In today’s review, we get a chance to look at another GTX 960 folks! This time its from our friends at MSI. They kindly sent us over their gaming version of the GTX 960 which is aptly named the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G. As we know from previous reviews from Lvcoyote, the GTX 960 is slated to be a mid-range level card that should be solid for moderate 1080p (or less) gaming. MSI made some changes to the reference design by strapping on their own cooler, the Twin Frozr V. The Frozr V cooler should help keep things cool and very quiet due to the Zero Frozr technology it uses, which keeps the fans off until temperatures reach 60 °C. Strap in and let’s check this card out!
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of specifications from the MSI website for the GTX 960 Gaming 2G. Taking a look at that table below, we see a couple of clock speeds. The default core clock speed is 1190 MHz base, with a minimum boost of 1253 MHz. If you use the MSI Gaming App, you have a couple of quick choices for a small boost in performance/overclock to 1216 MHz core with a boost of at least 1279 MHz, a 26 MHz jump. There is also a silent mode that actually down clocks the core to 1127 MHz with a boost clock of 1178 MHz. With its Zero Frozr feature, unless you really need those fans to not kick on, perhaps in a HTPC environment, this mode isn’t terribly useful. Even with watching a movie streaming on Netflix or WatchESPN, the fans never kicked on while at default clocks. The Zero Frozr feature is pretty cool (heh) for those that want silence for idle/light loads.
The rest of the pertinent specifications are as follows. The 128-bit memory bus runs at 7010 MHz effective (1753 MHz is what you will see in most applications) for a bandwidth of 112.16 GB/s and has 2GB total. That doesn’t seem like much these days, and it isn’t, but it should handle most games at 1080p or lower without problems. You can connect up to four monitors to this device via HDMI, DL DVI, or 3x DisplayPorts.
As usual, MSI made some of its own tweaks on the card to make it stand out from the rest. As mentioned above, they strapped on the Twin Frozr V cooler, which uses Torx fans and its combination of a traditional fan blade. This provides for downward airflow with its dispersion blade technology that is said to generate more airflow to maximize heat dissipation from the heatsink. The Twin Frozr V cooler also comes with an adjustable LED (it turns on/off) with the MSI Gaming Dragon on it, which gives the cooler a bit of ‘bling’. I mentioned earlier the Zero Frozr technology which keeps both fans off until needed, which I found to be 60 °C.
Speaking of the cooler, MSI uses three 8mm SuperSU pipes, which make contact with a nickel plated base to the core. The massive SuperSU heatpipes are flat around the core area to make more contact with the plate and to get more heat out of the core. The heatsink/fin array also has a unique design that helps get more air through it, which MSI calls Airflow Control Technology. This fancy name boils down to using deflectors in the fin array to get more air to the heat pipes. MSI says this cooler is 12% better on the GTX 770 and 17% better on the GTX 980 when compared to their previous Frozr IV cooler . A pretty solid improvement there. This card is only 120W TDP, so it should do a pretty good job. All this is supported by MSI’s 3 year warranty.
See the table below for more details.
|MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G Specifications|
|Resolution & Refresh|
Below is a list of other features the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G has to offer. MSI’s Military Class 4 components, such as the HI-C Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes (SFC) and Solid Cap, make the card more efficient and cooler running. The subsequent entries go into a bit more detail on the Twin Frozr V cooler, dispersion fan blade, zero fan, and LED. Even more details can be found on the card’s webpage.
As always, I take a screenshot of GPU-Z just to confirm specifications. We see the expected 32 ROPs, 64 TMUs, and 1024 Shaders. Again, it has a total of 2GB memory on top of a 128-bit bus. And yes folks, these specifications are accurate!!
Photo Op – Meet the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
First up, we will a look at the retail packaging. The namesake of the card tells you its coming from MSI’s gaming line, so I expect to see a generally black box with red trim and the MSI Gaming Dragon. I was not disappointed as it’s all there! We also see the model name and some high level specifications. Flipping the packaging over, we see more details about what the card has to offer, including the Torx fan, SuperSU pipes, Zero Frozr technology, and the Gaming app among other details. Per usual, there isn’t much to see on the sides outside of the model, and detailed serial number type information. On the top is their signature phrase for the gaming line, “Just Game”.
When one opens up the packaging, you are greeted with another box that holds the included accessories. Below that is where the card rests in its anti-static bag and form fitting foam that keeps the card safe and sound during transport.
Below is a list and picture of the included accessories. Not a lot of things in it, but not much is needed anyway!
- 1x 8-pin Power Cable
- Driver Disk
- Quick Users Guide
Finally, some may be thinking, I get to see the card! And they would be right. The first shot below includes the warning sticker for the Zero Frozr fans. I have to image MSI gets enough calls on this, or at least wants to prevent calls/email on this issue to warrant placing the sticker on it. We’ve seen the question asked a couple of times in the forums too, so it seems like a good idea.
Anyway, we can see the black and red theme because it is from their gaming line. The shroud has one fan surrounded in red, while the other is in black with red trim. This matches perfectly with any black and red themed system. There are not any harsh lines or love/hate type of design queues to me, so the heatsink/shroud should appeal to a large crowd for those that plan to show off what’s under the hood. Flipping the card around to show its backside exposes the PCB. You see hints of the power requirement, and that is it SLI compatible (2), You can also see the SuperSU pipes protruding up over the PCB and shroud. The top view shows the MSI Gaming Dragon LED that lights up.
A Closer Look
Getting a little more intimate with the card, we move to the outputs and we can see plenty there. 1x DL DVI, 3x DisplayPorts, and a HDMI port. This card does support up to four monitors at once. Sliding around to the top and rear of the card gives us a more clear shot of the required 8-pin PCI-E power connector. Combined with what the PCI-E slot can deliver (75W), this card can use up to 200W, so there is plenty of room for overclocking if NVIDIA let’s us with their ‘oppressive for the enthusiast’ power limits.
I took apart the card on a sunny but cold day day, to expose what is hidden underneath. The first thing I notice is the thermal paste application, and it was in the Goldilocks zone…juuuust riiight. Not too much, and not too little. It was still pretty viscous (for thermal paste) and not hardened as I have seen on some other brands before. The 3+1 reference power configuration is also apparent with some of the power bits hidden under a small heatsink. This GTX 960 has a full sized PCB measuring around 10.5″ in length.
The next picture shows the nickel plated base of the heatsink with its three 8mm SuperSU pipes that meander their way through the fin array. The next shot shows the deflectors, (the angled slats between the heatpipes and below the shroud on the heatsink) that help focus the air to the heatpipes and down onto the PCB for improved cooler efficiency.
The last shot shows the card without any heatsinks at all. Again, we see a 3+1 power setup which is enough for this 120W TDP card and should allow some solid overclocking without turning belly up. I would have like to have seen another phase or so added on, but that is the extreme overclocker in me speaking and not remotely required for successful and long lasting overclocks.
The last picture I have is of the Samsung Memory IC. This card uses K4641325FC-HC28. That translates to 28ns memory (7000 Mbps) at 1.5 V. Typically this stuff is pretty overclockable even without voltage control. We will check in on that later.
Monitoring/Overclocking Software – MSI Afterburner, MSI Gaming App
We all should know what MSI Afterburner looks like at this point in the game. I know it’s my preferred weapon of choice for video card overclocking in most cases. Pictured below is the latest version, 4.1.0. The power limit on this card is 108% with a maximum voltage increase of 100mv. Not a very high power limit, but it should allow for some solid overclocks regardless. More on that later!
MSI Gaming App
Next is the MSI Gaming app. This is essentially a ‘one button to overclock’ piece of software. There is gaming mode (default and default clocks), performance mode which raises the clocks and fan speeds, and then silent mode which actually under clocks the card for power savings and quiet operation. Since the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G has a LED you are able to control, that can be done through this app as well.
Performance and Benchmarks
- Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
- ASRock Z97 OC Formula
- Kingston Hyper X Predator 2 x 4 GB 2666 MHz CL11 @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24
- 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
- Seasonic 1000 W PSU
- MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G 1190 MHz core (1324 MHz actual boost) / 1753 MHz Memory,
- and Overclocked @ 1304 MHz (1468 MHz actual boost) / 1905 MHz Memory
- Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
- NVIDIA 347.25 WHQL
Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to their reviews).
Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).
- All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
- 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
- More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures
Next we get to look at what you all came here for, the benchmarks! For the synthetic side of the house, the theme throughout is going to be this: The MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G is on par with the similarly clocked ASUS model, and just slightly behind the higher clocked EVGA while losing out quite handily to the much more expensive and higher power GTX 970. I have a funny feeling there will be a GTX 960 Ti coming down the pike to fill that huge performance gap between the GTX 960 and GTX 970.
I compared this GTX 960 to Lvcoyote’s 960’s from ASUS and EVGA and to its main competition from AMD, the R9 280. Compared to its brothers, it was around the same for the similarly clocked ASUS, and around 2% behind the higher clocked EVGA. It did lose out to the 280x (not pictured in the graphs) but made up ground after overclocking. Against the R9 280 however, its more direct competition, the GTX 960’s had no trouble beating that AMD offering outside of 3DMark 11. Not too bad for a card that uses half the power, ehh?
Getting into the gaming benchmarks, you see much of the same story throughout here as well. The GTX 960’s we used to compare are all within a FPS or two in these results with the GTX 970 easily running away with the show. With the GTX 970 being much more expensive, that result is expected and these cards clearly do not compete with each other.
Pushing the Limits
As always, I like to crank the clocks up on the card and the CPU to show what it can do in a more aggressive benchmarking situation. I ended up settling on a core clock of 1361 MHz base, boost of 1424 MHz, with an actual boost of 1550 MHz. I achieved this by raising the power limit up to 108% and raising the voltage to +75mv for an actual voltage of 1.25 V according to MSI AB. The memory was able to get up to 2006 MHz (8024 MHz effective), which is over 250 MHz higher than stock and without any voltage modifications (none available). Below you can see the results achieved at those settings. Also note, the CPU was overclocked to 4.8 GHz and the memory ramped up to its XMP profile of 2666 Mhz CL 11.
One thing of note with this card, and I would imagine similar with any 128-bit bus, is I saw higher than normal gains from raising the memory clocks. While core speed still rules, there was much to gain with the memory as well.
Cooling and Power Consumption
Next we look at the temperatures. At idle and no fan speed, this idled at 36 °C when normalized to 25 °C ambient. When things got going, the highest temperature I saw was 68 °C in Heaven when overclocked. Even at that temperature, I could barely hear the fan a few feet away from my head in an open benching station. Pretty good for being nearly inaudible and not having a ‘head start’ on temperatures due to the fans not kicking on until 60 °C. So it appears the Twin Frozr V does its job well, and quietly throughout normal gaming situations. When I cranked the fans to 100%, they were certainly audible, but not loud at all. Great job on this cooler MSI!
The last graph is power consumption. My system idled at a max of 86W, while using a maximum of 249W while overclocked in Unigine Heaven. This is what I would expect for a 120W TDP card. A quality 400W power supply, as recommended, would be plenty for my setup including overclocking both the card and CPU using ambient cooling methods.
Well, I think I have rambled on enough to get a good idea of the product and how it fits in the market, so I can share an educated opinion with you, our readers. Being a mid-range card, MSI, didn’t go to great lengths to improve upon the reference model as far as hardware goes, but let’s be honest, there isn’t a need to. They stuck with the reference power setup and put their better Military Class 4 parts on. Though the card is a mere 120W TDP, they put a version of their TwinFrozr V cooler on it with the Zero Frozr technology. At idle and low loads, the fan does not even turn on ensuring absolute silence in those situations. They did take the liberty to overclock out of the factory from the reference 1126 MHz to 1190 MHz, so you have a small bump in performance on that front.
As far as negatives, about the only one I can think of is the 2GB of vRAM for a card made for 1080p gaming. This shouldn’t be an issue in many titles, but if you are keen on turning up the AA as is sometimes done, this can become issue. That said, in my testing of the card, I ran Battlefield 4 happily with default ultra settings without any major hitching, so that was a good sign as BF4 can use a lot of vRAM at that setting. I would have loved to see NVIDIA come out with a card at this level that was 192-bit with 3GB of vRAM. Perhaps the ‘gap filling’ card, what I will call a GTX 960 Ti will fill out that large void between the GTX 960 and GTX 970.
Regarding pricing, the newegg.com range for GTX 960’s is from $199 to $219. This specific MSI card is priced at $209.99 which puts it right in the middle of the pack and priced exactly as the EVGA and ASUS offerings. Those do offer more power phases and slightly higher overclocks out of the box. However, the MSI card uses higher quality power bits than the reference models so I feel its fair for that ever so slight premium over reference.
Overall there is no reason to shy away from this card. A good price, overclocked out of the box, and a nice quiet cooler to keep temperatures in order. That makes this card Overclockers.com Approved!!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)