At CES a reporter had a question for Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang. What could he say to alleviate the concerns of fans who felt that the new RTX 20-series GPUs were overpriced and trying to force ray tracing technology on customers who don’t have much use for it? Huang smiled, with a mixture of serenity and satisfaction. “2060,” he said as if those four numbers were the secret to life and all of Nvidia’s success. Huang was referencing the just announced Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU, a card that’s pricier than its equivalent in previous generations, but still your most accessible entry point to the future of graphics.

The 2060 lands in an odd place in the Nvidia lineup. Nvidia cards follow a number scheme: 80 is best, 70 is damn fine, 60 is for gamers on a budget, and 50 are budget cards that are a moderate step up from an integrated GPU. The last generation 60 card, the GTX 1060, was priced at $250 for a 6GB version and $200 for a 3GB version. This new 60, the RTX 2060, starts at $350. In that context, the card seems quite expensive.

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But the 2060, unlike the 1060, does ray tracing and is the cheapest card available that’s capable of the technology. The next step up, the 2070, starts at $600 from Nvidia. By comparison, the 2060 is cheap. And it’s a downright bargain when you note that Nvidia claims that the 2060's true competitor isn’t the 1060, but the 1070 and 1070 Ti. Those had an MSRP of $380 and $450 respectively—though it can be difficult to find them at those prices. The 2060's other competitor comes from AMD, the Vega 56. That card was released almost two years ago and had an MSRP of $400, but it can currently be found for less.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to test out the 1070 or 1070Ti, so we’re stuck comparing the 2060 to the Vega 56. And because we have the numbers, we’re also showing its performance compared to the 1080, which you can buy for around $700 to $800, the 2080, which has an MSRP of $700—though shortages have pushed the price closer to $800, and the 2080 Ti, which starts at $1,200 from Nvidia with shortages often leading to markups, like this one on Amazon going for $1,500.

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Among these contenders, it’s important to note that besides being the cheapest, the 2060 also has the least memory. It ships with 6GB of GDDR6 memory, while the 2080 ships with 8GB and the 2080Ti ships with 11GB. The 1080, being the oldest, ships with 8GB of slower GDDR5X memory, while AMD opted for 8GB of HBM2 memory, which tends to be faster than both GDDR5X and GDDR6.

That additional, slightly faster memory gives the Vega 56 an advantage over the 2060 in many of our benchmarks, while the 2060's higher clock speed and Turing architecture help it beat the Vega 56 on occasion. All that said, the two cards typically perform within 10 frames per second of one another, while the 1080, 2080, and 2080 Ti, with their beefier internals, simply trounce the two—about as you’d expect for cards that often cost twice as much or more. As for the 1070 and 1070 Ti, while I don’t have them on hand to see how well they hold up, Anandtech tested on a similar rig and found that the performance in games like Far Cry 5 was on par with the 2060.

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That was until I got to our Blender test, in which we time how long it takes a GPU to render a 3D object in Blender. Thanks to a recent software update that provided better support for programs like Blender, the 2060 not only beat the Vega 56, but even the 2080 Ti, which I tested only a couple of months ago.

Time in seconds to render a 3D image in Blender.
Graphic: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

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When I retested the 2080 Ti with the new software update, it beat the 2060 pretty handily, but it called attention to something that’s just as important as memory or architecture or anything else discussed by these companies: Software. Software support can make or break a card, and AMD has typically lost in pure speed tests to Nvidia because Nvidia has over 70-percent of the market share in GPUs and most game companies optimize for it, not AMD.

Time in seconds to render a 3D image in Blender. Note that the 2080 Ti was retested and that resulted in a much better time. Software really does improve things.
Graphic: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

AMD has been making an effort to change that. During her CES keynote, CEO Lisa Su reiterated that the company is investing in software and making it a priority. And perhaps we’ll see that investment pay off in a few weeks with the newly announced Radeon VII. But for right now, Nvidia’s software continues to be better, accelerating GPU performance not just in games, but in traditional work tasks.

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The one glaring issue is also intended to be the selling point of the 2060. It, unlike its direct competitors or anything from the 10-series, is capable of ray tracing, which produces more realistic shadows and reflections in graphics by tracing light from the source to the end point. It’s cool technology, and Nvidia has repeatedly said that a wide variety of games will support it.

The problem is that most games don’t support ray tracing yet. While Battlefield V is a very pretty game, the ray tracing is only a tiny aspect of that beauty, and certainly not enough to warrant upgrading. So for now, if you have a 1070 or 1070 Ti or better, or an AMD Vega 56 or better, then you shouldn’t upgrade. But if you’ve been sitting on an older GPU waiting for something to suck less and give you good performance in 1440p or lower resolutions, then the 2060, for $350, is a pretty dang good deal. It’s cheaper than the 1070 or 1070 Ti and on par with the similarly priced AMD Vega 56. Only unlike the 56, the 2060 will support ray tracing when games finally start sticking it in.