Were you thinking about upgrading to a Ray Tracing GPU and suddenly this thought hit you, “would it be worth it?” Don’t worry you’re not the first one to ask.
Back in 2018, when Nvidia launched their 20 series GPU and introduced a rather novel yet revolutionary feature, “Ray Tracing”. No one really understood what they meant because this technology had only been in animated movies before. But the “RTX On” and “RTX Off” memes gave it the consumer publicity that nobody could’ve ever imagined.
After that, everyone was talking about it. And after all these years, here we are wondering if Ray Tracing is worth it in 2023.
I worked out this guide to help you understand whether Ray Tracing is for you or not.
What is Ray Tracing in simple lingo?
Have you always admired Ray Tracing but have yet to know what it was? Well, I think it’s time you learned about it.
To keep it simple, Ray Tracing is a rendering technique that mimics the way how light interacts with objects or surfaces in real life, to create stunningly realistic visuals. It doesn’t miss a single ray of light from the in-game light source and imitates what it would look like in real time.
I’m sure you’ve been a fan of Ray Tracing before you even got into gaming. Do you know how? Well, all Pixar and Marvel animated movies use Ray Tracing. And that’s why the scenes look so realistic!
Ray Tracing was introduced in gaming five years back and ever since, it has been widely embraced. But I think it still has a long way to go, so keep an eye out for it!
Is Ray Tracing worth it?
Coming to the real question; is Ray Tracing worth it or is it overhyped? Well, it depends on your needs!
If you love dramatically stunning visuals and don’t care how much it’ll cost then Ray Tracing is worth every buck. But if you’re a competitive gamer, I reckon killer graphics would be at the bottom of your list. In this case, Ray Tracing wouldn’t really matter to you.
So to decide whether Ray Tracing is worth it or not, you need to figure out which type of gamer are you. Do you want soothing cinematics or are you all about the competition?
For a competitive gamer, going for a Ray Tracing graphics card wouldn’t make such a huge difference. Because they wouldn’t care any less about the light coming out the window while they’re aiming up for their next kill, right? All they can think of is how they can make their game smoother and intense graphics are clearly not the way to do that. So Ray Tracing would not be a cup of tea for competitive gamers.
On the other hand, if you fancy playing adventurous games with a lot of scenery (like Cyberpunk 2077, Watchdog Legion) and competition is not your thing. Then you’re going to love Ray Tracing because it can take your gaming experience to a whole new level. Believe me, you’re going to feel a lot different if you’re trying it the first time. It’s quite amazing! I’d totally recommend it if you’re gaming just for fun. It’s worth every penny!
Pros and cons of Ray Tracing
If you’re going to spend a fortune on something, it’s only fair that you know every good and bad thing about it, right? So let’s take a look at some pros and cons of Ray Tracing;
- Amazingly realistic visuals that you might’ve never seen in gaming. Do you know what I said when I first used Ray Tracing? I said in a squeaky voice “Whoa that looks real!”
- Ray Tracing graphics cards can upgrade the cinematics in those games that don’t even use Ray Tracing. And it can make a difference no matter if you’ve turned on the Ray Tracing feature or not
- It’ll future-proof your PC
- Graphics cards with Ray Tracing are usually quite pricey
- Ray Tracing sucks up a lot of horsepower so you may have to lower the frame rates to enjoy smooth gameplay. And if you’re a competitive gamer, this would be the death of you and I mean literally in the game
Ray Tracing: performance benchmarks
To give you a better idea of how Ray tracing can affect your gaming experience, I’ve tested out some Ray Tracing titles in 1440p and 4K resolution. For these performance benchmarks, I had NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti installed on my PC.
If you want to have the best experience with Ray Tracing, your graphics should at least have a 6.0 computing capability or higher. But if you have an older card, it will also work just fine.
So if you were expecting around 60 FPS at 4K with Ray Tracing enabled, an RTX 3080 Ti or RTX 3090 is a bare minimum requisite. I hate to break it to you, but if you have an older card. You won’t be able to enjoy Ray Tracing at such high frame rates and resolution.
Surprisingly, during my tests, I didn’t observe a considerable performance difference between Vulkan and DRX (Direct Ray Tracing).
For instance, while testing Metro Exodus, I tried both Vulkan and DirectX at 1440p resolution. With Vulkan, I got an average frame rate of 109 FPS. And guess what were the results for DirectX — they were the same!
After these results, I’d suggest if you intend to play a graphics-intensive game on an RTX 2080 Ti, then you should stick to 1440p resolution. But if you want to level it up to 4K/ultra-high resolution, you would a need more powerful GPU like RTX 3080 or RX 6900 XT.
Now let’s take a look at some of the results from Cyberpunk 2077. As I expected, they weren’t great! I mean I tried it at 1080p resolution with Ray Tracing disabled and my RTX 2080 Ti could only hit an average FPS of 110. And when I turned on Ray Tracing, it took a brutal drop to 66 FPS. I’ll be honest, it was heartbreaking!
But I decided to ramp up the resolution to 4K and Ray Tracing enabled. To my surprise, it was able to run the game and manage to pull an average of 50 FPS with Ray Tracing disabled. It dropped to 44 FPS when I enabled the Ray Tracing.
These results show that you’re going to experience a drop in the framerates when you turn on the Ray tracing feature. So no matter if you have an RTX 4090 or some old card from NVIDIA’s line-up, you’ll have to live with the performance drop for the killer graphics.
Does Ray Tracing make a difference?
Whether or not you’re going to notice the visual difference with Ray tracing completely depends on the type of game you’re playing. The visual gains would be quite impressive if you’re trying Ray Tracing with AAA titles (especially RPG and other open-world games of the sort). Although the graphics difference won’t be as exciting in most eSports games which have simple in-game visuals.
If you want to see the real wonders of Ray Tracing, I suggest you try one of these AAA game titles;
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Witcher 3
- Assassin’s Creed Odessey
You’re going to love the magical lights of Cyberpunk’s Night City, the grainy sands of Greece in Assasins Creed, and the mesmerizing vibrance of the world in Witcher. All these scenes look way better with Ray Tracing and might even make you reach out of your chair and touch the screen.
The results were just plain amazing in such games which use night and day cycles because you’re exposed to light sources all the time.
But it doesn’t end there! Not only the games with day and night cycles get enhanced by Ray tracing. For instance, one of our favorites, Dark Souls 3 throws off some stunningly real graphics – all thanks to Ray tracing! And this happens because there’s a moody light present throughout the game.
On the other hand, some cartoonish games like Fortnite or Dota 2 wouldn’t benefit from Ray Tracing as much. This is because these games are mostly played in a static lighting setting. So you can’t expect much visual improvements from Ray Tracing, can you?
Which games support Ray Tracing?
Here are some of the classic games in the market that support Ray tracing as of now;
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Metro Exodus
- Minecraft RTX
- Battlefield 2042
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Atomic heart
- Assassin’s Creed
- Assetto Corsa Competizione
- Watch Dogs
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
- MechWarrior 5
Most of these games support DXR API which means they can both work with RTX and AMD graphics cards.
Would there be any new games in the future? Well, surely! To give you a hint, Nvidia is working on some new titles that support Ray tracing which include;
- In the shadows
- The living weapon
So if you want to enjoy all these games at the extreme graphic settings, then you should consider installing a Ray Tracing GPU in your system.
How costly are the Ray Tracing-supported graphics cards?
I hope you already know that Ray Tracing is not something you buy, rather it’s a feature in the latest-gen graphics cards. Even though old graphics like GTX 1060 also have this feature. But as you keep moving up to the latest models, the visuals just keep getting better. So, if you want the best experience, I recommend going with a newer model.
Coming to the price, the latest top-notch graphics cards can cost you up to 700$ or above. So even if you already have a PC and only buying the card, it isn’t cheap!
If we talk about the availability of these cards, they’re quite common. You can easily find the latest models on Amazon or Best Buy or you can also get it from Nvidia online store. The only catch is, can your budget take this hit?
My Final Thoughts on Ray Tracing
To sum it all up, is Ray tracing worth it? Well, it depends! If you want the absolute best gaming experience and you can afford to go for the expensive GPUs like RTX 3090 Ti or 3080 Ti. And you can compromise on the frame rates as well then it’s a green light for you.
But if you’re all about competitive gaming and don’t want to spend high bucks on a new GPU. I suggest you stick with your old GPU unless you’re looking for a new graphics card and want to future-proof your system.
Or are you a casual gamer? You want to experience the charm of Ray Tracing but you’re thinking that the investment is way too much just for a slight bump in graphics in a few dozen games. Then I suggest you wait for a while until the prices go down and more games with Ray Tracing are out there. Until then, hang on to your old GPU.
Muhammad Allayhan, a gaming and PC hardware virtuoso, breathes life into pixelated worlds. A legendary overclocker, he unlocks hidden power in gaming rigs. Navigating from 8-bit realms to today’s masterpieces, Muhammad’s words immerse readers in an ever-evolving digital odyssey. Join him as he reveals the secrets of gaming’s cutting edge.