Nvidia debuts RTX 2060 in flashy fashion at CES 2019

Turing on a (relative) budget

Nvidia finally took the wraps off of its mid-tier RTX graphics card, the RTX 2060. Like its up-market counterparts, Nvidia’s new card supports ray-tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). The RTX 2060 is the cheapest Turing-based graphics card available, but even at $349, it seems that ray tracing is still a bit of a luxury item.

Nvidia first launched the RTX series and its Turing architecture in August 2018, but the new cards were met with much criticism about the price. It didn’t help that no games supported Nvidia’s RTX technologies when the new cards hit the market, which limited their appeal—especially compared to the GTX 10-series cards.

Nvidia first released the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti in September, followed soon after by the RTX 2070 in October. In December, the company dropped the Titan RTX to round out the top end of the lineup. To date, those cards occupy the highest end of the graphics card market and all sell for upwards of $499 (up to the Titan RTX’s wicked $2,500 price tag), which prices out a lot of gamers. The $349 price tag of the RTX 2060, while not exactly cheap, brings all of Turing’s hybrid rendering technology and DLSS closer to affordable.

To put it in desktop terms, Nvidia said the RTX 2060 should perform better than a GTX 1070 Ti. That puts its price into perspective, but it’s another example of Nvidia’s push to increase the entry price of its GPU tiers. The Founder’s Edition of the GTX 1060 hit the market at $299, and you can find partner cards for around $250. Now you must fork over $349 for a mid-tier x60-class RTX GPU. However, Nvidia said you could expect up to 60% better performance than a GTX 1060.

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card features 1920 CUDA cores (compared to 2304 in the RTX 2070) with a 1365 MHz base clock and a 1680 MHz boost clock. The RTX 2060 GPU also features 240 Tensor Cores, which can produce up to 52 Teraflops of floating-point precision processing for deep learning tasks. The RTX 2060 also features a handful of Turing RT cores that enable real-time ray tracing calculations. Nvidia didn’t reveal the number of RT cores available in the RTX 2060 GPUs, but the new cards can purportedly produce up to 32T RTX operations, compared to 45T from the RTX 2070 Founder’s Edition.

To compare with its closest relative in the product stack, Nvidia equipped the RTX 2060 with 6GB of 14Gbps GDDR6 memory, which is 2GB less than the RTX 2070 cards include. The higher-end graphics card also features a wider 256-bit memory bus, whereas the new RTX 2060 gets by with a 192-bit interface, the RTX 2070 offers up to a 448 GB/s transfer rate compared to the RTX 2060’s 336 GB/s.

Nvidia’s two-hour CES 2019 press conference felt like mostly CEO Jensen Huang talking through demo after demo showing off the eye candy of ray tracing. The demos were gorgeous, indeed, brimming with vibrant, lifelike reflections and exquisite details. More impressive was the fact that there were all powered, according to Huang, with an RTX 2060 (accompanied by an Intel Core i9-9900X CPU and 32 GB of RAM) that was performing ray tracing in real time.

Huang pointed to DLSS as a big reason why this was possible. DLSS is essentially an AI-powered way to improve visuals. It can take a lower-res image and learn what pixels need to be added, thereby improving what’s on the screen while achieving higher frame rates. In an onstage demo of Battlefield V at 1440p, the system reached nearly 70 FPS with RTX off. With ray tracing enabled, performance dropped to about 55 FPS. But when they added DLSS to the mix, performance bounced back to where it was with ray tracing disabled.

It’s impressive stuff, but of course these were just demos optimized to illustrate a point. We’ll have to see what the RTX 2060 can really do when we get a chance to test it.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 cards will be available next week, on January 15, from a variety of partners. There's also going to be an RTX 2060 Founder's Edition with stock specs that will be available the same day.

As an extra incentive, you can get either Battlefield V or Anthem, an upcoming action RPG from Bioware that releases February 15, with the purchase of an RTX 2060 or 2070.  If you buy an RTX 2080 Ti or 2080, you get both. 

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