When Nvidia introduced its 2000-series Turing generation of graphics cards in 2018, it was a watershed moment. Not only did they introduce the most powerful graphics cards we’d ever seen, but they made possible a visual feature for games that most thought was a decade away: ray tracing. They also brought AI machine learning effects like deep learning super sampling, all thanks to specialized hardware acceleration cores that sit right alongside the powerful Turing GPU core and GDDR6 memory.
But where any game can take advantage of the high powered Turing GPU, ray tracing and DLSS need to be supported by specific games. The list of compatible titles may still be relatively short in 2020, but it’s growing all the time, and with a new generation of games consoles set to enjoy native ray tracing support, the list is likely to be far longer in the near future.
RTX ray tracing on Turing
Ray tracing has long been considered the holy grail of game development. It aims to accurately simulate how real light works in the real world, calculating the bouncing of individual photons throughout a scene, whether they’re reflecting off of a shiny metallic surface, refracting through water, or passing through a translucent surface. In each case, each bounce and reflection leads to a change in the light, which in turn effects the scene in different ways.
When you extrapolate that out to millions of light paths throughout a scene, it’s understandable why ray tracing was thought to be a long way off, because it’s exceedingly costly on system resources. Until Nvidia’s Turing GPUs came along, we’d only seen ray tracing in static images and pre-rendered scenes that are then relayed in video form.
RTX 2000 graphics cards sidestepped that problem by utilizing dedicated ray tracing (RT) cores that could accelerate the ray tracing calculations and make them much less costly on GPU resources. It’s still not easy, with even high-end graphics cards like the RTX 2080 Ti struggling to play games with ray tracing enabled at high frame rates at 1440p, let alone 4K. But it is possible, and with a wider array of graphics cards than we would have expected.
While Nvidia’s RTX cards are the only ones that can leverage hardware acceleration to perform ray tracing calculations in games, the Nvidia GTX cards can do it too. Only the 1080 Ti is really powerful enough to handle ray tracing at anything above the lowest settings at 1080p though.
What games support RTX ray tracing?
There are three different types of ray tracing offered by games that support RTX ray tracing technology: reflections, shadows, and global illumination. The former only applies ray tracing effects to reflective surfaces like water, metalwork, and glass. Ray traced shadows are more dynamic and nuanced than pre-made solutions by the developers, while global illumination applies ray tracing to an entire scene and is the most costly on system resources of the lot. Each of these effects typically has some options too, letting gamers pick the intensity of ray traced lighting, and therefore the effect on their GPU’s performance.
The full list of games that support RTX ray tracing as of mid 2020, are:
- Battlefield V
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
- Deliver us to the Moon
- Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries
- Metro Exodus & The Two Colonels DLC
- Quake II RTX
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Stay in the Light
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Later in 2020, this list will expand to include Atomic Heart, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Dying Light 2, Enlisted, Justice, JX3, and Watch Dogs: Legion.
RTX DLSS on Turing
Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS, was the second new technology Nvidia introduced with its Turing GPUs. Leveraging the Tensor, rather than RT cores, it is designed to make games look like they’re rendered at a higher resolution than they are, thereby saving system resources for more important tasks, like handling complicated ray tracing calculations.
DLSS is a multi-step process, that involves Nvidia training its DLSS algorithm on extremely high resolution images on a super computer. When it understands what the high resolution scene should look like, the algorithm can effectively upscale a scene from a lower resolution to something that looks like a higher resolution, typically 1080p to 1440p, and 1440p to 4K, with almost no performance overhead.
It’s a little more involved than that, with additional anti-aliasing and sharpening tools employed to perfect the image, but the end result is a relatively close proximity to a natively rendered scene at a higher resolution. This allows graphics cards which might not be capable of displaying a 1440p or 4K scene at high frame rates to do so, or to render a scene with ray tracing at a lower resolution to maintain high FPS, without sacrificing detail.
What games support DLSS?
The list of games that support deep learning super sampling is smaller even than that of ray tracing, as of early 2020. It may remain that way as there are more popular sharpening and image enhancement tools from both Nvidia and AMD which don’t require the supercomputer training that DLSS does. Still, Nvidia has promised to continue developing DLSS and even claims it has developed a generic algorithm that can apply DLSS to a wider array of games, without specialized training. That may mean we’ll see far more games than this in the future.
The current list of DLSS supporting games includes:
- Final Fantasy XV
- Battlefield V
- Metro Exodus
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Monster Hunter: World
- Deliver us the Moon
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
- Bright Memory
- Death Stranding
What about AMD graphics cards?
Nvidia’s RTX technologies, both ray tracing and DLSS, are exclusive to Nvidia’s graphics cards, because they require Nvidia technologies to run. At the time of writing, AMD has no alternative option for gamers, especially when it comes to commercial titles.
That said, AMD has promised that its next-generation RDNA2 graphics cards will natively support ray tracing, and this was confirmed by both Microsoft and Sony promising ray tracing features in their next-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles, both of which will use AMD RDNA2 GPUs.
It’s not clear yet what kind of ray tracing AMD plans to offer, whether it will be comparable to Nvidia’s with different types of ray tracing, and whether it will be a proprietary technology like Nvidia’s or something more open, like we see with AMD’s Freesync variable refresh rate technology.
That’s not to say ray tracing isn’t entirely impossible on existing AMD graphics cards. In 2019 Crytek release its Neon Noir demo, which uses unaccelerated ray tracing effects and works just fine on AMD graphics cards, delivering around 30 FPS on an AMD RX Vega 56. That’s hardly stellar, especially at 1080p, but shows that with some hardware acceleration, AMD’s graphics cards should be more than up to the task of handling ray tracing in the future.
Building an RTX gaming PC
If you want to build a gaming PC that can play the games that take advantage of Nvidia’s RTX platform right now though, you’ll need to go Nvidia. For advice on the best GPUs for the job, as well as tips on other components, give our Chillblast system building experts a call, and they’ll walk you through how to build your dream RTX gaming PC.
Undecided between GPUs? Check out this article that compares the 2080 to the 2080 Ti!
Check out this article for a MFAA vs MSAA anti aliasing comparison in Battlefield Hardline!
On a tighter budget? Check out this article that looks at the best GPU for under £500!