EVGA RTX 2060 KO review: is the entry-level RTX fast enough for ray traced gaming?
The newer, cheaper 2060 put through its paces.
It's rare that we review graphics card variants at Digital Foundry but in the case of the RTX 2060 KO from EVGA, we're going to make an exception. Nvidia's entry-level, feature-complete Turing card sat at a $349 price-point for quite some time - a touch pricey perhaps when the significantly superior RTX 2060 Super turned up costing just $50 more. However, with this new EVGA KO model clocking in at $299, it's time to re-assess the product and specifically, just how capable the card is in handling games using hardware-accelerated ray tracing.
Primarily, it's the RTX aspect of the 2060 that sets it apart from its nearest AMD competitor, the RX 5600 XT. Its ability to tap into the DXR API and by extension access the full range of visual options available in supported games is obviously a nice feature to have - and with ray tracing confirmed for the next-gen consoles, the broader adoption of RT is a case of not if but when. On top of that, the inclusion of Turing's tensor cores allows for the 2060 to access hardware-accelerated machine learning features with the AI-powered DLSS upscaling pretty much the only application for this technology in the here and now. This is all in addition to standard graphics power that's generally in excess of the RX 5600 XT - to the point that AMD had to deliver an 11th hour BIOS upgrade to bring its latest Navi release back into contention.
However, while generally well -received for its price vs performance level (especially with the recent haircut on pricing) there's a lot of discussion surrounding the RTX 2060's prowess in terms of delivering accomplished ray tracing support - and perhaps rightly so, when looking at the first wave of games with DXR functionality. In the past, I've managed to get an effectively locked 1080p60 performance level with the RTX 2060 when playing Battlefield 5 with ray tracing enabled - but it required some options tweaking and an overclock. On top of that, there's perhaps a broader question to answer: is 1080p60 actually good enough to begin with bearing in mind that the RTX 2060 ordinarily performs rather well at 1440p?
These are all pertinent questions but perhaps just as important is the technical make-up of the KO version of the RTX 2060 itself. Clearly, corners are cut to deliver the more aggressive pricing. Nvidia's reference model - the Founders Edition - is a more deluxe product with superior build quality, improved power delivery and higher quality materials. While possessed of a decent metal back plate, the KO's shroud is plastic, the cooler is less substantial and its four-phase power delivery does the job but limits overclocking potential. Ultimately though, the main difference you'll actually notice during gaming is that it's somewhat louder than the Founders. That's the only real grumble I can muster against it.
However, as initially discovered by Steve Burke at GamersNexus, the 2060 KO is somewhat fascinating in that it uses a TU104 Nvidia processor - the same processor that powers the RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080. It's a salvage part, with CUDA cores disabled to match the 1920 complement in the Founders Edition's standard TU106 processor. In my tests, I found performance to be entirely identical, with one exception. As GamersNexus discovered, the CUDA path in the Blender rendering tool delivers much faster performance than existing RTX 2060 cards. The extent of the boost varies on the complexity of the workload, but one example demo I tested delivered a 19 per cent reduction in render time.
However, in all other respects, the KO performs exactly as an RTX 2060 should do. The pared back power delivery system means that you can't ramp up the power slider in MSI Afterburner, meaning that overclocking can't be pushed to the max as it can in other cards. However, I still managed to add 120MHz to the core and 500MHz to the 6GB of GDDR6 memory and even with power constraints in place, the card did deliver that extra performance, adding around five per cent overall to frame-rates. These are the OC settings I use on my standard Founders version, so I don't feel particularly short-changed here. The only real trade is the noise factor: overclocking makes a louder-than-usual graphics card even less discreet.
All told then, EVGA's more price-conscious RTX 2060 delivers pretty much everything you'd want from a card of this class, it's just somewhat noisier than the reference design. Its performance parity with the original Founders version extends to ray tracing support too, which is primarily why I decided to revisit the RTX 2060 in the first place, which leads us onto the key question: is the entry level ray tracer powerful enough to deliver a decent gaming experience?
It's a difficult question to answer because we are still in the early days of the transition across to the next generation of rendering technology but we've already some a long, long way. First of all, if you're intent on sticking to native resolution rendering, 1080p was - and is - the natural target for DXR gaming on this class of product and I really would recommend dialing in a +120MHz core/+500MHz VRAM overclock for additional stability in performance. The biggest issue I have with early DXR games in particular is that the lowest frame-rate areas are much more of an issue than average performance.
This gets you to 1080p60 in Battlefield 5 with medium DXR paired with ultra-level rasterisation features and high quality textures - good enough to get a good ray traced experience, but nothing like the performance of the standard non-RT edition of the game. DXR medium gives you the bulk of the RT experience, with real-time reflections scaling across settings according to the roughness cut-off in the materials. The higher up the scale you go, the more materials exhibit ray traced reflections. Based on later RT-supported titles, the performance hit is somewhat high, as you may expect from a first-gen DXR game.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is another early example of DXR implementation. In fact, alongside BF5 it was the first RT experience we had way back at Gamescom 2018. Its benchmark suggests that the performance hit of RT is fairly light compared to Battlefield 5, but simply starting Lara's adventure from scratch demonstrates that this patently not the case. As you ramp up the DXR preset, Tomb Raider replaces more and more of the rasterised shadow maps with higher quality, more realistic RT alternatives, with the ultra setting effectively moving the entire system to DXR, where foliage in particular is particularly taxing on the GPU. Again, there are moments where the RTX 2060 can't sustain 1080p60.
The final first-gen DXR title I tested was Metro Exodus, which possesses an utterly beautiful ray traced global illumination solution. Setting the game to the high global preset with DXR similarly set to high effectively gives you 1080p60 with some minor dips into the 50s in more challenging scenes. It's an experience to savour, but again, the fact that a card that performs so well at 1440p in standard 3D gaming has to render at 1080p to get acceptable performance is going to be an issue for many. The RTX 2060 can deliver a good ray tracing experience but the question is whether you'd take that hit when the standard game still looks so good.
Of course, throughout the history of gaming, pushing the frontier of graphics technology in the PC space has always come with a performance cost, whether we're talking about programmable pixel shaders, hardware T&L, or just about any of the software-based innovations found in Crysis. Nvidia's original plan was to offset most, if not all, of the performance hit by using the tensor cores, with machine learning-based upscaling replacing the temporal anti-aliasing solutions in most modern games. It didn't go quite to plan. If RT had a rocky start, it's been harder still for DLSS, where results have historically varied from rather impressive to not so good.
Witcher 3: Ultra, Post-AA, No Hairworks
So is the RTX 2060 good enough for ray traced games? I can understand some of the bad press the card has got in this regard based on the kinds of results I've just talked about from the first-gen games - but technology is constantly improving and recent titles are showing some genuine promise. Obviously, the more GPU power you have at your disposal, the better the results you can expect, but the RTX 2060 is important because it's the baseline performance level Nvidia has set for access to the next generation of GPU features. I suspect that when the new Ampere architecture cards arrive later this year, we'll still have RTX 2060-class performance - it'll just be cheaper: RTX 3050, anyone? With that in mind, I think it's just as important to test RT support in the latest games on this class of hardware as it is to dial up everything to the max on an RTX 2080 Ti.
DXR implementations are improving which helps the case for the RTX 2060 but I think the most radical leap I've seen has come from Nvidia's top-to-bottom revamp of its AI upscaling solution, DLSS. It started with Remedy's Control, a game that ships with a simply amazing DXR feature set - it's the showcase game for ray tracing in the here and now, in fact. To begin with, the performance outlook seems rather familiar when running this game on the RTX 2060. Even on DXR medium - reflections only - paired with mostly medium settings (in line with the console versions), performance often lurks in 50fps territory but can drop down into the high 30s.
However, the revised version of DLSS that Control ships with allows you to set internal resolution to 720p, with the algorithm upscaling pretty well to 1080p. The upshot is that not only are we now well north of 60fps in almost all scenarios, RTX 2060 owners can engage the high DXR setting and still experience smooth performance with the complete ray tracing experience for the best RT game on the market. Impressed by the results, I decided to push my luck: I opted for 4K DLSS from a 1080p base resolution with all RT features still active, but frame-rate capped to 30fps. The end result is an experience that still showcases DXR beautifully but delivers a cleaner overall image than Xbox One X's 1440p-based UHD output while running at the same frame-rate. The comparison is interesting but the comparison gallery above should prove illuminating - Remedy's TAA solution does have some advantages.
Crysis 3: Very High, SMAA T2X
- Check out our recent AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT review for more benchmarks related to this performance tier.
In terms of image quality, Control's DLSS solution is good but a recent, radical algorithm upgrade has changed everything. As we've already discussed in other Digital Foundry articles, the new 'DLSS 2.0' is capable of delivering image quality comparable with native rendering resolution using anything as low as a quarter resolution base image. With Wolfenstein Youngblood set to console-equivalent medium settings on DLSS performance mode, we're getting AI upscaling from 540p to 1080p which looks as good (if not better) than the PlayStation 4 version of the game. The performance boost with RTX 2060 is enough to deliver a great 1440p experience with ray tracing enabled - or alternatively you can re-deploy DLSS with RT disabled to deliver 4K gaming at 80 frames per second or upwards. This is not bad at all for a $299 graphics card.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that the promises Nvidia made back at Gamescom 2018 are now much closer to reaching fruition and the building blocks are in place to ensure that the RTX 2060 'entry level' ray tracer is in a far better position now than it was in the early, uncertain days of support. But should you buy one? It's a tricky one. While the card was priced closer to the RX 2060 Super, it was very easy to recommend saving up for the more powerful card. It's a good chunk faster and features an additional 2GB of memory.
Typically, the best GPU for you is always the most expensive one you can afford and nothing has changed there, but the RTX 2060 price cut now puts a lot of distance between this product and its Super sibling. With that in mind, it's a worthy contender at this price level and for all of its various cutbacks, the KO model still holds up as a decent RTX 2060 overall - and it's obviously brilliant if you use Blender at all. However, I would check that the KO is actually good value in your neck of the woods. In the UK at least, cheaper RTX 2060 models are available.
3DMark Port Royal - 1080p
Generally though, I'm finding PC hardware reviews quite difficult right now. I think the whole process of making any kind of PC component purchasing decision is rather challenging. Investing serious money in a CPU or GPU is generally associated with the idea of not needing to upgrade for another two or three years. Consoles define the baseline and when we don't know how much performance or what kind of features a next-gen $400/$500 box from Sony or Microsoft will have, and with that in mind, it makes the concept of sinking a fair amount of cash into a PC upgrade at this point in time a real issue. I generally think that the best strategy may be to sit tight unless you really need a big upgrade in the here and now.
The benchmarks speak for themselves though and clearly the RTX 2060 has a lot to offer. However, I do have concerns about the card's allocation of six gigs of GDDR6 memory, especially when we factor in ray tracing support. Wolfenstein Youngblood grumbles about running DXR with the best texture quality on the 2060, while performance degrades significantly in Battlefield 5 if you're using DXR in combination with ultra quality textures. I also seem to get sporadic low resolution textures in Control when I ramp up the DXR feature set with DLSS active, upscaling to higher resolutions. The overall outlook for the RTX 2060's performance is looking good on more modern ray tracing titles, the new DLSS seems to have the frame-rate hit covered while delivering excellent quality but I do wonder whether the VRAM limitation might be a bigger issue further on down the road.
Overall, the RTX 2060 looks a touch more compelling now than it did back in the day - pricing has stabilised, it always has been a good 1080p and 1440p performer - and while you've always had access to the RTX feature set, improved ray tracing implementations and a fundamental revamp of DLSS are combining to give impressive results on new titles. I'd like to see 'DLSS 2.0' re-engineered back into key games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Metro Exodus and Battlefield 5 - and especially Control. It would be a strong statement of commitment to the entry level RTX power band, it would fulfil some of the promises made back at Gamescom 2018 and potentially, it go a long way in rebutting the critics. In the meantime, all eyes are on the next wave of DXR games and what kind of experience the 2060 is able to deliver with them.
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