The name of the next generation of consumer focused Nvidia graphics cards seems to be anyone’s guess. Several hats have been thrown into the ring including Volta, Turing and even just the obvious GTX 11 series as people all over the globe speculate on the replacement for the monstrous 1080Ti. We’re going to take a look at the rumours to see which, if any, hold water.
The word from Intel CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at Computex 2018 has cast some serious doubt over the release schedule for the latest generation of graphics cards. Responding to questions at a Q&A session at the event, he said that the highly anticipated GPUs won't launch for 'a long time from now'.
After the release of the Tesla V100 and then the Titan V, speculation was justifiably rampant that a consumer version of the cards would be arriving based on the Volta architecture at some point. However, the release date of the Titan V in December has seen six months of deafening silence from camp Nvidia, which has many people scratching their heads.
We would assume that the consumer cards would be based upon the Volta architecture as well, which has many people very excited as it’s been producing some outstanding results.
If you're looking to buy new card right now, check out our roundup of the best graphics cards.
What is Nvidia Volta?
Volta is the name for the microarchitecture – a design which will be used as the basis for the next generation of consumer graphics cards (as well as the workstation and enterprise stuff).
The current generation, including the Titan Xp and GTX 1080-1050, are based on Pascal architecture. Prior to that, it was Maxwell.
Originally, the plan was to go to Volta after Maxwell, but for whatever reason Pascal has arrived in the interim.
Turing is the current favourite to win this particular race, as some rumours have been circulating about a mid-June production for a post July release. We should be seeing partner cards emerging around the August/September time too, if you believe the current hype.
GTX 1080 release date
The new cards are set to follow the current naming convention and be called 11 series although we're still not 100% sure. The latest rumours suggest that Nvidia will be shipping cards out to manufacturers in August which suggests a September release.
The speculated in-development Turing hardware would be the base upon which the cards are built, but information on that is just as flimsy as anything else.
Nvidia GTX 1180 specs
As of 23 April, we've seen some rumours around the specs for the GTX 1180 circling the shadowy halls of the internet. While we're going to be very quick to point out that these numbers are from a 'leak' and so must be taken with a very large grain of salt, they're certainly interesting to look at.
|Card model||GeForce GTX 1180||GeForce GTX 1170||GeForce GTX 1080|
|Lithography||12nm FinFET||12nm FinFET||16nm FinFET|
|Memory||8-16 GB GDDR6||8-16 GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR5X|
Why is the next generation of cards taking so long to arrive?
The lack of news on these cards could be for any number of reasons, or none at all, but we have some educated guesses.
The current price of graphics cards is at an all-time high thanks to the increased popularity of cryptocurrency mining, and also the increase in price of the components themselves. Smartphones have been catching up on the hardware front rapidly, and the amount of DDR4 RAM going into the higher end models is starting to rival that of mid-tier PCs – causing a fairly severe RAM shortage.
The idea that a new generation of cards could arrive, and be more expensive than the already sky-high prices of the current GFX card market, would probably not sit well with many people.
The important thing to note about the current market is that Nvidia is not really under any pressure to create new cards. Both the 1080 and 1080Ti are leading the market in terms of performance, and there is no offering from AMD to change that. AMD cards are also heavily favoured for cryptocurrency mining, which means they’re also harder to find, pushing even more of the market into Nvidia’s grasp.
What about performance and specs?
It’s way too early to say if the new generation of cards will deliver the kind of significant performance gains that Pascal did over Maxwell.
What's slightly clearer is the process the GPU will use. Intel is moving to 10nm for Cannon Lake, and that was the plan for Volta. However, shrinking the transistors is difficult (part of the reason why Intel is stuck with 14nm for four whole generations of Core processors) and the existing Volta chips ended up using a 12nm process from TSMC – the company that makes the chips for Nvidia.
The Tesla V100 and Titan V cards both use HBM - high-bandwidth memory - just like AMD's Vega cards. Previous consumer cards from Nvidia have gone with traditional GDDR RAM and while it would be nice if Nvidia kept the technically-better HBM for Volta-based cards, it may not happen.
That's because memory manufacturer SK Hynix published a press release in April 2017 which “introduced the world’s fastest 2Znm 8Gb(Gigabit) GDDR6(Graphics DDR6) DRAM. The product operates with an I/O data rate of 16Gbps(Gigabits per second) per pin, which is the industry’s fastest. With a forthcoming high-end graphics card of 384-bit I/Os, this DRAM processes up to 768GB(Gigabytes) of graphics data per second.”
It didn’t specify which manufacturer that graphics card was coming from, but with AMD’s Vega employing HBM2 memory and the press release also stating that “SK Hynix has been planning to mass produce the product for a client to release high-end graphics card by early 2018”, you’d assume it was the next-gen GeForce cards.
The Titan Xp with 12GB of GDDR5X has a memory bandwidth of 547.7GB/s, so it’s interesting that SK Hynix’s GDDR6 will run at 16Gb/s and – with a 384-bit interface card – will offer up to 768GB/s. That’s quite a jump: the Tesla V100 – with HBM2 – has a bandwidth of 900GB/s, so a putative Volta-based Titan with GDDR6 wouldn’t be too far behind.
The new Titan V - for context - offers 652.8 GB/s of bandwidth.
RTX real-time ray tracing
One of the coolest bits of tech that Volta supports is real-time ray tracing, a technique for rendering light that actually simulates individual rays of light as they reflect and refract off various surfaces. Ray tracing has been used in big budget Hollywood movies for years, but they have the luxury of taking hours or even days to render scenes. Games have to do it in real-time, which is what's kept ray tracing out of the gaming industry until now.
Nvidia thinks it's finally ready to change that with RTX, new ray tracing tech that - for now at least - is a Volta exclusive. First announced at GDC in March 2018, we got the chance to see it running in person at E3 2018, and came away impressed - even if it's clear that the tech is a while off widespread consumer availability.
We saw two demos, both rendered in real-time by Volta GPUs, though it's worth noting that this was running off Nvidia's four-GPU, $60,000 DGX Station - which it dubs a 'personal AI supercomputer' - so it's probably safe to say your rig can't handle it yet.
The first demo we saw was built in partnership with Industrial Light and Magic, running off "experimental code" in the Unreal Engine, and showcases two First Order troopers from Star Wars on a lift ride with Captain Phasma. It really highlights the stunning reflections that RTX is capable of, showing off objects and light sources that are otherwise out of shot, and even reflecting things differently in the different types of armour.
You can watch the demo for yourself right here, but again it's worth noting that Nvidia is capable of rendering this in real-time, which is nuts. It's running at 24fps - chosen because it's the cinematic standard, helping this look as close to the actual Star Wars movies as possible:
The second demo is probably a little more indicative of how real-time ray tracing will look when it first works its way into actual games, running at 1080p and 30fps. Made in the Northlight engine by game studio Remedy (who developed Quantum Break, and announced the upcoming Control at E3), this is another showcase for the improved reflections possible with RTX.
Since the demo was first unveiled at GDC, Nvidia has added support for a noise filter, which isn't featured in the video below, but was shown off at E3. This removes the film grain-esque noise from the below demo, making the end result much crisper and more detailed, removing some of the fuzziness you might see in the video here:
We're not sure yet when you'll actually be able to take advantage of this tech for yourself. For one thing, you'll need to have a Volta card, but you'll also need to wait for the first games that support it, like Metro Exodus, to release. Don't expect it to look quite as good as those demos when it first arrives of course (you know, unless your gaming PC is a four-GPU monster), but at least we've gotten a glimpse of how gaming will look in a few years' time.
We’ll be following the development of the new generation of cards closely, and updating this article when any new rumours (and facts) about the consumer cards surface, so keep checking back.