Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team. This article is a counterpoint to Derek Forrest's equally-worthy "Why You Shouldn’t Buy Nvidia’s RTX 20-Series Graphics Cards (Yet)." We encourage readers to check out both articles, form their own opinions and share feedback in the comments section below.
New technology usually gets cheaper if you wait long enough. So, inevitably, when a game-changing component or device hits the market, many will urge you to stay away until prices drop or a new standard gets wider adoption. That's why, this week, so many users, including our own Derek Forrest, are advising shoppers to hold off on buying one of Nvidia's new RTX graphics cards.
However, what these price-panicked pundits don't understand is that there's value in being an early adopter. And there's a cost to either delaying your purchase or getting an older-generation product so you can save money. Unless and until final benchmark results show otherwise, the new features of the Turing cards make them worth buying, even at their current, sky-high prices.
If you're the type of enthusiast who is willing to preorder products without waiting for independent testing -- and the current sell-outs of RTX cards tell us that there are a lot of you -- the price shouldn't scare you off (it won't drop soon). However, if you take the more-prudent approach of waiting for reviews to validate Nvidia's claims, get ready to take out your wallet in a few weeks. If these cards deliver even half of what they promise, you won't want to settle for last-gen technology.
The Real Cost of Buying Outdated Tech
Let's say you are building a new system or planning a major upgrade and you need to buy a new video card this fall. You could buy the last-generation GTX 1080 Ti for as little as $526, but if you do, you won't be able to take advantage of key RTX features like real-time ray tracing and great 4K gaming performance until your next upgrade.
Unless you plan to upgrade your GPU every year, you're going to be stuck with technology that looks much more outdated in 2019 and 2020 than it does in 2018. Yes, there are only 11 announced games that support ray tracing and only 16 that support DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling), but there will be a lot more in the months and years ahead. Do you want to put yourself behind the curve?
When your whole life flashes before your eyes, how much of it do you want to not have ray tracing?
At Nvidia's conference, CEO Jensen Huang described real-time ray tracing as the "holy grail" of graphical computing. While that statement might be hyperbole, ray tracing is a big deal, because it makes games look and feel much more life-like. The holy grail of gaming is a photorealistic play experience and ray tracing gets us much closer to that goal. It's not just about light, shadow and reflections; it's about immersion.
Benefits of RTX Cards
This week, Nvidia showed a demo of Battlefield V where you can see a muzzle flash from another part of the world reflected in a soldier's eyes and the fire from an explosion reflected off of the glossy finish of a car. That's what you'd see if you were actually there and participating in the fight. And you'd also see the world in high resolution, not just 1080p.
According to Nvidia's own numbers, the RTX 2080 delivers between 35 and 125 percent better performance on 4K games than the GTX 1080. The percentages were between 40 and 60 percent for games that did not have special optimizations for the new cards. In other words, you should be able to play existing 4K games smoothly that were either unplayable or choppy on 10-series cards.
When you’re among the first to purchase a new architecture like Nvidia's RTX cards, you take the risk that the technology won't work as well as advertised right away, that you won't find a ton of titles that support its special features and that the price will drop, making you feel like you wasted your money. However, when you pay a premium for cutting-edge components, you're also buying time, time to enjoy experiences.
Life is short. How many months or years do you want to wait to enjoy a new experience? You can sit around twiddling your thumbs and hoping that an RTX 2080 gets cheaper, or you can enter the world of ray-tracing and high-speed, 4K gaming today and never look back. When you die and your whole life flashes before your eyes, how much of it do you want to not have ray tracing?
Video card companies know that people are willing to pay a premium price for RTX cards.
The 15-inch Apple Studio display, one of the first flat panel monitors, cost $1,999 when it came out . . . in 1998. Today, you can get a used one on eBay for under $50 or a new 24-inch monitor for under $150, but if you bought one at the time, you had the opportunity to use a fantastic new technology when others didn't.
Why the RTX Prices Won't Drop Anytime Soon
Yes, Nvidia's cards are extremely expensive. To pre-order the high-end RTX 2080 Ti card, you'll spend either $1,199 for the first-party Founders Edition or around the same price for a third-party card (Nvidia initially said that partner cards would start at $999, but every listing we see is at least $1,149). To get the RTX 2080, you'll pay around $799 while the RTX 2070, which is due out later than its sibling, is $599 (we haven't seen third-party 2070s for sale yet).
By way of comparison, the GTX 1080 Ti carried an MSRP of only $699, $500 less than its successor, when it launched in 2017. In 2016, the Founders Edition GTX 1080 was also $699, $100 less than the RTX 2080.
However, if you think the cards are going to drop significantly in price anytime soon, you're going to be disappointed. There are several good reasons why the RTX cards cost so much more than their predecessors.
First, let's consider that the 10-series cards remain on the market and, apparently, because of decreased demand from the crypto miners who were hoarding GPUs earlier this year, there's excess inventory. The prices of these older cards are dropping, but in order to sell them off, Nvidia and its partners need to make sure that there's a significant price delta between 10-series and 20-series.
"If there is a significant amount of series 10 cards floating around, they would want to at least draw that down somewhat," NPD Analyst Stephen Baker told us.
Second, video card companies know that people are willing to pay a premium price for RTX cards. If you look on Amazon, Newegg or Nvidia's own store, you'll see that many of the cards are already sold out. There's no lack of demand.
Third, these cards probably cost more to manufacture than their predecessors.
"These giant (and they are really big) chips cost a lot to make and test, and the huge amount of memory is expensive plus the cooling systems - just [cost of goods]," Analyst Jon Peddie told us. "There's no rip off here, no conspiracy."
If you can possibly afford one of the RTX cards -- even if it's not the most expensive model -- there's plenty of reasons to pull the trigger, either right now or after reading independent reviews. The time you spend waiting and complaining about it being overpriced is time you could be gaming with the most realistic user experience available.
Editor's Note (8/25): I've made a few changes to the original copy of this story to clarify and clearly express my view that reading independent reviews of any new product (especially a pricey GPU) is generally a good idea. I've also added the disclaimer above to make it obvious to everyone that this is an opinion piece (one of a pair of articles taking different sides on a hot button issue), not official buying advice from the entire team at Tom's Hardware