NVIDIA Ray Tracing Explained in Time for New Driver and Demos

Doris Richards
April 15, 2019

As promised at GDC, Nvidia has released its DirectX Raytracing (DXR) drivers for GTX cards today-grab them here. Gamers can find the ray tracing driver on Nvidia's GeForce Now application or by doing a manual search on the company's website.

You can download the Nvidia 425.31 Game Ready driver here.

For the unfamiliar, ray tracing is created to bring enhanced lighting and shadow effects to game environments, making them look even more realistic.

Shadows, as demonstrated in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Justice, can also be much more demanding if there are multiple light sources, the type of light source (s) and the geometry of the scene.

All in all, given the benchmarks shown, it feels a little like Nvidia is trying to stress the power of RTX cards here, as opposed to the ability for GTX cards to capably manage some kind of decent ray tracing performance. It depends on the game and resolution. In these games you will not be aiming to run "Ultra DXR" settings if you are sporting a GTX 10 or GTX 16 card so that will of course help you to enjoy some DXR at acceptable performance levels dependent upon your PC config. Nvidia has no plans to rebadge its current GTX stock to make this update known in spite of it being an enormous upgrade. Now, owners of GTX 1060, GTX 1660, GTX 1660Ti, GTX 1070, GTX 1070 Ti, GTX 1080, GTX 1080 Ti, Titan X, Titan XP can enable ray tracing in real time.

To put things in perspective, NVIDIA has mentioned that these GPUs are mostly only going to be capable of real-time ray-tracing with playable frame rates at 1080p resolution.

NVIDIA previously warned of a performance deficit when comparing even high-end Pascal GPUs such as the GTX 1080 Ti to the Turing-based RTX 20-series GPUs when this driver update was discussed during GTC, and their position is that for the best experience dedicated ray tracing cores will be required, and will make a measurable impact - with or without DLSS (a feature that requires the RT cores of the RTX series of GPUs).

NVIDIA posted the performance comparison of ray tracing across all supported GTX cards. You can see it takes up a lot of frame rending time - about 80 per cent of the time used. At the very least, you'll be able to see what the effect is like at home, on your own display, before investing in expensive new hardware.

Meanwhile, if you want ambient occlusion, which delivers subtle shadow and lighting effects, you'll be able to run that at 59.5 fps on the RTX 2080 Ti (on an RTX tech demo), 47.6 fps on the RTX 2080, 33.7 fps on the RTX 2070 and 31.1 fps on the RTX 2060. New driver branches are some of the most interesting driver releases from NVIDIA since these are normally the break points where they introduce new features under the hood, so I'm eager to see what they have been up to since R415/R418 was first released back in October. I believe that 1080p would be a sweet spot but only for those who want to try the feature to see the difference and to assess whether getting an RTX card is worth it or not.

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