Nvidia has now announced that the gaming hardware company is bringing their bleeding edge ray tracing technology to older GPUs to increase market saturation of the new lighting system.
Currently, the lighting and shadow improvements offered by the system are exclusive to that latest and most expensive GPUs, like the 2080 series of cards. And now, this option will be available to many more of Nvidia’s products.
In addition to the current line of Turing GPUs, a bunch of the different DXR architectures and SKUs will be getting a driver update that includes the new ray tracing support. For example, many different 10 series and 20 series GTX GPUs are being covered by this upcoming series of drivers. Instead of listing them all out, Nvidia has posted a preview image that lists all of the major models which are covered by this update. Check that out down below.
There are a few drawbacks with this backport though, as is to be expected. The version of ray tracing in these older models has been scaled back a bit to a more basic version, only tracing a smaller number of light rays per rendering pass, instead of tracing a ludicrous amount like the full version for more modern products. On top of that, the support will also depend on what game you’re playing, the resolution you’re working with, and the type of GTX card you have in your rig.
Plus, there’s the additional workload of rendering on the GPU that ray tracing creates, mostly because it is determining intersections and ray paths in real-time, a workload that increases with each complication in a scene. There are obvious ways to reduce the load though, and render scenes faster. A special series of dedicated compute clusters called RT Cores on some cards can see up to a 10x improvement when utilized to handle the computing workload from ray tracing.
Here’s Nvidia talking a bit about the difficulties of implementing the tech on older hardware, as well as how they mitigate problems with dedicated algorithms and processing setups.
Ray tracing introduces several new workloads for the GPU to perform. The first is determining which triangle in the game scene a ray will intersect. A computationally-intensive technique called Bounding Volume Hierarchy, or BVH, is used to calculate this. After the rays are calculated, a denoising algorithm is applied to improve the visual quality of the resulting image, so that fewer total rays can be cast, allowing the process to be possible in real-time.
RT Cores on GeForce RTX GPUs provide dedicated hardware to accelerate BVH and ray / triangle intersection calculations, dramatically accelerating ray tracing. On GeForce GTX hardware, these calculations are performed on the shader cores, a resource shared with many other graphics functions of the GPU.
All that considered, it’s very likely that only the top-of-the-line GPUs in these newly supported lines will be able to make efficient use of the driver update, while also maintaining decent framerates. And even though many won’t or can’t take advantage of this new option, it’s still nice to have.
Features for each driver will vary too, but you can expect a decent improvement in shader quality with these new patches. There won’t be any resource-intensive real-time lighting effects that are much greater than the baseline, but it will be a bit of an improvement at the very least.