What is an RTX graphics card?

Nvidia's RTX graphics cards offer peak features and performance for consumers; they can even compare to some high-end professional cards. RTX cards tell buyers they have onboard RT and Tensor cores; specialized hardware that accelerates ray tracing and artificial intelligence calculations.

RTX is the brand name of the RTX 2000 series graphics cards launched by Nvidia in 2018. The name describes the hardware itself and separates it from the previous generation "GTX" option.

GTX cards include the beloved GTX 1080 Ti and the ultra-popular GTX 1060. They don't come with RT or Tensor cores, which accelerate ray tracing and artificial intelligence calculations such as Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS).

In fact, the "RT" in "RTX" is an abbreviation for "ray tracing." This is the card's signature feature, which renders light in real time to create realistic, dynamic shadows and reflections. Initially, "RTX On" in the game meant hardware-accelerated ray tracing was active. At the time, Nvidia was the only company offering this feature on its GPUs.

However, Nvidia has since dropped "RTX On" as other companies and hardware now offer the same feature. Modern games also now support ray tracing using AMD and Intel graphics cards, as well as alternative upscaling algorithms such as AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) and Intel's Xe Super Sampling (XeSS).

Although there are still some third-party vendors selling aftermarket versions of Nvidia GTX graphics cards, only Nvidia currently sells RTX-branded graphics cards. As of this writing, the latest generation is the RTX 4000 series, which includes the RTX 4060, 4070 Super, 4080 Super, and the world's fastest gaming graphics card, the RTX 4090, among others.

All of these graphics cards feature RT and Tensor cores and support the latest generation of Nvidia hardware-accelerated ray tracing technology and the most advanced DLSS algorithms, including frame generation that significantly increases frame rates when supporting games.

RTX graphics cards are also one of the most popular graphics cards for accelerating some professional applications. Part of that is the onboard CUDA kernel, which accelerates applications like Adobe After Effects, 3DS Max and OBS Studio. But Tensor Cores can also be used for AI workloads, and are starting to find use in video upscaling and generative AI at the local level as well.

Nvidia's RTX Quadro cards are professional-grade graphics cards designed for 3D design work, 3D effects, video editing, and a variety of other applications. Technically, they can play games, but they're not designed for it. They don't perform particularly well for this kind of use, especially against more professional graphics cards like the RTX 4070 Super or RTX 4090.

However, Quadro cards are faster and more powerful in professional applications, and often have larger amounts of video memory.