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NVIDIA Ada Lovelace Architecture Explained - What's New?

An introduction to ADA Lovelace architecture and why it is the most significant quantum leap for PC enthusiasts.

 

NVIDIA Ada Lovelace Architecture Explained - What's New?

 

Imagine being a part of the NVIDIA engineering team, and knowing what is coming next in the graphics card industry. I often wonder what it must be like to come into work and know what the future will be for millions of gamers, creators and computer enthusiasts. Pretty good, I imagine.

As a young PC enthusiast in the nineties, I often daydreamed about the future of graphics technology, after watching movies such as Lawnmower Man, and even seeing the first ever 3D animation from back in 1972 (yes, really). The future was always bright for those who loved gaming and 3D modelling, design and animation. Technology has been taking giant leaps since the eighties when it comes to software capabilities and the hardware that drives them

For some people who enjoy technology, reading about new developments from NVIDIA and AMD in the media is not all-consuming. It seems many people have become accustomed to hearing that we're seeing the "next generation" in this or that technology space. In some ways, there is even an air of complacency or apathy. This is not the case for gamers and PC enthusiasts who remember how far we've come however.

Reddit, the font of all that is awesome and repulsive in the world of tech, has a very large number of users who prescribe to the "lest we forget" mentality. For instance, Reddit user, 1leggedpuppy, showed us a comparison between the original Tomb Raider series of 1996 and the 2018 Rise of the Tomb Raider version:

 

Graphics comparison between 1996 Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider 2018

 

Better still, below is a comparison by Reddit user, TheLogame, showing The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt lighting and shading improvements in seven years of development and hardware optimisations.

User, Roger_Maxon76 commented: "In my opinion it looks great, but it’s hard to greatly update a game like this that is already pretty without losing the style. They did the best they could and it looks great in my opinion. Remember it’s not a remake it’s a remaster. Look at dark souls remastered for a shi**y remaster that does nothing. Remasters don’t need to change the game drastically. Also the character models are different from what I’ve seen and the hair looks better as well as lighting and slightly better resolution"

 

NVIDIA Ada Lovelace Architecture Explained - Witcher 3 graphics

 

This shows without a shadow of a doubt (pun intended) that even back in 2015, developers were truly pushing the limit of AMD and NVIDIA GPUs, which were dominated in the high-end mass market by the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti and AMD Radeon R9 Fury X.

If you owned either of those graphics cards, then you were able to crank up the settings to Ultra 1440p, and truly experience Geralt of Rivia and Lady Lara Croft of Surrey in all their glory - exploring open worlds at high framerates, and delighting in the graphics.

Further, gloriously created scenery in games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Batman: Arkham Knight were rapidly becoming the norm in 2015, and offering a sneak peak at the ways RTX would revolutionise beautiful game worlds. We were already seeing beautiful lighting and reflections - but it would take a giant leap in processing power to closely simulate the physical behaviour of light. A giant leap that was announced August 20, 2018 with the acclaimed NVIDIA RTX 20-series.

 

So, with the release of the new ADA Lovelace architecture, can we expect even more improvements? How have the engineers found more ways to enhance the lighting, shading and overall speed of games? Can we expect more immersion and a further quickening of the pulse when we're in the heat of battle?

It would seem so. Yes.

This article will give you some insight into how the RTX 40-series ADA Lovelace GPUs will change the way you play, create and develop over the next few years, without too much in the way of technical jargon, sandbagging or hyperbole.

 

ADA Lovelace - The Highlights

ADA Lovelace finds its origin story with Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace - or Ada Lovelace for short. Widely regarded as the first computer programmer, Ada created a computational algorithm in the mid-1840s, working with Charles Babbage and his "engines" that could solve problems with multiple variables, and forming the basis of all modern computers today. Fast forward slightly to September 2022, and NVIDIA announce their ADA Lovelace microarchitecture, which aims to revolutionise everything from gaming to medical research. In under two hundred years, the world has seen a remarkable shift in technologies, and NVIDIA are at the forefront of both machine learning, AI and visual pioneering.

ADA - or Lovelace - is an incredible improvement over the previous Ampere technology, essentially, and in NVIDIA's own words, their heiress to the throne is "...designed to provide revolutionary performance for ray tracing and AI-based neural graphics. It delivers a dramatically higher baseline of GPU performance and marks the tipping point for ray tracing and neural graphics."

With the catchy "Beyond Fast" tagline, the RTX 40-series sped on to our screens in the form of a specially rendered stunt racing video of radio controlled cars as part of an announcement by CEO Jensen Huang at GTC, complete with a full account of the features we could expect from the next-gen GPUs, a very special Portal RTX demo, and lashings of gloriously rendered scenes to whet the appetites of gamers and creators everywhere.

Improved Ray Tracing Performance

The tip of the spear for NVIDIA, Ray Tracing is the standard that most modern AAA games are judged (somewhat unfairly) on. With Ray Tracing technologies, gamers are able to experience worlds that are lit, shaded and reflected very much as in the real world, allowing for incredibly life-like scenes and immersion on a whole new level.

 

 

Not only is Ray Tracing important for lighting and shading in the normal sense (light and shadow), but also in textures. As the human eye perceives light differently as it meets textures, the GPU further increases the immersion by reflecting light according to surfaces it touches.

 

Control - Ray-Traced Reflections Comparison Ray-Traced Reflections

 

Although this might be something you would commonly miss in a game, titles that allow you to explore and examine scenes like Remedy Entertainment's Control really showcase RTX in a phenomenal way. With lots of different surfaces and textures to marvel at, you can take your time and truly justify the money you spent on your next generation graphics card.

Jokes aside, this is one reason you will find RTX appearing in open world or RPG titles that have a "free roam" aspect and give you time to take in your surroundings between missions. When the action kicks off and the lighting of lasers, fire, gunshots and explosions really begins, you will find yourself so engrossed in the realistic nature of the scene, that you tend to enjoy the game on a different level. For example, Control wasn't a spectacular win for Remedy fans, but the beauty of it cannot be ignored. In April 2022, we wrote up a growing list of RTX enabled games, which continues to include many older titles and indie hits, which can be enjoyed in a different way.

NVIDIA <3 Game Developers

NVIDIA have worked closely with game developers and artists to ensure they are working on what's important. Lovelace is a masterpiece in listening, for NVIDIA, because it allows developers who use platforms such as Unreal and Unity to add a depth to games that indie had often been lacking.

Microsoft's DXR - or DirectX Ray Tracing - libraries are a significant factor in this progression that enables developers to implement Ray Tracing in their titles. An example of this is Stay in the Light, by Richard Cowgill, an indie developer who designed the game using a GTX 1080 Ti (which does not have Ray Tracing capability).

 

Stay in the Light Screenshot with ray tracing

 

Whilst the game was in early access, Cowgill told PC Gamer that the DXR drivers "allowed him to start working with Unreal Engine's ray tracing support. He started work on a procedurally generated horror game that would make lighting and reflections a major part of the game. Initial prototype in hand, he went to Reddit to ask RTX owners to give it a shot and provide some feedback on performance, which in turn caught the eye of Nvidia's Indie Spotlight group"

NVIDIA RTX Remix

To add to NVIDIA's expanding buffs, NVIDIA RTX Remix further enhances the use of Ray Tracing in older titles, allowing games to be modded directly by gamers in a user interface. Portal was the poster child for Remix, having been digitally remastered using the Remix platform (which is not yet released as of January 2023). RTX Remix is a free expansion of the older Nvidia Omniverse system to offer more scope to modders with DirectX 8 and DirectX 9 video games.

ADA Lovelace RTX Tech Specs

The Lovelace series benefits from Third-Gen RT cores, which means 2x Ray Tracing performance over previous generation 30-series cards.

RTX 4090 operates 16,384 CUDA cores (RTX 3090 = 10,496 CUDA cores) and has 2.52 GHz of boost clock (RTX 3090 = 1.695 GHz). The RTX 4090 is, and will be for some time, one of the best graphics cards ever made, with the highest recorded framerates using ray Tracing ever recorded. Recent benchmarks also noted that the energy efficiency of the 4090 is outstanding, attaining 0.41 frames per Joule of energy, as opposed to the 0.29 frames per Joule of the RTX 3090 (which was already pretty efficient).

The RTX 4080 has 9,728 CUDA cores (RTX 3080 Ti = 10,240 CUDA cores), and a 2.51GHz boost clock (RTX 3080 Ti = 1.665 GHz). Although on the face of it, the 3080 Ti looks to have better specs in the Ray Tracing department, the Lovelace architecture is able to maintain higher framerates with RTX On, across many titles that have been benchmarked in recent months.

 

RTX 4080 vs RTX 3080 Ti

 

The RTX 4070 Ti, recently announced by NVIDIA is what most gamers have been waiting for. With incredible pricing, the 4070 Ti has been tagged as "worth the asking price" by some reviewers - in comparison to the lesser favoured RTX 4080 and higher priced RTX 4090 - benchmarking in RTX 3090 to RTX 3090 Ti brackets for the most part. With some unpropitious sites like Ebuyer still selling the RTX 3090 for £1799, the RTX 4070 Ti is absolutely priced to outsell its previous generation cousin.

  • ASUS GeForce RTX 3070 Ti ROG Strix 8GB OC GPU
  • INNO3D GeForce RTX 3070 Ti X3 8GB GPU
  • ASUS GeForce RTX 3070 Ti TUF 8GB OC GPU

 

Enhanced AI and Machine Learning Capabilities

This is where our non-techy explanation of the RTX Lovelace cards could fall down, but we'll see how we go. It's not that AI and machine learning are complicated on the surface; we use it all day every day in many applications. Say "Ok, Google" or "Alexa" and you're treated to a world of discoveries without going near a PC. From cars to medical devices, AI has changed the speed and agility of technology for the human race.

Recently, the auspicious ChatGPT came into question in the CCL content office, and the whole Skynet conversation got a little out of hand. Whilst I don't believe AI means us any harm in the near future, there are still many who believe it does. To assuage these fears early in this section of the article, I asked the ChatGPT tool if I should put my finger in the CPU cooler fan on my PC. The answer:

 

ChatGPT enhanced AI and machine learning

 

So, don't worry. AI is certainly not out to get us, and this is yet more conclusive proof. Not only was I given some great wellbeing advice, I was also educated in proper PC care.

Fourth-Gen Tensor Cores

The next generation of NVIDIA Tensor Cores have transformed compute abilities for the masses, in that even hobbyist computer scientists get as much out of the new technology as gamers do with the new frame rate multiplying features of NVIDIA DLSS 3.

The new Tensor Cores have increased throughput by up to 5X, to a massive 1.4 Tensor-petaFLOPS using the new FP8 Transformer Engine. What this means to average gaming humans is gaming processes like DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) operations are able to be moved from the CUDA cores to the Tensor Cores, so jobs like Anti Aliasing become much more efficiently handled (and are handled pretty darn quickly, too).

DLSS employs deep learning algorithms (handed off to the Tensor Cores) to enhance the resolution of low-resolution graphics through a process called denoising. This means your PC can render games at a lower resolution, such as 1080p, and then upscale the graphics to a higher resolution, like 1440p, while maintaining a high level of visual quality. When DLSS is enabled, it invariably improves the performance of your gaming PC whilst still delivering high-quality graphics.

Importantly, NVIDIA's breakthrough AI use case, DLSS 3, brings with it a new process of "adding" frames to increase framerates, and smooth out any jerkiness. As we can see in this image, the added frame would be imperceptible, yet smooths out the motion in the scene very well:

 

Screenshot showing differences between the rendered frames and DLSS 3 AI generated frame

 

In motion, the difference is truly remarkable:

 

 

 

Credit: Chillblast.com and Digital Foundry

Tensor Cores are associated with real-time Ray Tracing, as the RT (Ray Tracing) cores do the job of calculating the lighting and shading, and the Tensor Cores are used to denoise and upsample the image on the screen using DLSS 3 to reduce the grainy result you'd experience with just RT cores at work. Working in tandem like this is super-efficient, too, so there's no reduction in framerate, either.

Other Lovelace Features

Whilst the above is not an exhaustive list of new features in ADA Lovelace architecture, it gives you a good idea of how the latest generation cards will improve your gaming experience. In future articles we'll discuss DLSS 3 in more detail, and also look at ADA Lovelace in laptops - but for now, here are some brief features you should know about.

  • Shader Execution Reordering (SER) - The SER system actively and dynamically reorganizes inefficient workloads into more efficient ones, resulting in up to a 3X improvement in shader performance for Ray Tracing operations and up to a 25% improvement in in-game frame rates.
  • AV1 Encoding - New eigth generation NVIDIA Encoders (NVENC) with AV1 encoding, providing improved efficiency (40% over H.264) and enabling higher resolution streaming (e.g. 1440p at same bitrate and quality as 1080p) for users
  • NVIDIA Ominverse - A significant improvement for creator collaboration, Omniverse allows teams to work together on a myriad of applications in the cloud, via the power of Lovelace and previous RTX architectures.
  • NVIDIA Omniverse Machinima - A game changing reference application that allows users to collaborate in real time to animate and manipulate characters and their environments in virtual worlds. Technical artists, content creators, and industry professionals can use the tool to easily create game cinematics using high-fidelity renders from within virtual worlds.
  • NVIDIA Broadcast app - NVIDIA's thunderous footprint on the streaming market puts powerful AI effects at your fingertips such as noise and room echo removal, virtual background, and more to enhance live streams, video calls and voice chats
  • Resizable-BAR - An optional PCI-Express related technology which allows the video memory of a graphics card to be seen by the CPU as a single large addressable block, rather than being accessed through smaller, 256 MB sized apertures.