Flying in the face of many of the rumors, Nvidia announced the RTX 2060 at its press conference at CES 2019. Not, as some assumed, a GTX 1160.
The hole in Nvidia’s graphics card lineup no longer has the hole it once had. The GTX 1160 had been rumored to be in existence since before the RTX 20-series was debuted and would have been Nvidia’s solution to entry and mid-level gaming without all the bells and whistles, and crucially, the price tags, of the 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti. But now? It looks as though that 1160 may not be coming after all.
Pricing and availability
Nvidia has made no official announcement of the 11-series of GTX GPUs at all, so any release dates or pricing speculation remains firmly that and little more. The launch of the RTX 2060 makes a release even more unlikely. However, Videocardz did release a report from its own sources in December 2018 that suggested Nvidia could launch a GTX 1160 as soon as mid-January 2019. That would suggest a CES 2019 reveal of the new card and the range itself, potentially giving us details of any other cards that may be released as part of it. But as it turns out, the RTX 2060 took its place in Nvidia’s launch cycle.
Due to the current state of Nvidia’s line up of graphics cards and the expectations of what the hardware will be capable of (see below), we would expect any 11-series cards to be priced significantly lower than the existing RTX-series graphics cards. With a $ 349 floor on the RTX 2060, we would expect a GTX 1160 to be priced well below that. That stops Nvidia from invalidating its remaining overstock of GTX 1060s, caused by the so called, “crypto-hangover” from 2017’s major shortages.
It would seem unlikely that Nvidia would launch products to compete with its high-end RTX-series solutions — the GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti do that already — but we would likely see GTX 1150 and lower cards released further down the line, with more affordable price tags to match. Given the RTX 2060 announcement, the GTX 1060 may be dead in the water. Nvidia seems determined to make its RTX features a mainstream solution.
Since Nvidia would likely price a proposed GTX 11-series under the RTX-series, we would expect performance to be similarly weaker. How much weaker, though, is the question. Since the RTX cards have largely replaced the Pascal generation that came before, but done so one market sector above their predecessors (RTX 2070 replaces 1080, 2080 replaces 1080 Ti, etc.) we may see something similar with the GTX 11-series. With the new RTX 2060 supposedly overtaking the GTX 1070 Ti, the 1160 may be close in capabilities to a GTX 1070. A speculative 1150 may be more like a GTX 1060, and so on.
If Nvidia doesn’t offer RTX cards at the entry-level, its GTX 11-series will be designed to take on AMD’s existing RX 500 series and anything Navi may be capable of. If we’re assuming that the main purpose of the GTX 11-series is to be price competitive at the mid-range, the rumored GTX 1160 would need to offer performance at least in excess of the recent RX 590, which itself isn’t miles behind the GTX 1070.
If Nvidia could manage it, a $ 300 GTX 1160 with 1070-like performance could be a rather attractive buy for those looking to upgrade in early-2019.
What about ray tracing?
There are two reasons that the GTX 11-series is unlikely to feature ray tracing. The first, is that Nvidia is marketing ray tracing as a premium feature. It priced its RTX cards at several hundred dollars higher than the starting cost of their predecessors, either because it had to cover the cost of the additional RT cores that are required for ray tracing, or because it wanted to make it seem like that was a necessity. Either way, ray tracing is currently expensive and that seems contradictory to the likely-purpose of the GTX 11 series.
Secondly, ray tracing is hard. We’ve seen that even with optimizations, ray tracing needs some seriously powerful hardware to operate at even 1080p, let alone higher resolutions. It’s a feature that costs framerates and for a series of graphics cards that would most likely be targeting good frame rates at 1080p and 1440p, ray tracing just won’t be possible on an 1160 or lower without tanking performance.
What about DLSS?
Deep learning super sampling (DLSS) is arguably the more exciting feature of the RTX-generation. It does require specific “Tensor” cores to work and the list of games that support it is still rather small, but its potential to actually improve performance without sacrificing detail means it could be a great feature for mid-range and entry-level GPUs.
Since it was bundled with the Turing GPUs and sold as a major new feature of the RTX-generation, it may be that Nvidia keeps it as an exclusive of its 2000-series, but it could also give the 11-series a major performance advantage over AMD’s hardware in compatible titles if it was offered as part of it.
It really depends on what sort of guise the 11-series takes. If the 1160 ends up as an RTX 2060 with disabled ray tracing and a lower price tag, then DLSS may be a possibility. However, if it’s the Tensor and RT cores which have made the RTX-series so expensive, we may see the feature dropped to help keep the 11-series cost competitive in its bracket.
As with everything else regarding the 11-series, expect to learn a lot more at CES 2019.