nvidia-gtx-950-heroNVIDIA has just launched its new GeForce GTX 950, a graphics chip which will power graphics cards priced around $150. It is pitched as being a good upgrade for current users of the popular GeForce GTX 650 which sells today for about $105-$120. While both cards sit in the same price range, the bump in performance is remarkable. I met with NVIDIA’s Tom Petersen for a hands-on demo of the GTX 950 capabilities.

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Performance increase

NVIDIA says that all these games run at 60FPS in 1080p

NVIDIA says that all these games run at 60FPS in 1080p

NVIDIA has demonstrated a performance increase of 300% on their demo systems, and the jump to the Maxwell architecture makes the card twice as power-efficient (relative to performance) at the same time. The card has a TDP (thermal design point) of 90W, uses a single 1×6 power pin and has 768 GPU cores running at 1.024GHz-1.188GHz (boost).

Along the way, support for 2GB doubles the GTX video-memory configuration to support higher resolution textures.

Now that DirectX 12 is out of the gates, the GTX 950 also supports new features such as Raster Ordered Views to increase transparency rendering performance, Volume Tiled Resources to better manage the memory footprint or Conservative Raster to help with shadow-mapping, just to cite a few things that DX12 makes better.

Latency Reduced = Better gamer performance

Beyond the extraordinary jump in performance that many customers sadly take for granted, NVIDIA has looked at improving the gaming experience, especially in the MOBA space, by reducing latency wherever it could find it. Latency here is defined by the time interval between a mouse click and a visual response to that action.

nvidia-gtx-950-dota2-latency

NVIDIA claims, and has high-speed video to prove it, that it shaved the DOTA 2 game latency from 80ms (milliseconds) with a GeForce GTX 650, down to 45ms with the GTX 950. And to do this, NVIDIA’s engineers look mainly at two things: 1/ reducing the rendering time 2/ reducing the number of frames in flight, by not using triple buffering.

What the heck is triple buffering you may ask? To make a long story short, triple buffering was something that was introduced a long time ago (when we were still using CRT monitors) to avoid image tearing when switching from one frame to another.

Since then, things like G-Sync technology have made it possible to live just fine with double-buffering. This alone accounts for a lot of the latency gains. For more information on triple-buffering, you can check the Wikipedia page, or read some ancient discussions about it.

Of course, reducing the time it takes to render each frame will further reduce latency, and that can be done the old fashion way: brute computational power. And it works.

You may think that going from 80ms down to 45ms isn’t a big deal, but it can be, and many players can perceive it. Back in the days, I would play Doom in 180×120 to get the extra framerate (=lower latency) because it would help me win.

Despite huge advances in graphics quality since then, the quest for lower latency continues, and the MOBA community has made it clear to NVIDIA that it wants even lower latency. The GTX 950 should make them happy… for a while.

Better image quality, out of the box

At the same time, the updated GeForce Experience application helps provide the best graphics settings for a given system. Things are now much better than they used to be back in 2012 when the GTX 650 first came out. I know my way around graphics options, but unless I’m extremely picky about something, I’ll just let GeForce Experience do its thing – I suggest you do it too.

Stream and Share

Last, but not least, NVIDIA has added a number of things to the video broadcasting capabilities of its software. Before, it was already possible to stream live to Twitch, or to record a game in MP4, thanks to NVIDIA’s Shadow Play (watch YouTube feature overview).

Now, things are going to the next level. First, it’s possible to capture up to 4K-60FPS footage with minimal CPU overhead and stream it. Now, you may wonder what the share is about.

2-player gameplay over the internet is now possible. In the demo, the laptop (right) plays over the open Internet

2-player gameplay over the internet is now possible. In the demo, the laptop (right) plays over the open Internet

Obviously, a friend of yours could “watch you play”, but NVIDIA has made it possible for your friend to take over your controller –over the web- via a browser extension. Since your friend’s controller can now send commands to your PC, there’s even an option for 2-players’ gameplay.

"I LOVE THE 2-PLAYERS GAMEPLAY OPTION" Your friend can see what’s going on in the game with the video streaming, and can control his/her own character via the browser extension. I love it. This works by fooling your PC into thinking that a second USB controller is present. NVIDIA has added a software layer that gives them this ability.

Conclusion

Fans of the GeForce GTX 650, or any GPU in that price range, should take a serious look at this new GeForce GTX 950. If you are shopping for a new card, the 650 GTX will still be on the market for a short while, but unless you are on an extremely tight budget (in which case, PC gaming doesn’t seem so reasonable), the extra bucks seem to be really worth it. I think that this is the first time that a $150 graphics card will have more horsepower than the current-generation consoles.

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