When the first benchmarks for Battlefield V’s ray tracing mode (called RTX by Nvidia, but using Microsoft’s DirectX Ray Tracing, or DXR technology) arrived, they seemed to indicate little improvement from estimated performance at the Gamescom event where NV launched its latest GPU family. The benchmarks showed the RTX 2080 Ti breaking 60fps at 1080p, while lower-end cards struggled. The RTX 2070 was only barely capable of maintaining 45fps with the feature enabled. This implied nothing good about the state of ray tracing in games or the ability of Turing to maintain playable performance over the long term.
A new set of patches has promised to improve GPU performance, however, and TechPowerUp has once again taken the game out for a spin. Because TechPowerUp has used a very different graph structure than they typically deploy, we can’t show you relative performance between the RTX 2080 Ti, 2080, and 2070 in a single graph. We’ve chosen to highlight the RTX 2070 at 1080p. It’s the only GPU in the stack with a price tag even approaching what a normal person might pay at the top of the market (the RTX 2070 can be had for $ 500, whereas the cheapest RTX 2080 on Newegg as of this writing is a $ 700 GPU).
The RTX 2070 sees a 1.48x increase to RT performance at 1080p, the largest increase among the three cards. We don’t want to share all of TechPowerUp’s data, but we’ve put together a small chart to show how much improvement the RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti all picked up at higher resolutions. The gains are significant at every resolution, particularly for the RTX 2070 and 2080.
What this means, in aggregate, is that the 2080 Ti, which formerly turned in 29.2fps in 4K, is now pushing 47fps at Ultra. The 2070, meanwhile, has gone from 47fps to over 70fps. This is a significantly stronger result than anything we saw in November. It’s worth asking, in point of fact, why Nvidia and EA either refused to delay the launch of RTX in the first place or didn’t reach out more widely to communicate that the feature’s debut last month should’ve been treated as more of a beta than anything else.
It’s true that we often see performance improve in titles over time, particularly in the first games to adopt a feature, but consider the context here. Ever since Nvidia demoed Turing, there’ve been persistent, ongoing questions about whether the GPUs would offer acceptable performance in ray tracing games. This question has driven a great deal of discussion at various sites, and the only data points anyone had to work with was the demos on-display at the show. When Battlefield V launched with the RTX 2080 Ti holding roughly the same level of performance observed in August (“struggling” to hold 60fps according to reports then, with RTX launch performance of about 65fps), it appeared to confirm that the hit from enabling RTX was simply massive, period. With an additional three months to work on the game, DICE hadn’t delivered the performance improvements many were hoping for.
Except they did. It’s unusual for a game to pick up this much performance in a post-launch patch, because most companies won’t ship a feature out if it’s implemented as poorly as RTX obviously initially was. It’s true that Nvidia and Dice both said they expected RTX performance to improve in the future, but “improve in the future” typically means a 10-20 percent performance improvement, maybe 30 percent at the outside. The smallest gain from this patch at Ultra is the RTX 2080 Ti’s 1.36x improvement at 1080p. There are still some performance oddities; the RTX 2080 is regularly faster in Medium than it is in Low. There’s also a larger performance gap between Medium and High than there is between High/Ultra or Low/Medium on both the RTX 2070 and 2080. The implication is that the lower quality levels are a bit more suited to these cards, with the ~$ 1200 2008 Ti showing less responsiveness to quality level before 4K. A quality comparison video is embedded below:
These gains are large enough to change the resolutions at which DXR can be enabled without overly killing the frame rate. All three GPUs now break 60fps at 1080p, with the 2080 Ti and 2080 maintaining that performance at 1440p. Even at 4K, the RTX 2070 is now faster than the RTX 2080 Ti in the old patch with DXR enabled. The performance hit from enabling DXR is, however, still massive. The RTX family now performs at ~60 percent of baseline when RTX is enabled, as opposed to the ~40 percent of baseline it managed to reach with RTX enabled in the old version of the game.
Does This Patch Change Our Opinion of Ray Tracing?
This new patch represents a monumental improvement for BFV’s ray tracing implementation, but it doesn’t currently move the needle on whether I’m willing to recommend users buy into RTX. My reasoning is this: Battlefield V is still one title. It’s now a title with a vastly improved RTX implementation that I’m happy to see, but I want to know more about how other games will implement this feature and how performance comes in. There are other factors to consider that haven’t changed, including the price increases on the RTX family and the fact that NV is highly likely to have a 7nm GPU refresh on the way more quickly than the 26-month gap between Pascal and Turing. Taking a 40-60 percent performance penalty from enabling a feature is always concerning and I want to see how this will evolve in the future. Does Battlefield V’s new performance now reflect what we should expect from Turing GPUs with RTX enabled? This is unclear.
At the end of the day, these are still features confined to $ 500 GPUs and above, which means the chance of robust market support in these early days is low (apart from the deals Nvidia cuts directly, of course). These performance improvements aren’t going to change that. They also aren’t going to fix the fundamental misalignment between Nvidia’s longtime promotion of high-resolution, high refresh-rate displays before suddenly switching gears and recommending its top-end customers instead spend money on slower gaming at lower resolutions with better visual effects. But if you chose to buy into RTX already, at the very least, you’re getting back some welcome performance — and there are now preliminary data suggesting that the impact of the feature may merely be “very heavy,” rather than “completely ruinous.” That’s a huge improvement, no matter what.