NVIDIA wants to target the low-end PC market just as much as they want the enthusiast builders. Question is, what's the best way to prosecute your case? Their answer: latency.
The argument for buying a standalone graphics card for the low-end PC market is becoming harder and harder. AMD and Intel have been steadily improving the performance of their on-board graphics solutions for years. When you're trying to scrimp on every corner possible and League of Legends or DOTA 2 is the most graphics intensive game on your to-do list, justifying three figures for an additional part becomes very difficult.
So how do you do it? How do you convince people to part with money they often don't have to spend? NVIDIA hopes to do that by targeting the one thing the GTX 950's core audience cares about -- ping time.
Alex Chang, the TASA technical marketing manager for the GPU manufacturer, explained that a series of tests with a GTX 650 showed that the average response time between clicking a mouse and the on-screen response was approximately 80ms. With the GTX 950 that time was reduced to approximately 45ms thanks to the faster renderer of the Maxwell architecture and what NVIDIA calls "low latency optimisations".
NVIDIA says in their own material that "a higher frame rate reduces frame times". So presumably one could infer that you'd get the exact same benefit on your current rig as you would with a GTX 950, provided you're prepared to sacrifice enough visual fidelity.
The second element is a bit bizarre too. Their second advanced technique is by reducing the number of pre-rendered frames, thereby reducing the overall time of the rendering process. "This is done with the Maximum Pre-Rendered Frames setting that is integrated into the NVIDIA Control Panel," NVIDIA's guide to "High Performance MOBA Gaming" says.
Here's the problem though: the setting for pre-rendered frames has been an option since the dawn of time (figuratively). It's something that's typically ramped up for graphically intensive games -- The Witcher 3 and Watch Dogs were given as examples -- as it makes the overall experience smoother.
But as Chang pointed out during the interview, MOBA games aren't that graphically intensive. They're also not dealing with immense numbers of units like a Total War or StarCraft 2, so the overall workload on the game -- and potential volatility in performance over the course of a match -- in much lower.
On that point, NVIDIA's entirely correct. It's just that the GTX 950 is an answer to a problem that's already been solved -- and what they're relying on is users to rely on automated solutions, such as the one-touch optimisations in GeForce Experience (GFE), to justify the expense.
An update to GFE will see all MOBA games receive two entries, with the second being a "Optimise for high FPS low latency" option. "This means quality settings may be reduced to ensure maximum frame rate; after all, this is how the professionals play, and winning for them is everything."
Perhaps the most interesting element of the customised settings, however, is the change in the refresh rates for League of Legends and Dota 2 to 100hz. This is on monitors that support higher refresh rates -- although most gamers who care enough to purchase a 120hz or 144hz capable monitor will ensure the refresh rate is at the maximum every time they play.
In fairness, however, the market they're targeting is fairly immense. Around 30 million gamers play MOBA titles every month, with the genre enjoying a 300 percent increase over the last 3 years. And that's not factoring in the exponential explosion in the competitive scene, with Dota 2's most recent International having an $18 million prize pool, tens of millions tuning into LCS every year, Heroes of the Storm getting broadcast on ESPN and even the million dollar prize pools for SMITE.
As for the raw specs, the GTX 950 is using the GM206 chipset that's manufactured on the older 28nm process. It only has 2GB of GDDR5 RAM and 768 CUDA cores and it doesn't even come close to the power offered by the GTX 970, which remains the best bang-for-buck card available right now -- but that's also a card which costs substantially more than what someone building a low-end system would pay.
NVIDIA hasn't announced an official price yet -- that won't happen until the day before -- but they said the GTX 950 would land between the GTX 960 and the GTX 750, making the $200 mark a reasonable guess given the market values of the other two cards.