First of a new generation of Nvidia cards
Ray tracing goes hardware; end of the URL; top Mac app is spyware; Win 7 earns reprieve; Huawei cheats.
THE LAUNCH of a major new range of graphics cards is always a notable event, but Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX range is something beyond that. These are the first of a whole new generation of cards based on the Turing GPU. Nvidia’s president, Jensen Huang, has claimed this is the company’s most important GPU since the Tesla, in 2006. It shows where cards are heading over the next few years, and it’s going to look sumptuous.
There are three new cards initially: The RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2080 are due first ( and we’ve got one—see page 76). The Ti version is an eyewatering $999; the plain version is a still-substantial $699. The RTX 2070 is due to follow in a month, at around $499. There are Founders Editions, too, for an extra $100–200. These are huge prices, even if they are the vanguard of a new generation.
The flagship RTX 2080 Ti has a “Big Turing” GPU, with 4,352 CUDA cores, 11GB of VRAM, and can manage 13.4Tflops, with a hefty 250W TDP. The 2080 has 8GB of memory and 2,944 CUDA cores. It churns out 10.1Tflops. The 2070 comes in at 7.5Tflops and is armed with 2,304 CUDA cores.
The fuss is encapsulated in the “RTX” part of the name. These cards have been built to hardware-accelerate ray tracing, a first for consumer cards. They employ Nvidia’s raytracing API, RTX, launched in March. This is compatible with Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing, DXR. Full real-time ray tracing may be a goal, but it’s a bit much to ask for just yet. RTX enables selective ray tracing, a hybrid system that enables specific parts or aspects of a rasterized scene to be mapped out the hard way. Great for creating realistic shadows and highlights. The Turing GPUs contain what Nvidia calls an RT core, dedicated to running specific ray-tracing calculations. It also boasts hardware AI, a machinelearning engine to predict the workflow.
As yet, we have no game developed from scratch to make use of ray tracing; it’s all added sparkle. So far, there are 11 games with some aspects of ray-tracing support. This is still a crushingly complex process—turn on ray tracing in Battlefield V, and your frame rate can drop to 60fps at 1080p, and that’s using the 2080 Ti.
Nvidia’s previous GPU architecture, Pascal, isn’t going anywhere just yet either. Only the top of the range gets Turing GPUs for now. For more mainstream markets, the 10-series GTX range will soldier on. It’s widely thought that the lower 20-series cards won’t support RTX either. Rather than deliver a sub-par experience, they will skip it altogether.
Where is AMD? Well, it also has a ray-tracing API, RadeonRays, but for now it seems to be content to sit this one out and let Nvidia take the high ground, while it concentrates on the bigger markets lower down the tree.
This is the biggest launch from Nvidia for years. It has pitched these first cards very high, which has already prompted some pushback, especially as there’s so little to run the RTX hardware on at the moment. The first generation of any new architecture is often among the most expensive, but never the best. If you buy a 2080 Ti just for ray tracing, you’ll be disappointed for now, with few games as yet, and those have limited support. What it does do is point the way, and the way leads to wonderful graphics. Yes, for now it’s going to be painfully pricey, but the first step to bringing real-time ray tracing to your desktop has been made.
As yet, we have no game developed from scratch to make use of ray tracing.
Nvidia’s RTX cards have real-time ray tracing builtinto their Turing GPUs.