As we get closer to the end of this generation of graphics cards, there’s a lot of excitement about what’s coming next for Nvidia and AMD. I’m definitely one of those people eager to see what Team Green and Team Red have in store, especially if they can do more to prioritize energy efficiency and customer value rather than go all out on power and achievements that no one – not even the planet – can afford.
That said, I’ve been in a pretty privileged position compared to most people, as my job has allowed me to game on pretty much any current graphics card, so I’ve learned a thing or two about the current state of the market. for the best graphics cards, and where the technology should go in the next generation.
Ray tracing is currently still a work in progress
Ray tracing is a fascinating technology that has enormous potential to create stunning lifelike scenes by mimicking the way our eyes actually perceive light, but it is computationally expensive.
The amount of calculations required to realistically illuminate a scene in real-time is staggering, which is why real-time ray tracing has long been considered practically impossible on consumer-grade hardware. That is, of course, until Nvidia releases its Turing architecture with the GeForce RTX 2000 series graphics cards.
As the first-generation consumer graphics cards with real-time ray tracing, it’s understandable that it was a nice experimental feature, but you couldn’t do much with it while playing without definitely lowering your frame rate. This is still true even if we round up the Nvidia Ampere generation of cards.
These cards are better able to handle real-time ray tracing, especially at lower resolutions, but you’ll still have to compromise between resolution and ray tracing. For example, there is no graphics card that can effectively trace a scene at native 4K resolution that isn’t a complete slideshow, except for the RTX 3090 Ti, which can ray trace Cyberpunk 2077 at about 24 fps with ray tracing enabled.
AMD, meanwhile, is working on its first-generation graphics card hardware with real-time ray tracing, and the performance is definitely where Nvidia Turing cards were more or less when it came to ray tracing performance, ie not terrible, but definitely first-generation technology. .
Scaling the future
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So how can anyone effectively play one of the best PC games at high resolutions with ray tracing enabled anyway when even the best gaming PC possible today is going to struggle?
I’m glad you asked, because the true revolutionary development in recent years has not been ray tracing, but graphical upscaling. Nvidia Deep Learning Super Sampling and AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (as well as AMD Radeon Super Resolution), have enabled playing PC games at high resolutions and settings with ray tracing possible.
In our slideshow above you can see the difference between native 4K with all settings and ray tracing set to ultra presets and what the game looks like without DLSS, with DLSS set to quality and DLSS set to performance. I can tell you that the difference is also not really apparent while running the benchmark or playing the game.
Without upscaling, those with Nvidia GTX 1060s and AMD RX 5700 XTs would honestly have very little reason to upgrade to a new graphics card.
Some of the best games don’t use this hardware, and the ones that do can still suck
The thing with games is that it’s rarely about the incredible graphics, it’s about the experience. The kind of hardware we see now makes for some great games, but if they’re poorly optimized, what’s the point? You end up with a Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was so broken on PCs that it took a significant amount of market value from the studio that made it, CD Projekt Red.
Meanwhile, something like Vampire Survivor could pretty much take over Steam, even if it looks like it could run on an NES doped on Adderall, in large part because it gets to the heart of what makes us want to play games in the first place: we want to. them to be fun. And the fact is, you don’t need an RTX 3090 Ti to have fun, and I think far too many of us forget that.
If Nvidia and AMD were smart, they would focus less on making cutting edge graphics improvements and more on efficiency and value so that those gamers who to do if you want to get the best graphics and performance out of a game, you can do it without spending a fortune. Gamers will be less and less able to pay for the best Nvidia Geforce graphics cards and the best AMD graphics cards in the coming years, and it would be a real shame if we continue to see an already expensive hobby even more inaccessible.