What is RTX Real-Time Ray Tracing And Why is it Good for Gaming?

Written by Jon Sutton on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 1:12 PM
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Nvidia has long touted RTX as the “holy grail” of computer graphics. They themselves said a few years back that we were a decade aware from this technology becoming consumer friendly, but here we are with the GeForce RTX 20 series (check out the RTX 20 pricing, specs and performance).

As far as we’re concerned though, Nvidia calling ray-tracing the ‘holy grail’ is inconsequential. Team Green just wants to sell more graphics cards at jacked up prices because they’re a business, and a hugely successful one at that. So just how good is RTX and is it going to be worth spending an absolute minimum of $500 on a GeForce RTX 2070?

What is Nvidias ray tracing and how will it effect your graphics and gaming experience?

Real-time ray-tracing, or RTX, is a method for physics-based rendering of lighting and shadows. Each and every ray of light is tracked from its source to its destination, bouncing off objects, refracting through glass, and generally behaving exactly as you’d expect light to behave. A developer can put a light source in a game and RTX will calculate how far the light travels, how it bounces and refracts off objects, and how it reflects off surfaces.

Different light sources also impact one another, requiring some incredibly complex computations as the RTX GPUs calculate exactly how this would look in real life. For example, how a flame-throwing Churchill tank and its fiery payload would reflect in a shop window, or how a fighter plane would look as it skimmed near the surface of a lake.

The end result of ray tracing is realistic and lifelike lighting effects that create far more believable environments. These days, photorealistic textures are a breeze, but it's the lighting and shadows which give these objects a realistic presence within a game.

If we compare this to current rasterization techniques, it's both immensely demanding and also results in better quality lighting. Rasterization works by rendering light in a straight line. A lamp pointing at a chair, for example, would cast a shadow behind the chair. However, ray tracing goes a step further and simulates where the light reflecting from the chair would be cast, or perhaps how light can reflect onto a mirror and behind the chair. It can even calculate how the colour of light will change as it passed through certain objects. With ray tracing, we are dealing with a painstakingly accurate physics-based simulation of how light behaves.

How does the graphical improvement of ray tracing benefit developers?

For developers, the benefits of ray-tracing are pretty simple. It simply just works. Rather than painstakingly baking in lighting effects and shadows, light sources are placed and ray-tracing simply does the rest of the work. Put a swinging chandelier in a mansion entranced and it will naturally cascade light over a room based upon its material design. Fire an RPG and its flame will light up in the reflection of a car next to you. In the Battlefield V demo, explosions and flames were even reflected on the glistening surface of a soldier’s eyes.

Will every game have ray tracing graphics support?

While the process of developing with RTX is, by all accounts, relatively easy, going back and changing a game to support ray-tracing probably isn’t. Think of it this way: Imagine all those times you go into a cave in a game and you can still find your way around. By rights, these caves should be pitch black, but game developers provide illumination so you can see where you’re going, even if there is no direct light source. With ray-tracing, no light sources would mean total darkness. To support RTX, a game could need additional light sources added, or take advantage of a fusion of ray-tracing and traditional lighting methods.

Now, there’s a plentiful supply of games inbound with ray-tracing support confirmed. However, these are still going to be but a fraction of the total number of games out there. Support will be limited, at least in the short term, although we expect some developers to retrospectively add RTX support to their games.

PC Games With RTX Ray-Tracing Support Confirmed

It’s a graphical advancement that’s very much on a par with the advancement we saw in materials design with the Source Engine prior to the release of Half-Life 2. Used well, RTX looks utterly fantastic. Not all games are going to utilise ray-tracing fantastically though, of course, and I’m sure you’ll agree a few of the videos below look a lot better than the others. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, in particular, looks like a fairly disappointing implementation of Ray Tracing graphics technology, but we will see for ourselves in a few weeks when SOTTR releases on PC.

Ultimately, it’s going to come down to how well and how widely the Ray Tracing graphics technology is going to be implemented through games. Right now, this is what is going to set the GeForce RTX 20 Series GPUs apart from the other graphics cards on the market, and it's pretty much the chief reason to buy one.

It was only a handful of weeks ago that we had an Up For Debate delving into the lack of big technological changes in terms of game visuals. RTX is undoubtedly one of the biggest shifts we've seen in years, and it will assuredly become a standard, making it an exciting prospect for those prepared to stump up the cash for the first generation. Naturally, this technology will shift down over the years though, and we'd expect affordable RTX-capable GPUs by 2020.

We also recently wrote an article covering what gamers are willing to spend on their next graphics card upgrad. With the Nvidia RTX 20 series options starting at $500 then, according to our recent poll, only 24% of gamers would consider upgrading to an Nvidia RTX 2070 or better. With 9% of gamers willing to upgrade to a RTX 2080 or better and just 6% would consider upgrading and paying $1199 for the Founders RTX 2080 Ti.

Battlefield V: Official GeForce RTX Trailer

Control: Official GeForce RTX Trailer

Metro Exodus - Exclusive Gamescom Trailer

 

Metro Exodus: Official GeForce RTX Video

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Exclusive 4K PC Tech Trailer

 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Exclusive Ray Tracing Video

 

Atomic Heart: Official GeForce RTX Video

Are you impressed by the visual jump offered by ray-tracing, and are you planning to pick up one of Nvidia's new top-end GPUs? Get voting and let us know why below!

Nvidia GeForce RTX 20 Series GPU Family Revealed - Pricing, Specs and Performance Details

Are you picking up a GeForce RTX GPU?

Our favourite comments:

AMD better jump on the Ray Tracing wagon because it really does look fantastic!

maleficarus

While it does look nice for the most of the surfaces, sometimes it's just... too flashy imho.

Phigix

Maybe when an RTX XX70 is around the 400$ range

kik4444

Looks great in this tech demos but I'm getting Nvidia Physx and Hairworks vibes from this. Not jumping on ''hype train'' until I see the benchmarks.

icreaka

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16:18 Aug-24-2018

It would be good for gaming if companies didn't swindle us out of every dollar by giving us under-powered tech with just one novelty feature slap-dashed on to it. It would be nice to have ray-tracing along with significant performance gains not with ray-tracing off but on. It shouldn't be that gamers have to choose between performance and RTX. We deserve better for our hard-earned dollar.

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07:16 Aug-22-2018

Holy **** this looks incredible! I can't wait until I can use it in 5 to 10 years!

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10:57 Aug-22-2018

Rendered on 6x high-end GPU according to what some people on game debate have said in one of the recent blogs(i think the emperor96)... most games won't get that kind of ray tracing and it still doesn't look much better than what we currently have... it looks flashy and goofy... like many other real-time engine demos and some other games...

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14:06 Aug-22-2018

Psychoman: Your opinion is just as important then anyone's but why are you so negative against RT? I am having a hard time trying to understand why you would be so against something that makes a game look so much better....

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14:37 Aug-22-2018

Because you are one of the few that think so... most people don't think it looks much better, neither do I... you are impressed by flashy, goofy, unrealistic lighting and indeed a bit better shadows... at huge performance and price cost... -_-


I'm against it, because it's pointless... it's not mind-boggling better and we already had real-time engine tech demos with lighting that in some areas was better than ray tracing... and again huge price and performance cost -_-


The visuals in the videos you see here are not possible to achieve with a single RTX 2080ti, so if this is meh, what you will really get is even worse... -_-

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14:39 Aug-22-2018

I guess you are of the small minority that also found PhysX and Gameworks looking good, when they were just as goofy, but at a lower price and performance cost... -_-

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14:54 Aug-22-2018

I think it looks pretty damn amazing (best single visual improvement I've seen in years) but also hideously expensive in terms of GPU usage. It's by no means a bad thing, it's just going to be out of reach for most for a little while.

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15:53 Aug-22-2018

As a 3D artist I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the idea of real-time raytracing. It's not fully accurate, there's a lot of trickery that I see behind the scenes that makes it feasible (skipping particles, denoising and AI filling of the missed rays, fairly low resolution, etc) - but it's getting there and it's bloody brilliant. Like Jensen said - it is a game changer. Literally. Well, at least until hardware improves another order of magnitude and we could start looking at pathtracing for the ultimate realism :)
And...err...I'm also one of those people that loved PhysX and Hairworks. The yaks in FarCry4 looked absolutely fantastic!

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05:49 Aug-28-2018

I think it looks incredible in many parts of these videos. I don't know where you have seen better lighting, and would love to know, but I sure haven't. I have never seen reflections come even close to this. To me this is a huge step forward towards realism in games. However I also can see that we are clearly not able to effectively use this tech yet so this is just such a tease.

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22:07 Aug-21-2018

I will pass on it for now, too high price, we don't know how exactly they stack against series 10 in non-RTX workloads and games with RTX support have to come out or be updated. Plus it will likely be more like optional feature for a while, till good portion of playerbase get RTX card.

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18:13 Aug-21-2018

I hope it does not impact too much on the performance like hairworks does.

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20:23 Aug-21-2018

ohh boiiii do i have some news for you xD

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00:18 Aug-22-2018

It should be able to improve through drivers and updates to some degree.

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12:48 Aug-22-2018

Hairworks was only bad in Witcher 3. FarCry4 implementation was vastly superior and worked wonderfully with minimal impact on performance (not that I could even see much). I think there was something with CDPR's engine that didn't fly right with that many hairs.

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15:54 Aug-22-2018

This was on my laptop where I tested Hairworks


I just left the option on because the performance impact almost didn't exist.

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18:11 Aug-21-2018

Who the hell needs Ray Tracing for PUBG? Ohh hell com on.

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18:14 Aug-21-2018

That game should have other priorities, it already runs like crap from what I understand.

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07:13 Aug-22-2018

It doesn't. It did at first and people never let **** go. But when I started playing it over a year ago it was running just fine. With a gtx 750 and fx 6300. Not exactly top of the line a year ago or ever.

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15:55 Aug-22-2018

It could be interesting seeing the enemy around a corner or in the reflection of a window or a car, you know :)
Raytracing opens up a whole new dimension of gameplay mechanics!

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17:32 Aug-21-2018

Well, seeing as I can use EVGA's step-up and get a RTX 2080 for only $160 something, I might do it. I'll have 4 days left after the launch date to do it if I decide so but I'll be keeping an eye on benchmarks before I go through with it however.

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16:31 Aug-21-2018

I just saw the BFV demo the other day and it was imo by far the most impressive (not counting the star wars and metal man demos, which are not real games). I may have to eat my words regarding ray tracing, although the speed of adoption is still a question mark.

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17:48 Aug-21-2018

Yess, the best part of the trailer above is the planes over the water part. It looks really good

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15:28 Aug-21-2018

yes yes we all know this coulda been done on 980gtx and worked fine, and its another excuse to make moneis, but thats just how the world works. first there was a new gpu every 3 years, then 2, now every year, soon it will be every 6 months :D


sees trailer goes to buy new NUBVIDIA RTXXXSWEG hahahahah rly im buying!

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14:51 Aug-21-2018

While it does look nice for the most of the surfaces, sometimes it's just... too flashy imho.

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18:18 Aug-21-2018

To me it just looks more realistic. You're just probably used to not having real reflections, refractions and light bouncing in games :)

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14:33 Aug-21-2018

Maybe when an RTX XX70 is around the 400$ range

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14:33 Aug-21-2018

It looks amazing but it's not justifiable in my books paying that much extra for technology that'll be majorly improved upon in a few generations that will also be cheaper.

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14:30 Aug-21-2018

BTW metro exodus room demo said 20x timelapse for 1st half and 5x timelapse for 2nd half with all those stutters, does that mean the fps will be low even for 2080ti with raytracing?

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15:48 Aug-21-2018

It was around 35-40 with 2080 ti as well as bfv

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16:06 Aug-21-2018

Maybe 2070 is for raytracing @ 20fps, 2080 @ 30fps, 2080ti @ 45fps and for raytracing @ 60fps, get yourself a titan Turing architecture card for 5000$

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14:29 Aug-21-2018

even though it looks amazing it's definitely not worth the jump in price and the performance hit (will see how much it is from when benchmarks are available) either I'll wait for what AMD will offer or the next nGREEDia :D generation

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16:15 Aug-21-2018

there is no way to add "greed" to AMD's name, but they are just as greedy, it's just that they are pushed in a corner and have been for very long, but as soon as they got their CPUs to a competitive point they started selling at high profit margins too... their GPUs as well...

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23:55 Aug-21-2018

of course this applies to most if not all companies all that matters is the profit
maybe not greed but here i'AMD'evious ;)

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00:10 Aug-22-2018

Profit of course, but 134%? Oh that's where they should be beaten with bats...

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14:29 Aug-22-2018

@Psychoman For a psychoman, you are quite softhearted. I would be plucking teeth from their mouth one by one. They are monetizing one of the most important and essential technologies here, where they don't have any competition and can easily make huge profits from mass adoption if it were priced cheaper.

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19:15 Aug-22-2018

Dude I'd put them in a head crusher each and every one of them if I could, but I can't...
And Psychopaths, unlike movies and video games show them, are calm, calculative and evasive, not crazy, screaming and so on... those are sociopaths -_-


It's all in my head and on the rare occasions I get expired do share my thoughts... usually around holidays like Christmas, New Year, Easter and my birthday, damn I hate those parts of the year...

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20:47 Aug-22-2018

Hmmm, i see that you are a brutality type of psychopath. Well i'm more of a torture type, but let's leave this discussion now.

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21:14 Aug-22-2018

just to add, the head crusher is both torturous and brutal, it can be done quite slowly, turn by turn XD

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14:29 Aug-22-2018

could it be because lack of competition, but AMD is competitive enough in the mid to low end (old but still ok) and I don't think most people buy 1080-80ti and vega 56 is good for the right price, it seems the power of advertising and people just buying any product from Nvidia like the ones who pre-ordered a card that cost over a thousand dollar without even seeing a benchmark

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14:21 Aug-21-2018

I thought AMD announced their raytracing being implemented in some form of api and existing hardware is able to support it.

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15:20 Aug-21-2018

Looks like they're not ready for raytracing.

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14:13 Aug-21-2018

How do I know that this is BS? Until now nobody was screaming for "better" lighting nor anybody said that needed better lighting... And it's not much better than what we have already...


A general market tip is as follows: "If you didn't need or want something(or knew that existed) until you were shown it and why to buy it, then you neither want it nor need it".

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17:51 Aug-21-2018

Hmm, I never saw people screaming for better graphics (except people that dislike COD). It's not about what people ask, if it was like that, we might as well still live like prehistoric people. It's about what technology brings us, what we could do with it. Eventually, graphics could look close as 1:1 with real world views. Same goes for photography and video capturing, camera's will improve till the limits of our own eyes.

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18:01 Aug-21-2018

bahaha, no... for so many technologies people screamed for... they wanted portable computers, we got smartphones, they wanted to do millions of calculations we got computers. They wanted to move faster and for longer periods of times we got cars and before that carriages, they wanted to see in the dark fire, then bulbs with electricity... Technolgy that is needed is always demanded...
This is Nvidia's next gimmick, just like PhysX and Gameworks... for PhysX they had to have entire chip on the PCB...

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13:59 Aug-21-2018

Looks great in this tech demos but I'm getting Nvidia Physx and Hairworks vibes from this.
Not jumping on ''hype train'' until I see the benchmarks.

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13:59 Aug-21-2018

Gamers: But RTX 2080 Ti Is ONLY 10% Faster Than GTX 1080 Ti !!!
Nvidia: OMG Look at the reflections we created !!!
Gamers: And the prices are so steep !!!
Nvidia: My God we finally achieved what we set out to do 10 Years ago !!!
Gamers: ........

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14:10 Aug-21-2018

Nvidia: Here is something pointless that barely improves anything about gaming, which makes our card prices go up and everything run worse... -_-
Gamers: Well F@CK...

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14:14 Aug-21-2018

I think it looks pretty damn good lol, best improvement I've seen in a loooooong time

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16:07 Aug-21-2018

it looks just as goofy but more detailed than the current lighting and this comes at great expense to both performance and game developers and consumers who now need to buy their bs rtx GPUs... and most-likely just like with physX and gameworks very few will bother with it.


Different=/=better...

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16:20 Aug-21-2018

Oh yeah, it's going to be very expensive to enable but I definitely don't think it looks goofy. That Control video looks insane.

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18:45 Aug-21-2018

I think the majority of even die-hard AMD fans will agree this technology is no "gimmick". It really does make a game look more realistic.

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19:28 Aug-21-2018

Well I hate both AMD and Nvidia(and Intel) and it still looks goofy as hell XD

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13:13 Aug-22-2018

Yes, this looks amazing tbh, especially in the battlefield video. It's certainly not a gimmick, it's just new tech and new is always expensive. Just wait 2 years and hope that this becomes a good standard that performs well.

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13:16 Aug-21-2018

AMD better jump on the Ray Tracing wagon because it really does look fantastic!

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Can They Run... |

Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core 3.6GHz GeForce RTX 2070 Gigabyte Windforce 8GB 16GB
Ryzen 7 5800H 8-Core 3.2GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Mobile 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1440p
Ryzen 9 3900X 12-Core 3.8GHz GeForce RTX 3070 EVGA FTW3 Ultra Gaming 8GB 32GB
66.6667% Yes [3 votes]
| 60FPS, Low, 720p
APU A8-7410 Quad-Core Radeon R5 7410 8GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i5-11400 6-Core 2.7GHz GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile 8GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core 3.6GHz GeForce GTX 1080 MSI Gaming X 8GB Edition 16GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Ryzen 5 3400G 4-Core 3.7GHz Radeon RX Vega 11 6GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 30FPS, High, 1080p
Core i5-11400 6-Core 2.7GHz GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile 8GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium,
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
| 30FPS, Low,
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Core i5-10400 6-Core 2.90GHz GeForce GTX 1650 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i7-7700K 4-Core 4.2GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i7-7700K 4-Core 4.2GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i5-10300H 4-Core 2.50GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Mobile 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Athlon II X2 245 GeForce GTS 250 4GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i9-10900X 10-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 2070 Super Gigabyte Gaming OC 3X 8GB 32GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX 540X 2GB Mobile 8GB
100% Yes [3 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i5-4670 3.4GHz GeForce GTX 1050 Ti EVGA Gaming 4GB 8GB
100% Yes [3 votes]