NVIDIA RTX: An Explanation

Affordable Ray-Tracing

A short summary on RTX and ray-tracing plus comparisons between RTX and no RTX

NVidia, the number one graphics card manufacturer, launched its first RTX graphics card on September 20, 2018,
and with that, they broke a decade-long run of the GTX naming convention.

The RTX 20 series cards are the 20th generation of NVidia GPUs. Moreover, they are the successors of the GTX 10 series
and are built on an entirely new micro-architecture called Turing.

NVidia names its GPU architectures after famous scientists. Turing was named after Alan Turing. The GTX 10
series are based on the Pascal architecture, named after Blaise Pascal. However, the GTX 900 series was based on the
Maxwell architecture, named after James Clerk Maxwell.

With the launch of their RTX 20 series cards, NVidia unveiled a feature that they'd worked on for nearly 10 years:
real-time ray tracing.

What is ray-tracing?

Let me explain. Ray-tracing is a technique used in 3D rendering and animation to accurately show shadows, reflections et al.
The technique works by actually tracing the path of light rays in a scene, enabling shadows and reflections (mainly) to
be realistic and life-like.

Why is it a big deal?

Until now, ray-tracing was not accessible to the common man. Reason? Ray-tracing is very hard and requires a
*TON* of graphics processing power. That’s why it was mainly used in movies and animation where a lot of graphics
power is available to play with. Consumers could only dream of it until NVidia came up with a solution.

What is the solution?

With the launch of their RTX 20 series graphics cards, NVidia announced that ray-tracing is ready to hit the
mainstream consumer market. Their new architecture, Turing, features dedicated cores for ray-tracing called RT
Cores. Turing also debuts Tensor AI Cores, which are used for AI computations and a feature called DLSS (Deep
Learning Super-Sampling).

The RT Cores accelerate the ray-tracing process and can calculate light rays in the area of 5 to 11 billion rays per
second.

Ray Tracing

Now, ray-tracing is possible for every graphics card in 3D modeling software (e.g., MAYA) but the ray-tracing done
there is not in real-time. This means, the ray-tracing is done and then the image is displayed. But in the case of
RTX cards (and games that support ray-tracing), the ray-tracing is done every second as you play along. Every time
you turn your character to see something, there are lots of light rays in the scene that are ray-traced. This is a big
deal.

RTX has also been introduced to non-gaming cards, called the Quadro series by Nvidia. Quadro is a series of
graphic cards aimed for workstation and professional use.

Let me show you in pictures what difference real-time ray-tracing brings to video games. I’ve chosen Control, by
Remedy Entertainment. Released on 27 August 2019, Control is one of the finest examples of real-time ray-tracing
in video games available today.

Comparison – RTX Off vs. RTX On (Control)

Nvidia RTX

/RTX Off/ Observe the picture above. This is with ray-tracing turned off. Note the polished wooden wall and the reflections on it, and the reflections of the water cooler and coffee machine.

Nvidia RTX

/RTX On/ Now, with ray-tracing, turned on, the wall suddenly becomes extremely realistic and reflections gain a ton of
previously-unseen detail, both in shadows and reflections.

This brings me to another huge advantage that ray-tracing offers. Traditional methods of rendering reflection allow only to
render reflections of objects that are in the scene. Ray-tracing allows the reflecting of unseen objects as well.

Nvidia RTX

/RTX Off/ Notice the floor. The reflections are simple but they work.

Nvidia RTX

/RTX On/ See the floor now. Suddenly, objects that you didn’t know that are there can be seen through their reflections. This is one of the ray tracing’s biggest strengths.

Another big advantage ray-tracing brings to the table is accurate shadows. Take a look.

Nvidia RTX

/RTX Off/ Notice this office environment. Watch the shadows and reflections get extremely detailed below when ray-tracing is turned on.

Nvidia RTX

/RTX On/

What’s next?

Nvidia has revealed that their next-generation graphics cards (probably the RTX 30 series) will feature better ray-tracing and is based on the Ampere architecture (André-Marie Ampère).

AMD announced a few months back that the next version of their current graphics architecture, Navi 2 will feature hardware
ray-tracing support.

Both the PlayStation 5 and the next Xbox (codenamed Xbox Scarlett) will feature hardware-based ray-tracing, as Sony and
Microsoft both have announced the inclusion of these features. These gaming consoles incidentally will feature an AMD
CPU and graphics card.

Looking at the current state of affairs, ray-tracing is set to only get bigger.

Ok, I want to buy an RTX card.

That’s good. On the market, we have

RTX Card

[supsystic-tables id=1]

You might notice that there are no budget models. The RTX series starts right in the mid-range. That is because they
launched a budget GTX 16 series of graphics cards which have the same architecture as the RTX 20 series but omit the RT
Cores and Tensor Cores to be cheaper than the RTX cards. While the 16 and 10 series cards can do ray-tracing**, it’s just
not recommended.

*NVLink is an Nvidia technology that allows users to connect 2 graphics cards of the same model to double the graphics memory
and increase graphics processing power

**: Nvidia released a driver update on April 2019 that enables ray-tracing on the 16 series and 10 series of their graphics cards.
However, these graphics cards lack the dedicated RT Cores required and perform the ray-tracing on the regular processing
cores, which cripples performance. Hence to play ray-traced games an RTX card is highly recommended.

Links:

www.nvidia.com/geforce/20-series

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=nvidia+rtx&ref=nb_sb_noss_2              (A link to all RTX cards on Amazon US)

 

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