Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 review: hybrid ray-tracing and path-tracing performance

Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5, Quake 2 RTX.

The rasterised game performance demonstrated by the RTX 3070 is impressive, but let's consider the other side of the coin now: RTX graphics performance. The other 30-series cards delivered some of their best work in ray-traced and path-traced games, so we're expecting similarly strong results from the 3070 as well.

These performance figures are important, too, with many of the biggest next-gen and cross-gen games boasting ray tracing support of some kind - including the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Watch Dogs Legion and Cyberpunk 2077. Those games aren't available yet, so we've instead tested four recent releases that demonstrate RTX features to a greater or lesser extent: Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5 and Quake 2 RTX.

Note that some of these games support DLSS, Nvidia's AI upscaling technique that replaces traditional temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) and boosts performance, but we've tested with DLSS disabled - so for Control, Metro and Battlefield 5, you can expect significantly faster frame-rates - and varying image quality - if you choose to use DLSS. We're testing each game at 2560x1440 as this offers the best combination between image quality and workable frame-rates; fairly obviously you can expect higher frame-rates at 1080p and lower ones at 4K.

Control

Control is the quintessential implementation of ray tracing features on PC; we highly recommend Alex Battaglia's video deep dive if you're not au fait with how much enabling each element changes the game's already stunning visuals. To recap, you've got individual controls for ray traced global illumination, reflections and shadows - pretty much all of the RTX features available in Nvidia's toolkit - and each has a significant cost. Of course, we've enabled each one here, to represent a kind of worst-case scenario for performance, and as we mentioned before DLSS is disabled.

The RTX 3070 should be able to go toe to toe with the 2080 Ti when ray tracing is the focus - after all, those second-generation RT cores should be good for something! - and indeed that's what we see here, with the 3070 holding a narrow advantage over the RTX 2080 Ti. The 3080 outperforms the 3070 by 40 per cent, while the 3090 beats the 3070 by 60 per cent, so there's a clear graduation between the three cards in Nvidia's new lineup. Considering last-gen competition, the 3070 beats the 2070 by 60 per cent, the 2070 Super by 50 per cent, the 2080 by 33 per cent and the 2080 Super by 25 per cent.

Control: DX12, High, High RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Metro Exodus

We return to the fire and flames to the Metro Exodus integrated benchmark, but this time we've got the game's RTX implementation of global illumination and emissives enabled. The 3070 is less than 1fps behind the RTX 2080 Ti here, with a 63 per cent advantage over the 2070 and a 32 per cent lead over the 2080.

Metro Exodus: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Battlefield 5

Our final game with a hybrid RT/rasterised renderer is Battlefield 5, specifically the Tirailleur campaign which includes a good selection of gunfire, explosions and ray traced reflections. It's worth pointing out that this game is one of the earliest RT implementations, and therefore RT isn't the focus and isn't the best optimised - at least compared to later examples. The RTX 2080 Ti again holds a narrow margin over the 3070, likely due to the former's factory overclock, while the two cards are bested by the 3080 by a little less than 30 per cent. If you're mulling an upgrade from an RTX 2070, you can expect a 47 jump in performance - pretty worthwhile. As we go up the ladder, that margin diminishes and the arguments for an every-gen upgrade become weaker.

Battlefield 5: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Quake 2 RTX

While our first three games have been hybrids, blending rasterised rendering with various ray-traced effects, Quake 2 RTX doesn't use traditional rendering at all. Instead, everything is path-traced, a kind of 100% organic ray tracing implementation that is so computationally expense that even modern dedicated hardware - like these Ampere GPUs - struggle at 1440p. The RTX 3070 manages 46fps, a good 60 per cent better than the RTX 2070 and even four per cent faster than the RTX 2080 Ti. It's impresive, but it's still some way off the comfortable 60+ frames per second possible on higher-grade 30-series cards. Path-traced games are an incredible rarity, but they do serve as an interesting best-case scenario for improvements to dedicated ray tracing hardware.

Note that we had some difficulties capturing Quake 2 RTX on some hardware, so we have a smaller selection of GPUs to compare for this last bench. We'll update the article with more cards when we can.

Quake 2 RTX, Vulkan, Max Settings

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

With that, we've reached the end of our game testing, so all that's left now is our conclusion. Let's wrap things up, as we consider the RTX 3070's demonstrated performance and value.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Analysis

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry  |  wsjudd

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2. Will also tweets the latest tech deals at @DealsFoundry.

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