It seems like you no longer do you have to plunk down an obscene amount of money in order to get respectable performance for video cards. With Ultra HD resolution moving forward to placate bleeding edge PC builders the market is ripe for EVGA’s GeForce GTX 950 FTW Gaming ACX 2.0 Graphics Card, which is Nvidia’s answer without the associative premium.
We’ll talk about that soon enough, but this a card that reaps the trickle-down spoils. It’s true that we all clamor for the impressive flagships that Nvidia and AMD debut like the GTX 980 Ti or the R9 Fury, but the fact of the matter is that affordability makes up the lion’s share of GPUs. The hope is that most people will happily accept 1080p, and fluid performance for numerous MOBAs and online multiplayer titles currently available.
Matches the Part
Our card was supplied by EVGA and they didn’t rest on their laurels despite its entry-level objectives. In lieu of discreetness this particular GTX 950 model is a full-size design, but nicely appointed with a dual fan setup that utilizes a double ball bearing fan and a cool back plate. There are other models in their lineup that are priced cheaper and even one suitable for Mini ITX rigs but lack the attractiveness of the GTX 950 FTW we tested. Power is fed from the power supply and uses an 8-Pin connector, you even get SLI multi-GPU functionality.
Some things to note about the GTX 950 is that there’s no reference design from Nvidia so partners have free reign over what their models are equipped with. EVGA takes the high road with straight heat pipes and very low maximum power consumption at 125W, we recorded 163W but the 950 remained unusually cool and collected with very little heat to dissipate until playing a game, and even then those large fans remain quiet or rarely spin at all. The FTW ACX 2.0 is a prime example of efficiency and silent operation even when we did our benchmarks, where those big-ass fan blades barely made a noise.
The Right Amount of Specs
No matter what though, anyone upgrading their old cards from two years ago will experience a decent boost in performance, with and a base clock of 1203MHz and boost speed of 1405MHz. There are also parallels with the GTX 960 — chief among them is the GM206 chip — which is shared between them but with two CUDA cores disabled for 768 processor streams, instead of the standard 1024. This comes together for the moderately refreshed Maxwell architecture that continues to improve on memory configuration and processes in general. All of this is good but it’s hard to ignore the 2GB GDDR5 RAM and 128-bit interface, it’s not terrible but these specs in particular feel behind the times.
Users can also expect support for DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.5, OpenCL 1.2., H.265 (HEVC) encoding, and HDMI 2.0. Here’s another fun fact: the GTX 950 also features HDCP 2.2 (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) for encrypted futureproofing and ideal for HTPC builders; something that current AMD and earlier GTX 900 Series (970/980) cards sorely lack.
Remember how we said the Radeon R7 360 is good for strict budgets? Well, the 950 for all intents and purposes is simply better as a mainstream choice, but still not tailored for completely maxed-out settings. With everything left at its default values for balance we started with 3DMark synthetic tests, beginning with the Sky Diver demonstration aimed for everyday cards. The scenes ran between 80fps-103.3fps for an average score 17,313 points, roughly 18% better than the R7 360. The more demanding Fire Strike test netted 5,573 at 15.3fps, also business as usual for a static step-up like this.
Real World Performance
Going through the games we play the most, the FTW ACX 2.0 does indeed play smoothly for 1080p resolutions, and in some cases run at 2560 x 1440 pixels — the catch is that most of the enhancements will have to be kept at a minimum or left alone entirely for everything except MOBA titles (DOTA 2, Starcraft 2). In this case, we tested Battlefield 4 as our median at a fairly consistent 43fps in 1080p, while 28fps was possible at Ultra settings. However, we found 27fps in 1440p with just standard settings middling. Grand Theft Auto 5 didn’t disappoint as a whole with 67fps/48fps (Ultra) and 41fps (1440p), quite frankly, GTA V was the better running game in our library overall.
For our last game we switched it up with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and found the performance locked at 61fps with enhancements checked off, while 1440p was adequate at 33fps. Obviously the GTX 950 has concrete limitations but has a still has an easier time obtaining the ideal 60 frame compared to the R7 360 and R7 370.
Everything else such as graphic design multitasking was mostly what we hoped for, specifically having Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Corel Painter running all at once was possible with little slowdown. Much of this involved bumping up the resolution to Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) or actual 4K (4096 x 2160) where screen size is better optimized for actual workspace, but you’ll probably want to invest in a larger monitor to prevent squinting. Watching videos was also pleasing since 4K/60Hz comes standard either by DisplayPort or HDMI with no tearing or signal blackout, the only obstacle now is content worthy of watching regularly.
The realistic needs and interpretations of current graphics cards is what the GTX 950 brings to the table. It looks like the real deal, can theoretically do 1440p, and subtly pushes the existing Maxwell architecture to new heights of capability — unless you’re unable to ignore the market hierarchy the GTX 950 systematically fills.
It doesn’t help that this tier of GPU is at the bottom of Nvidia’s current family, nor that its fellow step-up GTX 960 seems like this card’s biggest competition, despite the marginal increases in performance and the price for minor privileges. The notion that ‘more is better’ to the typical buyer and the 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM is another significant blow to the GTX 950’s appeal too, when 4GB has effectively become the attractive norm in a cutthroat market.
Despite these caveats, EVGA and their GeForce GTX 950 FTW Gaming ACX 2.0 Graphics Card is an acceptable pick, basically the unofficial People’s Choice of video cards right now. But keep in mind this is an easy recommendation if your aim is on the MOBA genre or you’re not totally fixated on the unqualified best-spec’d for right now.