Graphics card refresh season is my wife’s least favourite time of the year. On the one hand I don’t shut up about it and on the other we get poor real quick. At least this time NVIDIA has taken pity on us and sent over one of the new RTX 2060‘s for me to have a play with! If you’re eying up a new graphics card and not too sure on this real-time ray tracing thing then you’re in the right place. Let’s take a deep dive on this together and figure out if the RTX 2060 is going to be worth your hard earned cash.
What Even is RTX?
I’m glad you asked. RTX stands for Real Time Ray Tracing, well kind of in a weird way and with different letters. Okay so it doesn’t actually stand for that because, well, branding and stuff. But we’re going to talk about what ray tracing is, DLSS, and both of their impact on gaming and why it could be a nice to have feature with the RTX 2060.
Ray tracing is a technique that has been used in the animation business for quite a while now. It uses computer mapping to plot a light source’s path through a scene to more accurately show light and reflections. Something that big Hollywood movies have been using to help blend CGI into live action scenes more naturally. You can check out the graphic below to see a really watered down version of how it works. It has been typically something that has needed to be pre-rendered using some pretty powerful hardware until recently when NVIDIA, Microsoft, and AMD announced plans to finally make ray tracing possible in real-time within games. Hopefully leading to some amazingly immersive and dazzling scenes in our favourite upcoming titles. For the last few years we’ve seen rather incremental updates to graphics hardware. Improved performance and better efficiency with each and every die shrink. Real time ray tracing has the possibility to make a really meaningful addition to the way games are experienced. Though the effect is rather subtle, the improvements are noticeable. Improved lighting for one but also realistic reflections that help to make objects not appear so flat. Yes it’s subtle, but it’s still early days and we’ll get to why the RTX 2060 could be a compelling choice for your next upgrade very soon.
I know that this probably isn’t the best explanation for what ray tracing is and how it works but the truth it it’s a pretty dense technology to explain so in really basic layman’s terms… It makes reflections actually reflect things. In previous generations, a lot of reflections were often just light until the object that was being reflected came into the scene. As much as the RTX On thing became a meme after the cards were announced, it does show what the technology can be capable of in the best scenario. Keep in mind that this is just promotional material and we’ll get into what the RTX 2060 can offer a little later in the review.
Another stand out feature of the RTX series of cards is DLSS which stands for Deep Learning Supersampling. Hey, that abbreviation actually works! If you were confused by the explanation for what real time ray tracing was then perhaps just jump to the last paragraph of this section because this will definitely lose you.
A quote from NVIDIA themselves:
“DLSS leverages a deep neural network to extract multidimensional features of the rendered scene and intelligently combine details from multiple frames to construct a high-quality final image. DLSS uses fewer input samples than traditional techniques such as temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) while avoiding the algorithmic difficulties such techniques face with transparency and other complex scene elements.”
Okay let’s unpack that a bit shall we?
Basically it’s an AI assisted technology that aids in boosting your frame rates at higher resolutions. How it does that still has some mystery special sauce surrounding it but I’ll do my best to help demystify it. The core DLSS team based at NVIDIA extracts a heap of alised frames from whatever the target title is and for each one a “perfect frame” is generated. That “perfect frame” is generated using either super-sampling or accumulation rendering. Super-Sampling is the technique or rendering a frame at a far higher resolution that what is displayed to generate more levels of detail. The paired frames are then fed into a super computer at NVIDIA which then trains the DLSS model to recognise alised frames in real time and generate high quality anti-alised images that match the “perfect frame” as best as possible. The process is then repeated but instead the model is trained to generate additional pixels rather than applying anti-alising. Both techniques combined increases the resolution of the input and allows the GPU to render the full monitor resolution at higher frame rates.
It is an interesting and ever evolving technology that will improve over time. Where it stands currently, it allows for a significant increase in frame rate however there are reports of blurry results in each title on initial release when paired with ray tracing. I believe this comes down to the model constantly having to evolve for different scenarios and seems to improve over time. It’s somewhat of a unique approach to freeing up GPU resources for other in game tasks such as ray tracing. Where the technology goes from here I’ll be keen to see!
As much as performance and in-game-prettiness is pretty much the main driving point to purchasing a video card, I also want that bad boy to shine in my rig. We’re taking a look at the Founders Edition card here and man does it look cool! NVIDIA has steered away from their single fan blower style coolers with the RTX cards and I applaud that decision. Not only were they somewhat loud, ran hotter and outright paled in looks compared to the partner cards imo.
This generation of cards features a dual fan cooler with what is actually a rather meaty heat sink that goes the full length of the card and a copper plate. The fans sit a little out from the card which may cause issues with those running them in smaller cases but in a larger case aids airflow well. The card itself is shrouded in some beautifully milled aluminium and accented with satin and gloss black plastic. It has a very premium feel to it that is aided by the weight of the cooler hidden beneath. For a reference design, absolutely nailed it. I’d stick this on my wall for sure!
Okay so the main reason you’re here, what can you expect from the RTX 2060. This time we’re going to be using some new benchmarking metrics and comparing our results with last generations GTX 1060 and throwing a 1080 Ti in the mix just for reference and to make myself (hopefully) feel okay about my current GPU. All tests will be conducted using a Skylake 6700K, 16GB 3200Mhz DDR4 and running off a WD Black 3200MB/s NVMe SSD. 3DMark have recently released a new ray tracing specific benchmark, however we only have the RTX 2060 on hand that’s compatible with it so comparisons there are limited. On with the specs and testing!
|NVIDIA CUDA® Cores||1920|
|Boost Clock (MHz)||1680|
|Base Clock (MHz)||1365|
|Memory Speed||14 Gbps|
|Standard Memory Config||6 GB GDDR6|
|Memory Interface Width||192-bit|
|Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)||336 GB/s|
3DMark – Time Spy Extreme: 4K DirectX 12
It’s no surprise that the GTX 1080 Ti is still the king of the castle here, but what is a surprise is how close the RTX 2060 is and how much of an improvement we get over the previous GTX 1060! With the RTX 2060 currently sitting at around $650NZD, you’re actually getting some serious bang for the buck here. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect this to score so well here, before any recommendations though, we must dig deeper!
3DMark – Fire Strike Ultra: 4K DirectX 11
Again affirming for me that I’m not super out of date yet, the GTX 1080 Ti is still on top, this time by a more comfortable amount. However the RTX 2060 is still smashing that poor wee GTX 1060. Fire Strike Ultra is one of my favourite benchmarks still. Even though it is a little older now and DX11 based it’s a great indicator for what you can expect to see in your older titles. DX12 is still somewhat of a new shiny API and in my case I have experienced a few wee hiccups with its adoption.
3DMark – Port Royal: Real Time Ray Tracing
As mentioned previously, the RTX 2060 is the only card capable of running this test. As far as a score goes, when you compare it with the higher end RTX 2080, you can definitely gain a marketable boost in performance. However that does come with a significant increase in cost. I think the RTX 2060 does have its wee niche cut out for itself here though. It’s a capable enough card to run most games, with low ray tracing effects, pair that with DLSS and you may be ready to crank something a bit more demanding.
You can expect to see some added benchmarks soon in our full video review of the RTX 2060, teasers are a great thing! Once the video goes live we will be updating this review with info graphics showing performance in GTA V and Battlefield V.
You know what, I am going to recommend this card. If you are looking for a decent upgrade from a 9 series or low end 10 series, you will definitely find it here. With the addition of the new GTX 1660 Ti muddying the water and adding another value option it does complicate things somewhat. Where it stands currently the RTX 2060 is only a little bit more expensive than the GTX 1660 Ti but does add two additional technologies. What value you put on that is up to you, but for me if I had to choose I think I would be picking up the RTX 2060.
UPDATE: Expect a video detailing the performance comparisons of ray tracing on a high end 10 series card vs the RTX 2060 once that April driver update is released!