So you’ve been around social media enough to hear that there’s a new graphics card for PCs… This card is the fastest, most powerful card released, but is it actually slower? What even is RTX? The answer lies below…
For those of you who are not aware, when building a computer you use different components to do different things. Currently fighting for the position of the graphics card within your battlestation are the tech giants Nvidia and the underdog, AMD Graphics. Nvidia as a company has been around since April 1993 – After releasing the first GeForce card in 1999 and beating the performance of any other competitor, they continued to dominate the graphics field being trailed by AMD.
Before we can talk about RTX, we need to talk about the way that graphics cards have worked up until now. They used a technique called Rasterization, and then used shaders to approximate the look of an object. Rasterization is the process of taking an image that is made up using Vector graphics (These are just images made up of shapes, most often triangles), and then mapped onto the pixels on your computer, or your phone, or TV with a games console or PC. There’s an issue with this process though; while the process isn’t very computationally heavy – which makes it faster – rasterization needs to be used with another process which gives the image the difference in colour to make the object look 3D, and produce shadows that look realistic.
In September 2018, Nivida launched a new line of GeForce graphics card called RTX – This card features a graphics rendering technique called Ray Tracing; you may have already seen something that was rendered with Ray Tracing (Toy Story 3, Monsters University, Avengers Infinity War)… But what is Ray Tracing? You can recreate this effect in real life – Find and look at an object in your surroundings, then from that object, follow a line to a light source. That’s what Ray Tracing is, the process of tracing lines between a position, to an object and then to light sources. There is a big problem with Ray Tracing though, as it can be exceptionally slow. Some frames (A single image) of a film have taken over a day to render due to the number of objects within the scene, and that’s with a supercomputer designed to render things this heavily.
So if something is this far advanced, how is it being sold as a consumer product? The card doesn’t need to produce a 3D render in the same way that a film does; instead of creating an entire world, the consumer card only creates an image from one place. Take for example a First Person Shooter game – You’re looking out of the eyes of the character, so why render what you can’t see? This takes a large amount of strain off of the process and means that it can be done in your own home on your own PC.
Ray Tracing on graphics cards have had a large amount of criticism due to the performance hit that the user gets over the card not using Ray Tracing; while the game does look great, the framerate drops to way less than what is achieved with the setting turned off. Personally, I would say that if you were thinking of buying an RTX card, wait until the third or fourth generation comes out. This means that there will be plenty of games that support the process, as very few do at the time of writing, and AMD hopefully will have unveiled their version of Ray Tracing.
…But now to answer the question of ‘will Ray Tracing still be relevant at the end of 2019’ – While I don’t think that Ray Tracing has been out long enough for you, the average consumer, to think about swapping your graphics card in for an RTX variant; I think that it will most definitely be relevant in 2020 and beyond. This is because they will continue to be used for films and, as more generations are released, gaming with RTX will become better as the cards get more powerful.
So while RTX may not be relevant to you yet, give it 3-5 years as the technology improves; then have another think about if it’s worth paying the price to get something that looks incredible, because currently, it isn’t.