NVIDIA RTX vs GTX: Is RTX the Better Option?

NVIDIA RTX vs GTXAre you considering getting a new graphics card and you’re wondering whether or not NVIDIA’s RTX cards are worth it over their GTX cards? In this post, we highlight the differences between RTX and GTX cards to help you make the right choice.

Deciding on PC gaming hardware can seem like an impossible task thanks to the sheer amount of jargon and acronyms you need to understand—comparing NVIDIA RTX and GTX graphics cards is just one example of this. But the difference between NVIDIA’s RTX and GTX technologies isn’t too complicated, and understanding this difference is helpful for deciding which is the best graphics card for you.

For example, maybe you’re comparing the GTX 1660 to the RTX 2060 and are wondering just what those ‘RTX’ and ‘GTX’ monikers mean, and whether this should be influencing your decision. Benchmark comparisons can help when deciding on a graphics card, but they often don’t tell the whole story.

The whole story is told once you also understand the different technologies that underpin these two kinds of GPU. To make an informed purchasing decision it’s important to know what you’re getting for your money, and that includes understanding the difference between NVIDIA RTX and GTX.

What is GTX?

The first NVIDIA GTX graphics card was the GeForce 7800 GTX which launched in 2005. NVIDIA began its ‘GT’ naming convention when its GPUs passed the ‘giga texel’ rendering threshold. They then introduced the ‘X’, standing for ‘extreme’, to denote better performance. So, GTX stands for ‘Giga Texel Extreme’ and was used by NVIDIA as a naming convention from its 7000-series graphics cards up until its 16-series graphics cards.

The most recent NVIDIA GTX graphics cards are those of the company’s ‘Turing’ generation, which were released alongside NVIDIA’s 20-series RTX cards in 2019. This made this generation the only one in which both GTX and RTX cards were released alongside each other, before a full transition to RTX.

An NVIDIA GTX card is your standard graphics card, minus all the bells and whistles of RTX technology, described below. A 16-series graphics card like the GTX 1660 Super can render games in the traditional way perfectly well and is a great choice for use in many budget gaming PCs today.

What is RTX?

In 2019, alongside its 16-series GTX cards, NVIDIA also released its first RTX cards. Switching to ‘RTX’ as a naming convention was meant to highlight that these new GPUs had hardware-accelerated ray tracing capability. Given what ‘GTX’ stands for, we can safely assume that ‘RTX’ stands for ‘Ray Tracing Extreme’.

NVIDIA RTX and GameWorks Ray Tracing Technology Demonstration

Ray tracing is a light modelling technique that simulates individual rays of light. The traditional way of rendering light in games—the way NVIDIA’s GTX cards do it—doesn’t get anywhere near ray traced lighting’s level of detail or accuracy. Tracing individual rays isn’t easy, and traditional GTX GPU hardware can’t do it at anywhere near the speed that would be required for games to utilise such techniques in real time. So, NVIDIA created RTX cards that have RT (ray tracing) cores as well as traditional shader cores. These RT cores are specially designed to handle ray tracing, and these RTX graphics cards are therefore capable of ‘hardware-accelerated’ ray tracing—ray tracing that doesn’t take an entire GPU’s shader core load to slowly calculate and render.

With an RTX card you have the option to enable and use hardware-accelerated ray tracing in many games, which improves lighting and shadow quality, sometimes to a significant degree.

Thanks to their ‘Tensor’ cores, RTX cards can also use other new technologies like NVIDIA’s DLSS (deep learning super sampling), a technology that uses machine learning to allow you to upscale your resolution without taking a significant performance hit.

RTX vs GTX: Which is Better?

Someday, comparing GTX vs RTX cards will be a thing of the past. NVIDIA’s latest GPU generation only hosts RTX graphics cards, and a GTX card hasn’t been launched since early 2020. Nevertheless, 900-series, 10-series, and 16-series GTX graphics cards are still great options at present.

NVIDIA RTX: Best for Graphics, Performance, and Future-Proofing

There’s no doubt about it, lighting looks better when ray traced than when rendered traditionally. For this reason, RTX cards are the better choice if you want to get the most out of games graphically with an NVIDIA card.

But that’s not all. Because NVIDIA’s current generation only hosts RTX cards, the most powerful NVIDIA cards are now all RTX only (no GTX). RTX cards are therefore not only better for graphics, but also for traditional rendering performance. If you want the best gaming performance possible from an NVIDIA card, you’re going to want a 30-series RTX GPU—at the top end, you’ll want an RTX 3090.

That’s not to mention the benefits that technologies like DLSS 2.0 bring to the table. These technologies are quickly becoming the norm, with more and more games becoming DLSS and ray tracing compatible. This is increasingly the case now that AMD is introducing its own versions of these technologies—FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution) and Ray Accelerator-powered ray tracing. For this reason, RTX is better than GTX for future-proofing, too.

NVIDIA GTX: Best on a Budget

It’s not all hopeless for NVIDIA’s GTX graphics cards, though, because GTX cards are often much cheaper than RTX ones. This is especially important considering the chip shortages we have just come out of.

Take NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1660 Super, for example. This card is more than capable of playing most modern games at 1080p resolution above 60fps. And, if eSports is your thing, the 1660 Super is more than powerful enough to play eSports titles at high refresh rates at 1080p and 1440p resolutions. The same is true for older cards like NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1070, and in some cases even the GeForce GTX 970. While the chip shortages also impacted GTX cards, they never hit such ridiculously high prices as many of the latest RTX cards.

While the chip shortage rages on and prices are now mostly over, many prospective PC builders might in fact find that a GTX card is still all they can reasonably afford. This might not be what was traditionally meant by ‘budget graphics card’.And while GTX cards don’t offer all the bells, whistles, and mind-blowing performance of the latest RTX cards, they hold up just fine for traditional rendering and make for a formidable budget gaming PC.

Jacob Fox

Jacob's been tinkering with computer hardware for over a decade, and he's written hardware articles for various PC gaming websites. Outside of the wonderful world of PC hardware, he's currently undertaking a PhD in philosophy, with a focus on topics surrounding the meaning of life.

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