Reviews of Nvidia’s RTX 2070 are out, and the card’s overall positioning and performance aren’t going to be much help for Nvidia’s RTX family. As we discussed last week in our massive RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review, there are a number of economic and technological realities that work against the quick adoption of any GPU technology. Nvidia has exacerbated this with its huge price increases, and the RTX 2070 continues both these trends.
Going back to the numbers, the RTX 2070 Founders Edition TDP and boost clock tweaks only amount to around a 4% gain over the reference 2070 at 4K. The difference is not much in the grand scheme of things, but the setup makes more sense when looking at the GTX 1080 competition. The reference RTX 2070 is faster than the GTX 1080 at 4K and 1440p by only around 10%, a gap that is easily closed by factory-overclocked custom cards.
The comparison doesn’t get any better if we check relative generation-to-generation upgrades for the x70 family. Anand points out that while the GTX 1070 delivered a 1.57x increase in 1440p performance relative to the GTX 970, the GTX 2070 can only manage a 1.36x increase over the GTX 1070. Now, watch the math. We’ll use the higher-priced FE cards to make the comparison look better for Nvidia.
GTX 970 launch price: $329GTX 1070 launch price: $449GTX 2070 launch price: $600
In 2016, you could buy a 1.57x increase in performance for a 1.36x increase in price. Today, you can buy a 1.36x increase in performance for a 1.33x increase in price relative to the launch price of the GTX 1070. Except, of course, the GTX 1070 isn’t a launch card anymore. It currently sells for $339 — which means the actual price/performance ratio for this comparison is a 1.76x increase in price for a 1.36x increase in performance.
This is not compelling. It will never be compelling.
The RTX 2070 Is a Dangerous Card to Buy for Next-Gen Feature Support
The problem with the RTX 2070 is that Nvidia has put a premium price tag on it without first demonstrating that the GPU will actually be capable of handling any next-generation features. This is not an incidental point. At Nvidia’s launch event for the RTX family, it was widely observed that games with ray tracing enabled like Battlefield V were running “around” 60fps, but multiple reviewers noted they did not think the frame rate was steady.
It would be inappropriate to treat this data point as the final word on RTX performance, but we can make some reasonable assumptions based on it. First, let’s assume that better drivers and game support, plus some fine-tuning of the effect itself, will improve performance sufficiently for an RTX 2080 to run the same scene at 60fps rather than an RTX 2080 Ti. Nvidia’s “RTX-Ops” is a meaningless number, but since it’s the meaningless number we’ve got, we know that the RTX 2080 Ti is capable of 76 trillion “RTX-Ops” while the RTX 2080 is capable of 57 trillion. That’s a 1.33x performance advantage for the 2080 Ti, so when we say we’re assuming the RTX 2080 can take over the job, we’re assuming Nvidia had a lot of optimization work it could still perform.
But even this generous assumption leaves the RTX 2070 falling flat. It has just 78 percent the ray tracing performance of the RTX 2080, which means gamers can look forward to bumping along at ~47fps in 1080p with their brand-new $600 video card. As I discuss in our review of the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti, history overwhelmingly indicates that taking a bet on a next-gen feature by trying to buy in at a low level rarely works. If you don’t believe me, ask an 8800 GTS owner if they were happy to see the GPUs they bought for $400 in 2006 blown out of the water by a $300 card barely a year later.
When it comes to GPUs, math rarely lies. There’s always the possibility for hidden snares and bottlenecks, but if the RTX 2070 has 55 percent the RTX performance of the 2080 Ti, it’s safe to assume it will likely offer between 45 and 65 percent of the performance of the RTX 2080 Ti. But right now, the only data point we have on that card is that running BFV, the $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti struggled to maintain a 60fps frame rate. We assume Nvidia and Dice will improve on these figures. It’s possible they won’t. If they can’t, an RTX 2070 might end up pulling a 30fps frame rate in BFV @ 1080p with ray tracing enabled. That’s not a reasonable achievement for a $600 GPU.
I’ve made it clear that I don’t think gamers should buy Turing GPUs. The price increases aren’t remotely justified by available performance and the future value of ray tracing and DLSS is a complete unknown. But I will say this: The more you care about ray tracing and performance in that mode, the leerier you should be of buying an RTX 2070. If you doubt this, do yourself a favor, and go look at reviews of early DirectX 10 and even some DX11 GPUs, like the HD 5770. It’s common for midrange cards to struggle in new APIs. And ray tracing, as Nvidia has noted, is far more than just an API change — it requires extensive silicon support, specialized hardware, and capabilities that are only now in their infancy.
If you really care about future performance, wait. Don’t buy the sizzle. Don’t buy the idea that Nvidia wouldn’t ship a GPU with technical ray tracing ability that couldn’t practically be used for ray tracing. It’s entirely possible that games will offer different levels of ray tracing to target different GPUs, but since we don’t know if that’ll happen yet or how good it will look if it does. The RTX 2070 might end up delivering rather uninspiring support levels while the jaw-dropping effects in Battlefield V require a GPU $200 – $600 more expensive.
The paradox of Turing is that Nvidia might be absolutely right in its efforts to push the game industry to adopt ray tracing. It may be that, 10 years from now, we’ll all be kicking back in games that either solely use ray tracing or that deploy it extensively alongside rasterization for a best-of-both-worlds gaming experience. I am not, in any way, trashing the idea that ray tracing could be an exciting future technology for games.
But that doesn’t mean Turing is going to deliver it. And it’s very hard to recommend a GPU that offers only a small performance improvement over the last generation with no guarantee that it’s fast enough when running next-generation features to actually be able to use them. A number of sites have written reviews of the RTX 2070 — [H]ardOCP has their own coverage up as well, which you can read here.
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