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After months of speculation, Nvidia finally revealed its next-generation graphics architecture at Gamescom, with CEO Jensen Huang hailing it as the greatest advancement in its GPU technologies since CUDA cores were introduced in the GTX 8 series in 2006. It adds new technologies that bring about lighting techniques thought to still be years away from being practically possible and overhauls Nvidia’s now-classic reference cooler design. But all of it does come at a price.
The new-generation graphics cards are an order of magnitude more expensive than their predecessors, even factoring in recent pricing problems faced by graphics card buyers all over the world. Are all of the new exciting features of the RTX 2000 series worth it?
Nvidia had three cards to show off at Gamescom: The RTX 2070, RTX 2080, and RTX 2080 Ti. That was somewhat of a surprise, as with generations past, Nvidia has staggered the showcase and release of these cards over a longer period of time. Where the 10-series saw the 1080 release first, followed by the 1070 a month later, and the 1080 Ti a year after that, the 2080 and 2080 Ti were initially to go on sale go on sale on (“or around”) September 20, while the 2070 has a possible release date of October.
We have a bit of bad news regarding those release dates. The RTX 2080 has been confirmed to ship on September 20. However, the 2080 Ti will be delayed until the 27. In a forum post, a Nvidia representative said that the company expects pre-orders to ship between the 20 and 27.
“GeForce RTX 2080 Ti general availability has shifted to September 27, a one-week delay,” said a Nvidia representative. “We expect pre-orders to arrive between September 20 and September 27.”
These cards have a couple of different prices for each, with Huang claiming that third-party reference cards (that aren’t overclocked or given custom cooling solutions) would be cheaper and slightly lower-clocked than Founders Edition cards. The Nvidia FE GPUs will launch at $1,200 for the RTX 2080 Ti, $800 for the RTX 2080, and $600 for the RTX 2070. Reference designs will be noticeably cheaper at $1,000, $700, and $500 respectively, but that is still much more expensive than previous generation cards have been. Equivalent 10-series GPUs debuted at $200-$300 less.
Typically we would expect more mid-range cards at more reasonable prices to debut a couple of months after the flagship GPUs. A hypothetical RTX 2060 and RTX 2050 could show up before the end of the year, but Nvidia has yet to make any official announcement to such an effect.
The raw numbers aren’t as big as you might think
Although the majority of the Nvidia Gamescom conference was taken up by the discussion of new technologies supported by the new-generation graphics cards, arguably the information gamers and hardware enthusiasts are most interested in are the numbers. Nvidia followed up the presentation a few days later with a slide, showing that in actual gameplay performance, the RTX 2080 performs at around 1.5 times the speed of the GTX 1080. Nvidia used a multitude of last-gen games as examples, including Epic Infiltrator, Wolfenstein II, and Shadow of War.
Here are the specifications of what we’re looking at:
|RTX 2080 Ti||RTX 2080||RTX 2070||GTX 1080 Ti ||GTX 1080||GTX 1070|
|Memory ||11GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||11GB GDDR5X||8GB GDDR5X||8GB GDDR5|
|Memory bandwidth:||616GB/s||448GB/s||448GB/s||484GB/s||352GB/s||256 GB/s|
|Power:||250 watts||215 watts||185 watts||250 watts||180 watts||150 watts|
Note: Nvidia’s Founders Edition models will launch with slightly higher price tags, power requirements, and clock speeds than the reference models which will, in turn, be overclocked and tweaked by third-parties.
There are a number of interesting inter-generational changes at play here. The CUDA cores have increased by similar sort of numbers — although not percentages — as between the 9oo series and the 1000 series graphics cards, which should equate to a noticeable, if not significant increase in general performance. Clock speeds have actually come down, which isn’t wholly surprising, but when shown in conjunction with an increase in power draw is a little more so. It could be that those RT and Tensor cores require some juice of their own.
GDDR6 memory provides a solid bump in speed and bandwidth for the 2000-series, bringing both the 2080 and 2070 almost in line with the GTX 1080 Ti, though not quite.
The biggest takeaway from these numbers though is that for all of the talk of ray tracing advancements and clever AI processing capabilities, the RTX 2000 series looks much more like a typical graphics generational leap. We won’t know for sure what that equates to until we get our hands on the hardware in a few weeks time, but it could mean that we’re looking at a much more conservative overall performance increase, rather than the “10-times” numbers that Huang repeated ad nauseam during his presentation with an emphasis on ray tracing.
Ray tracing and AI
While the number of traditional CUDA cores in the new graphics cards have increased across the board, the more exciting achievement of this new-generation, we’re told, is the addition of dedicated hardware for ray tracing and AI. The Turing architecture includes RT cores which use clever tricks to accelerate ray tracing to make it possible to produce realistic lighting and reflections within games without much of an overhead.
Those RT cores will run alongside Turing’s Tensor cores, which utilize AI “trained by supercomputers” to fill in the blanks using a technique known as denoising — effectively a new form of advanced anti-aliasing. Huang also discussed the possibility of foveated rendering, which could help make virtual reality titles much less hardware-intensive by focusing the processing power where the gamer is looking and rendering everything in their peripherals at a lower detail level.
These new technologies at the heart of the 2000-series architecture mean that certain games will be able to leverage real-time reflections and advanced anti-aliasing techniques like never before. Demonstrations at Gamescom showed us explosions which would typically not be visible to the player, being rendered and reflected in materials like a car door or a character’s eyeball, which are visible.
It’s beautiful stuff. Ray tracing has often been considered by many as the end-goal of digital visuals, effectively rendering real light rays within a scene. Nvidia made it clear during its demonstration that its new cards are much better at handling that sort of rendering than any card that has come before it. The RTX 2070, was said to be faster than the Titan XP. At ray tracing.
Ports, noise and cooling
While the hardware inside the 2000-series cards has changed, the exterior has received a major overhaul too. After decades of single fan, reference graphics cards, Nvidia has added a second to its design. It’s created a much more insular blower set up, no doubt to ensure that temperatures remain consistent with the higher-power requirements of the new RTX series graphics cards.
We’re assured by Huang though, that this also nets much quieter graphics cards too. Even when fully overclocked, we’re told that temperatures stay consistent and noise at a comfortable level. Proving such claims will require more than showing off an unpowered card on stage, but better cooling for reference cards will be a welcome addition for those who don’t want to wait for the third-party alternatives.
At the back end where you’ll connect up your display, the 2000-series offers a few port options. Alongside more typical DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0b connectors, there’s also a VirtualLink, a USB-C-shaped port that is designed to provide power and video to virtual reality headsets. Although none of the major ones support that feature just yet, it could mean a cut down on cables and cable size for VR in the future.
Is the performance worth the price?
As exciting as all of the above features and specification improvements are, they must be taken in the context of cost. The RTX 2000 series cards are the most expensive new Nvidia GPUs have been at launch in a long time and by quite a margin. The RTX 2080 Ti will cost $1,200 for the Founders Edition and no less than $1,000 from third parties. The 2080 is priced at $800 and $700 respectively, while the 2070 will be $600 and $500.
That’s a lot of money, especially for what should be a mid-range card in the 2070. With its much closer specifications to the RTX 2080 though, Nvidia may be looking to price that card as more of a high-end offering, with more affordable GPUs, like a potential 2060 and 2050 coming later.
Ray tracing is unlikely to be adopted heavily by developers until there is a large enough number of RTX-capable cards out there and we still don’t really know how capable other GPUs like the 10-series or AMD Vega and RX cards will be at handling it themselves. It may be that those cards still compete with the 2000-series in games without ray tracing, which will be the majority for years to come.
Updated on September 15, 2018: Updated with news that the RTX 2080 Ti has been delayed by one week.