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Old 18th February 2016, 2:11 PM   #1
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Default Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix Direct CUII OC 2GB

Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix Direct CUII OC 2GB
User Review



Introduction

Hi everyone! Today I will be sharing with you my review of the Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix DirectCU II OC 2GB graphics card. The card is based on the Maxwell based GM206 GPU with a healthy overclock from the factory. The main competitor for this series of card is AMD’s R9 285 which is priced quite a bit higher than the GTX 960.

Features are well in line with the current range of video cards on the market. The card itself features support for DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.5, OpenCL 2.0 and CUDA. Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software is available, enabling the use of Shadowplay for in-game recording, Game-Stream ready and sporting Dynamic Super Resolution, or DSR for short, for down-scaled gaming delivering improved visuals.

Asus has had its way with the layout, featuring its own custom designed PCB layout and power delivery system featuring its 5-phase Alloy Super Power II VRM. Also a standout is the Strix DirectCU II cooling, with four (4) 8mm heat pipes transferring the heat away, and its 0dB fan system for silent operation when the GPU temperature is below 65°C (point at which the fans are activated) or has cooled back down to below 60°C after active cooling. Finishing off the company’s signature cooling solution is the inclusion of a nice brushed black alloy back plate for aesthetics.




Specifications






Features / Software

AUTO-EXTREME TECHNOLOGY

Asus have taken things a little further with a complete ground-up design based around Auto-Extreme Technology. This is a first for the industry. The one thing I find that stands out with Asus products is the persistence in being market leaders in not only design and performance, but also its manufacturing process.

Basically, Asus has developed an automated system for the production of its products and have removed the ‘human error’ factor and increased quality control of the products. In the process they have saved the workers from all those harsh gases released with the use of flux. Don’t look at this the wrong way, it’s a win-win for all. We, the end users can purchase a product of a very high quality standard, and for the workers in the factory, they no longer will have their lives shortened from breathing the deadly fumes every day.

All of this put together means a nice neat looking card with fantastic quality control. Regardless of the fact the Strix GTX 960 has a Backplate included, the simple fact for me is no more scratched knuckles when I’m replacing ram and much easier to clean the dust off the rear with a brush or cloth, as there is no soldered metal legs to get caught on. The chance of damage in general from your own fumbling or clumsiness, to either yourself or the product, is definitely reduced because of this process. A plus all round in my books, great idea.

Here is a video to explain the process better.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gRpuurPsuc


GPU Tweak II Software

Included with all Asus Graphics cards is the ASUS GPU Tweak software. My usual go-to software for GPU overclocking and monitoring is MSI Afterburner, so I thought I would have a look at what Asus has done for comparison… I’m impressed!

Initial setup was quick and simple. The layout is very easy to navigate and customise to suit what you want to see and/or use. The setup menu allows for keyboard shortcuts, and also to decide on start-up options. Another option is to unlock further settings past the limited clock, power, and memory settings for the more advanced users looking to push things further than most.

Considering my usual habit of defaulting to MSI Afterburner for my usual GPU overclocking, I found the interface and ease of use within GPU Tweak to be well laid out and simple to use for different applications. The experience delivered comparable functionality in terms of both overclocking and monitoring this GPU. Not too shabby!”



Factory profiles are included for:

Silent operation (a slightly under-clocked setting)





Gaming (which is the default clock speeds)





OC (a minor overclocked setting)

Or User Profile, which can be setup and saved to suit yourself, or you can add extras to suit your own personal needs.





Attached to the main tab is the monitoring graphs, which are customisable for layout and what you would like included. This can be docked to the main settings, or unlocks to place on your desktop wherever you choose.



There is also a Game Booster option. This is supposed to be helpful to reduce the OS overhead to assist in increasing frame rates. Honestly, I gave this a go myself to see if it made a difference, but for me, there was no change. However, I can see that on some systems, where they are older or more bloated, that it could have a measureable effect. I speculate that it didn’t have an effect on mine as it was a clean install, with nothing needing optimising – basically a benching drive. So, I guess you’d say the verdict is still out on this one. The direction is good, but no noticeable gains in my test environment. Your experience may vary.



Honestly, I like the software, and it has now formed part of my main Windows install. Not just saying this because I am providing a review of the product, but because I feel it generally is a very handy tool that Asus has prepared. It also works flawlessly with my EVGA card too, so it is not vendor specific.


Photos / Comments

The product comes well packaged in a cardboard box, with sufficient packing around to ensure there is little chance for it to be damaged.





Inside the box we have the Graphics Card itself, a DVI-VGA connector, Driver CD, Manual and nifty little Strix sticker. The video card is surrounded in foam to keep it safe whilst packaged.



To the cooler, we can see from the top that Asus has a nice owl theme going, with the menacing eyes looking back at you. The cooler is setup to only turn on when the card reaches the pre-set temperature of 65 degrees Celsius. The fans measure 75mm. Four (4) 8mm copper heat pipes transfer the heat from the core to the aluminium fin array. There is also what appears to be a solid finned heat sink to cover and spread the heat of the VRM componentry.







The power delivery for the card is supplied through a single 6-pin connector which is located on the rear edge. Asus have used its Super Alloy Power II component for the power delivery, featuring a 5-phase setup for cleaner power supply and longevity. Above the 6-pin power connector, there is a red indicator LED which changes to white when the power is connected correctly. Nice little touch there. It can also aid with troubleshooting, should there be a problem. The connector is also rotated 180° from the usual orientation, with a little notch in the PCB. This makes removal of the power a lot easier than other cards. For most gamers this will be a feature enjoyed though likely forgotten, but for those of us that bench hardware often it further simplifies the process of changing graphics cards in and out.

Asus recommends a minimum of 400W power supply with a minimum of 38 Amps on the 12V rail.






On the backside of the card, we can see how physically short the PCB actually is. The heatsink radiator and fans from the DirectCU II cooler actually protrude past the end of the card. My guess is to aid with the airflow through the cooler, which is quite effective. Overall, the card measures 22.5cm in length and 12.5cm in width. Also included is an aluminium back plate for aesthetics, protection and also to aid in cooling the backside of the PCB.



The card has multiple rear connections to suit most circumstances. It includes five (5) connectors; 1 x HDMI, 1x DVI and 3 x display port.


Last edited by headin2001; 9th May 2016 at 1:52 PM.
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Old 18th February 2016, 2:11 PM   #2
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Test Setup

My GPU test rig uses an Intel i7 6700K overclocked to 4.5 GHz on both core and cache, with the Vcore set to 1.35V. Being a modern processor with up to 8 threads available, the chance of a CPU bottleneck on this system is minimal. The CPU is paired up with a set of G.Skill Ripjaws V 3466C16 RAM in a 4 x 4GB configuration, with the timings set to XMP with all timings locked to reduce the chance of change between reboots, and all connected to an Asus ROG Maximus VIII Hero motherboard (see my review here).

Power comes from a Silverstone Strider Gold Evolution 1200W, to ensure there is no starvation of available power. Cooling for the CPU is taken care of by a custom loop, consisting of an EK Supremacy Evo CPU block, D5 pump housed in a XSPC dual bay reservoir, Alphacool XT45 420 3 x 140mm radiator with BitFenix 140mm Spectre Pro PWM fans set to low. The GPU’s are installed within a Corsair Obsidian 750D, with the side of the case removed, more for access and to allow clean air for repeated benchmark runs.

Most of my results are from the use of built-in benchmarks, and for those that do not, I have come up with some manually played sections which I have recorded the results with the use of FRAPS. The benchmarks are repeated 3 times to ensure repeatability and provide an average for the figures provided for Minimum and Average frames per second. For all benchmarks excluding Crysis 3, Windows 10 Pro 64bit is used. Windows 7 Pro x64 is used for Crysis 3 due to compatibility issues.

For Nvidia graphics cards, I have used the in-built Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) for 1440p benchmarking due to being limited to a 1080p monitor. For AMD graphics cards, the Virtual Super Resolution (VSR) feature was enabled in order to test the higher resolutions.

All overclocked results are based on three (3) passes of Unigine Heaven Xtreme, and overclocked results are shown within the 1080p result graphs. The software used for overclocking and monitoring is Asus GPU Tweak II.

Test System
• CPU: Intel i7-6700K at 4.5GHz (45 x 100MHz)
• Motherboard: Asus ROG Maximus VIII Hero
• Memory: 4 x 4GB G.Skill Ripjaws V 3466C16 (XMP Profile)
• PSU: Silverstone Strider Gold Evolution 1200W
• SSD: Samsung 840 250GB
• Case: Corsair Obsidian 750D
• CPU cooler: Custom water loop
• Operating system: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit / Windows 7 Pro 64-bit

Nvidia Graphics Cards
• EVGA GeForce GTX 780 ti – 1204MHz Boost, 8GHz GDDR5 (GeForce 358.50)
(Note, this card is pre-overclocked due to a custom bios, no memory timings have been adjusted, just base clock and boost removed)
• Asus GeForce GTX 960 Strix - 1254MHz GPU (1317MHz boost), 7.2GHz GDDR5 (GeForce 355.82)
• Asus GeForce GTX 750 ti OC – 1072MHz GPU (1150MHz Boost), 5.4GHz GDDR5 (GeForce 358.50)



GPU CHARTS

GAMING BENCHMARKS
Games tested:
Battlefield 4
Fallout 4
Grand Thief Auto V
Tomb Raider
Middle-Earth - Shadow of Mordor
Alien: Isolation
Metro 2033 Redux
Crysis 3



Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 is my go-to game and I literally book time during the week to play this. For this, I use the start-up sequence for Shanghai. It’s full of DOF changes, lots of lighting, water, texture rich, facial close-ups… The works really. It’s a timed run using FRAPS for 110 seconds, from the moment you walk through the door to the loading bay until the RHIB drops into the water.







Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is lacking a built-in benchmark. A little disappointing, but at least we can get an actual run through to give a more accurate feel of the game. For this, I have a run through near the beginning of the game, with sections which have little overhead to show the highest frames achievable, to lots of forest and water, to groups of people and some nuclear fallout.

It was also necessary to make changes to some .ini files to disable v-sync, something that is not easy to change in-game, and every change to resolution or settings results in v-sync being enabled again. I had to double check every time that it was not affecting the results. So beware! FRAPS is used to record the data.







Grand Thief Auto V

GTA V results are taken from the 5th built-in benchmark test. As the game engine does not have any pre-set graphic profiles, I have come up with a custom setting to stress the GPU’s but also try to keep it repeatable between the differing architectures. As the game engine runs with varied population and vehicles in the city, there can be a fair difference between runs, so this was run 3 times with an average result listed. GPU memory use is a big one on this title, so the more you have, the more eye candy you can adopt.

Settings are:
FXAA – on
MSAA, Vsync off,
Texture quality - very high
Shader quality – high
Shadow and reflection quality – normal
Reflection MSAA – off
Water Quality – high
Particle and grass quality – very high
Soft shadows – soft
Post FX – ultra
In-game DOF effects – on
Anisotropic filtering – X16
Ambient occlusion – high
Tessellation – very high







Tomb Raider
Fantastic game; lots of foliage, hair effects, cloth, texture – it has it all. The benchmarks are run on the Ultra pre-set on 1080p and 1440p utilizing the built-in benchmark for repeatability.







Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Quite a taxing game, especially at higher resolutions and definitely brings all of the cards to their knees. As I only have access to a 1080p monitor, I have taken advantage of Nvidia’s DSR (Dynamic Super Resolution) and AMD’s VSR (Virtual Super Resolution) in order to test higher resolutions. This worked out to be 2880 x 1620, so the performance shown will be tougher than the 1440p standard. The Ultra pre-set was used. It appears that 2GB cards seem to suffer at this setting, so the 3GB+ cards have a little breathing room.







Alien: Isolation

A game that runs just like the movie of old. Full of suspense and impending death, this game can really get the heart going in places. There are lots of lighting effects, and tessellation to really tax the graphics settings. Alien: Isolation is getting a little old now, but it is still a good title to push modern graphics card to the limits and provide scope for comparison.

For this title, I again utilised the built-in benchmark. The score represents the results from the 5 separate tests involved while using the Ultra Graphics pre-set.







Metro 2033 Redux

Metro is a nice little Post-Apocalyptic FPS. Lots of environmental effects, lighting, and physics with a good story behind it all. Basically like the original, but tweaked using the setup from Last Light.
The Benchmark is run using the built-in tool. Quality setting on very high, with no SSAA, AF set to 4X, normal motion blur, very high Tessellation, and with Vsync and PhysX set to off. Each graphics setting is run 3 times, and the average recorded in the graph below.







Crysis 3

Can it run Crysis?

Well, here we find out. Crysis 3 is still one of the most graphically intensive and taxing games around, and will bring even the top tier cards down to show their worth. Here, I run the game at very high settings, with a run through based on one of the checkpoints on the way to the Railroad, in the Welcome to the Jungle chapter. All results are recorded using Fraps, with the average of three (3) runs recorded.








SYNTHETIC BENCHMARKS

Software used:
Futuremark 3DMark11
Futuremark 3DMark Firestrike
Futuremark 3DMark Firestrike Extreme
LuxMark v3.1 – Hotel (Complex Scene)
Unigine Heaven – Basic
Unigine Heaven – Extreme
Unigine Valley – Extreme HD
Cinebench R15 - OpenGL




















POWER, HEAT AND SOUND MEASUREMENTS

Power measurements are taken as the peak load power recorded during Unigine Heaven Extreme. This provides a good deal of power usage to cover most situations. Some games may require extra power over this, but it is a very good baseline.

Due to the nature of electronics, the usage of power is greatly dependant on CPU type, voltage and speed, number of system fans, hard drives, the PSU itself, and other connected peripherals. This measurement is purely a guide for what this particular test system achieves. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guides for the minimum PSU requirements to suit the GPU.



Sound Measurements are taken using an iPhone app, by Skypa. My room in quiet times flattens at 55dB with just the main system in idle, all case fans on low, and with the phone located 30cm away from the case position. The base system itself is barely audible, with only the usual fan hum and D5 pump noise.



Temperature measurements are via the Asus software suite, GPU Tweak II. Measurement was taken before and after 2 runs of Unigine Heaven Xtreme Benchmark for maximum heat soak. The side of the computer case was left off for the duration of the tests, with an average room temperature of 28°C. All fan setting were left on the software’s Default Auto Settings.




Overclocking

As mentioned earlier, Asus bundle its very own GPU Tweak II software with its gaming cards. I utilised this software as well as Unigine Heaven in order to find what I would class as a Safe 24/7 overclock. Generally, this meant leaving Unigine Heaven in the Extreme pre-set to loop for 2 hours and not experience any artefacts or driver crashes.

The Asus Geforce GTX 960 Strix already comes with a decent factory overclock, from the Nvidia Reference base clock of 1127MHz and Boost clock of 1178MHZ to a nice 1253MHz Base clock and Boost clock of 1317MHZ. A good 126MHz Base and 64MHz Boost overclock there. It doesn’t stop there though, as whilst in-game, the boost clock was actually registering a nice 1393MHz clock. It just gets better.

With some further massaging, I was able to further overclock the card from here, with a further Base clock or 1344MHz and Boost measuring 1407MHz, an extra 90MHz in short. Couple this with the fact in-game boost is higher and find I had achieved a stable boost clock of 1482MHz. Not too shabby really, with only requiring a 40mV increase in voltage and a 115% power target, very easily achieved.

For the memory side of things, the GDDR5 utilised is rated at 7200MHz from the factory, involving a 200MHz increase from the reference models. The Samsung IC memory employed on the Asus Strix graphics card is quite OC friendly, for me reaching a high of 8000MHz. That’s 800mhz over the factory OC. This card just loves a good memory bump.

Here is a GPUz screenshot for verification.






Conclusion

It’s fast, silent, power efficient, cool and powerful. Seriously, it’s a little card with a big bite, especially with a little extra overclock. I feel Asus have taken an already great GPU from Nvidia and given it a treatment it deserves. From the redesigned PCB Layout, to the DirectCU II cooling solution, to the brushed black anodised aluminium back plate, it truly is a little card with the lot.

Nvidia has its driver’s well setup these days, simply the better out of the two main manufacturers. With DSR for super sampling, Shadowplay for recording so easily, I’m unsure what they could possibly offer to make the software package any better.

The sweet spot for this card is 1080p with graphics settings set to high, with most titles struggling once into the 1440p category. I feel the limited 2GB of memory is holding it back that bit, with some modern titles pushing the memory usage of this quite easily, especially once you turn the eye candy to Ultra. With this in mind you may consider the 4GB VRAM model of the STRIX GTX 960. Here is a link to the 4GB version for those who are interested https://www.asus.com/Graphics-Cards/...X960DC2OC4GD5/

For those wanting that little bit more power in the future, it would be a simple upgrade to add another GTX 960 in SLI. With its lower power use through the Maxwell Architecture, there would be little need for a large power supply, with a 500-600W power supply with adequate power connections would be sufficient with a similar system as used here.

Cooling wise, Asus have done a fantastic job. Although I haven’t tested a reference based card, its ability to not only run with a decent factory overclock but also still run at an acceptable temperature and minimal noise is a testament to how hard Asus works to make this a clear point of difference. The two 75mm fans are a perfect size for it, and do a very good job to cool the copper-cored aluminium heat sink below. Plus, the shroud is just cool too. I love the 0dB noise at idle and general browsing too; it not only helps reduce power usage, but that noise is eliminated at the same time – win-win!

Now, onto a couple of negatives and I want to start with a small gripe I have with the cooler. I feel the cooler design has been laid out the wrong way around. Asus have gone to the trouble of designing a very appealing 4 heat pipe array for cooling, but it’s tucked away at the PCI-E slot side of the card where you can’t see it! I love to see these, it shows more purpose and that little extra bling to the card design when I stare at it, perched within my case. Please, please, please, let me see the heat pipes! They look great – show them off!

The power connector has been placed in an awkward spot. Maybe it has the position facing out of the side to suit the smaller form factor of mATX builds, or maybe it was more about access – I’m not sure why. For me, it’s always nicest to have the power connector located at the rear end of the card which is the best place for my cabling.



The Asus Geforce GTX 960 Strix DirectCU II OC 2GB can be found at most local computer stores, with a price in the range of $285 to $350 AUD. (Staticice Search )


Feel free to comment below. It’s been a great experience to bring this to you guys. If there is anything else you would like included, your feedback is appreciated. I really want these reviews to suit what is relevant for our community.

Keep an eye out for more to follow soon.

Last edited by headin2001; 18th February 2016 at 2:16 PM.
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Old 18th February 2016, 2:16 PM   #3
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Great review! Nice 1080p card.

Last edited by Paulie_AU; 18th February 2016 at 3:06 PM.
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Old 18th February 2016, 3:01 PM   #4
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Depending on how you feel about warranty
-Whats the power delivery like? PCB Shot?

Whats the maximum voltage that can be given? Measure from caps with DMM?

Maximum stable benchmarking for say 3Dmark Firestrike & Catzilla 720p?
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Old 18th February 2016, 3:08 PM   #5
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Nice review
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Old 18th February 2016, 3:30 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zeropluszero View Post
Depending on how you feel about warranty
-Whats the power delivery like? PCB Shot?

Whats the maximum voltage that can be given? Measure from caps with DMM?

Maximum stable benchmarking for say 3Dmark Firestrike & Catzilla 720p?
The max voltage that could be given in software was 1.25v from memory, but pushing more volts had no effect on this sample as it was mostly limited by the power target at 115% I feel. With a modded bios I am sure that it could be pushed further without issue, but as you would probably already know, more volts doesn't always result in higher clocks, it's finding the balance.

I will attempt to have clearance to remove the coolers for some PCB shots in the future to show more of the power delivery deployed. I understand this is important to some in the audience.

I didn't check in Catzilla unfortunately. The list of benchmarks and the time it required for all of these was quite exhausting, so some benchmarks had to go to make sure I could finalize them all as accurately as I could.

Benching wise I had no problem pushing higher. Heaven is a pretty tough stability test, and wanted to show "real world" stable results, not just a quick bench.

Here is a couple that pushed higher for bot points. Again, with more time, custom cooling and a modded bios, the score could have been pushed further. These were pretty much on the limit for the stock card on hot Queensland summer temperatures in an open case.

Firestrike - 1483 Boost Clock


and

3DMark11 - 1503 Actual Boost
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Old 18th February 2016, 3:40 PM   #7
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Yeh fair enough, those benchmarks look good.
and yeh, If I'm buying a new card, Id be reluctant to buy reference design in that model, because the PWM is just so weak, if I chose to voltmod the card.
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Old 18th February 2016, 6:13 PM   #8
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Very Pro review
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Old 18th February 2016, 6:58 PM   #9
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fantastic review there. enjoyed it.

I have a 4GB GTX960 model for the spare pc which games at 1080p, and its perfect. Great little card.

i love the strix cards i think they are just built well, and clock well too.
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Old 18th February 2016, 7:44 PM   #10
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Most importantly how did it go in BF4? What settings got you good playable frames. My Asus 680 OC on water seems happy to push over 100hz on high settings with 1240 core clock.
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Old 19th February 2016, 1:23 PM   #11
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I have an EVGA 2GB GTX960. And it is fantastic at 1080p. Since I don't really have cash for a 1440p monitor, this card is ideal. Very happy. And I didn't have to spend $1100 Seriously, very impressed with the performance.

Nice review as well. Extremely comprehensive... Must have taken a long time to prepare. And it is very informative.
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Old 21st February 2016, 1:30 PM   #12
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Love the review, one of the nicest reviews I've seen in a ling time.

I can't help myself however, this is complete bullshit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by headin2001 View Post
Asus have taken things a little further with a complete ground-up design based around Auto-Extreme Technology...

Basically, Asus has developed an automated system for the production of its products and have removed the ‘human error’ factor and increased quality control of the products. In the process they have saved the workers from all those harsh gases released with the use of flux. Don’t look at this the wrong way, it’s a win-win for all. We, the end users can purchase a product of a very high quality standard, and for the workers in the factory, they no longer will have their lives shortened from breathing the deadly fumes every day.

Watched the video, calling massive bullshit on this one.
It's like they're trying to say the are the first card manufacturer to use a pick n place machine?
Absolute bollocks.
What they're showing in that video is bread and butter manufacture, nothing at all special.

Nothing against you OP, i'm having a go at Asus, that's all.
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Old 21st February 2016, 2:15 PM   #13
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I have a 4gb 960 strix in my HTPC and they're fantastic for 1080p gaming. Nice review
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Old 21st February 2016, 7:59 PM   #14
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That was a great read, nice review mate.
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Old 22nd February 2016, 9:39 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mad_mic3 View Post
Very Pro review
Quote:
Originally Posted by nCrypt View Post
fantastic review there. enjoyed it.

I have a 4GB GTX960 model for the spare pc which games at 1080p, and its perfect. Great little card.

i love the strix cards i think they are just built well, and clock well too.
Quote:
Originally Posted by onthepulse View Post
I have an EVGA 2GB GTX960. And it is fantastic at 1080p. Since I don't really have cash for a 1440p monitor, this card is ideal. Very happy. And I didn't have to spend $1100 Seriously, very impressed with the performance.

Nice review as well. Extremely comprehensive... Must have taken a long time to prepare. And it is very informative.
Quote:
Originally Posted by robbo2 View Post
I have a 4gb 960 strix in my HTPC and they're fantastic for 1080p gaming. Nice review
Quote:
Originally Posted by WJR View Post
That was a great read, nice review mate.
Thanks guys, appreciated. Genuinely are a well built card, and would happily have one in a second PC or a backup if my big card dies. Small, quite, clock amazingly and look pretty darn cool.
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