Upgrading a PC for real-time ray tracing in Control using a 2080 SUPER GPU

Remedy Games' newest feat of game development karate, Control, is a very pretty game. Its character models, environment, special effects, and, of course, real-time ray tracing features, are all certain to set the standard for cutting edge gaming graphics. While the game has earned accolades for how stellar it looks, it's already become a bit infamous for how it humbles some of the most impressive gaming PCs out there.

We wanted to see how well the game would run on an existing gaming build we had on hand - with one critical upgrade. We took a system originally assembled in October of last year and swapped out the existing GPU hardware for a brand-new EVGA RTX 2080 SUPER Hybrid card. Then we played Control at its highest settings, both with the RTX features off and on, to compare the results.

Let's break it all down.

The Specs

First, let's outline all the specs, then we'll talk about what some of the most impressive components were able to pull off.

Rather than build an all-new system with cutting edge components, we wanted to make sure we focused on EVGA's shiny new hybrid GPU (which is called a hybrid because it's cooled both by air and liquid). We kept almost all of the existing components, including a seventh-gen i7 processor and an X299 DARK motherboard, which isn't even in stock on Newegg anymore (you can check out the more modern Z390 Dark for a comparison). This is really a demonstration of what you get with a 2080 SUPER as an upgrade, rather than as the star of a brand new build.

Outside of showing a bit of age in certain areas, this build is bomb, and there isn't much it can't do. Control was the real test, though, as it's one of the most graphically demanding games on the market. Honestly, it'll probably be the most demanding game on the market until some other big games start to roll out near the end of the year and into 2020.

When it comes to tough games like Control, the SUPER Hybrid is obviously the cream of the crop, and that was exactly what we were hoping to test. A lot of complaints circulating the internet about Control center around the PC running too hot. That isn't necessarily a problem with Control specifically, though. That complaint is probably going to come up more and more in the future as ray tracing becomes a more prevalent feature in the gaming economy, which means, at least from what we can tell, a card like this was built with future-proofing in mind. With a half-liquid-cooled card, we didn't have any of those issues whatsoever. 

The downside to any liquid-cooled GPU, though, is that it takes up an extra fan slot on the case with a chunky radiator, which means you need to find a case with the space for it. You can go with any full case, really, and we chose the EVGA DG-87 (the silver version of EVGA's distinctive DG line).

More PC than you need?

Even with some older parts, this build won't let you down on anything, and you can even cut some costs if you'd like. The system as-is totals at over $2500, but that's fairly easy to trim down. You'll forego some extreme quality, but for 90 percent of the games out there for the next five years (barring anything totally unexpected), you'll still be golden.

For example, you can reduce your high-speed RAM to 16GB. Whenever anyone picks 32GB strictly for gaming, that's a bit overkill, as the GPU's graphical RAM always shoulders much of the memory burden. Not only that, but since our processor is a couple of generations old and no longer in production, it's currently more expensive than it needs to be. You can pick up a top-of-the-line Intel i9 9900K for almost $200 less than the current price of the older 7820x.

The final cost-cutting measure you could take would probably be the case. With a $300 case, you're always going to be paying for looks on top of core functionality—and that's totally respectable. But you can always find one for less that still looks pretty slick. Since we mentioned needing some extra room, you'll definitely want to spring for a full-sized tower, and Thermaltake makes one of my favorites. The View 71 Snow is a full modular case completely surrounded by tempered glass, and it's so pretty you'll probably cry. It runs for about $100 less at $199.99.

Sure, you can run the exact same build as us, and it'll dominate any game you throw at it. But you can absolutely make some changes and tweaks here and there to still come away with a very impressive case for less cash. The total you'd spend making all the changes we just listed would be only around $2,100. And you can make even more cuts after that, such as stepping down to the 2070 SUPER GPU.

Performance testing with Control

So how did this upgraded system hold up with Control? Really, really well. First, we ran the game at ultra graphics settings, in 1440p resolution. With the real-time ray tracing bells and whistles turned off, we were able to maintain a steady 110-130 frames-per-second even in the most intense fight scenes. That's a big deal, because while Control's graphics are so realistic and detailed, the environment is also completely destructible. In other words, it has to be able to keep those beautiful animations up to snuff while literally everything around you is exploding, flying around the room, and, in some cases, being used as a impromptu weapons to launch at baddies.

At ultra graphical settings, 110 fps in the middle of a hectic fight is hard to pull off, but this rig did it. Even with some core components that are a generation or two old, the NVIDIA 2080 Super card made a huge difference.

And then came real-time ray tracing.

RTX off: 110-130 fps

RTX on: 60-70 fps

Real-time ray tracing, just in case you don't know, is still new to gaming. Ray tracing in movies has been around for a long time now. In the simplest possible terms, it's the practice of rendering fake light to act like real light (you can read a more detailed explanation here). Real-time ray tracing, which is the video game equivalent, is different. It's when that happens in real time. A game, being something that constantly moves around and changes, has to generate it on the fly as your character or characters are interacting with the environment. It's very difficult to do, and very taxing to pull off.

The standard for "good" gaming is at least 60 fps. That's the bare minimum number that a game needs to hit in order for it to feel realistic and smooth. Our rig was hitting 110-130 fps with ultra settings cranked all the way up in the most demanding game of the year so far, (maybe ever). We just barely scraped by at 60 fps once we turned all the ray tracing features on in the game.

And while the fact that we hit 60 (typically floated about 67) with the full ray tracing suite is impressive, that's still about half of what it hit without ray tracing. In other words, just flipping the ray tracing switch halved our frames per second, and that's with the 2080 SUPER Hybrid—one of the best graphics cards money can buy right now.

Fortunately, real-time ray tracing comes in many different flavors: Reflections, shadows, transparent reflections, diffused lighting, and more. Control runs with almost all of them, and we got playable FPS ratings with all of them turned on.

If your GPU isn't quite as RTX-capable, Control also offers the option to turn individual RTX features off - so between that and lowering some of the graphics settings down from ultra (or dropping to a lower resolution), it's likely you'll be able to find a sweet spot of visual flair and playability for you.

That's a win in my book.