A rev­o­lu­tion­ary ahead of its time?

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Are you ready for the ray-tracing rev­o­lu­tion?

THE FU­TURE OF GRAPH­ICS CARDS and gam­ing is about to ex­pe­ri­ence the next rev­o­lu­tion; at least, that’s the mar­ket­ing be­hind Nvidia’s GeForce RTX cards. When Nvidia demon­strated real-time ray tracing run­ning at 24fps on a DGX Sta­tion ear­lier this year, it felt like a lot of hoopla over some­thing more ben­e­fi­cial to Hol­ly­wood than PC gamers. Six months later, we’re look­ing at a sin­gle graph­ics card that can out­per­form the DGX Sta­tion, at just $799. Great news, at least for en­thu­si­ast gamers with deep pock­ets.

The tech­nol­ogy crammed into Nvidia’s Tur­ing ar­chi­tec­ture is cer­tainly im­pres­sive. The CUDA cores have been en­hanced, promis­ing up to 50 per­cent higher per­for­mance than on Pas­cal, and there’s more of them. Next, add faster GDDR6 mem­ory, im­proved caching, and mem­ory sub­sys­tem tweaks that also pro­vide up to 75 per­cent more ef­fec­tive mem­ory band­width. Then toss in some RT cores to ac­cel­er­ate ray tracing, and Ten­sor cores for deep-learn­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

Nvidia also makes some changes with the new Founders Edi­tions. Gone is the old blower cooler, re­placed by dual ax­ial fans, dual va­por cham­bers, and a thick metal back­plate. The 2080 FE is qui­eter than the 1080 FE, though the back­plate does get hot to the touch. The 2080 FE also comes with a 90MHz fac­tory over­clock, with fur­ther man­ual over­clock­ing an op­tion. VR fans will like the new Vir­tu­alLink con­nec­tor, which can pro­vide power, data, and HBR3 video over a sin­gle cable (though you need a new head­set that sup­ports the stan­dard).

All th­ese im­prove­ments make the RTX 2080 FE a recipe for suc­cess; what could go wrong? There are sev­eral con­cerns. First, games will need to be coded to use ray­trac­ing and deep-learn­ing en­hance­ments. Those are com­ing, with 11 an­nounced games fea­tur­ing some form of ray tracing, and 25 that use Nvidia’s new DLSS (see Tech Talk, pg. 17). But at launch, none are avail­able, and we haven’t had time to an­a­lyze the DLSS demos. But the big­ger prob­lems are price and per­for­mance.

Com­pared to the GTX 1080, the RTX 2080 reg­is­ters a healthy 38 per­cent av­er­age im­prove­ment in gam­ing per­for­mance at 4K, and a 36 per­cent im­prove­ment at 1440p. There are a few games where it even comes close to a 50 per­cent jump. But we had sim­i­lar per­for­mance from the GTX 1080 Ti, which is 34 per­cent faster than the 1080,

and we’re nowhere near the ad­ver­tised 50 per­cent av­er­age im­prove­ment. With the cryp­tocur­rency in­duced graph­ics card short­age be­hind us, and the next-gen cards ar­riv­ing, 1080 Ti cards are sell­ing for un­der $650 and drop­ping, mak­ing a $799 Founders Edi­tion a ques­tion of faith.

Do you be­lieve that enough games that lever­age the new ray-tracing fea­tures will ar­rive in time to war­rant jump­ing on the band­wagon? And will they run well enough on the RTX 2080, when even on the beefier RTX 2080 Ti many ap­pear to strug­gle? Are you will­ing to pay more money for a card that’s only in­cre­men­tally faster on ex­ist­ing games than the for­mer cham­pion? Good ques­tions, but there’s no clear an­swer.

We’re op­ti­mistic about the Tur­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, as it rep­re­sents the big­gest im­prove­ments to the graph­ics ren­der­ing pipe­line we’ve seen since the first GeForce cards. In an­other year, or even six months, the RTX 2080 could be a kick-ass prod­uct. But right now, it car­ries a high price and lacks the raw per­for­mance to back it up. It’s not a rev­o­lu­tion—yet.

$150 more than a 1080 Ti? How much is thatray tracing worth?

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