Computing

I Tested Nvidia’s Revolutionary RTX Feature and Transformed PC Gaming

You wouldn’t believe it, but an unexpected game, Portal: Prelude RTX, has introduced a groundbreaking advancement in the world of PC gaming. Unveiled after nearly three years of anticipation, Nvidia’s new RTX IO feature may not be as flashy as ray tracing or DLSS, but my rigorous testing suggests that it has the potential to revolutionize PC gaming like no other RTX feature before.

What is RTX IO?

Let’s delve into the essence of RTX IO. It’s a GPU-accelerated asset loading and decompression technology that comes with a promise of faster load times, smaller install sizes, reduced CPU usage, and minimal texture pop-in. How does it accomplish this? By offloading CPU tasks to the GPU, RTX IO takes advantage of the immense core counts found in modern graphics cards.

Traditionally, when games load, assets are retrieved from the SSD and loaded into system memory. From there, they undergo decompression on the CPU before returning to memory. Finally, fully prepared assets are sent to the graphics card. This process worked well until the arrival of the PS5 and Xbox Series X.

As I mentioned in previous articles, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X possess dedicated decompression hardware, effectively bypassing the CPU during this process. Consequently, assets are decompressed at a faster rate, allowing them to reach the GPU more swiftly. While PC storage has kept pace with this level of streaming, it lacks the dedicated decompression hardware found in consoles. And this is precisely where RTX IO comes into play.

Nvidia's RTX IO technology diagram
Nvidia

Compressed data from the SSD flows directly into system memory and swiftly moves on to the GPU. Nvidia employs GDeflate, its own open-source data compression scheme built for GPUs, to expedite the process. As an added advantage, RTX IO integrates seamlessly with Microsoft’s DirectStorage and supports Vulkan extensions, enabling its utilization in games such as Portal: Prelude RTX. It’s worth noting that RTX IO is not proprietary and functions with any DirectX 12 graphics card.

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But Does it Deliver?

Of course, these claims sound impressive in theory, but what about real-world performance? GPU decompression remains relatively uncharted territory in PC gaming, even with games like Forspoken that support DirectStorage. However, the impact of RTX IO is clearly evident when you consider the installation size of Portal: Prelude RTX. At the time of writing, the game occupies a mere 24.29GB compared to 39.16GB without RTX IO, resulting in a remarkable 38% reduction in install size.

Texture loading also receives a significant boost. In one instance, textures that previously took 3.13 seconds to load without RTX IO now appear in a mere 1.36 seconds, eliminating noticeable pop-in. Even in the most demanding scenes, where texture loading previously took 6.34 seconds, RTX IO reduces it to a mere 2.51 seconds.

Portal Prelude RTX image comparison
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Keep in mind that Portal: Prelude RTX is a game that prioritizes depth over breadth, showcasing full path tracing and highly detailed materials throughout each scene. In larger, open-world games, the benefits of RTX IO for texture streaming become even more apparent. With the right optimization, the technology can reduce texture streaming time by approximately two-thirds, providing clear advantages for games with massive, detailed worlds.

Furthermore, RTX IO significantly decreases CPU utilization. In the aforementioned demanding scene, even with the powerful 24-core Intel Core i9-13900K, CPU utilization dropped from 37% to a mere 22% when RTX IO was enabled. It appeared that Portal: Prelude RTX optimized its performance for eight cores. Games built on the Unreal Engine could potentially benefit even more if they are currently limited to a few CPU cores.

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The Implications for PC Gaming

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Make no mistake, Portal: Prelude RTX merely scratches the surface of what games powered by this technology can achieve in the future. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to witness the full capabilities of RTX IO in other games. Nvidia has confirmed that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will support RTX IO on PC, allowing this storage-intensive game to fully leverage the technology.

What excites me the most is the optimization potential that RTX IO (and DirectStorage) brings to the table. As I’ve previously voiced, stuttering remains a significant issue plaguing PC gaming, particularly in major AAA releases. While hardware-accelerated decompression may not entirely eliminate stuttering, it presents a promising solution.

Traversing through games like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Dead Space, and Redfall, one cannot ignore the persistent stuttering on PC. This issue is particularly pronounced in games that rely on a limited number of CPU threads, such as titles built on the Unreal Engine. By reducing the workload on these cores during decompression, RTX IO opens up CPU resources to handle other tasks. This, in turn, mitigates the stuttering issues that have plagued PC gaming throughout the year.

According to Nvidia, “RTX IO alone cannot completely remove stutter, but it can be an aiding technology to help reduce stuttering. It can do so by scaling down the dependence on CPU compute when the need to load textures and geometries ‘faster’ is the cause of stuttering, and freeing up the CPU to work on other tasks.”

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For now, we eagerly await the release of more games incorporating RTX IO and other GPU decompression technologies. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will be the first game to showcase these capabilities on July 26, and hopefully, many more games will follow suit throughout the year.

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