In almost every generation of graphics cards, NVIDIA has a SKU that for some reason or another is priced in the most peculiar way, essentially carving out a segment in pricing that isn’t actually there. A great example of this in the last generation was the GTX 760. This time around it’s the GTX 950 and the GTX 960. NVIDIA has effectively upgraded the GTX 750 Ti based on the original Maxwell to the GM206 core. In simpler terms, we have Maxwell 2 or the “GTX 750 Ti 2.0”.
While the original GTX 750 Ti was met with great enthusiasm, this isn’t the case for the 950.
Where the GTX 960 was barely faster than the GTX 760, the 950 finds itself in a similarly awkward position against the 960. If you’re still keeping up with us in this SKU soup, then it has likely dawned on you that the lower-mid and low-end NVIDIA products haven’t had the same kind of breakaway success reserved for products such as the GTX 970/980/980 Ti. Those GPUs were obvious class leaders at the time of release, whereas the GTX 950 just doesn’t have the same bang-for-buck ratio. This leaves the 950 vulnerable to many offerings from AMD and as stated earlier, the GTX 960 as well.
There isn’t much (if anything) GIGABYTE can do about that as they cannot control the GPU silicon configuration. However, they can maximise what NVIDIA has made available and that is what GIGABYTE’s Xtreme Gaming line of GPUs is about. This GPU represents a line of offerings from GIGABYTE that house only the highest-quality components and rock-solid stability. It’s impressive, and I’m really hoping the Xtreme Gaming line will be present in future generations of GPUs as well. It isn’t just the clock speeds that GIGABYTE is selling, but the upgraded cooling capacity, LED lighting, backplate and silent operation. In this particular case, the Xtreme Gaming doesn’t offer the advanced multi-display technology that we’ve seen before, but you do receive five display outputs nonetheless, so multi-monitor users aren’t left out.
Where performance is concerned, you’ll have to install GIGABYTE’s OC Guru II software to enjoy the OC-mode performance settings, but even if you don’t the BIOS-set performance is remarkable for a GTX 950. Out the box, the boost clocks are a stunning 1,455MHz. Please keep in mind that we did not make use of OC Guru II because it has some limitations that are not present in other tools. So we lost out on the OC-mode, but even without it the Xtreme Gaming GTX 950 delivers performance that is a good margin above that of the reference GTX 950.
High clock speeds are great, but they must always be tempered with temperature and power consumption. Unfortunately there isn’t much GIGABYTE can do about the power consumption with such high clock speeds, but the Xtreme Gaming model does consume far less power than any other SKU in the family. Moreover, the dual fan assembly is inactive when the card temperatures are lower than 60 °C. As the card slowly creeps to this temperature, the fans will spin briefly to keep the temperature in the 50 to 55 °C range. Useful when doing some light gaming and general desktop use, as in those situations the card is inaudible.
Only when you load the GPU do you hear the whir of the fans. At 100% fan speed it’s certainly loud, but there’s no test we performed that required such extreme fan speeds. For the most part, it was limited to 50% under heavy load and about 30% to 42% in general gaming scenarios according to GPU-Z.
Most impressive about the GIGABYTE GTX 950 Xtreme Gaming is just how much overclocking headroom it has compared to competing GTX 950 offerings. With this GPU we were able to operate the graphics card at a good 1,558-1,560MHz with no voltage adjustment at all. Simply set +100MHz in PrecisionX or OC Guru II and you’re done. For the memory +500MHz worked flawlessly as well, giving the GPU a total memory bandwidth figure of 128GB/s. This isn’t much at all, but remember that the GTX 950 operates on an extremely narrow 128-bit bus. Thus it needs all the bandwidth it can muster to perform well.
For the intended 1080p gaming the narrow bus is just enough, especially when the NVIDIA colour-compression technologies are working their magic to effectively boost memory bandwidth by over 15% (where possible). Games such as Heroes of the Storm, Dota 2, League of Legends, CS:GO and many other hugely popular multiplayer games play flawlessly on the GTX 950, registering frame rates well above 70fps at the highest possible detail levels.
When it comes to more demanding games, medium to high detail levels will work as well at 1920×1080. Anti-aliasing for these titles is out of the question, but the GTX 950 will allow you to play with a reasonable amount of detail. The only limitation is when it comes to games such as GTA V, which consume copious amounts of GPU memory. The 2GB of onboard memory is on the low side given that even at the lowest detail level, this game consumes close to 1.5GB of VRAM (800×600). As such, you’ll have to take care when configuring the game for the best performance.
Overall, the GIGABYTE GTX 950 Xtreme Gaming is a great start to what is hopefully a future family of GPU offerings from GIGABYTE. While this particular card isn’t in any way, shape or form meant for extreme overclocking, it does have quite possibly the best power circuitry of all GTX 950s on the market. In fact, it borrows some components from the Titan-X GPUs. With some quick testing, we found that when temperatures are sufficiently low, GPU clock speeds can reach frequencies as high as 1,780MHz, making it the fastest GTX 950 on record in competitive overclocking rankings. This is testament to the robust, high-quality PCB design and materials used on the graphics card.
Given all the GTX 950 has to offer, GIGABYTE has taken that and produced the best possible version of the GTX 950, helping it stay relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape. The pricing is a tad high, retailing for more than the GIGABYTE GTX 960 WindForce model, but with that said the Xtreme Gaming card is of a higher quality design and far more fun to overclock.
In closing, the GIGABYTE GTX 950 Xtreme Gaming is not only the fastest GTX 950 on the market, but the best representation of the GTX 950 you can buy. If you can find one for a reasonable price, it may very well be the mid- to low-end NVIDIA graphics card of choice for you.