Nvidia Reflex is one of the new technologies put forward by the brand for its GeForce RTX 3000. On paper, it must minimize latency to allow players to perform better in competitive games. We put it to the test.
Latency: the bane of competitive gaming players
If you've ever played a game online, and what's more with a system of competition between players, you know that latency is a very important factor to take into account. It can take many forms and accumulates from one end of the chain to the other: server latency, internet connection, mouse or screen.
The more you want to play based solely on your personal performance, the more you have to reduce this latency to a minimum. Remove lag from the equation.
Never the last to offer new technologies around video games, Nvidia presented its Nvidia Reflex function with the GeForce RTX 3000, but it is compatible with the previous generations of the 20, 10 and 9 series. It's time to take a closer look at this technology.
What is Nvidia Reflex?
Nvidia is therefore attacking what it knows well: the display channel. With Nvidia Reflex technology, the goal is to reduce the system latency between the processor, the graphics card and the screen that will display the game.
More specifically, Nvidia Reflex is a set of software technologies to reduce this latency and allow better synchronization between the processor and the GPU when it comes to rendering the image. Unfortunately, this goes through an API that game developers are going to have to adopt. This means that the technology is limited to a list of compatible games like Apex Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, Fortnite or even Destiny 2 to name a few.
In detail, Nvidia Reflex is in fact based on the elimination of the queue between the processor and the GPU. When the player takes an action in a game, for example shooting another player, the processor will calculate the consequences of this action (did he hit? How many life points did he lose? should I now display?) and will therefore be able to ask the GPU to calculate a new image taking into account these consequences (decrease the life bar, display a bullet impact, etc.). On a game that is fairly greedy in graphics, where the GPU will therefore be the limiting factor in performance, it is possible that the processor does its calculations faster than the GPU and therefore fills a “queue” for the GPU, creating system latency.
With Reflex, Nvidia therefore wants to synchronize everything so that each image is calculated by the GPU as soon as the processor sends the data, and itself begins its calculations as soon as the user has taken actions. In this, Reflex approaches the principle of a performance limitation software to ensure greater consistency and therefore less latency. In fact, this also limits the greediness of games in terms of processor resources.
And the Reflex On + Boost option?
In games that offer Nvidia Reflex, there are three possible settings: off, to deactivate Reflex, on to activate it and “On + Boost”. This last option will increase the operating frequency of the graphics card to obtain a new image to send to the screen as frequently as possible. This is done at the cost of increasing electricity consumption. This setting is useful for scenarios where game speed is limited by the processor. Without the boost mode, in these cases of “CPU bound”, the graphics card would naturally lower its frequency since it is not used to its maximum. This could cause it to miss its synchronization with the screen and therefore create latency.
How did we test Nvidia Reflex?
Testing the promises of Nvidia Reflex is not a very easy thing to do. It is indeed necessary to measure the response time from an action, such as a mouse click, to the reaction on the screen. We are talking about time of the order of a few milliseconds and therefore you need a camera operating at very high speed to be able to measure the display difference.
Nvidia lent us for this a device designed in-house and loaned to the press: the Latency Display Analysis Tool or LDAT for short. It is simply a small sensor that we will attach in front of the screen and connect by USB to the system to take the measurements. The box also incorporates a small mouse button to make sure to launch the measurement as soon as the click has been detected. This device works to measure the latency on any screen and any game. It would be interesting to use it to measure the latency of very high frequency gaming screens, or to compare the latency offered by different cloud services. gaming. But for now, let's start by testing Nvidia Reflex.
For this test, here is the configuration used:
- AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
- GPU Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
- 32 Go de RAM DDR4
- SSD Sata SanDisk Ultra 3D Nand 2 To
- Écran Dell S2417DG (24 pouces, 2560 x 1440 pixels, 144 Hz, G-Sync)
On each game tested and for each option (Reflex activated or deactivated), we carried out 100 measurements to derive interesting and relevant data.
The test results
As we explained above, Nvidia Reflex should make sense when the GPU is in high demand. Overwatch is a very well optimized and not very greedy game, which can therefore surprise here for this test, but it is also a game engine which allows to go very high in speed of display, up to 400 images per second. We therefore tested this game twice, first with the graphics settings at maximum and with the rendering option at 200% (which forces the GPU to render in 5120 x 2880 pixels) to push the card into its limits. entrenchments. The second test session was done with the settings in low graphics quality, to see how Nvidia Reflex behaves in a game where the CPU and GPU are not used much.
This test shows that Nvidia Reflex proves itself well when the GPU is called upon. In a scenario like this, we saw the average latency drop from 57.6ms to just 33.2ms, which is particularly noticeable at a high level of gaming. Latency was noticeably lower with this setup by enabling Nvidia Reflex. allowing to aim with more precision in a more pleasant way.
Conversely, and as one could suppose, a scenario where the GPU is not requested, with a low graphics quality, does not allow to significantly reduce the latency with Nvidia Reflex. The gains by activating the option are negligible in this case.
The most popular game in 2021 manages the latest technologies present on Nvidia graphics cards: ray tracing, DLSS and Nvidia Reflex. We therefore did a first test session with maximum graphics settings, including ray tracing options and with DLSS enabled in performance mode. We also repeated the test with the graphics settings at a minimum.
Here again, the first scenario shows a very clear gain by activating Nvidia Reflex. We go from 56 ms to only 32 ms, which once again makes the game more enjoyable in action. It is in this type of scenario where we advise to activate Nvidia Reflex. Especially since the activation of the option is done without impact on the performance of the game. There is therefore no reason not to do without.
The story is not the same on our test with the parameters at a minimum. We can see that in this case Nvidia Reflex even adds a little system latency, going from 23 to 26 ms without the boost mode, and to 24 ms with this option enabled. These are, however, negligible differences that are difficult to detect with the naked eye in play.
As we have seen, Nvidia Reflex is illustrated in fairly specific scenarios: those where the graphics card is pushed to its limits and can no longer ensure a minimum rendering latency. It can be a greedy game, or a PC with a low-end graphics card or even a very high definition game (QHD + or 4K). Ironically, this means that Nvidia Reflex may be less attractive on Nvidia's more high-end graphics cards, since they are less likely to be limited. In all of these cases, activating Nvidia Reflex is a good idea. This is done at no cost to performance and significantly reduces latency. You can feel the difference in play.
In other cases, activating Nvidia Reflex does not bring immediate gain. We have seen it on our games set with the graphics settings to a minimum. But that means playing in poor graphics conditions: slobbering textures, a very small display range, and less elaborate animations. If we put our two scenarios end to end, we understand that Nvidia Reflex will also allow the graphics parameters to be adjusted without having a PC with a high-end graphics card. Indeed, we will be able to find a balance between performance, reduced latency with Nvidia Reflex and increased graphics settings. This also allows you to go up in definition without increasing the latency, always for the same reasons and we can imagine playing in 1440p or in 4K on a more limited PC.
I was rather skeptical about Nvidia Reflex before this test, but I must admit that it is an interesting new pawn in Nvidia's software ecosystem alongside software like Nvidia Broadcast or technologies like DLSS. The only notable downside to Reflex is ultimately asking for support from game developers. This will necessarily limit the number of games compatible with the function.
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