Rather than igniting the graphics landscape with an explosive bang, Nvidia’s first RTX GPUs seemed to wander around their designated landing site looking lost and bewildered. There were no real games to show off their new abilities, and their prices bordered on the nonsensical. That situation is thankfully changing now, though (at least a bit, anyway).
Real-time ray tracing how now made its way into Battlefield V, and this game is also promising support for Nvidia’s deep-learning accelerated anti-aliasing system, DLSS, which is also supported by Final Fantasy XV and Anthem. We were highly impressed with real-time ray tracing in Battlefield V (see Issue 186, p92) – it just needs some more game support to justify a costly hardware upgrade.
Speaking of which, the prices are now starting to become affordable, with the GeForce RTX 2060 arriving with a £329 inc VAT price tag. We’re hesitant to describe that as a good price, given that this card’s predecessor, the GTX 1060 6GB, could be bought for just £239 (or £279 for the Founders Edition) when it launched. It’s undoubtedly still expensive, but it’s also a long way from the stratospheric prices of the RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti.
Inside the GPU
The RTX 2060 is based on the same 12nm TU106 Turing GPU found in the RTX 2070 (see Issue 184, p28), with an identical 445mm² die containing 10.8 billion transistors, but with some parts disabled. Firstly, six of the streaming multiprocessors (SMs) are switched off, giving you a total of 30. The end result is a chip with 1,920 stream processors (the same number found in the GeForce GTX 1070), compared with 2,304 in the RTX 2070.
This reduction in SMs doesn’t just affect stream processors either, as there are also two more core-types found in the Turing architecture’s SMs than in the Pascal architecture. For starters, Turing has RT cores for handling real-time ray tracing work in games, using a hybrid rendering approach that fuses traditional rasterisation techniques with some mightily impressive real-time ray tracing effects.
The reduction in the number of SMs means that the RTX 2060 has 30 RT cores, compared with the 36 found in the RTX 2070. Accordingly, Nvidia rates the RTX 2060’s ray tracing performance at 5 Giga Rays/sec, compared with 6 Giga Rays/sec on the 2070 (and 8 Giga Rays/sec on the RTX 2080). Likewise, the number of Tensor cores, which are used to handle Nvidia’s deep learning features, such as its DLSS anti-aliasing mode, have been reduced, from 288 in the RTX 2070 to 240 in the RTX 2060.
The other notable omission from the RTX 2070’s GPU is a pair of memory controllers, reducing the total number from eight to six. That reduces the width of the memory interface from 256 bits in the RTX 2070 to 192 bits in the RTX 2060. What’s more, as the Turing architecture links the memory controllers to the ROPs and the shared pool of L2 cache, these parts in turn are also reduced by 25 per cent. As such, the number of ROPs falls from 64 to 48, and the total amount of L2 cache falls from 4MB to 3MB.
The total amount of memory is also, naturally, reduced by 25 per cent, with the RTX 2060 coming with 6GB. That’s a step down from the 8GB found on RTX 2070 cards, and also AMD’s much cheaper Radeon RX 590 cards. It will be interesting to see how the RTX 2060 copes with the demands of future games with this memory allocation, but for the moment it’s enough to handle current titles.
On the plus side, the 6GB of memory is of the GDDR6 variety, and it’s clocked at the same 14GHz (effective) frequency as the GDDR6 memory on the RTX 2070. That said, however, the performance will be limited by the limited width of the RTX 2060’s memory interface compared with the RTX 2070. The RTX 2060 has a total memory bandwidth of 336GB/sec, compared with the RTX 2070’s 448GB/sec.
Meanwhile, the GPU has a base clock of 1365MHz, with a quoted boost clock of 1680MHz. That’s a fair bit higher than the stock 1620MHz boost clock of the RTX 2070, although Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Founders Edition has a quoted boost clock of 1710MHz. This time around, though, Nvidia hasn’t overclocked the Founders Edition, with the RTX 2060 FE featuring the same GPU clock speeds as stock speed cards.
Not only does the RTX 2060 FE use the same GPU as the RTX 2070 FE, but it also has the same basic PCB. The only notable physical difference is that you get fewer memory chips – despite the lesser spec, the RTX 2060 FE also has the same single 8-pin PCI-E power connector on the edge, hooked up to the PCB via wires, as the RTX 2070 FE.
You also get the same cooler and outputs as the RTX 2070 FE, with Nvidia’s compact design squeezing the whole setup into two expansion slots. As with the RTX 2080 Founders Edition, the build quality is superb, using silver and black aluminium and a chunky backplate, engraved with patterns. Meanwhile, the pair of fans on top are both quiet and powerful. The backplate gets hot during gaming, but the card always stays quiet and maintains decent performance.
As with the RTX 2070, you also lose one of the DisplayPort outputs found on the RTX 2080 cards, with the RTX 2060 instead sporting a DVI output - handy if you’re still clinging onto an old, but still capable, monitor. It’s joined by a pair of DisplayPort socket, an HDMI output and a USB Type-C port for VirtualLink, combining power, data and video into a single socket for VR headsets. Again, as with the RTX 2070, there’s no SLI support. Nvidia is only enabling its multi-GPU technology on the top-end RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti cards. If you want significantly more performance, you’ll need to replace your card rather than adding another one.
Nvidia claims that the RTX 2060 can double the performance of its predecessor, the GTX 1060, in some circumstances, and that it offers similar performance to the GTX 1070 Ti too. It’s definitely not far off the latter claim, with often only a couple of frames per second separating the two cards. Plus, while we never saw the RTX 2060 doubling the GTX 1060’s performance, it’s clearly a much more powerful GPU.
Where the RTX 2060 really shines is at 1080p, where it never dropped below 60fps in any of our standard (not ray-traced) game tests. It even averaged 108fps in Battlefield V with Ultra detail in DX11, with a minimum of 95fps. As with previous tests of RTX GPUs, an ongoing Nvidia driver problem caused extreme stuttering in Total War: Warhammer II with DX12, but running it in DX11 mode completely solves this problem, with a very healthy 64fps minimum at 1080p, and a perfectly playable 46fps minimum and 55fps average at 2,560 x 1,440.
The RTX 2060 can also handle games well at 2,560 x 1,440, with a great minimum of 75fps in Battlefield V at this resolution with DX11. It stayed above 45fps in the rest of our non-ray-traced games at this resolution too. It’s not super-fast 60fps performance, but it’s still well above the playable bare minimum. Throughout all our tests, the RTX 2060 also stayed well in front of AMD’s cheaper Radeon RX 590.
The next question, of course, is ray tracing. Nvidia has made claims about the RTX 2060 being able to handle real-time ray tracing at 60fps at 1080p, which would be an amazing achievement for a graphics card at this price. It can just about do it too. With Low DXR enabled, but all the other settings at Ultra, the RTX 2060 managed to play through our benchmark without dropping below 60fps. The minimum drops to 41fps when you turn up DXR to High, which is still playable in our single-player campaign benchmark, but the RTX 2060 may struggle with these settings in a fast-paced multiplayer combat.
Ray tracing at 2,560 x 1,440 is a bit too much of a challenge for the RTX 2060, though. Its 36fps minimum at 1080p with Low DXR is acceptable in our benchmark, but the game will struggle when the action heats up. It properly struggles when you switch to High DXR at this resolution, though, with a juddery minimum of 22fps and a 28fps average.
While we can’t describe the RTX 2060 as a budget bargain, the new entry-level RTX GPU offers some serious poke for its asking price. It copes with 1080p gaming at top settings without dropping below 60fps, and it has a decent amount of 2,560 x 1,440 gaming power too. You can even add real-time ray tracing to the mix, as long as you don’t want to go beyond 1,920 x 1,080.
AMD’s Radeon RX 590 remains our budget GPU of choice, as it’s in a different price league and still offers decent performance. However, the RTX 2060 represents the next sensible step up the ladder, and the Founders Edition is a well-made, quiet and capable card.
The RTX 2060 isn’t a budget bargain, but it offers great gaming performance for the money, including the ability to handle real-time ray tracing at 1080p.