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3DMark Gets a Fully Ray Traced Feature Test
[Image: QdbEi92LQZYTdseHMVFtRE-1024-80.jpg.webp]

How far are we from 100% ray tracing in games?

The best graphics cards need to compete not just on performance and price, but also on features. Now that the RX 6900 XT, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6800 are joining Nvidia in supporting ray tracing via hardware, we really want to know how they compare in performance. Who will take top honors in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, and how will things change if we test with ray tracing enabled?

There have been various hot takes on ray tracing in games over the years. I remember when Quake 4 Enemy Territory got a prototype ray tracing mod back in 2008. It looked pretty cool, but performance was terrible. 720p at 16 fps on a 16-core CPU? But at least it was something!

Flash forward a decade and Nvidia's RTX hardware promised far superior quality and performance. Except, even with RTX cards, games are still using a hybrid rendering approach where most of the rendering is done using traditional methods, and ray tracing is only applied after the fact for a few specific effects like reflections or shadows.

What would it take to do full path tracing on a game, using today's modern GPUs that support ray tracing calculations? Quake II RTX and Minecraft RTX sort of already do this, but they're older and less complex games with path tracing tacked on. Now UL has added a feature test for 3DMark that does a fully ray traced rendering of assets from the Port Royal benchmark. (Note that you'll need the Advanced or Pro version to access the DirectX Raytracing Feature Test, as it's called.)

We like the idea of being able to compare 'pure' ray tracing performance on the various GPUs. The 3DMark DXR Feature Test now gives us another way to do that, and while it doesn't report the number of ray/triangle intersections per second (which is what we'd really like to see), it does provide an fps score that's directly correlated with the ray tracing hardware. We've rounded up the current RTX GPUs as a point of reference below. More important will be seeing how

AMD's upcoming Big Navi stacks up, with the RX 6900 XT, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6800 all set to launch in the next month or so.

We ran all the RTX cards through the DXR Feature Test, with the exception of the RTX 2070 and 2080 (those should land about midway between the newer Super variants). The GeForce RTX 3090 is over 4X the performance of the RTX 2060, the RTX 2080 Ti is a bit more than twice as fast as the 2060, and the GeForce RTX 3070 is slightly faster than the 2080 Ti. The RTX 3090 is also 19 percent faster than the GeForce RTX 3080, which is a bigger gap than in most of the games we've tested. Basically, things are far more GPU limited here, so theoretical performance ends up pretty close to reality.

How close? We crunched some numbers, using the number of RT cores, the GPU clocks, and the RT core generation. Nvidia says the second gen 30-series RT cores are about 70 percent faster than the first gen 20-series RT cores. That means the 3070 for example should be about 7 percent faster than the 2080 Ti FE, while the 2080 Ti should be 150 percent faster than the RTX 2060.

The 30-series GPUs scale almost perfectly in line with expectations. 3070 is indeed 7 percent faster than 2080 Ti, 3080 is 48 percent faster than 3070 (47 percent expected), and 3090 is 19 percent faster than 3080 (vs 19.5 percent expected). 

The results on the 20-series parts end up being more varied, however. The 2060 Super is 14 percent faster than the 2060 (vs 11 percent expected). However, the 2070 Super is only 35 percent faster than the 2060 (41 percent theoretical), 2080 Super is 65 percent faster (73 percent theoretical), and the 2080 Ti is 127 percent faster (vs. 150 percent theoretical). Still, that's mostly close enough to the respected behavior and a good starting point.

We wanted to run the DXR Feature Test on some non-RTX GPUs as well, but it basically laughed at us and mocked our hardware. "Your puny GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1080 Ti can't handle the ray traced truth!" Actually, it told us that our hardware didn't support the required DXR Tier 1.1 feature set needed to run the test. So much for DXR on GTX via drivers and shader hacks: Ray tracing hardware acceleration is required.

The bigger question: How will AMD's RX 6800, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6900 XT fare against RTX 3070, RTX 3080, and RTX 3090? Based on theoretical estimates, the 6900 XT may land about midway between the 3070 and 3080, while the 6800 XT would be just a bit faster than the 3070, with the RX 6800 sitting between the 2080 Ti and 2080 Super. But theoretical performance estimates may not match reality, and we're definitely interested to see how things shape up later this month.
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