MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G Video Card Review

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Today, we will get a chance to see a budget gaming card from NVIDA – the GTX 950. MSI put their own twist on the GTX 950 by adding their Twin Frozr V cooler, beefed up components, and some factory overclocking out of the box making it superior to the reference cards. Get comfortable as we go through the specifications and performance of the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G!

Specifications and Features

Below is a list of specifications sourced from the MSI website.

Out of the gate, we know this is a PCIe 3.0 card as all the new ones are these days, right? The GTX 950 Gaming 2G comes with 2048 MB (2GB) of GDDR5 resting on a 128-bit bus running at 1653 MHz (6610 GDDR5). It has a total of 768 CUDA cores/shaders, 48 Texture units and 32 ROPs rounding out the back end. Core clocks come in at the ‘gaming mode’ speed of 1102 MHz base with a minimum boost of 1279 MHz. Testing showed an actual stable boost at 1366 MHz throughout. The card is SLI compatible (2-way), and has a total of five outputs that can support four displays – 1x DL DVI-I, 1x HDMI (v1.4a/2.0), and 3x DisplayPorts (v1.2). There is full support for DX12 and Open GL v4.5. The MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G requires a single six pin PCIe connector, has a TDP of 90W, and recommends at least a 350W power supply.

MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G Specifcations
Graphics Engine NVIDIA Geforce GTX 950
Bus Standard PCI Express x16 3.0
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size (MB) 2048
Memory Interface 128 bit
Core Clock (MHz) 1317 MHz / 1127 MHz (OC Mode)
1279 MHz / 1102 MHz (Gaming Mode)
1190 MHz / 1026 MHz (Silent Mode)
Memory Clock (MHz) 6650 (OC Mode) / 6610

Maximum Displays

Outputs (DVI/HDMI/DP)

 

4
1 (Dual-link DVI-I), Max Res: 2560 x 1600 @60 Hz.
1 (HDMI version 1.4a/2.0)
Max Res: 4096×2160 @24 Hz (1.4a), 3840×2160 @60 Hz
3 DP (version 1.2)
Max Resolution: 4096×2160 @60 Hz
Multi-GPU Technology SLI, 2-way
Power consumption (W) / Recommended Power Supply (W) / Power Connectors 90W / 350W / 6-pin x1
HDCP / HDMI / DL-DVI Support Yes (all three)
Accessories 1x DVI to VGA Dongle
DirectX / OpenGL Version Support DX12 / Open GL 4.5
Card Dimensions (mm) 270 x 137 x 37mm (10.6″ x 5.6″ x 1.45″)
Weight 602g (1.32 lbs)

Some of the major features on the GTX 950 Gaming 2G are listed below and starting out with the cooler, MSI’s Twin Frozr V (TFV). Since the early days, the Twin Frozr name has been pretty synonymous with the terms cooler and quieter. The version on the GTX 950 Gaming 2G is a bit different than the version on the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G I reviewed a few weeks ago. This version is a bit cut down and has two nickel plated copper heatpipes (heatpipes/copper touches the core) that snake through the fin array. This TFV uses the same Torx fans found on its bigger brother. The Torx fan blade setup is said to take in more air and disperse it better through the aluminum heatsink fins. Another feature on the TFV is the heatsink actually has small deflectors in it to focus more airflow to the heatpipes, which should improve efficiency. Last, but not least, on the cooling side of things is the Zero Fan technology. This allows for complete silence below 60° C which covers low load situations like web browsing, media playback, and basic computing functions. Once the card hits 60° C the fans spin up and do their thing keeping the 950 Gaming 2G quiet and cool.

A lot of AIB’s cards take the AMD/NVIDIA reference design and improve upon it. MSI has done so here with the GTX 950 Gaming 2G. They use their Military Class 4 components, which consist of Hi-C Caps (small footprint and more efficient), Super Ferrite Chokes (lower temps, higher current capacity, and improvements in power efficiency), and solid caps with a 10-year lifespan (provides lower ESR) making this card a more robust solution than the reference design.

Lastly, MSI offers a small footprint application named MSI Gaming App that allows you to overclock with the touch of a button, or run silent with that same button. If your MSI card happens to have an LED on it, the MSI Gaming App can also control it. Overall I like the simplicity of it for quick one touch overclocking to squeeze out a little more performance from your MSI-based card.

icotfv

TWIN FROZR V – COOLER, QUIETER, BETTER GAMING

With every new generation of GPUs comes more performance. With every new generation of MSI Twin Frozr, we give you less noise and heat! We’ve listened to all your requests and the new Twin Frozr V is smaller, features stronger fans, generates less noise, keeps your graphics card and its components cooler and matches perfectly with your MSI GAMING motherboard including some funky LED lighting. We’ve spent 18 months on the development of the Twin Frozr V, including field testing in gaming cafés to ensure the cards have the quality and stability to give you the FPS you need!

icotorxfan

TORX Fan

Traditional Fan Blade

Maximizes downwards airflow and air dispersion to the massive heat sink below them.

Dispersion Fan Blade

Intake more airflow to maximize air dissipation to heat sink.

icoairflow

AIRFLOW CONTROL

Enhanced dissipation efficiency
MSI has fitted Twin Frozr coolers with the all new Airflow Control technology which guides more airflow directly onto the heat pipes by using special deflectors on the heat sink. In addition, this exclusive heat sink design increases heat sink surface area, greatly enhancing the dissipation efficiency.

icozerfrozr

ZERO FROZR

Smart cooling, stay quiet.
MSI’s Twin Frozr V Thermal Designs are equipped with ZeroFrozr technology which was first introduced by MSI back in 2008. ZeroFrozr technology eliminates fan noise in low-load situations by stopping the fans when they are not needed. Compared to other graphics cards, there is no continuous hum of airflow to tell you there’s a powerful graphics card in your gaming rig. This means you can focus on gaming without the distraction of other sounds coming from your PC.

icomilclass4

MILITARY CLASS COMPONENTS

One of the deciding factors in performance is the quality of the components used. That is why MSI only uses MIL-STD-810G certified components for its Gaming cards because only these components have proven to be able to withstand the torturous circumstances of extreme gaming and overclocking.

HI-C CAP
MSI’s Hi-c CAPs are tiny, and super-efficient capacitors. Their small footprint allows the installation of heat sinks and their high efficiency (93%) actually reduces the total thermal footprint of the card.

SUPER FERRITE CHOKES
Super Ferrite Chokes use a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. This allows the Super Ferrite Chokes to run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature, have a 30% higher current capacity, a 20% improvement in power efficiency and better overclocking power stability.

SOLID CAP
With their aluminum core design, Solid CAP’s have been a staple in high-end design mainboard designs and provides lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) as well as its over-10-year lifespan.

icogamngapp

GAMING APP

The MSI Gaming App allows for one-click performance profiles that unlock extra performance for gaming or keep your card silent during light use. It also features the EyeRest tab, giving you easy access to image quality improving technology. The LED control tab gives you full control over your MSI GAMING LED lights to set the mood.

OC Mode
Maximum Performance through higher clock speeds and increased fan performance

Gaming Mode (Default)
The best balance between in-game performance and thermal

Silent Mode
The best environment for minimal fan noise

GPU-Z

Below is our gratuitous screenshot of GPU-Z to confirm what the card is made of. We see its 32 ROPs, 64 TMUs, with a Pixel fillrate of 35.3 GPixel/s and Texture Fillrate of 70.5 GTexel/s. The memory IC is Samsung according to GPU-Z (and my pictures below). The 2048 MB total memory is on that same 128-bit bus. GPU core clocks come in at 1102 (1279 boost) and 1653 MHz on the GDDR5 memory.

GPUz v8.5

GPUz v8.5

Photo Op – Meet the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G

Retail Packaging and Accessories

Below you will find a slideshow that covers the retail packaging and the included accessories. Being in the MSI Gaming line, we are pretty familiar, intimate even, with the black and red theme this grouping of hardware covers. The really cool looking red MSI dragon makes itself known on the left hand side of the front. Meanwhile, the card name and some high-level features are listed on the right side. Flipping the box around to the back side shows more features, specifications, and system requirements. There isn’t too much to see on the sides and bottom really – just some S/N information and details on the side, and many languages on the bottom!

When opening the retail packaging, there is a small box on top that contains the included accessories (DVI to VGA dongle, driver disk, and quick start/installation guide). Not a bounty of goods, but plenty to get up and running.

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The Card

Next up are some clickable hardware pictures for the nerd in all of us. We first notice that the card is full length – at least the Twin Frozr V cooler is (and betting the PCB is too!). Anyway, the TFV cooler sports the black Torx fans with the MSI dragon on one hub and the MSI name on the other, and again being from their gaming line, it continues with the black and red theme. When looking at the back of the card, we see the usual bits, sans memory ICs since it uses 2GB, and some blank area. It seems like this card is a prime candidate for some PCB shrinkage for ITX type builds, no?

MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G - Front

MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G – Front

Back

Back

With a twist...

With a Twist…

One more time

One More Time

A Closer Look

Time to zoom in a bit and look at a few particulars. We start with the required 6-pin PCIe power. The board uses 90W according to the specifications, so the 6-pin (75W) plus the power from the PCIe slot itself (75W) is plenty – including overclocking. One thing I like about the way the plug is oriented is that the clip from the power lead is on the PCB side, not the cooler side. That helps with getting it on and off.

6 pin PCIe connector required

6 pin PCIe Connector Required

We mentioned the outputs earlier, and here they are! It has 1x DL DVI-I, 3x DisplayPorts, and 1 HDMI. The card supports up to four displays at once.

Outputs -

Outputs

In taking off the TFV heatsink, you can clearly see the direct contact of the two copper heat pipes on the core, which is mounted to what appears to be an aluminum heatsink and fin array. It was easy to take the cooler off with only four screws. You will note a good application of TIM from the factory as well. In looking at the GTX 950 Gaming 2G without the heatsink, we see a fairly sparse board, particularly on the right hand side there. As I said, prime candidate for a smaller form factor here. From the second picture, we see some of the Military Class 4 parts as well as the memory ICs.

Bottom of the heat sink

Bottom of the Heatsink

Main heat sink removed

Main Heatsink Removed

Below is a shot of the GM206-250-A1 core, and one of the Samsung Memory ICs. They are rated to run at 7000 Mbps according to its spec sheet. Hopefully we see some solid overclocking out of these (as we tend to).

GM206-250-A1 Core

GM206-250-A1 Core

Samsung DDR5 - K4G41325FC-HC28

Samsung DDR5 – K4G41325FC-HC28

Monitoring/Overclocking Software – MSI Afterburner

Below is MSI Afterburner version 4.1.1 using the Red Cyborg theme that I found. MSI AB monitors a slew of things on the GPU from temperatures to fan speeds, to memory usage. Other items not GPU related, such as CPU activity and system memory usage can also be monitored. You can also use it to overclock the GPU core and memory speeds as well as save profiles to make it easy to recall settings once you find a stable clock. Tried and true here folks, just a different skin I chose to display to keep you on your toes!

MSI Afterburner v4.1.1 - Red Cyborg Skin

MSI Afterburner v4.1.1 – Red Cyborg Skin

Performance and Benchmarks

Test System

  • Intel i7 6770K @ 4.2 GHz, 1.3 V
  • Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7
  • GSKill RipJaws 4 2 x 4 GB 3000 MHz CL15-15-15-35-2T
  • 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
  • Seasonic 1000 W PSU
  • MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G @ 1102/1279 MHz (1366 MHz actual boost) core / 1653 MHz Memory, and Overclocked @ 1205/1382 MHz (1469 MHz actual boost) core / 1804 MHz Memory
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • NVIDIA 355.65

Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to their reviews):

Benchmarking Method/Settings

Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to 2560 x 1440 and Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings. 3DMark 11 = Performance Level, 3DMark Fire Strike = Extreme default setting.
  • Unigine Valley Benchmark v1.0 – 1080p, DX11, Ultra Quality, 8x AA, Full Screen
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) – Extreme setting
  • Crysis 3 – Very High settings with 8xMSAA/16xAF (2nd level when you procure and use the Crossbow to get across the level and kill the Helicopter)
  • Metro:LL – DX11, Very High, 16xAF, Motion Blur – Normal, SSAA Enabled, DX11 Tessellation – Very High, Advanced PhysX – Disabled, Scene D6
  • Battlefield 4 – Default Ultra setting (Tashgar level – ‘on rails’ car scene)
  • Bioshock: Infinite – Ultra DX11, DDOF (through Steam – option # 2, then option #1 assuming your are at 1080p)
  • Batman: Arkham Origin – 8xMSAA, Geometry Details/Dynamic Shadows/DOF/Ambient Occlusion: DX11 Advanced, Hardware PhysX: OFF, the rest On or High
  • Grid 2 – 8xMSAA, Ultra defaults + Soft Ambient Occlusion: ON
  • Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
  • Dirt: Rally – 1080p, 8x MSAA, everything on Ultra that can be, enable Advanced Blending
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 1080p, high settings.
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – 1080p, everything Ultra that can be (Lighting quality High), FXAA and Camera + Object Blur, DOF/OIT/Tessellation enabled.
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures

Synthetic Benchmarks

Please note that the results below are across different systems and drivers so the results are NOT directly comparable as apples to apples in these graphs. We appreciate your patience while we move to the new benchmarks and gather data sets.

First in our synthetic benchmarks is our soon to be retired 3DMark Vantage. Here the GTX 950 Gaming 2G scored 29,584. This puts it behind the more expensive and faster cards in the lineup. With some overclocking, it managed to fall just short of the highly overclocked GTX 960 Strix.

In 3DMark 11, it scored 9,202 actually matching another highly overclocked card in the ASUS GTX 760 ROG Striker Platinum.

3Dmark Vantage and 3DMark 11

3Dmark Vantage and 3DMark 11

Getting into benchmarks that are a bit more modern, we first look at 3DMark Fire Strike. In this benchmark, the MSI GTX 950 gaming 2G scored 6,010 falling a bit more than 12% behind the GTX 960 Strix and less than 2% behind the GTX 760 ROG, so a solid showing here, specifically against that 760.

In the tessellation heavy Unigine Heaven (extreme setting), it scored 1,671.2, and being around 10%-15% behind the ‘faster’ cards as we would expect.

3Dmark Fire Strike and Unigine Heaven

3Dmark Fire Strike and Unigine Heaven

Gaming Benchmarks

Moving on to games, in Bioshock: Infinite the MSI GTX 950 Gaming 2G managed to reach 67.2 FPS at the settings we use, which are pretty high. This puts it a mere 1.5 FPS behind the GTX 760, and about 1 FPS ahead of the overclocked HIS R9 280.

Moving on the Batman: Arkham Origins, the 950 pulled out 56 FPS and was beat out across the board by the rest of the cards. The FPS were still plenty playable here though so no worries there.

The last game on this graph is Grid 2. Again we see FPS above 60 reaching an average of 69.6. This result had it less than 2 FPS behind the GTX 760, but well behind the GTX 960 and R9 280.

Bioshock: Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Grid 2

Bioshock: Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Grid 2

Moving on to our GPU crushers, Crysis 3 is first and the GTX 950 chugged along at 21.7 FPS. This was only 1 FPS or so behind the rest, and not really playable at our Ultra settings. Some things will need to be turned down to reach that 30+ FPS magical number for smooth game play.

In Metro: Last Light, we see the GTX 950 Gaming 2G almost hitting that 30 FPS value coming in at 27.7 FPS (overclocked it hit 30 FPS!). This was slightly behind the rest of the cards in the lineup who were also right below or right above the 30 FPS line.

Finally, my game, Battlefield 4, the GTX 950 reaches a very playable 45.3 FPS in this title.

The real GPU killers aside, for a 1080p budget range card, we are seeing some really solid performance on a lot of big titles.

Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, and Battlefield 4

Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, and Battlefield 4

In the Final Fantasy XIV: A Real Reborn benchmark rendered a total of 9,948 frames.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

New Gaming Benchmarks

It has been a while since we have updated our GPU benching suite and with the change in platform to Skylake, we decided it was time to remove some old and bring in some fresh ones! With that, we have dropped 3DMark Vantage. It was a good run for it, but with modern high-end cards, it is really CPU limited and is not showing a lot of difference between them because of this. We replaced Vantage with Unigine Valley. We also decided to switch which 3DMark Fire Strike test we run, and upped that to the Extreme setting which should be more GPU heavy than the regular version we ran.

As far as games go, we chose to remove those that really do not stress out the GPU too much so Bioshock: Infinite, Grid 2, and Batman: Arkham Origins are being retired. Their replacements are going to be Dirt: Rally, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Grand Theft Auto V.

I am currently in the process of re-running a few GPUs I have against the new platform and games. So for now, I put the results in a simple table below until we have other cards to compare against.

Benchmark Stock O/C
Unigine Valley 32.0 34.8
3DMark Fire Strike (Extm) 3,009 3,202
Dirt: Rally 18.11 19.59
Grand Theft Auto V 40.32 43.37
ME: Shadow of Mordor 33.12 35.77

Pushing the Limits

For the pushing the limits section I used 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme. We didn’t have any voltage control with MSI AB, so we had to settle on what it could do with the stock voltage. And in the end, it wasn’t bad at all. The core managed to hit 1290 MHz (1555 MHz actual boost) throughout the test, while I was able to get the memory to 1853 MHz. I may have been able to squeak out a little more on the memory, but the core was tapped out for sure as scores would drop due to instability (even though the bench would finish) and it was causing artifacts. It did not hit the power limit in this testing as I would have guessed since we are unable to adjust voltage at this time.

PTL

PTL

Cooling and Power Consumption

Temperatures were VERY well in control with the TFV cooler and incredibly quiet too. Idle temperatures were 32° C in a 22° C ambient room, and of course the Zero Fan feature was in full effect and the fans were stopped, making the card dead silent. After looping Heaven for 15 minutes, the card peaked at 64° C… BARELY above the 60° C no fan threshold. The fan ran at 37%, so even then it was whisper quiet. I couldn’t hear them over the three Yate Loons I have on the radiator running at less than 1K RPM. Impressive!

Temperatures

Temperatures

For power consumption, MSI states this is a 90W card. Total system consumption (peak) hit 201W at the wall. A quality 350W power supply would easily run this card and an overclocked Intel CPU, no doubt about it.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Conclusion

The addition of the GTX 950 to NVIDIA’s product stack really fills out that budget/mid-range gap they had between the ‘old’ GTX 750 Ti ($119) and the GTX 960 ($199). The GTX 750 Ti performance was significantly lower while the GTX 960 was higher overall, but perhaps not enough to justify its price (that is up to you to decide).

MSI then stepped in and put its own twist on the reference design with its Military Class 4 components and the Twin Frozr V cooler to keep things cool and quiet. In the end, we have a solid performing card at 1080p and lower. While it won’t max out AAA titles in some cases, the performance is fitting for its price (MSRP of $159.99) among new cards.

MSI’s price for the card is $169.99 at newegg.com, or $159.99 after MIR. A $10 premium for more robust parts and a better cooler is worth it to me, and performance is where I feel it should be for the price. Looking at its competition by price, in particular the R9 270x/270 and where they land performance and price wise (the GTX 950 Gaming 2G beats those two cards and is priced the same or less), we have a winner in that $150-$160 price bracket.

What does this mean? Click to Find Out!

What does this mean? Click to Find Out!

– Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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