Nvidia has announced that its GeForce GTX GPUs will support ray tracing in games via a driver update this April. This would bring support for ray traced effects to Nvidia GeForce GTX GPUs from the GTX 1060 6GB and above. In addition to this, GPUs running on the Turing non-RTX architecture like the GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1660 will support ray tracing too. It's a stunning volte face when you consider that the graphics giant was adamant that features like ray tracing would work on Nvidia RTX cards alone. Though it appears that weak GeForce RTX sales may have led to this u-turn.
This isn't all, popular game engines like Unity and Unreal will integrate real-time ray tracing while developers will get access to Nvidia GameWorks RTX, a set of tools to allow them to add ray tracing to their games. All of these announcements build on the DXR API (Microsoft DirectX Ray Tracing) and its role in PC gaming.
All of this results in developers not only having the tools but the access to a wider install base of users to bother with ray tracing features above and beyond the small audience that owns RTX GPUs at the moment.
However there's a catch. In terms of performance, GeForce RTX GPUs will be two to three times faster with better image quality compared to GeForce GTX GPUs. This is due to the dedicated RT cores present in the former. The Nvidia GeForce GTX ray tracing driver will allow GeForce GTX GPUs to execute ray traced effects on existing shader cores, leading to an obvious performance penalty as they aren't as efficient.
"The image quality you should expect on non-RTX cards is going to depend on the effect being used and how well that effect is going to be optimised in the game," said Justin Walker, Nvidia Product manager for GeForce desktop GPUs in a QA session with the media. "There are certain effects like Global Illumination is one of them where you simply can't reduce the ray count. In order to get a true Global Illumination effect, you need to ray trace the whole scene. For that you'll want RTX."
Games like Battlefield V for example, allow users to reduce ray count through the settings menu by customising the number and quality of reflections. According to Walker, a certain degree of flexibility in settings is needed from the game developer in order to let users "still get some of the ray tracing goodness" even if it is on fewer surfaces in-game.
Furthermore, don't expect deep-learning supersampling (DLSS), another Nvidia RTX feature to make to GeForce GTX GPUs.
"DLSS is not practical on non-Turing," said Walker. "Without Tensor cores DLSS does not accelerate your games, there's no reason to use it. DLSS will be exclusive to Turing RTX."
Nvidia has no plans to rebadge its existing GTX inventory to make this update known despite it being a massive upgrade. Though it will be interesting to see how many developers take advantage of ray tracing now and how restrictive or flexible they are with its use in upcoming games. On paper, this means that those with a GeForce GTX 1060 and above could eke out a bit more in terms of performance and image quality. How it's executed however, may very well reduce it to a feature that's not used at all. Thankfully, we won't have to wait too long to find out.
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