What Is Ray Tracing? (And What It Means for PC Gaming). What does rtx do

The latest installment of Watch Dogs is to include real-time ray tracing, which should definitely make London look a bit more impressive. Just be sure to take it all down as you run around the streets trying to save the capital and recruiting an army of hackers and resistance fighters.

How to Turn RTX on

You have the best RTX 2060 money can buy, and your RGB setup is as eye-catching as it gets. But what if you are new to all of this and don’t even know how to turn RTX on? Do you have to do anything at all to activate all these fancy new ray tracing effects in your games?

We can help you answer these questions and discuss the setup procedure. We’ll also cover a list of games that support it, and some common misconceptions. Let’s start from the very beginning.

What Is GeForce RTX?

RTX technology is only available with GeForce graphics cards. Here we are talking about the 20 and 30 series GeForce GPUs. You’d be wrong to think you were turning on RTX just by having one of these powerful graphics cards on your PC. You also need to enable one extremely game-changing visual effect in the supported games – real-time ray tracing.

Lighting is one of the most important elements in video games. Until recently, manufacturers have relied on multiple techniques to enhance their appearance. But it was almost impossible to create sufficiently convincing reflections and shadows. The arrival of RTX graphics cards has been hailed as the beginning of a new era. This is the holy grail of computer graphics. It is available to everyone, and what’s more, it works in real time.

Ray tracing is a complex algorithm that computes the behavior of light in a virtual world. When you turn on RTX, you’ll immediately see some significant visual improvements. Reflections on glossy surfaces become more detailed, shadows softer, and the mood of each scene is improved.

However, there is a caveat. Ray tracing in games is a very hardware-intensive process. That’s why Nvidia puts separate RTX cores in its GPUs, and for the best results and optimal performance, you’ll want the best RTX 2080 graphics card or even more powerful. Even with DLSS, another part of Nvidia’s technology designed to improve performance and resolution, enabling ray tracing has a serious impact on performance. FPS drop is always noticeable, so it’s a matter of deciding between performance and graphics.

Which Games Support RTX?

The catalog of RTX-enabled games is growing day by day. Nvidia maintains an up-to-date list of current and upcoming games on its website, and some upcoming titles such as Dying Light 2 have already confirmed ray tracing support.

Gamers began to wonder how to enable ray tracing in Battlefield 5. The 2018 multiplayer FPS was the benchmark for this new technology. This was followed by adventure action control, in which we noticed a greater impact of RTX on the game’s graphics. Set in an office space, Remedy’s Control featured lots of reflective surfaces and lots of translucent glass. Even without RTX, it’s a visually impressive game. But when you turn the effects on, it’s absolutely stunning.

We also cannot forget about the two huge RTX games from 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War. Both games relied heavily on ray tracing for an atmospheric effect, especially the former. The inclusion of RTX in Cyberpunk 2077 turns Night City, a huge playground you’ll spend hours on, into a vibrant neon wonderland. You could even say that the game was designed with the RTX in mind, as many streets are filled with glass skyscrapers and giant neon lights.

Several games were created specifically for the ray tracing show. There are also Minecraft RTX and Quake 2 RTX, which are prime examples of how you can improve the atmosphere with better lighting. And since Quake 2 RTX is completely free on Steam, there’s no reason to skip it.

When ray tracing was first announced, it was only available to players with the latest Nvidia graphics cards in their slot machines. Only RTX 20 series cards were able to handle ray tracing and DLSS. While this list included the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060/2070/2080 and 2080Ti cards, it was not a very extensive list.

The Basics of Ray Tracing

Ray tracing is a technique that works well for illuminating a computer generated scene. The concept is not new; The novelty is having computational power within reach, which enables its effective execution.

Imagine you shoot a beam of light at an object and track it bouncing off the surface, almost as if you are walking into a dark room and pointing a flashlight. Then imagine firing multiple rays, using those that keep coming back (and not coming back) to get an idea of ​​what the scene should look like. For example, rays that did not return were likely blocked by the object, thus creating a shadow. (To think of a concept in the same way as it is to think about how radar works is not far off.)

This basic explanation highlights how ray tracing is similar to real-world lighting: the light that reaches your eye tells your brain what you see. Animated films have been using ray tracing for decades; For example, Pixar’s Toy Story brought it to light in 1995, and since then, huge strides have been made in rendering.

About the time the movie industry has been using ray tracing, video games have relied on a different technique, rasterization, to render 3D worlds. But before we get into the reasons for this, let’s contrast ray tracing with rasterization.

The Fundamentals: Ray Tracing Versus Rasterization

Rasterization is an object-based approach to rendering scenes. Each object is painted with color first, and then logic is applied to show only the pixels closest to the eye. By contrast, ray tracing colors pixels first and then identifies them with objects. Simple that explains it all, doesn’t it?

Well, not really, so think about it this way. Rasterization requires special techniques and tweaks to create realistic visuals. For example, a game’s rendering pipeline can be customized and optimized to apply a specific effect where the pixels on an object follow a specific pattern. Of course, this kind of logic will vary depending on the subject and scene. It takes a developer effort to exploit this, but it can pay off in performance as the computer may be able to render a complex scene without a proportionate amount of computing power.

Ray tracing is usually used in a more general way than rasterization as it is based on shooting light rays. As a result, the techniques for obtaining visual effects with it are based on the way in which these rays are used. For example, softer shadows and reflections require more rays to be projected, while motion and blur effects may require you to change the timing of the rays or their origin point.

In summary, rasterization and ray tracing can be used to achieve the same result (or at least close to it). So now let’s examine why one would be used instead of the other.

The blue sections require the most detail, but the purple and red areas of the scene are less important, so Turing can shade them at a slower speed on the fly for greater efficiency.

What hardware do you need?

When ray tracing was first announced, it was only available to players with the latest Nvidia graphics cards in their slot machines. Only RTX 20 series cards were able to handle ray tracing and DLSS. While this list included the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060/2070/2080 and 2080Ti cards, it was not a very extensive list.

These graphics cards are also expensive and put ray tracing out of the reach of most gamers unless they are willing to jump out onto the cutting edge of technology.

Everything changed in April 2019, when the company announced that older GPUs would support ray tracing with the latest game-ready drivers.

For some, this means that ray tracing is enabled at the DirectX Raytracing (DXR) level, not at the hardware level, but it gives more users access to ray tracing visualization. Find out more about it here.

So, the current list of older ray tracing graphics cards includes:

  • GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
  • GeForce GTX 1660
  • Nvidia Titan XP (2017)
  • Nvidia Titan X (2016)
  • GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • GeForce GTX 1080
  • GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
  • GeForce GTX 1070
  • GTX 1060 6 GB graphics card

Not only gaming desktops support ray tracing, but also laptops with equivalent GPUs with Pascal and Turing architectures. There is also a sizable list of gaming laptops with RTX GPUs included as a spec option. This list is also constantly growing.

Ray tracing is not limited to PCs either. Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are expected to support Ray Tracing.

That said, it’s worth noting that if you want the best ray tracing experience, you need the best hardware. While older graphics cards now support ray tracing, they will have performance issues. Old GTX GPUs can only offer basic ray tracing effects with a low ray count. While RTX GPUs can manage much more complex effects, many of the effects are presented with more rays.

What is ray tracing and what hardware and games support it image 3

Ray tracing is also a graphically intensive process. When turned on and at maximum settings, even the most advanced gaming PCs may notice a drop in performance in terms of the number of frames per second displayed on the screen.

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You’ll get a visually stunning gaming experience, but it won’t necessarily be extremely smooth. Nvidia even shows the effect that maximum settings can have on average frame rates at various resolutions, and even at 1920 x 1080 those numbers are around 30fps on older GTX GPUs. So let’s pounce on RTX graphics cards if you can afford it.

The newer RTX 3000 series graphics cards have significantly improved performance, even with ray tracing enabled.

Current games that support ray tracing

Ray tracing support is highly dependent on the developers implementing visual effects and enhancements when creating their games.

Many of the major ray traced games are triple-A titles that also hit consoles but without the same graphics. The original list of ray tracing games was fairly short, but is constantly growing.

It helps that Nvidia and Intel are working on standardizing the Vulkan API to make it easier for game developers to add ray tracing support to their games in the future. It also means that ray tracing games should more easily hit new consoles with the same support in the future.

Battlefield 2042

Battlefield 2042 has all the good stuff from Nvidia – ray tracing, DLSS, and Nvidia Reflex. So not only will the game run well and look great, but if you have the right hardware, you’ll also be able to gain a competitive edge.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 may have had a tough start and a bit of a tough start, but if you have the right gear, you can take advantage of the excellent ray tracing capabilities for some truly amazing views in Night City.


Fortnite now supports ray tracing along with DLSS to help improve performance. This means Fortnite players can now enjoy ray-traced reflections, shadows, global lighting, and ambient occlusion.

Minecraft RTX

That’s right, even Minecraft takes full advantage of the enhanced lighting thanks to Nvidia RTX technology. It’s surprising what the updates have done to the game.

MechWarrior 5

In 3015, mankind colonized thousands of systems in space. MechWarriors dominate the battlefields, and ray-traced visuals help sell the story and immerse you in battle.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was not released with ray tracing support, but was updated shortly thereafter with improved graphics. Improved shadows, diffused lighting, and more added extra depth to the already beautiful game.

Metro Exodus

Battlefield V may have been the first game to support ray tracing, but Metro Exodus was the first game to integrate global lighting technology using real-time ray tracing. This meant that the game could use more realistic, indirectly diffused lighting as well as adapt in real time to the changing environment and day to night.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare features an “epic reimagination of the iconic Modern Warfare franchise from the ground up” with ray tracing as standard. As such, it is one of the best looking COD games to date and provides an amazing visual experience.


Control is another of our strong favorites. It is also one of the best examples of Nvidia’s ray tracing technology in any new game with tons of stunning visuals thanks to ray tracing support.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

It may be set in the 1980s, but this game has some futuristic graphics with ray tracing enhancements. Killing Nazis has never looked so stunning.


Ghostrunner is a fast-paced, brutal, sci-fi single-player mode. As you’d expect, this action-packed cyberpunk style game looks great with a ray tracing enhancement.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

In addition to ray tracing technology used in the next Black Ops installment, DLSS has been used to ensure better frame rates and smoother gameplay.

Battlefield V may have been the first game to support ray tracing, but Metro Exodus was the first game to integrate global lighting technology using real-time ray tracing. This meant that the game could use more realistic, indirectly diffused lighting as well as adapt in real time to the changing environment and day to night.

Nvidia RTX Uses Its GPUs to Accelerate Ray Tracing

Besides the obvious answer to years of code optimization, there are some specific new elements that make RTX possible. First, for maximum performance, shaders for all objects in a scene must be loaded into GPU memory and ready to go when junctions need to be calculated. The Nvidia developer post does not mention specific memory size requirements, but that could be one reason RTX only runs on Volta and Turing GPUs. The Star Wars demo that Nvidia initially showed was running on a four-volt DGX-1, for example, while now Nvidia has unveiled even more impressive efforts on its new professional and consumer Turing GPUs.

RTX also relies on a fancy new denoising module. Denoise is very important in ray tracing as you can only cast a limited number of rays from each pixel in a virtual camera. So unless you leave the ray tracer running long enough to fill the scene, you have a lot of nasty looking “bald patches” or “noise”. There are some great research designs out there to help optimize which rays are thrown but you still get a lot of noise. If this noise can be reduced separately, high-quality prints can be obtained much faster than if the problem had to be solved by sending many more rays. Nvidia uses this technique to speed up the creation of frames. Probably this ability is based on work based on artificial intelligence,which Nvidia unveiled at last year’s SIGGRAPH because its real-time execution relies heavily on Tensor “AI” cores in Turing GPUs.

Custom RT Cores Facilitate Real-Time Ray Tracing

In any type of physical ray tracing, it is a burden to calculate intersections. For each light ray projected from the camera (of which at least one is needed for each pixel in each frame – and much more if optics is also simulated), the software must find the object it intersects. Then, send multiple continuous rays from that object, calculate these intersections, and so on until the radius either exits the scene (and is assigned a value based on the ambient lighting map) or hits a radiating light source. Denoise reduces the number of rays needed, but the number is still staggering.

To solve this problem, Nvidia developed purpose-built RT cores as part of its Turing architecture. There is not much information about them, but in particular, they allow for much faster computation of the intersection of a ray with objects stored in the Bounding Volume Hierarchy (BVH), a popular data structure for representing objects in ray tracers.

They were quite accurate in their assessment that ray tracing would not bring a huge improvement in the appearance department. However, upon closer inspection, even those who were stubborn in their beliefs had to admit that it brought about visual improvements.

Deep Learning Super Sampling – DLSS

100 banknotes flying through the green vortex

There’s nothing wrong with recognizing how amazing NVIDIA technology is in their RTX series, despite what the internet might say about it. What’s not so amazing is the fact that there are simply not many games that can make the most of everything RTX cards have to offer.

On a more positive side, the industry is clearly impressed by ray tracing and DLSS technology. As time goes on, we are likely to use the technology to its full potential more and more.

With NVIDIA firmly seated on the throne of the GPU, it has the power to dictate the pricing of its cards. When they introduce breakthrough technology such as real-time ray tracing into the gaming world, they cannot be blamed for exploiting and testing the limits of their consumers’ wallets.

You could take a look at the RTX 3090 at $ 1,500 and consider it even more expensive than the RTX 2080 Ti. Keep in mind, however, that the $ 700 RTX 3080 far outstrips the RTX 2080 Ti and is considered NVIDIA’s flagship and, we dare say, its best representative.

The RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti offer further price drops compared to their predecessors, and that is certainly commendable. Unfortunately, even with AMD’s RDNA 2 GPU release in late 2020, we still haven’t seen a significant drop in the price of high- and mid-tier GPUs.

At the time of its launch, the RTX may have been above the expected and convenient price range, but by 2022 it seems the RTX has found its foundation in both performance and price. All in all, we can safely say that they are undoubtedly worth the money.

A lot of hype has been generated around the latest 12nm Nvidia Turing GPUs, from naming theories to speculation about the architecture itself. However, when they finally revealed it in August 2018, many were disappointed.

Nvidia RTX DLSS: Turing’s secret weapon

Fortunately, Nvidia has included many other performance-enhancing pieces of artificial intelligence technology in its RTX cards that will hopefully neutralize any potential ray tracing impact if developers take advantage of them. Indeed, despite all the attention paid to ray tracing during Nvidia’s RTX launch, it’s not quite as interesting as Turing’s other key feature, DLSS.

Also known as Deep Learning Super Sampling, this technology is pretty cool. It is essentially a super-efficient form of anti-aliasing (AA) and uses Turing artificial intelligence and deep learning tensor cores to help offload the GPU. AA, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is a technique game developers use to make lines and edges appear smooth and natural instead of a million jagged pixels.

Once the intelligence of AI Turing has been trained using a special neural network dedicated to that particular game (in this case, it’s a vulnerable demo of Epic’s Infiltrator), DLSS games will not only give you a more accurate picture, but also provide extra frames into the process (click to enlarge).

This is especially true when playing games in 4K, as more common AA techniques such as temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) can often soften images a bit too much (negating the wonderful sense of sharpness 4K should do) as well as slightly improve badly when scenes play out at high speed. Whether you will notice any of this without the aid of a frozen frame camera is, of course, a moot point.

The bottom line is that it can really help you crank up those frames per second without sacrificing image quality much. It’s only available in Final Fantasy XV at the moment, but here I found I was able to skip another 10-15fps with DLSS enabled compared to the default AA options in the game.

Here’s what DLSS looks like in practice on the Highest FFXV setting in 4K. (Click to enlarge) and here’s what a game looks like without DLSS on Highest in 4K (click to enlarge)

Like ray tracing, DLSS is a separate feature that not only needs to be handled by individual developers, but also a lot of input from Nvidia themselves, as they have to train their clever AI neural circuits first on network machines in every game to make sure they predict (and therefore generate) the correct textures and images. Only after this process is complete, programmers can enable DLSS support.

However, from what I’ve seen with DLSS so far, it’s an incredibly impressive technology that, if popular enough, should give Nvidia RTX cards a huge advantage over the upcoming Big Navi GPUs – especially if it can make up for the performance drop caused by all of this ray tracing malaria.

Nvidia RTX: Variable rate shading

Finally, variable frequency shading is another clever AI technology in Nvidia RTX cards that can provide another performance boost to help keep frame rates good and high. It does this by focusing the details of the scene where you need it most (in the center, say where you focus most of your attention) and reducing the level of detail elsewhere, such as things on the outskirts or simpler pieces of geometry in the foreground.

As an example, imagine a scene from Forza Horizon 4. The car is in the center, with a wonderful British landscape in front of you, fields sweeping left and right and the rest of the road trailing behind you.

The blue sections require the most detail, but the purple and red areas of the scene are less important, so Turing can shade them at a slower speed on the fly for greater efficiency.

Of course, the car and the horizon are the main focus of your attention, so these items will be the most detailed. The fields to the side are less important, so they can have half as much shading. Meanwhile, the road is definitely not where you should be focusing your attention in this high-octane racer, so it can get half as much detail again. The end result is a scene that not only looks nice and sharp where it matters, but provides a higher frame rate than if everything were rendered with the same amount of detail.

If you’re concerned that this might make games look a little inconsistent, don’t be scared. Another example that Nvidia showed me at Gamescom was the submarine area of ​​Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. In this case, variable-speed shading was used to intelligently judge which parts of the scene should be properly shaded without losing overall quality.


I played a demo of this technology live at Gamescom using the same scene in Wolfenstein II, and I couldn’t tell the difference there either.

Technically referred to as “adaptive content shading”, this was probably one of the most impressive demos I saw during an entire Nvidia presentation, and the difference between on and off was almost imperceptible. There was a vague rippling effect present as I stood still watching the center of the main control room, but it completely disappeared the moment I started to move. Moreover, the frame rate jumped by 15-20fps when I was turned on, which is impressive for an almost identical image quality.

Fortnite now supports ray tracing along with DLSS to help improve performance. This means Fortnite players can now enjoy ray-traced reflections, shadows, global lighting, and ambient occlusion.


Is ray tracing worth it

And now we come to another important point: the price. Many have noted that the RTX 2080 Ti is quite expensive compared to what we expect from Nvidia’s mainstream cards that aren’t Titans.

Indeed, $ 1,200 is a lot to pay for a graphics card, especially with the inevitable taxes if you live outside of the US, but let’s not forget that the RTX 2080 Ti is the best Nvidia has to offer right now.

The regular RTX 2080 is $ 800, the RTX 2070 is $ 600, and the RTX 2060 is $ 350, which is more in line with what we would normally expect. Of course, this is only the manufacturer’s suggested price, and various OEMs may offer cheaper or more expensive models.

All in all, as mentioned above, the performance differences between the 10 and 20 series are fairly small, so if you have to choose between an RTX card and a last-gen GTX Pascal card, the price should be a major factor to consider.

However, if you don’t care about ray tracing, future security, and generally don’t care about not having the “newest and best” product, you can get a better deal with an older product.

Consequently, the GTX 1070, 1070 Ti, 1080 or 1080 Ti can very well offer better value for money if you can find one at a reasonable price. Unfortunately at this point it will be difficult unless you want to settle for the GPU you are using.

Conclusion – Is an Nvidia RTX Graphics Card Worth It?

Is the Nvidia Rtx graphics card worth it

That being said, is the RTX GPU worth the money? Well, it depends on the context and the specific model.

The RTX 2080 Ti is, frankly, the best mainstream GPU available. So, if you have $ 1,200 to spend on a graphics card, you’ll get a high-end graphics card capable of running the latest AAA games in 4K at a stable 60 FPS.

But of course it goes without saying that you can build an entire gaming PC for $ 1,200 or even less.

Now, when it comes to the more affordable RTX 2060, RTX 2070, and RTX 2080, the boundaries are starting to blur. As already mentioned, they are only slightly better than the previous generation Pascal models.

However, at this point they are basically cheaper than any new Pascal cards. Moreover, they’re also more powerful than any of AMD’s Polaris cards, so we’ll have to wait and see if AMD can offer real competition when their Navi GPUs are released.

All in all, if you’re thinking of upgrading your GPU and fancy something better than the GTX 1660 Ti or RX 590, and don’t want to wait to see how the Navi handles, then one of the RTX models would be a good choice.

But is it worth upgrading from a GTX 10 in the same league purely for ray tracing and a few extra frames? Well, not really.

Whatever you decide, check out our guide to buying graphics cards, which includes some of the best models available today.

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