Widely regarded as the sweet spot and backed up by statistical data from Steam users, the GTX760 and GTX660 are #1 and #2 most popular. So the market is clearly there and NVIDIA are clearly not oblivious to this fact as they're hoping some of those users upgrade to the next generation in gaming graphics cards, the GTX 960.
Compared to the GTX 660, the GTX 960 offers a huge leap in terms of both performance and features including VXGI and MFAA along with support for Microsoft's soon to be released DirectX. NVIDIA claim a 60% increase in performance which is a massive leap all things considered. MOBA games on 4K promise to run so much sweeter with the GTX960 when compared to the GTX 660 thanks to the extra grunt afforded to the GTX 960 and so using features such as 4K DSR instead of 8xMSAA, the GTX 960 gives a greater amount of clarity.
Feature wise, the GTX 960 retains all of the new innovations first presented with the GTX 980, the common theme being efficiency. The Maxwell SMM is partitioned into four distinct 32-CUDA core processing blocks, each with its own dedicated resources for scheduling and instruction buffering. Because each block is given its own instruction set the CUDA cores are utilised more often in an active state thus improving workload and efficiency. Enhancing efficiencies further, each of the SMM units feature their own 96kb of shared memory compared to the smaller 64KB of shared memory found on the previous generation Kepler core.
Broadly speaking, these changes mean that the GM206 is capable of delivering around 1.4x the performance per core of the GK106 Kepler while being twice as powerful per watt used. Pretty impressive when you consider that Kepler was hardly power hungry beast. There seems to be a common theme appearing in that NVIDIA are involved in a 'tick-tock' scenario. Tick being performance improvements (Kepler), Tock being power efficiencies (Maxwell). It is however worth noting that this time around Maxwell not only improves on efficiency but performance, as we will see, also gets a healthy boost.
Aside from the core, the memory sub-system has also seen a refresh thanks to NVIDIA's third gen delta colour compression engine which allows the GPU to better utilise available memory bandwidth. This leap isn't as significant as the improvements in the core design with the stock GM206 managing 148.8GB/s against 144.2/s in the GTX 660 (GK106).
NVIDIA are making some bold claims with the GTX 960. First they are claiming that the GTX 960 will offer a 'great gaming experience' at 1080p settings with the anti-aliasing turned up. Perhaps even more ambitiously, that it can churn out playable frame rates at 4K resolutions (albeit with less GPU intensive game types such as MOBA.
Stock speeds are levelled at 1126MHz on the core with a boost speed of up to 1178MHz and the memory speed (effective) will be set at 7010MHz. As with the GTX 970 and GTX 980 line of graphics cards we expect to see, as with this review, these levels to be raised in factory overclocked graphics cards.
The GTX 960 will replace the GTX 970 in NVIDIA's current GTX line up with the entire family as follows:
GeForce GTX TITAN Z
GeForce GTX 980
GeForce GTX 970
GeForce GTX 960
GeForce GTX 750 Ti
GeForce GTX 750