI at the same time (the reference card supports up to four simultaneous displays).
Due to the aforementioned unique output configuration, the I/O bracket cannot serve as an exhaust vent, there’s simply no place left for an exhaust grille.
Like the GeForce GTX 980, the GeForce GTX 960 has a new display engine capable of supporting resolutions up to 5K (including support for up to four 4K MST displays). Additionally, the GM206 features support for H.265 (HEVC) encoding and decoding.
Two LED indicators are placed on the top to signalize whether the fans are spinning or not. The Windforce logo is also lit up, but it stays turned on all the time.
The GTX 960 G1 Gaming has 2GB of memory, and two of four memory modules are placed on the back side of the PCB.
The Samsung chips, (model K4G41325FC-HC28 which is also used on the GTX 970 G1 Gaming) are specified to run at 1750 MHz (7000 MHz GDDR5 effective). Memory chips and voltage regulation circuits are in direct contact with the cooler.
Gigabyte used long heatpipes for maximum heat transfer, and the relatively small GM206 GPU is in direct contact with the heatpipes.
Thermals and Noise
In idle, the card’s fans are switched off, making the card silent. Gigabyte implemented Nvidia’s new feature Fan Stop Mode on the G1 Gaming card:
Our measurements can confirm that in idle the GPU temperature of the G1 Gaming stays below 36 degrees Celsius, and the card is totally silent. Two LED indicators are placed on the top to signalize of whether the fans are spinning or not.
The huge heatsink with three fans is able to keep the temperature below 69 degree Celsius, and the cooler stays very silent (note how G1 Gaming works at very high Boost clock of 1455MHz) . However, all GTX 960 card we saw until now are more or less silent during load. The G1 Gaming really shows what it’s made of once you overclock it and realize that it is still very quiet.
The Geforce GTX 960 has a fair amount of overclocking headroom, so even if you choose a reference card you should get good overclocking results.
The reference card’s base clock frequency is 1126MHz with a boost clock of 1178MHz. However, the Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming base clock frequency is 1241MHz, with an advertised Boost clock of 1304MHz+. Although we could increase the base GPU clock by just 50MHz (bear in mind that it is already factory overclocked by 114MHz), we still managed to record Boost clocks in excess of 1500MHz. One of the most interesting things with the G1 Gaming is that Gigabyte configured the BIOS to provide high Boost clocks. Thank to this, the G1 Gaming delivers better results than other GTX 960 cards at the same base clock.
The memory is not factory overclocked, what is really a shame. Our memory overclock yielded good results. We increased the clock by 500MHz (effectively 2000MHz) with no adverse effects. All together we gained 7 to 10 percent performance increase in games.
The reference GTX 960 has a TDP of 120W while the G1 Gaming goes up to 140-160W, but the 6-PWM design ensures higher, solid boost clocks while maintaining stability.
Despite the overclock, the GTX 960 G1 Gaming is a very power-efficient graphics card. Two 6-pin power connectors provide additional power in case the user wants to overclock the GPU even further. The reference GTX 960 card uses only one 6-pin power connector and once again we must conclude that Nvidia’s Maxwell cards offer truly exceptional efficiency which we did not expect from 28nm GPUs.
Gigabyte’s GTX 960 G1 Gaming is one of the best, if not the best GTX 960 graphics card on the market. It uses high-quality components, a six-phase power design and a great 300W capacity cooler. By looking at the G1 Gaming you would hardly assume it belongs to the GTX 960 series. The G1 Gaming uses two 6-pin power connectors, creating the illusion of a high-end graphics card. The Maxwell GPU is extremely power efficient and even though this is a factory overclocked card, it only needs two 6-pin power connectors to keep going and support the extreme clocks.
Nvidia could have made the GTX 960 faster with a wider memory bus and more than 2GB memory, but it has other products to cover these market segments. In any case the GTX 960 is a great gaming card for gamers who tend to use 1080p resolution with cranked up visual effects. Some less demanding games can be played at 4K resolution, or 1600p. When playing MOBA games like League of Legends, you can also use DSR tech to render the frames at 4K and down-sample them to 1080p for a better visual experience.
The Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming 2GB graphics card comes with a 114MHz factory overclock that raises the GPU base frequency from 1127MHz to 1241MHz. A number of factory-overlocked GTX 960 cards ship with even higher clocks, but the G1 stands out with high Boost clocks. They are made possible thanks to BIOS optimization, excellent cooling and a good power system. Our overlocking efforts did not yield very good results in terms of high GPU-Base clock, but the Boost clocks crossed the 1550MHz mark. Aside from the relatively high price, there is another thing we did not like – the stock clocked memory. Should you choose to buy the G1, we suggest you increase the memory clock.
We really liked the G1 Gaming, but we must admit it is a little bit overpriced. For the extraordinary design of the G1 Gaming you have to pay a €35 premium over Gigabyte’s card, GTX 960 Mini, which is currently the cheapest available GTX 960 in Europe with a price tag of €193. In this price category €35 makes a big difference, but this brings you silence all the time, faster performance with high Boost clocks out of the box, and of course great looks.
If you are interested in Nvidia’s GTX 960, we can recommend the GTX 960 G1 Gaming, although it does not shine in terms of value.