Save CPUs, all components manufacturing in the PC hardware industry is centered upon the same core philosophy: Design a PCB, design the aesthetics and/or heatsink, and then purchase the semiconductor or Flash supply and build a product. In the case of video cards, board partners are responsible for designing aftermarket coolers (and PCBs, if straying from reference), but purchase the GPU itself from AMD or nVidia. The “hard work” is done by the GPU engineers and fabrication plants, but that's not to trivialize the thermal engineering that board partners invest into coolers.

When our readers ask us which version of a particular video card is “best,” we have to take into account several use-case factors and objective design factors. Fully passive cooling solutions may be best for gaming HTPCs like this one, but can't be deployed for higher-TDP graphics hardware. That's where various aftermarket designs come into play, each prioritizing noise, dissipation, and flair to varying degrees.

This week, with the release of NVIDIA's newest GTX 960 GPU, we have dedicated three of these deals to what we consider to be the three best GM206-powered cards available right now.

It's official: The price gap between the GTX 960 and GTX 970 is large enough to drive a Ti through. NVidia's new GeForce GTX 960 2GB graphics card ships at $200, pricing it a full $50 cheaper than the GTX 760's launch price. The immediate competition would be AMD's R9 285, priced almost equivalently.

NVidia's GTX 960 is intended to target the market seeking the best video card for the money – a segment that both AMD and nVidia call the “sweet spot” – and is advertised as capable of playing most modern games on high settings or better. The GTX 960 uses a new Maxwell GPU, called the GM206, for which the groundwork was laid by the GTX 980's GM204 GPU. In our GTX 980 review, we mentioned that per-core performance and per-watt performance had increased substantially, resulting in a specs listing that exhibits a lower core count and smaller memory interface. AMD has leveraged these number changes in recent marketing outreaches, something we'll discuss in the conclusion.

This GeForce GTX 960 review tests the new ASUS Strix 960 video card against the 970, 760, R9 285, & others. The benchmark analyzes GTX 960 FPS performance in titles like Far Cry, Assassin's Creed, EVOLVE, and other modern titles. The GTX 960 is firmly designed for 1080p gaming, which is where the vast majority of monitors currently reside.

In Left 4 Dead-like form, Evolve reintroduces the concept of monster vs. humans multiplayer gameplay with high-fidelity graphics. 2K's soon-to-be released “Evolve” has already been analyzed by us a few times, but now we're returning to specifically benchmark the game's PC FPS performance. 

This Evolve GPU FPS benchmark tests the game on Very High (max) and Medium settings, pitting some of the best graphics cards against one another. On our Evolve graphics bench, we tested the GTX 980 vs. the GTX 780, 770, 750 Ti, & R9 290X vs. the R9 285, 270X, R7 250X, & HD 7850. Once we got past the FPS limitations (resolved easily, as explained in an upcoming guide), testing Evolve was fairly easy and unrestrictive.

NOTE: This game is in BETA. Although it is near completion, results could be significantly improved prior to launch as GPU manufacturers move to finalize drivers specific to Evolve. The same is true as 2K continues to implement optimization patches.

Judging by our content traffic trends, there's an express user interest in external graphics solutions as employed by laptops. These solutions allow desktop-quality graphics output without restricting the laptop in non-gaming tasks; that is, the GPU is connected via docking station, granting full mobility of the portable when used for usual commuting or work tasks.

Among the final pieces of our coverage from MSI, the GS30 Shadow laptop and its accompanying docking system remind us of a SilverStone/ASUS creation from last year: The XG02 external video card enclosure for laptops.

MSI's GS30 Shadow 13.3" gaming laptop includes a PCI-e enabled dock for external graphics card hardware, supporting AMD & nVidia devices. The GS30 can fit everything up to a Titan Black, hosts a 3.5" HDD bay for games storage, and pushes all video content to an external display once docked. This means that the external video card does not re-pipe the graphics back into the 13.3" screen, instead requiring a peripheral monitor. It's a normal docking station in this fashion, it just includes external GPU support for high-end gaming at home.

The international Consumer Electronics Show kicks off next week in Las Vegas, NV. As part of our annual attendance, we book dozens of meetings in advance with major manufacturers and parts vendors; nVidia, AMD, and Intel are almost always our staples. This time, however, nVidia wasn't booking GeForce meetings and noted that it will be handling things a little differently this year.

As a part of our new website design – pending completion before CES – we've set forth on a mission to define several aspects of GPU technology with greater specificity than we've done previously. One of these aspects is texture fill-rate (or filter rate) and the role of the TMU, or Texture Mapping Units.

When listing GPU specifications, we often enumerate the clockrate and TMU count, among other specs. These two items are directly related to one another, each used to extrapolate the “texture filter rate” of the GPU. The terms “Texture Fill-Rate” and “Texture Filter Rate” can be used interchangeably. For demonstration purposes, here is a specifications table for the GTX 980 (just because it's recent):

This article topic stems from a recent reader email. Our inquisitive reader was curious as to the nature of variable clock speeds, primarily asking about why GPUs (specifically nVidia's) would sometimes log slower clock speeds than the overclock settings; similarly, speeds are occasionally reported higher than even what a user OC reflects.

Variable clock speeds stem from boost settings available on both AMD and nVidia architecture, but each company's version differs in execution. This brief post will focus on nVidia Boost 2.0 and why it throttles clock speeds in some environments. None of this is news at this point, but it's worth demystifying.

With Christmas only days away, many of us still haven't finished our shopping. No need to brave the cold to rush out into the crowds, though – we've got you covered. This week we found a case, a power supply, and three video cards that are on sale. If you're looking for a gift for someone else – or just want to treat yourself – check out the deals we found below.

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