Speculation: Lower-End NVIDIA GeForce 20 Series Turing Cards Won’t Support Ray Tracing In Hardware

NVIDIA announced its GeForce RTX Turing graphics cards to much fanfare last month, and they promise to up the realism in future games with real-time ray tracing support. We've seen -- to great effect -- how real-time ray tracing can enhance shadow, lighting and water effects in games like Battlefield VMechWarrior 5 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. 

However, real-time ray tracing is extremely taxing on GPU hardware -- even with the brawny GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. In a game like Battlefield V, with NVIDIA RTX enabled, the game runs at just over 60fps at 1080p and between 40 to 50fps at 1440p (in pre-release form with unfinished GPU drivers). When you crank the resolution to 4K, you're looking at below 30fps with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.

geforce rtx family shot

With this in mind, it looks as though NVIDIA won't be supporting real-time ray tracing on all of its next-generation GPUs that it releases over the coming months (at least in hardware). Given that the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti may have to work hard with NVIDIA RTX enabled at higher resolutions, performance will be even lower for the RTX 2080 and RTX 2070.

But what about the lower-end, unannounced cards? While speaking at the Citi 2018 Global Technology Conference Q&A, NVIDIA CFO Colette Kress made the following statement that initially might not cause much consternation. "The cards will come out. We'll start with the ray-tracing cards," said Kress. "We have the 2080 Ti, the 2080 and the 2070 overall coming to market. This is a major leap in terms of something that people probably weren't expecting for another 10 years to 15 years."

Notice that key phrase, "we'll start with the ray tracing cards" after which she name checks the trio of cards announced last month. The wording would suggest that only these cards will support NVIDIA RTX technology. Given the diminishing returns in real-time ray tracing performance once you get down to the GeForce RTX 2070, it stands to reason that NVIDIA might not want to provide gamers with a subpar experience with lower-end hardware that doesn't have a dedicated ray tracing hardware engine on board. 

While this is just speculation at this point, we have to recall that we heard rumors that NVIDIA will be launching GeForce GTX 20 Series graphics cards. It was rumored that sitting below the GeForce RTX 2070 will be a GeForce GTX 2060 (5GB), also featuring Turing architecture. Turing should still give the GeForce GTX 2060 a considerable performance edge over the existing GeForce GTX 1060 for OEMs that want to provide a performance boost for gamers that don't care about or need NVIDIA RTX.

While it may not ideal for NVIDIA to bifurcate its GeForce RTX/GTX 20 Series Turing cards, given that the company wants to spread real-time ray tracing to the gaming masses as soon as possible, this upcoming generation of graphics cards is simply not up to the task of delivering acceptable performance across the entire product range.