As the end of this generation of graphics cards is nearing the end, there’s a lot of excitement about what’s coming next for Nvidia and AMD. I am certainly one of those people who want to see what Team Green and Team Red have up their sleeve, especially if they can do more to prioritize energy efficiency and customer value rather than focusing on power and performance that no one – even a planet – it can afford.
That said, I was in a fairly privileged position compared to most people as I was actually able to play almost any current generation graphics card for work, so I learned a few things about the current state of the market for the best graphics cards and where the technology needs to go in next generation.
Ray tracing is still in progress
Ray tracing is a fascinating technology that has great potential to create stunning, realistic scenes, mimicking the way our eyes actually perceive light, but wounds, it’s computationally expensive.
The amount of computation required to realistically illuminate a scene in real time is enormous and therefore real-time ray tracing has long been considered virtually impossible on consumer grade equipment. That was, of course, until Nvidia launched its Turing architecture with GeForce RTX 2000 graphics cards.
As a first-generation real-time ray tracing consumer graphics card, it’s understandable that this was a cool experimental feature, but you couldn’t really do much with it while gaming without absolutely lowering your frame rate. This is still true even as we finish the generation of Nvidia Ampere cards.
These cards are better at dealing with 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 other graphics card that can efficiently track ray tracing of a scene in native 4K resolution that is not a complete slideshow than the RTX 3090 Ti which is capable of ray tracing in Cyberpunk 2077 at around 24fps. ray tracing enabled.
Meanwhile, AMD is on its first-gen real-time ray tracing graphics cards, and its performance is definitely where Nvidia Turing’s cards were roughly when it comes to ray tracing performance, which means it’s not terrible, but still definitely first generation technology.
Improving the future
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So how can you effectively play one of the best high definition PC games with ray tracing enabled when even the best gaming PC these days is struggling?
I’m glad you asked because the real revolutionary development of the last few years has not been ray tracing but graphics scaling. Nvidia Deep Learning Super Sampling and AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (as well as AMD Radeon Super Resolution) made it possible to play 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 turned on to ultra, and what it looks like without DLSS, with DLSS set to quality and DLSS set to performance. I can tell you that the difference is not really noticeable when running a benchmark or playing a game.
Honestly, without the upscaling, those with the Nvidia GTX 1060s and AMD RX 5700 XTs would have very little reason to upgrade to a new graphics card.
Some of the best games don’t use this hardware, and those that do can still be good for nothing
The thing about games is that they’re rarely about amazing graphics, but they’re about sensation. The kind of hardware we’re seeing now makes games look great, but if they’re poorly optimized, what’s the point? The end result is Cyberpunk 2077, a game that launched so corrupted on PCs that it took away significant market value from the studio that created it, CD Projekt Red.
Meanwhile, something like the Vampire Survivor could largely take control of Steam, even though it looks like it could run on NES with a twist of Adderall, mostly because it hits the crux of what makes us want to play games in first: we want them for fun. And the fact is, you don’t need the RTX 3090 Ti to have fun, and I think too many of us forget that.
If Nvidia and AMD were intelligent, they would focus less on introducing cutting-edge graphics enhancements and more on performance and value so that those gamers who do you want to get the best graphics and performance from your game, you can do it without spending a fortune on it. Gamers will be less and less willing to pay for the best Nvidia Geforce graphics cards and the best AMD graphics cards in the coming years, and frankly, it would be sucked to continue to see that an already expensive hobby becomes even more inaccessible.