Something to look forward to: Nvidia's brand new GPUs have finally been unveiled. Meet the new GeForce RTX 3070 ($499, available in October), GeForce RTX 3080 ($699, available September 17), and the enormous GeForce RTX 3090 ($1,499, available September 24). The new graphics processors look to be massive improvements over RTX 2000 series products released about two years ago. But the announcements were not limited to new hardware, read on...
In a way, this was going to be an easy one. After all, gaming of all varieties, but particularly PC-based gaming, has never been more popular. The pandemic has given people more time, more incentive, and frankly, more of a need to game than ever before. Toss in a highly reinvigorated PC market, and it would take a pretty big stumble for people not to be excited about Nvidia’s next generation GeForce line of gaming-focused GPUs.
The company is touting a performance improvement of up to 2x and a 1.9x increase in power efficiency for the new GeForce chips, both due in part to the move down to an 8nm custom manufacturing process with their foundry partner Samsung. All the new GPUs are using the company’s Ampere architecture—first introduced as part of its datacenter-focused DGX A100 server—and all offer the second iteration of its real-time hardware-accelerated ray tracing technology.
Nvidia is calling the RTX 3080 its new flagship, as this is the more consumer-oriented graphics card with a premium price point that matches the 2080/Super models it replaces, while offering a big performance boost as seen on the graph above. The same could be said about the new RTX 3070 that according to Nvidia, nearly matches the $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti in raw performance.
Then the massive (seriously, watch the video unveil) and very expensive RTX 3090 is being touted as a "giant Ampere" aimed at extreme gaming workstations when you want to drive multiple monitors and even 8K graphics.
A long-time dream of computer graphics enthusiasts, real-time ray tracing was introduced with great fanfare by Nvidia back in 2018 with the original RTX 2000 line. Despite the visual enhancements of the technology (it essentially calculates millions of individual rays of light bouncing off of objects to create very realistic shadows, highlights and depth), adoption in mainstream games has been relatively modest, though the company scored an important win with the release of Microsoft’s Minecraft RTX earlier this year.
At today’s launch event, however, the company really hit mainstream gamers with the news that Epic Games’ Fortnite is adding support for RTX starting with the Marvel character-themed Chapter 2, Season 4 release, which was just unveiled late last week. Ray tracing support will be across four areas, including reflections, shadows, global illumination, and ambient occlusion (where light is partially blocked by objects), all of which should create a more “realistic” Toy Story-like effect on the game’s cartoon graphics.
The news on Fortnite is interesting for other reasons as well, because Epic is also supporting several additional Nvidia technologies in its latest release, including the latest version of DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) and the company’s new Nvidia Reflex technology.
DLSS is an AI-powered graphics acceleration technology that leverages the Tensor Cores found on Nvidia’s latest generation GPUs and determines ways to create and render ultra high-resolution images without having to do the hard (and time consuming) work of calculating every pixel. Essentially, the technology uses a combination of lower resolution images and motion vectors, passes them through its deep-learning trained algorithms, and then automatically “fills in” the additional details, allowing high-resolution images to be generated at faster frame rates.
As with RTX, DLSS is a very cool Nvidia-created technology, but the onus of supporting it falls to game developers. Given the limited number of games that currently use it, the work to leverage the technology clearly isn’t trivial, but having support for it in Fortnite (as well as Epic’s widely used Unreal Engine game platform) is, again, a big step forward for DLSS.
Fortnite is among the first games to also support Nvidia’s Reflex, which is a new technology designed to reduce latency in games for eSports competitions. Touting as much as a 42% reduction in system latency for GPU-bound situations, Reflex optimizes the rendering pipeline across both the CPU and GPU. In conjunction with forthcoming new 360Hz G-Sync Esports displays from Acer, Alienware, Asus, and MSI due later this fall, Reflex Latency Analyzer adds the ability to measure the latency from an attached mouse and the time it takes for pixels to respond to your reactions, giving highly competitive gamers a potential edge in fast-moving games.
Finally, Nvidia unveiled two other software technologies that highlight the growing reach and impact of gaming.
First, the Nvidia Broadcast app can leverage the AI processing on RTX cards to do noise reduction, virtual green screens, and autoframing (where the camera focus automatically follows you as you move around), all with standard webcams.
There are obviously many other video conferencing and streaming applications that can offer some of these capabilities, but it’s smart to see Nvidia use its own technology to create an optimized, gaming-specific app that lets gamers easily stream their content with higher-quality results.
The final tool is the company’s intriguing Omniverse Machinima, which can be used to help create original movie-style content from game assets such as environments, objects, buildings, characters and more.
Building on growing interest in the machinima genre of gaming content, Nvidia’s new application will allow users to do things like use their webcams to animate the body movements and faces of characters inserted into scenes and much more. A beta version of the application is expected later this fall.
Given the tremendous interest in gaming, Nvidia’s latest generation of gaming GPUs are likely to be in high demand, and the ongoing transition to ray tracing-based games will continue moving forward. More importantly, though, it’s great to see Nvidia continue to execute on its strategy of quickly bringing its best-performing new GPU architectures from the highest-end servers down to mainstream graphics cards in a matter of months.
This approach allows the company to focus the high development costs necessary to create advanced new architectures on the margin-rich server business but keep its critical consumer customers happy and eager to take advantage of new designs. It’s a smart approach that will likely serve them well for many years to come.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.