Mainstream PC Ray Tracing Performance Explored
We wanted to check out how a few top games perform on the average PC, with ray tracing enabled. The Core i5-9600K equipped test bed we've put together is decidedly mid-range. While it's not the most powerful system on the planet, it's still pretty speedy for gaming purposes. Minus the graphics cards, building this system (or an equivalently priced Ryzen 5 3600X-based PC) would cost right around $800. Take a look at our test setup...
|CPU||Intel Core i5-9600K (6 cores / 6 threads, 3.7 GHz base / 4.6 GHz max turbo)|
|Motherboard||MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Plus|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000|
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition 120 mm heat sink + fan|
|Graphics Cards||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6 GB
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8 GB
|Storage||Samsung 970 Evo Plus 500 GB NVMe SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX-M Series 650W 80+ Bronze semi-modular|
|Case||Cooler Master MB530P|
The wild card in this build are the graphics cards. We've got two cards on the bench here, and they represent two of the lower rungs of the hardware accelerated ray tracing ladder: the GeForce RTX 2060 and the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER. In between that, but not available for testing today, is the GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER which is outlined here for comparison's sake in the table below. Let's see how our contenders stack up...
|GeForce RTX 2060||GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER||GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER|
|RTX OPS (Trillion/sec)||37||41||52|
|Max boost speed||1680 MHz||1650 MHz||1770 MHz|
|VRAM||6 GB 192-bit GDDR6||8 GB 256-bit GDDR6||8 GB 256-bit GDDR6|
|Price||$299 - $304||$399||$489 - $509|
Right out of the gate, you can see that the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER costs ~ 66% more than its smaller sibling but seemingly doesn't add quite so much to the theoretical specifications. We'll see if the faster SUPER card is capable of distinguishing itself in practice, though. Sandwiched in the middle is the GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER which basically splits the difference in terms of both specs and cost, ringing in at a $399 MSRP. If you're keeping score at home, our testbed complete with graphics card rings up at between $1,100 and $1,300, depending on which GeForce RTX you might select.
Today we're testing three top game titles that are ray tracing-enabled: the aforementioned Control and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, as well as RTX launch title Battlefield V. All three make use of DirectX Raytracing (DXR) and GeForce RTX ray tracing capabilities. When Turing launched, not many games could employ these capabilities, though there was a lot of promise in the technology. Now, many developers are making good use of real-time ray traced effects, so let's see how these games perform.
Remedy built a ton of effects into this game. Our favorite are the translucent reflections, which allows glass and other shiny surfaces to reflect objects that aren't present on the screen. Above, you can see that Jesse is standing in a hallway with some glass windows near an office. With
We went for the best possible in-game settings while maintaining playability, which for us means that the 99th percentile frame rate remains above 30 frames per second, and preferably getting as close to a 60 fps average as possible. For roughly $300, the GeForce RTX 2060 was able to maintain a High setting for ray tracing at 1920x1080 as its best playable settings. Not bad at all. The other interesting thing about this chart is that setting-for-setting, the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER gets close to the same performance at 1440p as the GeForce RTX 2060 did at 1080p. So while 66% more cost doesn't buy us 66% more performance, it does buy us around 80% more pixels (3.6 megapixels at 1440p vs 2.0 megapixels at 1080p) for the same performance. It's certainly a tangible benefit.
Not to be forgotten is NVIDIA's Deep Learning Super Sampling anti-aliasing method. With this method, a Turing-based GPU can use its Tensor cores and a pre-computed algorithm to upscale lower-resolution images to fit the native resolution of your display. This comes in handy in supported games when the graphics card can't push pixels at the display's native resolution, and Control is one such optimized title. We explored the image quality of DLSS in our in-depth performance review. The mix of performance and image quality looks pretty good to our eyes on the 1440p test system's Dell UltraSharp monitor. In this case, the GeForce RTX 2060 renders the image at 1706x960 and then upscales to 2560x1440. Performance is really nice, too; since the graphics card is rendering at a lower resolution, there's less ray tracing work to be done and as a result, the GeForce RTX 2060 sped past 60 frames per second on average with medium ray tracing, and got up over 50 fps with those effects maxed out.
It's kind of dark in these screenshots, but they do a good job of showing off shadows cast by multiple light sources. Most importantly, the shadows look much more natural with DXR enabled. Our squadmates' shadows were nice and soft without the typical spottiness, and the weeds poking up through the crack in the concrete cast a shadow that looks like...well, weeds instead of blotches. It's not obvious here, but in motion, the smoke coming off the fire also looks much nicer with the effects enabled, thanks to being lit from below.
Similar to the relative performance was saw in Control, the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER can max out graphics settings and maintain a very playable frame rate at 2560x1440. Unlike Control where it required dialing back some of the ray traced effects, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare allows us to max out those graphics settings and still attain just about 60 frames per second while doing it. Meanwhile, the GeForce RTX 2060 continues to shadow the faster card and performs very nicely at 1080p. The 99th percentile frame rate is particularly nice, barely budging from a smooth 60 fps.
If you're curious, enabling DXR incurs approximately a 50% performance penalty: the GeForce RTX 2070 at 1440p was pushing around 115 frames per second throughout our run without these effects. The GeForce RTX 2060 was similarly affected at 1080p, where it ran closer to 125 fps without ray tracing. If you're a competitive player, you might want to turn these effects off to get the most frames possible, but everyone else should just bask in the glory of ray traced landscape.
To test this game title, we used CapFrameX to grab frame times from the opening cross-country skiing section of the Tirailleur war story. This level has some beautiful forests, and tons of ray traced shadows in the trees. In the images below, you'll notice that the tree shadows are stark, dark entities without ray tracing, where the DXR effects make the shadows blend better into the landscape. In the screenshots above, you can see reflections in the water and shadows into the forests. Both see significant upgrades for different reasons. The puddle reflections only show what's on screen when DXR is off, and as a result the section closest to the truck doesn't have any foliage. If you strafe to the right, that section gets filled in with the trees and leaves that should have been reflected from the start. This isn't a problem with DXR, and DXR also gives better definition to the shadows as you make your way into the woods. On the whole, turning on these effects is very worthwhile.
One of the things that shocked us this time out, is that maxing out ray tracing didn't have a critical impact on performance for the GeForce RTX 2060. Previously, such as in Control, we had to turn the ray tracing effects down at this resolution to hit close to a 60 frames per second threshold. The baby Turing had no problems at all with Battlefield V, however, with all of the settings cranked as high as they'd go. Much like Call of Duty, without DXR enabled, Battlefield V's performance was stratospheric—CapFrameX registered an average of 129 fps at 1080p without otherwise changing any settings.
Our "one resolution better" theory continues to hold weight for the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER, too. 1440p with all of the settings maxed out edged awfully close to that 60 frames per second average. The slightly more disappointing result is our 99th percentile frame rates, which were around half that on the average. Fortunately, CapFrameX reports that the 95th percentile, not represented on the graphs, was still around 43 fps for the 2070 SUPER at 1440p, so Battlefield V's performance is still pretty smooth at this setting.
Mainstream Ray Tracing Performance SummaryWe saw throughout our testing that both of these midrange cards are capable of delivering more than acceptable performance at their target resolutions with all of the latest ray tracing technology enabled across a good sampling of top tier DXR-enabled games. The GeForce RTX 2060 is fully capable of driving any ray tracing game at 1080p, while the GeForce RTX 2070 for $200 more can do the same thing at a higher resolution of 1440p. While each title puts these effects to use in different ways, they all made the most out of what NVIDIA has provided in Turing's ray tracing hardware.
MSI's GeForce RTX 2060 Gaming Z used in our tests today
Both Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare task DXR and GeForce RTX cards with creating believable shadows and reflections, and they do a nice job of it but there are so many more ways to explore ray tracing. Out of the titles available today, we're still drawn to Control's generous helping of eye candy, which adds so much detail to the game's world. Remedy obviously built Control's environment to showcase DXR technology. Still, all three titles are gorgeous and excellent titles to play through in their own right.
DirectX Ray Tracing is here, it's beautiful and it just might be what you want to spice up your gaming life. The good news is, as our numbers prove out, you can achieve decent performance with even the lower end of NVIDIA's GeForce RTX GPU spectrum.