Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics cards: The complete guide
The next generation of graphics cards is here, and there's a lot to get excited about.
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Prior to Gamescom 2018, Nvidia finally made the announcement tech pundits had been long awaiting by revealing its latest line of consumer graphics cards. Dubbed GeForce RTX, these cards succeed the popular GeForce GTX 10 series and introduce a slate of new features designed to enhance both the visual and computational aspects of PC video games.
GeForce RTX features
At the core of the RTX 20 series lies Nvidia's new Turing architecture. Turing focuses on three key technologies: real-time ray tracing, enhanced artificial intelligence and programmable shaders.
Real-time ray tracing
In a nutshell, ray tracing deals with the way light hits and reflects off objects in a virtual space. While this might not sound as important as higher-resolution textures or other fancy graphical flourishes, lighting can have a profound effect on the look of a game, adding depth and authenticity to a scene to greatly enhance immersion.
The real-time ray tracing capabilities of Turing allow for games to process lighting effects on the fly, responding to changes in the environment and producing more accurate results than are available with previous graphical technologies.
Shadows can be sharper and more believable thanks to real-time calculations of dynamic light sources and object locations. Ambient occlusion – or the amount of light cast on specific parts of an object – can better represent reality and avoid the graphical noise present in other techniques like SSAO. Surfaces can produce more accurate reflections thanks to calculations based on global ray tracing rather than the player's current perspective – this resolves the issue where reflections disappear when players pan the camera away from a reflective surface.
It's not just graphical horsepower that the Turing architecture brings to the table. The addition of Tensor Cores in RTX graphics cards enables significantly improved performance in machine-learning tasks, allowing for more efficient processing of large data sets.
In terms of gaming, this means RTX cards can execute more complex AI routines in a fraction of the time previous graphics cards could. Depending on the specific game, this could lead to more intelligent artificial opponents or more lifelike animations.
While graphics cards have been relying on shaders to add depth, colour and other visual effects to virtual worlds for generations now, Turing pushes the technology further by introducing Variable Rate Shading, a technique that allows for smarter allocation of shader processing power to increase overall in-game performance. Combined with the faster GDDR6 memory the RTX cards are built on, rendering performance can be significantly increased over what is possible on current graphics card technology.
As with most new graphics card lines, the RTX 20 series boasts a range of new technology on the hardware side, too. These include:
- Multi-phase power supplies for more efficient power management and greater overclocking potential.
- Dual-axial fans with 13 blades touting three times the airflow of previous generation technology.
- A vapor chamber for additional cooling with less ambient noise than a comparable fan.
- Support for rendering 8K resolution on a single monitor via DisplayPort 1.4a
- VirtualLink support for connecting virtual reality headsets over a single USB-C cable instead of multiple power and data cables.
GeForce RTX graphics cards
For the launch of the new GeForce RTX line, Nvidia announced three different graphics cards: the GeForce RTX 2070, the GeForce RTX 2080 and the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. As with the GTX 10 series launch cards before them, the trio represents the premium end of the graphics card spectrum and carries price tags of $1,000 or more. Nvidia will likely announce cheaper, less powerful cards in the near future, but for now the buy-in remains quite steep.
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When will the GeForce RTX cards be available?
The RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti launched on 20 September 2018, with the RTX 2070 arriving shortly after in October 2018.
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