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Old Nvidia graphics cards to get ray tracing support in upcoming driver

Ray tracing ultra — Screenshot 5
Battlefield V was one of the first games to implement ray tracing Image used with permission by copyright holder

Nvidia is expanding its range of ray-tracing-capable graphics cards in an upcoming Game Ready Driver update. It will add support for the visual feature to a number of GPUs from its Pascal GTX-10 series generation, as well as the recently unveiled GTX 16-series cards. Although they won’t be as good at it as the RTX 2000-series, the most powerful of them should still be able to adopt some of the fancy lighting features which were previously limited to Nvidia’s high-end Turing GPUs.

Ray tracing is beautiful to behold when it’s done right, but in our experience it’s been something of a mixed bag. Performance takes a huge hit with ray tracing enabled, and even with deep learning super sampling helping to alleviate that, the end result can sometimes look and perform worse than if both technologies were disabled. While improvements have been made with game optimizations and driver releases, we have to wonder how well non-RTX cards will be able to handle the intensive technology.

Nvidia at least appears confident it will do so with ease — even if it has taken this opportunity to highlight how much more capable its RTX graphics cards are. In its announcement, Nvidia detailed that all Pascal GPUs from the GTX 1060 6GB up would receive ray tracing support. That will include the GTX 1070, 1080, 1080 Ti, Titan XP, and Titan X. The recently released GTX 1660 Ti and 1660 will also be upgraded to support ray tracing at the same time. That seems like a particularly odd note since one of the key differences between the RTX 2000-series and GTX 16-series was the lack of ray tracing support.

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None of these cards will be as capable as the RTX Turing graphics cards with ray tracing enabled, as Nvidia itself highlighted. In its selection of demonstrative games, Nvidia showed a 1.6 to three times performance difference between the GTX 1080 Ti and the RTX 2080 in games with ray tracing enabled. In fact, only one out of three of the graphs presenting the results showed comfortable 30+ frame rates on the 1080 Ti. That was at 1,440p, though, so it may be that GTX cards are much more capable of handling ray traced games at 1080p or with reduced detail settings.

While adding ray tracing support to GTX graphics cards is a nice bonus for those who already own such cards, this may be more of an effort to bring developers on board with implementing ray tracing in their games. As Nvidia highlights at the end of its announcement, there are millions of GTX 10-series graphics cards out there — far more than the RTX Turing generation cards, which Nvidia itself has admitted hasn’t sold as well as expected.

Nvidia is also making other efforts to encourage ray tracing adoption in games, with ZDNet highlighting how the company is working with Epic Games and Unity technologies to help them implement ray tracing in their engines.

The Nvidia Game Ready driver that enables ray tracing in 10-series cards is expected to be released in April.

Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
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