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MSI GTX 960 Gaming GPU, The Sweet Spot

The GTX-960 Family tree

Perhaps the most amazing change from the Kepler generation of chips to the Maxwell is the SM (sometimes referred to as SMM) or Streaming Multiprocessors. The code controlling the control logic partitions the workload for better balancing that keeps more SM’s running at 100% than Kepler is capable of. Kepler uses the G110K core variant and uses SMX, at the time called Next Generation Streaming Multiprocessor. It sported a simplified instruction scheduler bindless textures and GPU Boost but GPU Boost was upgraded to 2.0 on the GK110k Kepler GPU. As with most things computer Nvida walked from an earlier core into a faster sleeker more sophisticated design. In the case of the GTX 960 the core evolution is a direct descendant of the GTX 750Ti’s 28nm GM107 core and the first true Maxwell core.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact most amazing change in the Maxwell family, since Fermi the entire GPU has been tweaked and optimized at every turn until Nvidia squeezed every iota of performance per watt from it’s still 28nm manufacturing process.

GTX 7xx was a mixed bag drawing off earlier Fermi designs (GF series Chips), but mainly a refresh of the Kepler series GK Codename chips, later offerings in the GTX 700 series like the aforementioned GTX 750Ti were the fledgling Maxwell chips Nvidia quietly slipped in during that generations Sweet spot road map. The GTX 750Ti wasn’t a game changing GPU it came in at a mainstream price of $149 and the quiet integration into the 700 series let Nvidia test the waters silently across a larger user base and work on it’s planned designs later in the Maxwell series. A smart sweet spot strategy that both benefits end users and Nvidia.

That leads us to the current GTX 900 series with the Top Dog GTX 980 and it’s little brother the GTX 970 which run the GM204 28nm chip, along comes the Sweet Spot portion of the Nvidia road map and the GTX 960 is born. GTX 960 is still a Maxwell chip and features all the technology Nvidia smashed into the Maxwell cores but it has it’s own class chip the GM206 and any time you notice a chip number different in the same family get out the microscope and start looking for the reason.

That reason being you can only afford to squeeze so much technology into a $210 dollar sweet spot GPU, so I spent half a day building a comparison table and refreshing my Chip core understanding to bring you the differences between the 980 and 970 to our target GPU the MSI GTX 960 Gamer. The lower priced GTX 960 provides all the Maxwell technology at a much lower price point to attract more end users.

Features and Specifications

GPU Comparison Table

MSI GeForce GTX 960 Gaming

GTX 970

GTX 980

Graphics Processing Clusters 2 2 2
Streaming Multiprocessors 8 13 16
CUDA Cores (single precision) 1024 1664 2048
Texture Units 64 104 128
ROP Units 32 56 64
Base Clock 1216MHz 1050MHz 1126MHz
Boost Clock 1279MHz 1178MHz 1216MHz
Memory Clock (Data rate) 7010MHz (Effective Speed ~9300MHz) 7010MHz (Effective Speed – ~9300MHz) 7010MHz (Effective Speed – ~9300MHz)
L2 Cache Size 1024KB 1.75 MB 2048KB
Video Memory GDDR5
2048 MB 4096 MB 4096 MB
Memory Interface 128-Bit 256-Bit 256-Bit
Total Memory Bandwidth 112.6 GB/s 224 GB/s 224 GB/s
Texture Filtering Rate (Bilinear) 72.1 GigaTexels/sec 109.2 GigaTexels/sec 144.1 GigaTexels/sec
Fabrication Process 28 nm 28 nm 28 nm
Transistor Count 1.94 Billion 5.2 Billion 5.2 Billion
Connectors 3 x Display Port
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI
3 x Display Port
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI
3 x Display Port
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI
Form Factor Dual Slot Dual Slot Dual Slot
Power Connectors One 6-Pin Two 6-Pin Two 6-Pin
Power Supply
400 Watts 500 Watts 500 Watts
Thermal Design Power (TDP) 120 Watts 145 Watts 165 Watts
Thermal Threshold 95°C 95°C 95°C
Price  $220  $329  $549


At first glance the design of the GTX 960 we see that it sports 1.94B (Billion) transistors while the big brother GM204 chips sport 5.2 Billion. The difference in the number of transistors tells me that this isn’t in the same class as the much more expensive GTX 970 and 980 and will have to be judged against GPU’s in a similar price point. Comparing the GTX 960 to GPU’s twice as expensive as (or more) than it is is just not a fair comparison. The information given in this portion of the review is mere for comparison of the difference of the chips and in no way a reflection on the GPU itself.

What I’m seeing is the GTX 980 has 16 Streaming multiprocessors the 970 has 13 and the 960 has 8 or half the Sm’s the GTX 980 has.  The point in the comparison of SM’s is that the GTX 980 is about $329 more than the GTX 960 and as you can see in most cases the GTC 960 has about half the hardware the GTX 980 does with one exception. The exception is the number of transistors which I mentioned earlier, if you double the transistors on GTX 960 you get  3.88B while the 980 gets 5.2B or 1.32 Billion more than two of the 960’s. It seems Nvidia has learned the lessons of the past, take two GTX 260’s in SLI and they won’t challenge the performance of one GTX 980. Lets do a little more spitball math, $440 for two GTX 960 $549 for one GTX 980 so there’s still a $109 dollar price difference and the performance of the GTX 960 looks to be correctly positioned in the pricing structure,

The differences almost make me believe there’s room for a hybrid GTX 965, I have no conformation of that it’s merely speculation based on previous generations of Nvidia products. I would expect two GTX 965 to run about what one GTX 980 would cost and performance would run in line with the single Top dog GPU.

Lets stray away the family tree and stop talking in generic terms, you have enough information on the Maxwell family that if I get to geeky later you will understand what the geekyness means.

Review Overview

Value - 9
Performance - 8.5
Quality - 9
Features - 9
Innovation - 9


The MSI GTX 960 Gamer G2 performed well at it's price point, sipped at power, the fans shut down at an idle and it packs in all the technology of a true Maxwell core.

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