NVIDIA recently launched the GTX 970 and GTX 980 based on its new "Maxwell" architecture, torching the market with an unreal combination of performance, power-draw, and fan-noise, which made them overkill for Full HD. The two can handle any game at QHD (1440p) and can provide playable frame-rates at 4K, with some eye-candy lowered.
That creates the need for NVIDIA to come up with a GPU that's just right for Full HD, but with low power-draw and pricing to benefit from the new architecture. "Maxwell" also presents NVIDIA with an opportunity to cut costs because its current sweet-spot graphics card, the GeForce GTX 760, is based on a 3.5 billion-transistor GPU with a surface area of 294 mm² and just 24 percent less power draw than GTX 970 for 51 percent lower performance. Since NVIDIA is still on the 28 nm process, it might as well build a smaller GPU based on "Maxwell" to cut on costs, while hopefully transferring those savings to the consumer.
Full HD is still the most popular gaming-PC resolution, and the advents of 4K and affordable 1440p haven't managed to shake its dominance yet. People still seem to be buying monitors based on panel-size rather than resolution and are also happy to hold onto a monitor for several years. There are, hence, three kinds of consumers: First are those on a tight budget and the ability to buy a reasonably big (24-inch) Full HD monitor for cheap. Second are those who want to convert their vanilla desktops into gaming PCs to game on their Full HD TVs. The third kind is holding onto an old Full HD monitor and drifts between a mid-range graphics card every other year. NVIDIA and AMD can hence ill-afford to leave this resolution unaddressed with each new architecture.
That brings us to NVIDIA's most important launch ahead of Spring-Summer 2015, the GeForce GTX 960. This card is based on a brand-new silicon codenamed GM206. NVIDIA's third chip based on "Maxwell", the GM206 is supposed to be a successor to the GK106 on which NVIDIA built the GeForce GTX 660. The new GTX 960, however, is meant to replace the GTX 660 and GTX 760 in the product stack, offering slightly higher performance at much lower power draw and noise, with greater room for price-cuts. It also brings some of the new features introduced with "Maxwell" to the masses, such as real-time voxel illumination, MFAA (multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing), Dynamic Super-Resolution, VR Direct, Turf Effects, and PhysX Flex, along with community favorites like G-Sync and ShadowPlay.
NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 960 is priced at just $200, which is lower than what the GTX 760 was priced at on launch ($250). NVIDIA has clearly transferred some of the cost-savings due to a smaller chip with lower power-draw, which translates into a cheaper VRM, fewer memory chips, and a lighter cooler, to the consumers. We are also convinced that there is room for more cost-cutting.
In this review, we have with us the MSI GTX 960 Gaming OC featuring the company's signature TwinFrozr V cooling solution, MSI Gaming Series branding, and an interesting factory-overclock. Just as with the company's GTX 970 and 980, the cooler will completely turn off in idle or during light gaming, which results in the perfect noise-free experience.
In terms of pricing, MSI is sticking with NVIDIA's reference design pricing for their GTX 960 Gaming, which will have the card retail at $200.