The Ford GT may get your pulse racing, but ultimately when Joe Public walks into a dealership, he’s likely going to drive out with a Ford Taurus.
That’s arguably what Nvidia introduced this morning with its surprisingly cheap $200 GeForce GTX 960 (full review here) that appears designed as much to hit an ailing AMD while it's down as it is to keep the core gamer happy. Rather than a high-end $1,000 or $500 GPU most gamers can only dream about, the new GeForce GTX 960 fills that all-important performance segment of gamers who actually buy far more video cards.
Although Nvidia is likely loath to describe its new affordable GPU as a Taurus—perhaps that’s better left to Intel’s integrated graphics—the company does acknowledge the larger volumes at stake here.
Jon Peddie, with Jon Peddie Research, said the enthusiast segment of $250 to $900 claims but 6 percent of the market—albeit with far greater margins. Still, given the 28.5 percent of sales that goes to cards priced between $100 and $249, Nvidia doesn’t want to leave this lower tier of gamers wanting.
It’s this budget sector whose need Nvidia hopes to feed, and there’s good reason to believe the company can do it to with the GeForce GTX 960. The card uses the latest graphics core from Nvidia, with features not even the pricier GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980 can boast.
Based on the company’s newer GM206 core, the GeForce GTX 960 promises 1080p gaming at the gold standard of 60 fps. That won’t be in every game and with every detail slider turned up to maximum, of course, but for the price it’s a deal. And while 1080p gaming may sound pedestrian in a world of curved monitors and 4K displays, it’s actually where the sweet spot is. Nvidia, in fact, says 95 percent of games are played at 1080p or lower, and this card is for them.
For the most part, the GeForce GTX 960 is like a little version of the GeForce GTX 970 and 980 that launched late last summer.
Its feature list has been pretty much lifted from the “Big Maxwell” with: Dynamic Super Resolution, Multi-Frame-Sampled Anti-aliasing (MFAA), Voxel Global Illumination, and VR Direct. In fact, so little has changed you can just read up on the features in our writeup from last year.
Not exactly the same, but better too
That doesn’t mean all is the same. Nvidia is now so confident that its MFAA feature offers enough of a “free” performance advantage in visual quality, that it will turn it on by default for those who use the company’s GeForce Experience.
The GM206 core features you won’t get in the pricier GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980 cards (which use the GM204 core) include H.265 decoding and full HDCP 2.2 compliance.That may sound like spec soup, but it’s actually fairly important if you intend for your PC to play 4K content going forward. Although the GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980 have HDMI 2.0 ports, as does the GeForce GTX 960, the former cards may have issues with protected content such as 4K and 8K, which could very well require HDCP 2.2.
It’s likely bits under the gate though. Few people will run the larger and pricier GeForce GTX 970 and 980 in a living room to run a 4K TV. The GeForce GTX 960, however, will probably find service there as it’s smaller and quieter, and in some configurations, completely silent.
In fact, under very light gaming loads, such as League of Legends, some cards will keep the fans completely off.
The real head-turner with the GeForce GTX 960 is its price. Most expected the new card to slot in at $250, which is what the GeForce GTX 760 cost. At $200, it’s even cheaper than the GeForce GTX 660, which was introduced at $230.
The aggressive pricing on the new card is sure to put even more pressure on AMD, which has been losing ground to its old foe.
The latest figures from Jon Peddie Research, which closely tracks graphics in the industry, puts Nvidia with a commanding 71.5 percent of the add-in video card game. AMD is at 28.4 percent. Intel actually dwarfs both in overall graphics market share, but integrated graphics is hardly respected nor desired by gamers. AMD’s own quarterly reports put its graphics sales down 15 percent quarter to quarter.
With Nvidia now releasing two rounds of cards without a significant response from AMD, fans may be getting nervous. All the company has done is slash prices. Gamers looking for deals may celebrate, but it isn't good for AMD's shareholders.
Peddie, however, said, the game isn’t over yet. While he acknowledged AMD was “a bit late with a new GPU," he said the company was nearly finished with its next one. He also cited AMD's long history with GPUs (at least, through its acquisition of ATI): “AMD hasbeen doing it (via ATI) for 30 years," he pointed out, compared to Nvidia's 20.