Nvidia's fastest and most expensive consumer graphics card is finally here, but its flagship features don't currently do anything
- Very fast in most benchmarks
- Loads of exciting new technology
- Very expensive
- Key features aren't supported in-game yet
New graphics cards are rarely as exciting as the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. Nvidia’s flagship GPU doesn’t just deliver the usual performance boost: it’s the first graphics card to include cutting-edge ray-tracing and anti-aliasing technology; advances which could potentially change the face of PC gaming as we know it.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review: What you need to know
Nvidia’s trio of new graphics cards – the forthcoming RTX 2070, and the GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti – use Nvidia’s new Turing architecture which was first introduced on Quadro professional GPUs in August. With 11GB of GDDR6 memory and 4,352 CUDA cores, the RTX 2080 Ti is the most powerful member of the RTX family.
For once, though, it’s the underlying tech that’s more interesting. Turing doesn’t just promise a straight power improvement over the previous Pascal architecture, upon which cards like the GTX 1080 Ti were built. It also introduces two concepts that, on paper, promise great things for both the visual quality and the frames-per-second performance of your games.
The first, ray tracing, is a technique for rendering light, shadows and reflections with much more detail and accuracy than the traditional rasterisation process. Whereas rasterisation renders objects on a pixel-by-pixel basis, approximating how they might look under light or shadow, ray tracing models how beams of light would bounce around a scene and into our eyes (or in the case of games, the camera). It’s a technique that, by more closely recreating how light works in real life, produces dramatically more realistic lighting effects. As such, it’s long been used in CGI films but has proven too computationally intensive to run on a consumer GPU – until now.
The second, Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), uses machine learning to produce a take on temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) which won’t hurt frame rates as much. Developers can allow Nvidia’s very own supercomputer – Saturn V – to analyse images of a game and produce an AA algorithm that’s pushed out to RTX cards as a driver update. The supported game can then be rendered at a lower resolution while the card’s dedicated Tensor cores analyse the existing anti-aliased graphics, and use it to produce an image at high resolution with fewer undesirable effects, like the transparency and blurring TAA can cause.
Basically, since half the work is being done by the Tensor cores, the GPU can dedicate more resources to simply running the game – meaning, potentially, you get high-quality edge-smoothing without the usual hit to frames-per-second.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review: Price and competition
Nvidia’s self-designed RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition costs £1,099, and even the cheapest partner cards only start from £1,080, going up to £1,350 if you want one with factory overclocking and a custom three-fan cooler. Considering the GTX 1080 Ti launched at £699, and the GTX 1080 at £619, this is easily Nvidia’s most expensive flagship card ever.
The other RTX 20-series cards aren’t exactly budget alternatives, either. The RTX 2080, which is also available now, will set you back £749, while the RTX 2070 – the GTX 1070 replacement – will release on October 17th at £569.
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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review: Turing Architecture
In theory, ray tracing and DLSS should be game-changing additions. The reality, however, is that no current games actually support either technology.
With ray tracing, this is because Nvidia has built the technology on top of Microsoft’s ray tracing API, and that won’t be introduced until a Windows 10 update arrives; something rumoured for October.
Nvidia also needs to convince developers to add ray tracing to their applications – currently, only eleven games have been confirmed to support it. This does include some current big titles such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but others, like Battlefield V and Metro Exodus, are yet to be released.
It’s a similar story with DLSS. The list of compatible games is considerably longer and includes the likes of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Ark: Survival Evolved, but because the AI needs to be programmed on an application-by-application basis, it might take some time for even already-released games to be patched with DLSS support.
Turing does bring with it some more conventional benefits. There are improvements to integer and floating-point operations, better shaders, and improved memory and texture caching. Turing cards also mark the debut of GDDR6 memory, which has 27% more bandwidth than the GDDR5X included in older cards.
The flagship RTX 2080 Ti uses the TU102 GPU and has 18.9 billion transistors – almost 7 billion more than the GTX 1080 Ti. It has 4,352 stream processors compared to the 3,584 included in its predecessor, and they’re divided into blocks that are half the size of the GTX 1080 Ti, so they’re more versatile.
The RTX 2080 Ti rattles along at 1,350MHz and a standard boost speed of 1,545MHz. Those are high speeds indeed, but the GTX 1080 Ti is faster, with speeds of 1,480MHz and 1,582MHz. This older card had 11GB of memory as well, so the only improvement here is the switch to faster GDDR6. Despite all this, the new card has a single-precision performance output of 14.2 TFLOPS – about 2.5 TFLOPS more than the GTX 1080 Ti.
It’s also worth remembering that base clock is less important now that GPUs spend more time bouncing between different boost clocks. Nvidia’s Turing software allows users to tweak boosting algorithms and overclock more easily than ever, and most users will buy cards from board partners with factory overclocks, so you can expect even better performance from retail cards.
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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review: Performance
It’s no surprise that the RTX 2080 Ti supplants the GTX 1080 Ti as the best single graphics card for 4K gaming. The Founders Edition model we tested either met, exceeded or got sufficiently close to the magic 60fps mark far more reliably than the old card – for example, in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, running on Ultra settings with DX12 enabled, the RTX 2080 Ti averaged 51fps at 4K while the GTX 1080 Ti only managed 40fps.
There was a similar difference in Total War: Warhammer 2, where the RTX 2080 Ti averaged 47fps on the battle map benchmark and 60fps on the campaign map benchmark (both at 4K with Ultra settings) – the GTX 1080 Ti could only average 37fps and 44fps respectively.
Battlefield 1 also demonstrated a significant improvement: while the GTX 1080 Ti reached 79fps, the RTX 2080 Ti stretched all the way to 110fps, and again that’s at 4K resolution with the highest Ultra quality graphics settings.
We also tried Shadow of the Tomb Raider, though unfortunately neither its promised ray tracing nor DLSS capabilities were in place. Nonetheless, the RTX 2080 Ti made short work of this already great-looking game, averaging 60fps at 4K with Ultra settings and DX12.
The RTX 2080 Ti might be the most expensive GeForce card ever made, but it is at least clearly the most powerful. These are all commendably smooth frame rates by 4K standards, and it will sail through anything at 2,560×1,440 too. Dropping down to this resolution, we got 91fps in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, 194fps in Battlefield 1, 81fps on the Total War: Warhammer 2 battle map, 89fps on the campaign map and 108fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so it’s the ultimate companion for a 1,440p 144Hz monitor.
What’s less clear is whether these performance gains alone are actually worth the extra money. You can get a GTX 1080 Ti for about £600 nowadays, so without factoring in ray tracing and DLSS, you could well end up paying over 80% more for ~30-40% more performance, depending on the game. It’s an improvement on the Pascal generation, sure, but not one that’s proportional to the price bump.
It’s feasible that ray tracing and DLSS could make the investment worthwhile, but this possibility just makes it all the more vexing that Nvidia would choose to release the first RTX cards without either feature being ready and playable on day one. We can’t even give a first-hand appraisal of how well they work until both Windows and the supported games are patched.
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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review: Verdict
This won’t come as a surprise: currently, it’s impossible to recommend the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.
The performance increases brought about by the new architecture are welcome, and make 60fps at 4K resolutions a much more consistent reality, but at this price you’d expect nothing less. If anything, you might actually expect more.
The huge, shiny, crisply anti-aliased elephant in the room, however, is that it’s impossible to say how much of an impact ray tracing and DLSS – the card’s headline features – will have. Given that you’re paying such a huge premium for those features, we can only advise that you wait until compatible games – and benchmarks – are here to tell the whole story.