AMD could offer ray tracing with next-gen Navi graphics cards

amd ceo lisa su ces 2019 radeon vii
AMD Radeon VII based on the Vega 20 GPU

AMD’s next-generation Navi graphics cards may support ray tracing right from the start, as shown during the recent revelation of several features of the next-generation PlayStation console, Sony’s lead PlayStation architect, Mark Cerny, claimed that the PS5 would support ray tracing. That console will use a Navi graphics core to achieve that result, which all but confirms that AMD’s next-generation of graphics cards will, too.

Originally expected for a CES 2019 reveal in January, Navi is now rumored to launch as soon as E3 in June. Rumors suggest that it will be the last iteration of AMD’s aging Graphics Core Next architecture, first introduced with the 7000-series in 2012. It is expected to represent major advances in performance over the RX 500 series Polaris cards, and to make great strides in efficiency and “scalability.” Now we know ray tracing is likely to be one of its major features.

There are a few important wrinkles to this story which make it a little less clear cut, though. AMD has previously said it would only introduce ray tracing hardware when the technology could be affordable and viable for a wider audience. The Navi release this year is expected to be Navi 10, the midrange iteration of the technology, potentially culminating in RTX 2070-like performance in the top cards. While adding ray tracing to such cards would make the technology more readily available to gamers on a budget, ray tracing is a notorious performance hog and only performs reasonably well on the most expensive of GPUs with dedicated rendering hardware, like the RTX 2080 Ti.

A more likely candidate for ray tracing would be AMD’s Navi 20, which is expected to be a high-end iteration on the technology, potentially challenging the 2080 Ti in terms of performance. But then the PS5 would be unlikely to use such a GPU, since it would be inordinately expensive and outside the usual cost and thermal limitations of a home console.

It may be that Navi as an architecture can support ray tracing effectively, but will only do so on consoles thanks to the optimizations possible on specific hardware. With a rumored 2020 release date for the PS5, perhaps we’ll see ray tracing made possible for AMD PC gamers in 2020 with Navi 20, while console gamers can enjoy it with their Navi 10 console chip — perhaps in an APU configuration like the current PS4 and Xbox One.

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