What Is Ray Tracing and How Does it Work? (In-Depth Guide on Ray Tracing)

Realism in games has become a very popular subject among gamers. Getting to experience real-time sunlight, shadows, and reflections gives the user the ability to feel even more immersed in their game than ever before.

Ray tracing is what allows these stunning visuals to be processed, and in this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about ray tracing.

What ray tracing looks like when its off vs when its on

What is Ray Tracing?

Ray tracing is a way your computer can simulate the way light interacts with objects on your screen. If you imagine or even look at a spot in your room you can see when it encounters different objects it will reflect, refract, and scatter in different directions; creating shadows and different volumes of light depending on where you are looking and what objects are around.

By tracing the path of light as it interacts with objects from the virtual world on your screen, ray tracing has the ability to produce incredibly realistic visuals and lighting effects.

It’s less about the light itself and more about its interaction with the world.

When the light hits an object on your screen the way the light interacts with that object will determine what colors and shades you will also see.

The ray tracing on your computer is trying to simulate as realistically as possible, how the human eye processes light, shadows, and reflections in the real world.

This allows for lifelike shadows, reflections, translucence, and scattering. Allowing graphics to be so realistic it can sometimes be hard to decipher the difference between your computer screen and the real world.

However, this realism comes at a cost. The computational power required for ray tracing is very demanding.

If you look back at the past 5-10 years, a lot of popular movies that use CGI have already put the use of ray tracing to the test.

However, these movies are created by companies that can afford to purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of server computers. With that much power, they basically have the ability to do anything.

Raytracing when gaming

This is why video games have traditionally relied on a technique called rasterization. Faster and more efficient, rasterization translates 3D graphics into 2D pixels for display. But to achieve realistic lighting, it requires shaders.

With that being said RTX cards made by Nvidia have made the ability for real-time ray tracing a possibility.

In essence, the gaming world stands on the brink of a visual revolution. The advancements in ray tracing signal a future where games look and feel astonishingly real. As technology continues to evolve, the line between virtual and reality will blur, offering gamers an immersive experience like never before. We’re just at the beginning, and the best is yet to come.

Ray Tracing Definition

If you are looking for a more condensed version of what ray tracing is here is a short definition that sums it all up.

Ray tracing is a rendering technique that simulates how light interacts with objects, producing realistic graphics. This technique is also used in CGI films for years, but with its high hardware demand, it has been hard to integrate it into the gaming scene.

While games have relied on rasterization for quicker rendering, advancements in hardware, especially with Nvidia graphics cards, are ushering in an era of real-time ray tracing in gaming. This promises a future where game visuals are indistinguishably close to real life, marking a significant leap in immersive gaming experiences.

Problems When Using Ray Tracing For Gaming

Although ray tracing can bring you a very immersing gaming experience there are some problems that come up when using ray tracing for gaming.

  • Affects Gaming Performance
  • Requires Expensive Hardware to Run
  • Not All GPUs Support Ray Tracing
  • Not All Games Support Ray Tracing
  • Experience Will Vary From Game to Game

Affects Gaming Performance

The biggest problem with ray tracing right now is how much it affects the performance of your computer.

Ray tracing uses a lot of computing power which in turn takes a toll on the performance of your computer. So, even though games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Battlefield offer stunning visuals when ray tracing is turned on, many gamers opt to keep it off to give them an edge when competing against other gamers.

If you are the type of person who doesn’t care about sheer performance or enjoys other single-player games then you won’t experience that big of a performance difference with turning ray tracing on, unless your computer is already underperforming.

Requires Expensive Hardware to Run

As you know already ray tracing affects performance quite a bit, which means it is pretty demanding on your computer hardware, especially your graphics card.

High-end GPU used for ray tracing and enhancing performance

If you have a low-end or budget GPU, even if it does support ray tracing some games might refuse to run because your GPU won’t be able to keep up.

In order to experience the full capability of ray tracing you will need a high-end GPU, but these tend to be very pricy.

Not All GPUs Support Ray Tracing

This is another big problem with ray tracing. Not all GPUs support it. If you own a GTX Nvidia GPU then you will not have the ray tracing abilities that their RTX cards do. The only way to get around this is by upgrading to a newer model, but again that can be pricy.

When you look at AMD GPUs you have a similar problem as well. Older AMD cards don’t support it, which gives you the same problem.

Not All Games Support Ray Tracing

On top of your graphics card not being able to support ray tracing, some games also don’t support this feature as well.

As technology gets more advanced and new titles come out a lot of developers are adding in a ray tracing feature, but even still it is so demanding that even the newest AAA games don’t have the ray tracing feature enabled because it takes too much work and it is not that mainstream yet.

You will also see older games such as Minecraft add this feature, but not every developer is going back to an old game just to add a lighting feature as it takes way too much work with little reward.

Experience Will Vary From Game to Game

Even with the hardware to support it as well as a game that supports ray tracing, your experience will differ from title to title.

It is up to the game developers to determine how much of an effect ray tracing has on their games. the experience will vary depending on the art style, and how optimized they have made ray tracing for the specific game at hand.

List of Ray Tracing Games

There is an array of games that support ray tracing so if you want to view them all I have created a list of all the games that support ray tracing so far.

But, I will also go through some of the more popular games on here so you have a general idea.

Battlefield V

Battlefield V was one of the early adopters of Nvidia RTX technology, giving the player the ability to have one of the most immersive gaming experiences they have had up until now.

What makes the ray tracing features on Battlefield V so good is the way it uses the lighting to reflect characters on puddles of water as well as increasing the effects of explosions, etc.

Here is a cinematic video created by Nvidia to demonstrate the effects of their ray tracing technology. As you can see from the opening scenes, it doesn’t even feel like a video game and gives you a more real-life experience like you are right there on the battlefield.


You can see that even in an older game such as Minecraft. Ray tracing can make the gameplay more immersive. Even though Minecraft is said not to have great graphics and a cartoonish art style.

Somehow Nvidias ray tracing technology makes it feel real.

Ray Tracing Graphics Cards

Originally the only graphics cards that supported ray tracing technologies were Nvidias RTX series graphics cards that implemented the use of RT cores (Ray Tracing Cores). That gave Nvidia the ability to use light to create more stunning scenery.

However, as you know their biggest competitor AMD saw this and knew they couldn’t fall behind so they designed their next addition of graphics cards with the ability to do ray tracing as well, using their own type of technology.

Here is a list of available graphics cards that support ray tracing right now.

Nvidia GPUs With Ray Tracing Support
Geforce RTX 2060
Geforce RTX 2060 Super
Geforce RTX 2070
Geforce RTX 2070 Super
Geforce RTX 2080
Geforce RTX 2080 Super
Geforce RTX 2080 Ti
Geforce RTX 3050
Geforce RTX 3060
Geforce RTX 3060 Ti
Geforce RTX 3070
Geforce RTX 3070 Ti
Geforce RTX 3080
Geforce RTX 3080 Ti
Geforce RTX 3090
Geforce RTX 3090 Ti
Geforce RTX 4060
Geforce RTX 4060 Ti
Geforce RTX 4070
Geforce RTX 4070 Ti
Geforce RTX 4080
Geforce RTX 3090
AMD GPUs With Ray Tracing Support
AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT
AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT
AMD Radeon RX 6800
AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX

Is Ray Tracing Worth it?

Ray tracing, a rendering technique that simulates the interaction of light with objects, has been a topic of much discussion in the gaming community.

Its ability to produce hyper-realistic graphics, mimicking the way the human eye perceives light, shadows, and reflections, is unparalleled. This technology has been utilized in CGI films for years, but its integration into the gaming scene has been a more recent development.

The benefits of ray tracing are evident. It offers an immersive gaming experience, with visuals so lifelike that they blur the lines between the virtual world and reality.

Games like Battlefield V and even older titles like Minecraft have showcased the transformative power of ray tracing, making scenes and environments feel more tangible and real.

However, the adoption of ray tracing in gaming is not without its challenges. The computational demands of ray tracing can significantly affect gaming performance, especially on systems not equipped with the latest hardware.

This means that to fully enjoy ray tracing, gamers often need to invest in high-end GPUs, which can be costly. Additionally, not all GPUs support ray tracing, and not all games have integrated this feature, limiting its widespread use.

In conclusion, the value of ray tracing largely depends on individual preferences and priorities. For gamers seeking the pinnacle of visual realism and immersion, ray tracing is undoubtedly worth the investment.

However, for those who prioritize performance or are on a budget, it might be worth waiting until the technology becomes more accessible and optimized. As with all technological advancements, ray tracing is still evolving, and its future in the gaming world looks promising.

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