I tested RTX IO and it’s a game changer for PC graphics | Digital Trends

You wouldn’t suspect that a mod likePortal: Prelude RTXwould debut such an important piece of kit for the future of PC gaming. But lo and behold, it’s the first game we’ve seen with Nvidia’s new RTX IO, a feature it announced nearly three years ago.

It’s not as flashy as ray tracing or DLSS, operating in the background and offering a number of benefits without drawing attention to them. But according to my tests, RTX IO could have a bigger impact on PC gaming than any other RTX feature.

What is RTX IO?

Portal: Prelude RTX | RTX IO Off vs On Pie Comparison scene

First, let’s talk about what RTX IO is, too. GPU-accelerated asset loading and unpacking promises faster load times, smaller install sizes, lower CPU usage, and less texture pop-in. It does this by offloading some of the work done by the CPU onto the GPU, taking advantage of the huge number of cores available on graphics cards.

When games typically load, the resources are removed from the SSD and loaded into system memory. They run out of memory on the CPU for decompression before returning to memory. Once the complete asset is ready, it is sent to the graphics card. This system worked for a long time, but now there’s a problem: PS5 and Xbox Series X

As I wrote earlier, both PS5 and Xbox Series X have dedicated decompression hardware that completely takes the CPU out of this process. Assets decompress faster and, therefore, get to the GPU faster. Storage inside PCs these days are fast enough to keep up with this level of streaming, but they lack the dedicated decompression hardware to make it work. This is where RTX IO comes into play.

Nvidia

Compressed data exits the SSD into system memory and goes directly to the GPU. It’s gone through GDeflate, Nvidia’s open-source data compression scheme built for GPUs, and is GPU-ready right out of the box.

If you keep up with this technology, you can probably spot the similarity to Microsoft’s DirectStorage. RTX IO runs on DirectStorage and also supports Vulkan extensions, allowing it to work in games like Portal: Prelude RTX. None of this is proprietary; there was a lot of finger wagging at Nvidia about its (now open source) Deep Learning Super Sampling, but RTX IO works on any DirectX 12 graphics card.

But it works?

This is all great in theory, but GPU decompression is uncharted territory on PC even with games likeAbandonedthat support DirectStorage. You don’t need to look beyond the install size to see that RTX IO works. If you were to downloadPortal: Prelude RTXright now, you’ll see it’s around 24GB (exactly 24.29GB at the time of writing). With RTX IO disabled, the total install size is 39.16GB. That’s a 38% reduction in install size for the exact same game.

Texture loading wasmucheven faster. In one scene, it took 3.13 seconds for textures to load with RTX IO off, seeing noticeable pop-in. With RTX IO active, they arrived in 1.36 seconds. In the busiest scene I’ve seen, it took 6.34 seconds to load textures with RTX IO off. Turned on, they arrived in just 2.51 seconds.

Keep in mind the scope ofPortal: Prelude RTX, Also. It’s a game that goes deep, not wide, offering full path tracking and highly detailed materials for every corner of a scene. In a larger game, it’s not hard to see the benefits of RTX IO for texture streaming. With the right optimization, and RTX IO cutting about two-thirds of the time it takes to stream textures, there are some neat applications in large open-world games.

CPU usage also decreased. In the busy scene I mentioned above, usage peaked at 37% (and that was with the monstrous 24-core Intel Core i9-13900K). Activate RTX IO and drop to 22%. From what I could tell, it seemedPortal: Prelude RTXscaled to eight cores. Some games, especially those made with the Unreal Engine, may benefit more if they are limited to a few cores.

What does this mean for PC gaming

Make no mistake:Portal: Prelude RTXit’s a starter for what gaming with technology might look like in the future. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait too long to see what it can do in other games. Nvidia has confirmedRatchet & Clank: Rift Apartit will support RTX IO on PC, enabling the storage-intensive design of games to work.

What excites me most are the optimization benefits that RTX IO (and DirectStorage, for that matter) can offer. I’ve spoken openly about it being a bad time to be a PC gamer and that largely boils down to the persistent stuttering in major AAA releases. Hardware-accelerated unzip won’t fix stuttering problems on PC, but it can help.

As we have seen in games likeStar Wars Jedi: Survivor, Dead Space, AND Redfall,cross-stuttering is still a very real problem on PC. It’s especially problematic when games are designed to run on only a few CPU threads (as is the case with Unreal Engine titles likeStar Wars Jedi: SurvivorANDRedfall). Taking some work off those cores in the decompression department can free them up to, well, run the game, hopefully avoiding some of the major traversal stuttering issues we’ve seen this year.

If so, unpacking RTX IO and GPU is a huge breakthrough to help PC gaming. Faster load times and smaller install sizes don’t hurt, but hopefully the real benefit of something like this lies in its ability to reduce stuttering in games that push huge resources in and out of the game world.

It seems that it will. Here’s how Nvidia explained it: RTX IO alone can’t completely remove stuttering, but it can be an aiding technology to reduce stuttering. It can do this by reducing the CPU’s reliance on computation when the need to load textures and geometry faster is the cause of stuttering and freeing up the CPU to work on other tasks.

For now, we’ll just have to wait until we see more games with RTX IO and other branded GPU decompression technologies.Ratchet & Clank Rift Apartkicks off on July 26, but hopefully we’ll see more games sporting the technology throughout the rest of the year.

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