Nvidia GTX 950 Round-Up Review: Three Cards Go Head to Head

by - 7 years ago

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Introduction


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With all of the hype surrounding the GTX 900 series recently, it has been hard to imagine what the lower end of the graphics card market would hold for the refined Maxwell architecture. We originally saw Maxwell in the mighty GTX 750Ti, but it was only when the GTX 900 series was released that we received the Maxwell that we know today. Our reviews and news have focused heavily on the GTX 980Ti and Titan X graphics cards, so information on the GTX 950 has been scarce to say the least; that is about to change. In today’s review, there is not one, not two but three GTX 950’s in for punishment; the ASUS STRIX GTX 950 2GB, Inno3D iChill AIRBOSS ULTRA GTX 950 2GB and the MSI GAMING GTX 950 2GB.

The GTX 950 is hot off the manufacturing line and features some lack-luster, but pokey specifications; knowing NVIDIA, less is more and we should see a stormer of a graphics card here regardless. Most of the options will feature 2GB of VRAM due to the product placement, but we will see some 4GB models which should make for a very capable SLI configuration for not a great deal of money. So with a price tag of around £120 depending on the manufacturer, performance isn’t going to be outstanding compared to the bigger options. However, the estimated performance and price tag makes this an extremely attractive option for 1080p and online gamers. Personally, I feel that this GTX 950 will be the final piece in the puzzle for NVIDIA; it will then have a great graphics option at almost every price point.

Now just because the GTX 950 is aimed at the lower price market, do not assume that you are not getting the full NVIDIA treatment. As with almost every NVIDIA GPU you will get the following:

  • NVIDIA Surround
  • NVIDIA SLI
  • GPU Boost 2.0
  • NVIDIA G-Sync
  • DX12 Support

The GM206 GPU core makes its second appearance here since the GTX 960 options; however, it seems to have had a shave to bring the performance down. Would this be enough or will we see another Titan X and GTX 980Ti scenario here, let’s find out shall we.

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A Closer Look – ASUS STRIX GTX 950 2GB


Packaging and Accessories

The outer box follows a similar design of the rest of the STRIX series, the STRIX owl dominating the front of the cover with the key “20% cooler” statement below it.

box1

The back of the box is feature filled, outlining the key features. With the latest releases of graphics cards, ASUS has included a subscription to XSplit Gamecaster which is key if you want to live stream.

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Inside the box is the essential reading material and driver disk. Along with those, you also get a STRIX case sticker.

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A Closer Look

The face of the card is easily recognisable thanks to the distinctive STRIX cooling design. You can just see the two huge DCUII heat pipes sticking out of the top, increasing the overall height.

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The back of the card is boring but also fantastic, as you get a look at how the manufacturing process has left no marks or tall solder joints.

back

Looking down onto the card, you get a better look at the two heat pipes that make direct contact with the GPU itself. Along with those is the single 6-pin PCIe connector and single SLI connector.

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The outputs of the card are regular, however, they are placed oddly. Why place the two DVI ports in the middle? Along with the twin DVI ports are a single DisplayPort and HDMI ports.

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A Closer Look – Inno3D iChill AIRBOSS Ultra GTX 950 2GB


Packaging and Accessories

The outer box is the same design as the previous Inno3D cards. Plain and simple with a large and dominating iChill logo. box1

The back of the box is feature rich and in many languages.

box2

The accessories included are a little less compared to the rivals. However, the lack of the install manual is made up by a 3DMark code and hard case badge. This strikes me as odd as the 3DMark card constantly states “4K Ready”, which that card isn’t aimed for.

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A Closer Look

The card is very striking to say the least. Taking all of the design inspiration from the larger iChill x3 graphics cards. I prefer this design thanks to the larger x3 due to the additional splashes of colour with the red ‘fangs’.

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The back of the card is concealed with a plain backplate. I’m not complaining though as a backplate is an added bonus.

back

Looking at the side of the card, you are presented with the striking “AIR BOSS” logo. Along with that is the single 6-pin power connector and SLI connector.

side

This card has very few outputs, but considering the low value and expected low performance, you are only going to need one at a time. You have the option between DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.

output

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A Closer Look – MSI GAMING GTX 950 2GB


Packaging and Accessories

The outer case is almost exactly the same as the rest of the MSI GAMING graphics card range apart from the card version.box1

The back of the box shows off all of the key features of the card including the Gaming App which allows you to choose between preset clock speeds.

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Inside the box is a large poster-style user guide, driver disk and DVI to VGA adapter.

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A Closer Look

The card is very large, almost pointlessly large, but MSI have utilised the same cooling design from other models.

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The back of the card is odd. It has the holes for a backplate, yet nothing has been added. Also towards the power connector, there are very few components; so approximately 2″ of the card could be taken away to make it a more compact design.

back

Looking down at the side of the car, you see one of the S-shaped heat pipes protruding the heatsink. Along with those, you also can see the single 6-pin PCIe power connector and SLI connector.

side

The outputs seem slightly excessive on a card of this specification, but if you want a cheap multi-monitor option; this lends itself well. You have the option of DVI, DisplayPort and HDMI to connect your monitor(s).

output


 

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Testing & Methodology


Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to overview our test system. All tests will be conducted with the latest stable drivers available, with results will be taken from an average of three tests. All tests will be conducted using the highest factory setting if multiple options are available.

Hardware

Additional Hardware

  • “Killawatt” style electricity usage meter wall plug
  • Precision Gold N05CC Decibel meter

Drivers

drivers

Software

Sythentic Benchmarks

During our testing, we use a range of readily available synthetic benchmarking tools which are free to download from the respective websites. We do this so the readers can download and compared to our results. Download links are contained within the “Software” subheading.

Noise

Everyone has their own reasonable noise level when it comes to comes to components in a computer. Some can handle all fans at 100% load to keep temperatures down, some want a completely silent computer.

Power Consumption

With electricity becoming increasingly expensive across most parts of the world the need for computer components to become power efficient has never been more relevant. Graphics cards are often the most power-hungry components inside a desktop system so having an efficient graphics card is very important to keeping power bills under control. Power is often correlated to heat and so lower power consumption means a graphics card is likely to run slightly cooler and put out less heat into your system meaning your other components will run cooler with improved longevity. AMD and Nvidia have both made power consumption an integral part of the way graphics cards dynamically overclock so the need for graphics card vendors to use efficient VRM and PCB designs is becoming important to maximise performance. We take power readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load.

Temperatures

The cooling solution which graphics card vendors choose to implement is one of the main differences that consumers have to contend with when choosing a graphics cards. Apart from their acoustic properties, the thermal properties of graphics card coolers are extremely important. Lower temperatures are always better and with AMD and Nvidia opting to use dynamic overclocking algorithms that take temperature into account it is important that graphics card vendors use high performance cooling solutions in order to maximise performance. The era of graphics cards reaching dangerous temperatures are now in the past but the importance of lower temperatures still remains. Lower temperatures mean better stability, longer component longevity and lower fan speeds .We take temperature readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load. We always record actual temperatures and make a note of the ambient; in the case where more than 1 GPU is used an average is created.

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Synthetic Benchmarks


3D Mark


3dmark13

Our first test sees the trio pitted against 3DMark Firestrike. The performance curve is good here with a nice gap between them and the GTX 960.

firestrike1

The Inno3D card asserting a strong and early lead over the other two at 1440p.

firestrike2

The lack of VRAM really hinders the cards here with a sharp drop; this pushes the cards down to bottom.

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Unigine Valley


Unigine Valley gives a good interpretation of the overall graphical performance difference between the cards tested; the GTX 950’s holding together in the middle of the table at 1080p.

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When pushed up to 1440p, performance drops inline with expectations. However, this was completely unbearable to watch.

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Compute Performance


The stripped down GM206 core really asserting itself here with strong performance compared to the R9 380.

compute

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Batman: Arkham Knight


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Batman still has an issue with the in-game code, which is negatively impacting performance. However, the benchmark tool works as it should and shows the GTX 950’s in the middle of the pack with almost 60FPS each.

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When moving to 1440p the stronger ASUS STRIX model pulls ahead with a commanding 10% lead.

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Battlefield 4


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Battlefield 4 shows promising figures, almost 60FPS at 1080p.

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The different cards start to pull apart at 1440p, showing the stronger performance with the highest clock speed.

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Bioshock Infinite


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Bioshock has proven itself a popular game despite its release date. The GTX 950’s achieve over 60FPS at 1080p with ease.

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Struggling to stabilise performance at 1440p, but these cards were not designed for more than 1440p.

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Grand Theft Auto V


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One of the newer games to our testing line up, GTA V proves a formidable foe to all graphics cards; the 950 trio struggle to achieve 60FPS at even 1080p.

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Hitman Absolution


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Hitman has seen some rough times with recent updates. With this, even the strongest graphics card struggled.

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the GTX 950’s barely make a dent and miss the 30FPS mark at 1080p and it’s much worse at 1440p.

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Metro Last Light


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Metro is an extremely demanding game, however, newer graphics cards have started hitting larger FPS. The Inno3D GTX 950 almost hits 60FPS at 1080p.

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Despite the good performance at 1080p, all cards struggle at 1440p, topping out at just 36FPS.

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Tomb Raider


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Tomb Raider is one of the older games on our testing line up, but it is still popular with the gamers. This has allowed graphics cards to gain a huge FPS advantage, the GTX 950’s make easy work at 1080p, hitting 81FPS.

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The strong performance at 1080p isn’t carried through to 1440p, although with some graphical settings dropped; 60FPS could be achieved.

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Overclocking


The Maxwell architecture is an extremely capable overclocker with very little voltage increase. Each of the GTX 950 graphics cards in today achieved at least a 90MHz overclock, the best was the MSI option with a huge 172MHz increase.

asus strix 950

Once overclocked, the cards increase their performance and fill in the gap between the stock version and the GTX 960.

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Despite having the highest overclock, the MSI GTX 950 still lags behind the Inno3D option.

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Here the ASUS and MSI options perform less well. While the overclock still yielded a performance increase, it failed to be more than a few points above the stock version.

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Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures


Noise

Times are changing and the way that manufacturers aim to cool the cards is drastically different. Now, below a certain temperature, the fans will stop spinning and the card will run passively. While this is great for large cases with good airflow, it is even better for small cases with poor airflow. Even though there is a 1.4db difference between the MSI and Inno3D cards, you cannot tell the difference.

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Power Consumption

This is where things start getting interesting. The power consumption is very close indeed, especially when comparing between the stock and overclocked version of each card.

poweroc

Temperatures

Due to the new passive features introduced with the new generations of graphics cards; the idle temperatures are fairly high but they were maintained. The Inno3D card also has this feature, but allowed the fans to spin to 30°c and idle temperature settle 10°c lower than the others.

tempsoc

 

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Final Thoughts


Price

The NVIDIA GTX 950 graphics cards in for review today are available for the following prices:

Summary

Each card is admiral in its own right and is a truly great option no matter which you choose, however, one is better than another when looking at key aspects such as looks, performance, and power consumption.

If you were to create a wall mounted computer or even a glass top desk PC, you will want the best looking option and hands down it is the MSI. The clean-cut lines and sharp contrasting colours make for a great focal point. When compared to the completely bonkers AIRBOSS or STRIX models, it makes perfect sense. However, the MSI option is the largest of the three and the red and black colour scheme is played out. The Inno3D AIRBOSS comes a close second thanks to the ability to almost completely dismantle the cooling shroud, but the bonkers styling is something that many would choose straight away. One thing that strikes me a odd if the placement of the DVI ports on the ASUS STRIX card, in the search for space saving, moving them to the centre of the card seems to have opened up more room at the output end of the PCB.

When comparing the performance, the Inno3D card wins hands down, in almost every test it was the leading card with only minor setbacks in a few tests. It also gave the best overclocked performance thanks to the strong increase to 1484MHz. However, that wasn’t the best overclock we’ve seen, the MSI GAMING managed a huge 172MHz. Sadly the ASUS STRIX model lagged behind with a still impressive 94 MHz overclock. Despite having the lowest overclock, the ASUS STRIX still managed an overall second place in the performance ranking.

Now onto power consumption, temperatures and noise. While these will likely be the last things on the mind of most buyers, when considering a graphics card at this price point; it is likely that the existing system is to be of a similar price point when compared to other components. This means that the power supply may only be 350W or the entire system is a HTPC, nestled under a TV. With the entire system at load and the graphics card in an overclocked state, the Inno3D card was the most demanding with a total system draw of 185W. If you wanted the most economical option, the MSI card drew just 168W in the standard form.

All of the cards today are capable of the usual NVIDIA offerings such as NVIDIA Surround, so even though you are considering a cheaper option, buy in the knowledge that you are getting good value for your money.

Now if I had the option to buy one of these cards, it would be the Inno3D model. The styling isn’t a put off for me, but the entire card is extremely compact and the fact that the fans continue spinning down to 30°c would be great feature in my low airflow HTPC.

Pros

  • Great price to performance ratio
  • Extremely quiet
  • Wide range of options
  • Good overclocking capabilities on the MSI and Inno3D models
  • Removable fans and cooling shroud make the Inno3D model attractive to modders

Cons

  • The MSI model is large compared to the other models
  • Idle temperatures might put some buyers off on the MSI and ASUS models
  • Red and black colour schemes are becoming dated
  • The Inno3D model might be too unique for some buyers

“The NVIDIA GTX 950 range settles the sub £150 price point argument with strong performance and many options to choose from. No matter what option you choose, you will be getting excellent performance and quality.”

Inno3D iChill AIRBOSS GTX 950

Inno3D iChill AIRBOSS Ultra GTX 950 

MSI GAMING GTX 950

MSI GAMING GTX 950

ASUS STRIX GTX 950

ASUS STRIX GTX 950

Thank you to ASUS, MSI and Inno3D for providing these review samples.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. A Closer Look - ASUS STRIX GTX 950 2GB
  3. A Closer Look - Inno3D iChill AIRBOSS Ultra GTX 950 2GB
  4. A Closer Look - MSI GAMING GTX 950 2GB
  5. Testing & Methodology
  6. Synthetic Benchmarks
  7. Batman: Arkham Knight
  8. Battlefield 4
  9. Bioshock Infinite
  10. Grand Theft Auto V
  11. Hitman Absolution
  12. Metro Last Light
  13. Tomb Raider
  14. Overclocking
  15. Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
  16. Final Thoughts
  17. View All

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