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First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 1:37 pm
by Das_Saunamies
The 650 Ti is dead, long live the 960!

XCOM 2 was the game that finally did in my MSI 650 Ti. I could play to an extent (a slow, jerky extent), and could have waited for Firaxis to fix the engine, but it just wasn't right. I went back and forth between Asus and MSI for an hour until I let fewer online coil whine complaints and a backplate settle the matter in Asus' favour. Too bad the 950 still costs almost the same as a 960 over here, but them's the breaks.

The Asus webpage for the card: ... /overview/.
Techpowerup review of the card's earlier 2 GB version: ... _STRIX_OC/.

I've used the card since XCOM 2's launch, so that makes 12 days today. Here's what I've found.

The Good
  • Performance. No slowdowns in sight, even with high detail (Ultra can be challenging though, as expected).
  • Silent. The STRIX semipassive cooling works nicely, and even when active the fan is not very audible. Much quieter than the budget-grade MSI 650 Ti cooler. When I booted after installing the card I thought my PC wasn't powering on!
  • Compact size. The card is a very comfortable length and the backplate is not terribly tall. Convenient power connector placement.
  • 4 GB VRAM. Anything over 2 GB is probably of questionable benefit due to the card's choked memory bus - and knowing Nvidia we only get to use 3/4 of it - but at least it's there if a game wants to use that much, making the card better value. We are firmly in the high-resolution era now.
The Bad
  • Coil whine. The card squeals and buzzes in high FPS scenarios (FPS in the hundreds); I have to use VSync in XCOM 2, and if another game has the same difficulty, I may send the card in for RMA. No squeal in Killing Floor 2, Civ:BE, Dying Light, etc. so this may be bad code in XCOM 2 (like the Crysis menus of old with their THOUSANDS of FPS).
  • Crappy software. After using MSI Afterburner for a long time, the Asus solution feels crude; I miss all the tweaking options and my OSD, Asus GPU Tweak II is basically there as a basic monitor where you can push a button to go into a pre-selected mode (OC, Gaming, Silent, User Defined). I also can't get the most recent version(s) to work correctly; to get automatic startup and error-free shutdown, I have to use an older version, and even that doesn't start reliably.
  • Cramped slot side. I can barely make out the slot latch under the card. Pray I never have to remove this one...
  • Hot-ish power envelope. It's no volcano, but it's twice the consumption of the 650 Ti and sometimes I notice that. I'm dreading the coming summer months with constant light and heat.
From a silence perspective the STRIX 960 4G is mostly great. The cooling is as silent as semipassive stock cooling gets, but the card can exhibit coil whine when stressed in a certain way (way high FPS, I believe). At least you don't have to manually adjust it, so it is certainly a drop-in solution.

As a product, the card has the hardware right so far (bar maybe poor access to the mobo slot latch and no dust-buster reverse spin), but the software is lacking compared to MSI's. I don't know if Gigabyte's is any better, but I miss MSI Afterburner every time I have to access Asus GPU Tweak II or force it to start. I'm sure I can get the ol' OSD back if I want to, but I would prefer to have it come with the GPU management software.

If you can get the MSI equivalent with a backplate for a similar price, I would suggest that one instead of the Asus. The card specs are really close from what I've read from reviews, so the differences come down to software and neat features like dust-clearing fans.

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 2:05 pm
by CA_Steve
So...what's the downside of having v-sync enabled for your games? The upside is no coil whine and much less power use/heat/fan rpm.

What's your minimum non-zero fan speed on this card?

Have you tried uninstalling the Asus s/w and using Afterburner?

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 3:21 am
by Das_Saunamies
The downside of having v-sync on is performance loss and a player/monitor disconnect. The long and short of it is that if your FPS dips even a little below the monitor's refresh rate, the card can't output its partial frames (v-sync demands full frames to avoid tearing) so frame buffers clog and the card is stuck waiting instead of being able to render freely (leashed to the monitor, which in turn only uses new images for some of its refresh cycles, most likely every second one or so; full frame, skip frame, full frame, skip frame...). The result feels like a slowdown - which it essentially is, because the rendering pipeline is jammed and the monitor sticks on frames - as the image starts lagging behind player actions, and the disconnect becomes readily apparent if you get the slowdown in fast-paced online games. Servers do not always wait on clients like a local engine might. It's even noticeable in graphically intensive (or poorly coded) singleplayer games.

I'm sure you're familiar with render times/draw times from the Tech Report articles contrasting them with FPS as a performance indicator, this is something similar (a timing issue).

If this was a 980 that never dipped below 60 FPS, then v-sync would probably not be an issue. Nvidia has an Adaptive option for v-sync that may alleviate the issue (supposedly it cuts off v-sync when FPS dips below the refresh rate, but I haven't tried how well that works - it would have to be lightning-quick to be effective in online multiplayer).

The minimum fan speed is 725 RPM at a minimum pulse rate of 31%.

I haven't tried Afterburner because it would rob me of the ready-made profiles. If I get sufficiently annoyed I might give it a go, as Afterburner is known to work with all sorts of cards.

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 4:22 am
by Smanci
You should try afterburner and fiddling with undervolting using power limit and overclocking. I was planning on writing an article on that but didn't quite get that far. :)
Did some Heaven 4.0 runs fans locked at 1200RPM. My card can spin its fans as low as around 300-400RPM, though. They start at 535RPM.

70% Power


Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 4:38 am
by Das_Saunamies
Nice tweaking! I'll keep that in mind come summer, but I am reluctant to tweak my rig these days, as I mostly use the workstation for work. I can't afford to go fiddling in the middle of a tight deadline, so I highly appreciate drop-in and standard solutions. :wink:

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 7:33 am
by CA_Steve
What I meant was what's your downside to enabling v-sync for the games with "FPS in the hundreds? The >33ms frames would be very few (if any).

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 11:00 am
by Das_Saunamies
Per same, Steve. XCOM 2 plays like it's "drunk" with v-sync on because most of the time it keeps dipping due to the as-yet unoptimised code.

PS. If you meant in general, then probably not a lot - the hardcore FPS gamers swear by high framerates even on a lower-Hz monitor, and I don't doubt the advantage they may get, but I've given up CS and Quake a long time ago.

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 12:35 pm
by Das_Saunamies
I tried the Adaptive v-sync option Nvidia provides from its proprietary Control Panel, and I have to say it reduced the "drunk" effect in XCOM 2 noticeably. It seemed to work much the same as turning off the game's own v-sync setting, I've tested both settings for several hours now. I can't say how fast it was activating as the game runs like ass still (as I said it is not fully optimised yet), but it was definitely better than plain old v-sync.

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 1:08 pm
by CA_Steve
There ya go. :)

Re: First Impressions: Asus STRIX-GTX960-DC2OC-4GD5

Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2016 1:39 pm
by Das_Saunamies
Further information on RPM and duty cycles: under default STRIX profiles the card can spin the fan(s) as low as 230 RPM for sustained periods (20 seconds) at a time before cut-out. The recorded duty cycle rate was 23%.

I cannot select a rate this low manually, the limit is 31% in GPU Tweak II. The options may not be great, but the default functionality sure is, at least so far.