Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition review: Ray tracing and 1440p gaming get more affordable

Ray tracing goes mainstream as prices go upstream.
  • Brad Chacos (PC World (US online))
  • 08 January, 2019 01:00

After debuting in luxury-priced enthusiast graphics cards exclusively, Nvidia’s real-time ray tracing is finally coming to the masses with the GeForce RTX 2060—although this $350 graphics card, as powerful as it is, skirts the upper limits of what could be considered mainstream.

Yes, the GeForce RTX 2060 maintains the inflated pricing of other RTX options, which effectively bumps the cost of each performance tier up a notch. The $700 RTX 2080 costs as much as last generation’s GTX 1080 Ti; the $500 RTX 2070 mirrors the price of the GTX 1080; and while the last-gen GTX 1060 cost $260, this new RTX 2060 moves into the GTX 1070’s previous territory with a $90 price hike.

But while the RTX 2070 and 2080 largely delivered performance in line with their similarly priced predecessors, you get a bit more with the GeForce RTX 2060. Not only does the card pack the dedicated RT and tensor core hardware that gives RTX GPUs their cutting-edge ray tracing capabilities, it trades blows in traditional game performance with the $450 GTX 1070 Ti rather than the $380 GTX 1070. So does that make Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition a worthwhile purchase? Let’s dig in.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 specs and features

The GeForce RTX 2060 packs a slightly cut-down version of the TU106 GPU found inside the RTX 2070. The card has only 20 percent fewer CUDA cores than its bigger brother, but crams in a whopping 33 percent more CUDA cores than its predecessor, the GTX 1060. And extensive tweaks found in Nvidia’s Turing GPU architecture make the RTX 2060’s cores much more capable than the GTX 1060’s, as we’ll see in the benchmarks section.

Here’s a look at the GeForce RTX 2060’s specs, and how they compare against the GTX 1060.

specs Nvidia

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 vs. GTX 1060 specs.

The only potential minor blemish on the spec sheet: memory capacity. The move to GDDR6 memory greatly improves overall bandwidth for the RTX 2060 versus the GTX 1060, but the 6GB capacity might not be enough to run textures and other memory-intensive graphics options at maximum settings in all games if you’re playing at 1440p resolution. Most 1440p-capable graphics cards include 8GB of VRAM. But Nvidia’s Brandon Bell told me via email that the company chose the lesser capacity in order to utilize cutting-edge GDDR6 memory, rather than the much slower GDDR5 memory that came on the GTX 1060:

We could’ve certainly outfitted the RTX 2060 with 8GB of GDDR6, but hitting $349 wouldn’t have been feasible. And given that today’s games don’t take advantage of the additional memory, it made sense to price the card more aggressively at the cost of a little frame buffer size. Right now the faster memory bandwidth is more important than the larger memory size.

Maybe in a year or two games will come along that need the full 8GB of memory, but we’re just not seeing that right now, and by the time it does happen we’ll probably be on another generation of GPUs beyond Turing and GDDR6 memory prices will be lower than they are today.

Moving on, the RTX 2060 Founders Edition strays from the path beaten by Nvidia’s other RTX FE options. While the Founders Edition versions of the RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti all come with a mild overclock and premium pricing, the RTX 2060 Founders Edition sticks to the stock specifications outlined above, and the card’s $350 MSRP.

fghghdnjgh Nvidia

That’ll make it hard for entry-level models by Nvidia’s board partners (like EVGA and Asus) to stand out, because the Founders Edition is utterly stunning this generation. Here’s how we described it in our GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review:

The GeForce RTX 20-series Founders Edition cards upgrade to dual axial fan design, and those fans—spread farther apart than you see in most graphics cards—come equipped with 13 blades each. They’re sitting atop a card-length heat sink with a heat pipe embedded in the base plate, and a full-length vapor chamber to dissipate heat from the GPU and other components. A forged aluminum shroud covers those cooling components, curving around the end of the card to transform into a sleek backplate with the graphics card’s name emblazoned across it. It’s an utterly gorgeous enclosed design.

Nvidia carried the same aesthetic over to the RTX 2060 FE. It’s a shorter card, measuring just nine inches in length, and draws its power via a single eight-pin power connection on the end of the board, rather than the side. (The RTX 2060 is more power-hungry than its predecessor, demanding 160 watts rather than 120W.)

asdgfdfgsdf 2 Nvidia

Nvidia equipped the GPU with the typical Founders Edition port loadout; you’ll find HDMI, dual DisplayPorts, DVI, and a VirtualLink USB-C port for standardized VR headset connectivity. Once compatible headsets start coming out, that is. One thing you won’t find? An SLI connection. Nvidia restricts multi-GPU support to the RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti alone this generation.

The GeForce RTX 2060 does have dedicated RT cores, though—30 of them, compared to 36 in the RTX 2070, 46 in the RTX 2080, and 72 in the $1,200 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. In Battlefield V, the only game to support real-time ray tracing thus far, Nvidia says the RTX 2060 can nearly hit 60fps at 1080p resolution with all graphics settings—including ray tracing—set to Ultra, or easily clear 60fps if you set ray traced reflections to Medium instead. A future BFV update will add in Nvidia’s performance-enhancing Deep Learning Super Sampling technology, too, and Nvidia claims that will boost ray tracing performance even more, as shown in the chart below. While Nvidia didn’t share configuration information about the test system, the stated results were generated on the Arras multiplayer map.

bfv perf Nvidia

To show off the promise of the cutting-edge ray tracing technology, if you buy a GeForce RTX 2060, Nvidia will toss in a free copy of Battlefield V, or Bioware’s upcoming Anthem. Got it? Good. Let’s see how this card handles in a bunch of others game.

Next page: Test system configuration, gaming benchmarks begin

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Our test system

Our dedicated graphics card test system is built with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.

  • Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($360 on Amazon)
  • EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($120 on Amazon)
  • Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard ($260 on Amazon)
  • 64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($416 for 32GB on Amazon)
  • EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($180 on Amazon)
  • Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow ($170 on Amazon)
  • 2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($100 on Amazon)

We’re comparing the $350 Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition against last-generation’s $380 GTX 1070, $450 GTX 1070 Ti, and $600 GTX 1080 Founders Edition models, as well as this generation’s GeForce RTX 2070. Rounding things out for Team Green is EVGA’s customized, overclocked GeForce GTX 1060 SSC, to represent the RTX 2060’s predecessor. On the AMD side of things, we’re testing the $290 XFX Radeon RX 390 Fatboy, $400 Radeon Vega 56, and $500 Radeon Vega 64. (All prices listed are launch prices; these cards can be found cheaper on the street today.)

Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets, with VSync, frame rate caps, and all GPU vendor-specific technologies—like AMD TressFX, Nvidia GameWorks options, and FreeSync/G-Sync—disabled, and temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) enabled to push these cards to their limits. If anything differs from that, we’ll mention it. Dropping graphics settings would create higher performance results. We focused our testing on 1440p and 1080p, as those are the natural resolutions for these graphics cards.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition benchmarks

Strange Brigade

Let’s kick things off with Strange Brigade ($50 on Humble), a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test with async compute off.

strange brigade Brad Chacos/IDG

If you look only at generation-to-generation, the RTX 2060 Founders Edition is a whopping 55 percent faster than the overclocked EVGA GTX 1060 SSC at 1440p resolution. But again, the new card costs $90 more and is priced more like a GTX 1070; it’s 12.5 percent faster than that card, and trades blows with the mighty GTX 1070 Ti and Radeon Vega 56. That’s a trend we’ll see throughout testing, though the RTX 2060 FE pulls further ahead in games that lean more heavily on async compute capabilities.

And at 1080p resolution, this card just screams.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider ($60 on Humble) concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous, bringing graphics cards to their knees. Still, the RTX 2060 flirts with 60fps with all the visual bells and whistles enabled at 1440p, and 90fps at 1080p resolution. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and only recommends DX11 if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with that. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider.

sotr Brad Chacos/IDG

The RTX 2060 once again stomps the GTX 1060, and blows past the GTX 1070 by nearly 20 percent at 1440p resolution.

Far Cry 5

Finally, a DirectX 11 game! Far Cry 5 ($60 on Humble) is powered by Ubisoft’s long-established Dunia engine. It’s just as gorgeous as its predecessors, and even more fun.

far cry 5 Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue

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Ghost Recon Wildlands

Move over, Crysis. If you crank up all the graphics options to 11, like we do for these tests, Ghost Recon Wildlands ($50 on Humble) and its AnvilNext 2.0 engine absolutely melts GPUs. Only the RTX 2070 manages to surpass 60fps even at 1080p resolution with these strenuous visual settings.

ghost recon wildlands Brad Chacos/IDG

Ghost Recon Wildlands also prefers Nvidia’s GPU architecture, and Nvidia’s RTX 2060 FE pulls ahead of AMD’s rival Vega 56 by 13.5 percent at 1080p.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-earth: Shadow of War ($50 on Humble) adds a strategic layer to the series’ sublime core gameplay loop, adapting the Nemesis system to let you create an army of personalized Orc commanders. It plays like a champ on PC, too, thanks to Monolith’s custom LithTech Firebird engine. We use the Ultra graphics preset but drop the Shadow and Texture Quality settings to High to avoid exceeding 8GB of VRAM usage, as many cards—including the RTX 2060—fall under that capacity.

shadow of war Brad Chacos/IDG

Shadow of War reacts well to hardware that supports asynchronous compute capabilities, which finally debuted in the RTX series. As a result, the RTX 2060 opens up a much more commanding lead over even the GTX 1070 Ti in this game.

F1 2018

The latest in a long line of successful games, F1 2018 ($60 on Humble) is a benchmarking gem, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options—making it a much more reliable option than the Forza series. It’s built on the fourth version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies.

f1 2018 Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue

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Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Ashes of the Singularity ($40 on Humble) was one of the very first DX12 games, and it remains a flagbearer for the technology to this day thanks to the extreme scalability of Oxide Games’ next-gen Nitrous engine. With hundreds of units onscreen simultaneously and some serious graphics effects in play, the Crazy preset can make graphics cards sweat. Ashes runs in both DX11 and DX12, but we only test in DX12, as it delivers the best results for both Nvidia and AMD GPUs.

aots Brad Chacos/IDG

Surprise! The GTX 1070 Ti actually winds up faster than the RTX 2060 FE across the board, albeit barely. The overclocked GTX 1060 remains far behind, eating the dust of these more powerful—and more expensive—graphics options.

GTA V

We’re going to wrap things up with a couple of older games that aren’t really visual barnburners, but still top the Steam charts day-in and day-out. These are games that a lot of people play. First up: Grand Theft Auto V ($30 on Humble) with all options turned to Very High, all Advanced Graphics options except extended shadows enabled, and FXAA. GTA V runs on the RAGE engine and has received substantial updates since its initial launch.

gtav Brad Chacos/IDG

Again, the GTX 1070 Ti is technically a hair faster than the RTX 2060 in raw average frame rates, but really it’s a dead heat. The GTX 1070 and Vega 56 hang around the same ballpark, too.

Rainbow Six Siege

Finally, let’s take a peek at Rainbow Six Siege ($40 on Humble), a game whose audience just keeps on growing, and one that still feels like the only truly next-gen shooter after all these years.

rainbow six siege Brad Chacos/IDG

Like Ghost Recon Wildlands, this game runs on Ubisoft’s AnvilNext 2.0 engine, but Rainbow Six Siege responds especially well to graphics cards that support async compute—like the RTX 2060 Founders Edition. It opens a sizeable lead over comparable Nvidia GPUs, though AMD’s Radeon cards perform even better. They cost more money, though.

Next page: Power, thermals, and bottom line

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 power draw, thermals, and noise

Power draw

We test power draw by looping the F1 2018 benchmark after we’ve benchmarked everything else with a card, and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion.

power consumption Brad Chacos/IDG

The GeForce RTX 2060 draws a lot more power than the GTX 1060, and more than the GTX 1070 it replaces in the pricing stack, but quite a bit less than other GPUs that offer this level of performance. The Radeon Vega 56 and GTX 1070 Ti deliver less oomph while sucking down about 40 more watts of power than the RTX 2060 FE.

Thermals and noise

We test thermals by leaving HWInfo’s sensor monitoring tool open during the F1 2018 five-lap power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.

temp load Brad Chacos/IDG

The move away from a single-fan, blower-style design to a dual-axial setup that expels your GPU’s hot air back into the case has done wonders for the RTX 2060. Topping out at a mere 67 degrees Celsius after a sustained load, Nvidia’s Founders Edition is downright frigid, and by far the coolest graphics card compared here. It runs relatively quiet, too. Again: It’ll be hard for third-party custom designs to challenge the Founders Edition at the RTX 2060’s $350 MSRP.

Should you buy the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition?

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition offers a ton of bang for your buck, delivering outstanding 1440p performance and enough frames to satisfy high refresh rate 1080p displays, as well as the ability to tap into the Turing GPU’s RTX ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling technologies. The RTX 2060 runs cool and quiet, too, and Nvidia’s metallic, self-contained Founders Edition design remains stunning. This is a very good graphics card.

dsc00476 Brad Chacos/IDG

It’s also a much more expensive graphics card than the one it’s theoretically replacing, the $260 6GB GTX 1060, maintaining the RTX 20-series pricing trend. At $350, the GeForce RTX 2060 is better viewed as a GTX 1070 successor. Through that lens, this new graphics card is only 10 to 20 percent faster depending on the game—a bit of a bummer after more than 2.5 years of waiting. Still, while the RTX 2060 can’t quite topple the GTX 1080 or Radeon Vega 64, it trades blows with the $450 GTX 1070 Ti.

I wish the performance leap over the GTX 1070 was bigger, and I wish that this card included 8GB of onboard RAM for better future-proofing (though it’s a worthy tradeoff to upgrade to ultra-fast GDDR6 memory). We’ve also only seen ray tracing and DLSS each appear in a single game so far. Despite those quibbles, the GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition is the best 1440p or ultra-fast 1080p gaming option you can buy under $500—well under $500.

That said, you might consider the slower, more power-hungry Radeon Vega 56 if you want to pair your graphics card with an affordable variable refresh rate monitor, as AMD FreeSync displays are nowhere near as expensive as Nvidia’s luxury-priced G-Sync options. Buy the RTX 2060 otherwise. And speaking of monitors, most gamers use 1080p displays at 60Hz. If you’re one of them, you’re better off saving $100 or more and opting for a Radeon RX 580, RX 590, or GeForce GTX 1060 instead. They’re much slower, but still great for basic 1080p displays, though they don’t include Nvidia’s dedicated RTX hardware.