NVIDIA Reflex – Performance When You Need it the Most
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 12:08pm 15/04/21 | Comments
A deep dive into NVIDIA Reflex, what system latency really is and how NVIDIA’s innovation and focus on performance is driving the games we play.
Presented by NVIDIA
When putting together a rig there’s one word that can factor into just about every potential hardware decision being made – performance. From the CPU to the graphics card, the refresh-rate on a display, even the mouse you’ll end up using. And when it comes to bits of silicon that sit inside a PC often the research begins and ends with raw power. That is, the most powerful CPU or GPU that fits into a particular budget.
In the GPU space this can run anywhere between a GeForce RTX 3060 all the way up to the flagship GeForce RTX 3080. But as we’ve seen in recent years – power only presents one part of the picture. NVIDIA’s leadership in developing new rendering techniques like DLSS has showcased that generational-like performance increases without sacrificing visual quality or fidelity can be as easy as ticking a box in an options screen. A literal game changer.
There’s another bit of technology NVIDIA has been working on that falls under the same banner, and that is NVIDIA Reflex. A mix of hardware and software designed to minimise system latency and improve in-game performance. That is, yours. In broader terms, the responsiveness you feel when playing a fast-paced shooter; moments where milliseconds can factor into the success of firing a weapon and having the corresponding action carried out on screen. NVIDIA Reflex is in many ways a multiplayer game-changer.
With NVIDIA Reflex Low-Latency Mode enabled in titles like Fortnite, Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege, system latency can be reduced by up to 50 percent. The result, smoother and more precise control – another chapter in the modern PC hardware story. Which is a tale of software, hardware and innovation that will drive the future.
If you’re sitting there wondering exactly what system latency is and how that might affect gameplay, well, read on.
Lag-Free Living - A System Latency Primer
When an experience is smooth, the result isn’t questioned nor is the journey to get there. It’s hardware and software working as intended. With multiplayer games, latency, or lag – especially in Australia – is usually associated with network speeds and connecting to servers located across vast bodies of water. Times when even the speed of light isn’t quite good enough -- the curse of 300ms pings. Latency is merely a measure of time it takes for digital things to do their digital thing, and it comes in many forms.
With NVIDIA Reflex Low-Latency Mode enabled in titles like Fortnite, Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege, system latency can be reduced by up to 50 percent.
System latency, in relation to the games we play and technology like NVIDIA Reflex, comes down to the CPU and GPU, and how they work together to render a frame. The best way to think of it is as communication between the CPU to GPU both working on a line. You click the mouse and then they scramble to make sure it reaches the end of the production line with minimal fuss – your display. And it’s here, in the hypothetical factory, where a queue forms around all the different rendering tasks being passed on from the CPU to the GPU. A GPU who works through each task one at a time.
If communication breaks down or the flow is interrupted, render times increase, latency grows, and efficiency drops. Factory-like comparisons aside, system latency in this specific Reflex instance is something players have known about for some time. It’s also something NVIDIA has offered backend tools in its Control Panel to manage in various ways over the years.
Stuff like reducing the load on a GPU by capping the frame-rate, which has the effect of reducing latency on the account of the GPU not being taxed as much. A brute force method that doesn’t really have a place in modern competitive gaming because we’re now well and truly in the age of the “give me the highest possible frame-rate you got, pal”. Boosting overall GPU performance by making it sweat and work harder on each individual frame is another method.
But, like Yoda said while sending Luke on his way a few days early to go help his friends… there is another.
Introducing NVIDIA Reflex
NVIDIA Reflex is a mix of hardware and software in the truest sense of that term – it sees NVIDIA’s GeForce line of graphics cards working alongside the NVIDIA Reflex SDK development toolkit which developers can (and already are) implementing into a wide range of games. Predominantly competitive shooters where system latency, frame-rates and things like G-Sync and high refresh-rate displays all come together.
How it all works is simple. Well, describing how it works is. That hypothetical production line queue from earlier? Well, NVIDIA Reflex is like a supervisor making sure that the CPU sends all rendering work to the GPU before it’s finished with its previous task – meaning there’s no more queue. Instead, a smooth and seamless flow of render traffic. Toggle the Reflex ‘Boost’ mode and the GPU proceeds to chug a few caffeinated drinks and work as fast as it can.
NVIDIA Reflex is a mix of hardware and software in the truest sense of that term – it sees NVIDIA’s GeForce line of graphics cards working alongside the NVIDIA Reflex SDK development toolkit which developers can (and already are) implementing into a wide range of games.
In situations with heavy GPU load the result is cutting system latency time by up to half. In Overwatch this runs the entire GeForce spectrum, from playing on a 60Hz display with a GeForce 10-series graphics card like the GeForce GTX 1660 all the way up to a GeForce RTX 3080 playing on a premium 360Hz display. In multiplayer games where split-second decision making and reacting to player movement can lead to a win or a loss, the whole latency discussion becomes important. And enters that sports realm where milliseconds determine placement, not seconds.
For serious competitive gamers or esports professionals, NVIDIA Reflex becomes another essential calibration tool. And although it’s not a requirement to enable the feature – NVIDIA Reflex Latency Analyzer-enabled displays feature actual hardware that pairs with Reflex-enabled titles to help measure and accurately showcase system latency. A science experiment that involves firing up Fortnite or Rainbow Six Siege.
Ultimately, what makes NVIDIA Reflex great for players is its ease of use – something NVIDIA has focused on quite heavily in recent years. From DLSS to RTX Broadcast to seamless integration with creative suites, NVIDIA Reflex is a menu setting you select that reduces latency without having to tinker with frame-rates, GPU performance profiles, or mess about with system-level changes. Unlike older or alternative methods of reducing latency, it also provides the sort of benefit you can see in either direction of the frame-rate trajectory.
No matter the FPS – Reflex will always do its thing to take a game’s performance to the next level.
Timing is Key… And It’s Only the Beginning
With NVIDIA’s AI-based DLSS showing up in more and more titles, not to mention becoming an easy to implement feature in game engines like Unreal, NVIDIA Reflex is something several developers are implementing and championing along the way. If you were to rattle off a list of the most popular or played online competitive shooters in 2021, odds are most if not all of these games already feature NVIDIA Reflex.
Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, Destiny 2, Fortnite, Overwatch, Valorant, Rainbow Six Siege, and more.
In situations with heavy GPU load the result is cutting system latency time by up to half.
Here’s the kicker though, NVIDIA Reflex is the sort of technology that is fit for a wider range of games – experiences that go beyond the white-knuckled timers counting down to the end of a round. Recently NVIDIA announced that the fast-paced single-player first-person action of Ghostrunner would be implementing NVIDIA Reflex – where it will sit alongside real-time ray-tracing powered by GeForce RTX and DLSS rendering.
Reflex is the sort of technology that could find its way into any number of titles, and like DLSS on the rendering front it’s the most impressive and powerful latency reduction tool to date. Getting to see Reflex pop up in third-person Souls-like action-RPGs, an isometric strategy game, or even an open-world adventure with engaging real-time combat would be great.
This seemingly newfound focus on performance in all areas when it comes to the games we play – from software to hardware optimisation, is quickly becoming one of the biggest priorities in the eyes of gamers. No matter if you play on PC, a mobile gaming laptop, or a console. For NVIDIA, the recent launch of its new Ampere range, RTX technologies, DLSS, and NVIDIA Reflex has proven that when you have the right tools in addition to the right hardware – the benefits outweigh just about any alternative.
And if you’re serious about competitive game performance, well, it’s time to tick that Reflex box in the menu and see your own rise to the occasion.