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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti review

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It took Nvidia a while, but the company has finally launched the GeForce RTX 4060 Ti, a graphics card (or two) that's looking to tackle 1080p gaming. To confuse matters, there are two different versions of this graphics card. Most of the specs are the same between the two, but there's one key difference: the VRAM. Nvidia is released an 8GB and a 16GB version of the card, the latter of which will follow in July 2023.

The version I got my hands on is the 8GB Founders Edition. I don't know how much a difference the extra 8GB will make in the more expensive model, but I can pretty confidently say it's not worth the added price tag. The 8GB model I did test, however, is essentially a souped up RTX 3060 Ti with better ray tracing and the same price. So while gamers with a ton of cash to throw away get to see massive upgrades, it looks gamers on a budget might have to wait another year to see a nice upgrade at this price point.

Is $399 "Budget"?

Ever since the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 launched in October 2022 with an asking price of $1,599, every graphics card Nvidia has released this generation has seen a massive price hike over its last-generation counterpart. The RTX 4080 was the worst offender costing nearly double the price of the RTX 3080. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti thankfully avoids this trend.

The RTX 4060 Ti starts at $399 for the 8GB Founders Edition. There's a 16GB model coming in July 2023, and that will raise the asking price to $499, which is getting uncomfortably close to the $599 Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070.

This price is fine, seeing as it's basically offering the same performance as the RTX 3060 Ti at the same price point, especially in games without ray tracing or DLSS 3.0, but with every other card in this generation seeing substantial increases in performance, albeit at a hugely inflated price, it kind of feels like a slap in the face that Nvidia's "budget" offering doesn't bring much more performance to the table than the "budget" offering last time around. That's not even taking into consideration whether or not you can even consider a $399 graphics card "budget".

There is a $299 RTX 4060 coming later this year as well, which will be slightly more affordable, but I miss the days when the GTX 1060 was a $249 1080p champion.

Nvidia RTX 4060 Ti Design and Specs

Just like any other Nvidia RTX 4000 graphics card, the RTX 4060 Ti is built on the Ada Lovelace architecture, bringing with it third-generation ray tracing cores and fourth-generation Tensor cores. Essentially, that means this generation can handle ray tracing and AI upscaling workloads better than ever. But that effiency comes with a catch for the RTX 4060 Ti.

You see, this graphics card only has 34 Streaming Multiprocessors, with a total CUDA core count of 4,352, down from the 4,864 cores found in the RTX 3060 Ti – at the same price. It also has the same amount of VRAM as the last-generation card, at 8GB, but on a slower 128-bit memory bus. If the Ada Lovelace graphics architecture wasn't strictly better than Ampere, the Nvidia RTX 4060 Ti would be a strict down-grade in terms of raw paper specs. But it's not that simple.

Shaving down the GPU does mean Nvidia can save on power. This graphics card only has a TGP, or total graphics power, of 160W. The RTX 3060 Ti, on the other hand, will suck 200W of power from your PSU. This does allow the graphics card to save a bit on cooling, with the RTX 4060 Ti only reaching 68°C in my testing suite. That might have something to do with the cooler, though.

Similarly to the RTX 4070 Founders Edition, Nvidia found a way to import the dual-fan pass through design that started with the RTX 3080 to this tiny graphics card. The way this cooler works is it sucks up air through the bottom of the graphics card and spits out the hot air up towards your RAM where most PC builds have the most robust cooling.

This cooler design is why the monstrous RTX 4090 doesn't melt in its shell, but with a card that uses so little electricity, it's able to keep things incredibly cool. But, again like all the rest of the RTX 4000 cards, the RTX 4060 Ti uses the divisive 16-pin 12VHPWR power connector, rather than a traditional 8-pin PCIe connector. So, yeah, even with this more affordable graphics card, you're going to need a power adapter, even though it would only need a single 8-pin connection to function.

RTX 4060 Ti: Performance

I sat here for a good 20 minutes trying to think about what to say about RTX 4060 Ti performance and all that really needs to be said is "yeah, that's a graphics card". At the base level it's a graphics card that has no problem running any current game with ray tracing at 1080p, and that's not nothing. If you buy this graphics card and you're upgrading from an older GPU like the GTX 1060 or RTX 2060, you're going to get a sizeable bump in 1080p performance.

For these graphics card benchmarks, I tested all games at their highest preset, with ray tracing where available. I also used DLSS for Nvidia graphics cards and FSR for AMD cards. At 1080p, I used the upscaling at the "Quality" preset and at 1440p I use "Balanced". The reason I test games like this is because if you're going to be buying one of these cards, you probably should use these settings to maximise your in game performance, especially since the solutions from both GPU manufacturers work so well these days.

Especially in games that don't use ray tracing, performance barely moves at all. I'm talking like a 7-8% gen-on-gen performance uplift in 3DMark Speed Way and in Total War: Warhammer III. It's not a lot.

That gap does widen a bit when a game supports ray tracing. Take Cyberpunk 2077, for example. At 1440p, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti takes a 15% lead over the RTX 3060 Ti. Likewise in Hitman 3, you're getting a 13% performance uplift.

But even 13% at the same price point two years later isn't that impressive. And it gets worse when you look at it against the RTX 4070. Going back to Cyberpunk, the RTX 4060 Ti is 24% slower than the RTX 4070 at 1440p. And, in Forza Horizon 5, it's a 26% gap. Some of that likely has to do with the lack of VRAM, especially in games like Cyberpunk 2077.

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti I tested only comes strapped with 8GB of VRAM, which is enough for most games at 1080p but quickly becomes a problem at 1440p. The RTX 4060 Ti model with 16GB should go a long way towards correcting this problem, but even then it's going to be priced so close to the RTX 4070 that the more expensive graphics card might just be the better deal.

Is DLSS The Future?

With each new generation of Nvidia RTX graphics cards, DLSS, or Deep Learning Super Sampling gets better. This time around, the major improvement is in AI Frame Generation, included with DLSS 3.

In traditional game rendering, in order to keep your graphics card busy, your CPU will usually feed your GPU a few frames in advance, in what's referred to as a render queue. DLSS 3.0 replaces the render queue by using the Tensor Cores to essentially make up all-new frames in between actual frames. The only reason this works is because the algorithm can track movement in the scene to predict where every pixel would be in the synthetic frame.

This does add a bit of latency to the equation, which is why Nvidia Reflex is enabled by default when you turn on DLSS frame generation. This helps to erase some of the latency that conjuring up completely new frames out of nowhere brings to the table.

The reason this kind of thing is so important, though, is because games keep getting prettier, and graphics cards can't keep up with the increase in visual fidelity. This is especially apparent with the lackluster performance of the RTX 4060 Ti, and DLSS is this graphics card's major saving grace. Because it supports frame generation and DLSS, it's able to hold its own much better than it would be able to without it.

If Nvidia and AMD keep releasing "budget" graphics cards that don't have substantial generation-on-generation improvement, more efficient AI models to artifically lift performance will be key. We ripped the band-aid off with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X and their checkerboard rendering. Upscaling is the future, and luckily the RTX 4060 Ti is good at it – as long as you don't try to push to 4K.

Verdict

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti is a decent enough 1080p graphics card. However, the lack of generation-on-generation improvement makes this $399 graphics card feel like a waste of everyone’s time. It does boast significant improvements in ray tracing and DLSS performance, but that’s not enough to make this an exciting graphics card launch.

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