What The Heck Is NVIDIA Reflex And Why Is It Useful?
Esports, buzzword, or lifestyle? Well, that really depends on you now doesn't it? When NVIDIA announced the RTX 30 Series in September they also touched on a few new technologies like they usually do and one of the bigger aspects was the focus on latency and what they were doing to bring the total system latency down as much as possible. And that's where NVIDIA Reflex technology comes into play. But what is NVIDIA Reflex? That seems to be a resounding question as people seem to be confusing it with the already established "NVIDIA Low Latency Mode" found in the control panel when it's so much more.
To better understand NVIDIA Reflex you need to think of it as you do RTX where it's a suite of technologies and not just one thing. See with RTX there's DXR, Vulkan RT, DLSS, and other features that are supported (at least on a hardware level) within that technology suite. The same kind of idea is going on here where NVIDIA Reflex has three distinct parts for now; The NVIDIA Reflex Low Latency SDK support IN GAME, the GeForce Experience Performance Tool within GFE, and (for now but may expand) NVIDIA G-SYNC 360Hz panels WITH Reflex Latency Analyzer build into the monitor.
We're hoping that by the end of reading through this you have a better understanding of what NVIDIA Reflex is and what it can do you for you, if you're looking for a review of the Alienware 25 Gaming monitor that NVIDIA sent over for us to work on this with you'll have to wait a bit for that but it is what I used for this discussion so when I reference the panel, that's the one I'm speaking to.
Game Support Through SDK
Out of the three branches of NVIDIA Reflex, the Game Support through their SDK is the most accessible measure. This only requires GeForce gamers to toggle a switch inside the supported games to activate. Sure you could get some latency benefits by simply going into the NVIDIA Control Panel and tuning the latency to "Ultra" but that only does so much. In the game embedded SDK for NVIDIA Reflex, they actually optimize the game to control the controllable as the saying goes.
Total system latency is the end game with bringing down the time it takes from the moment you click the mouse to the action takes place on the screen. There are many steps in the total pipeline and really only two parts that NVIDIA can consistently control, somewhat. They have some control of the rendering latency through their drivers and hardware they build and then they have some control over the display (provided it's G-SYNC certified and has the hardware module). But NVIDIA Reflex SDK lets them get a bit more granular in that are working with the developers to really impact the render queue so that frames are literally pushed to the screen without delay.
Typically the game render queue is just ahead of the GPU when you're in a GPU bound situation and is lining the frames up to be displayed, but what if the render queue was able to kick the frame out the second it was ready rather than waiting? That's essentially what it's doing, so you'll need to not be using VSYNC for this one. Typically gamers would have to brute force framerates and push as high as possible in an effort to reducing latency through resolution modification and min-maxing settings, but that will only get you so far.
Now in order for this to be really effective, your GPU has to be the limiting factor and not your CPU because the CPU comes earlier in the pipeline and can really slow things down. But if you're on something like the GTX 1660 like I did a lot of my testing on then you'll find a noticeable boost in responsiveness that makes it feel like you got a graphics card upgrade. But we'll get into that part a bit more towards the end.
G-SYNC 360Hz w/Reflex Latency Analyzer
The real meat and potatoes of the NVIDIA Reflex package come to life within the new 360Hz G-SYNC panels with NVIDIA's Reflex Analyzer built-in. NVIDIA sent over their LDAT system along with the PCAT system just before the 30 Series started rolling out as a way to measure total system latency. While that was a good and versatile system it was also still clunky and not very fun to use, definitely not something that you would want to use on a daily driver.
But something like LDAT was the only real alternative to using super high frame rate cameras and light sensors and counting frames to measure latency, and that was still quite difficult to get consistent results with. the Reflex Latency Analyzer aims to fix all that, it's still early and some growing to do when it comes to the variety of availability and compatible mice (my favorite CM MM710 is not yet supported) but first with the panels.
360Hz, that's pretty insane and if you're someone sensitive to latency you'll be able to appreciate that aspect alone. But right now there are only 4 panels and 4 gaming mice that are currently supported, we have access to the Alienware 25 Gaming Monitor and the Logitech G Pro Wireless (wired mode for our testing). But for more on the panel and our full thoughts, we'll be getting to the review later.
The G-SYNC module in these panels has the integrated Reflex Latency Analyzer built right into it. This takes advantage of a USB passthrough for the panel to remove the need for external readers such as high-speed cameras or something like the LDAT system by having measurement tools built into the unit. So the way it works is pretty intuitive, but there is some setup.
You'll need to locate the dedicated passthrough port for the monitor and have the mouse plugged straight into the panel, for the Alienware 25 it was the bottom right port just off center of the bottom side of the screen. Then you'll need to go into the OSD of the panel and navigate to the G-SYNC Processor tab and you'll find the Reflex Latency Analyzer. From there you'll be able to turn it on and set up where you want the sensor to display, then start analyzing your latency I guess is the best way to put it.
It may seem like something very simple but what it's doing is measuring total system latency by keeping up with the moment the mouse is clicked, then waiting for a light change in the pixels of the area you've selected, and boom, you've got your total system latency. This is essentially what the LDAT system was doing but without the need for a light sensor strapped to your panel to distract you while you're gaming. The latency for each click is shown on screen, but if you want to do more with it, then you'll want to enable the next bit of the NVIDIA Reflex Suite.
And for those wondering the Reflex Analyzer tool doesn't require a 360Hz panel but it's just where the tool is rolling out to first. And just like with LDAT and camera based measuring tools the fact that it's a 360Hz panel does increase the accuracy that the analyzer can read the changes at.
GeForce Experience Performance Tool
GeForce Experience has been constantly expanding over the past few years and, as part of NVIDIA Reflex, is now including updates to the performance overlay that allow you to track the metrics in latency as well as raw performance. This expansion of information to pair up with the G-SYNC Latency Analyzer takes almost all aspects of the guesswork out of analyzing setting up your system for maximum performance and minimal latency.
If you have all the boxes hardware boxes checked with a modern GeForce graphics card, a G-SYNC Reflex Latency Analyzer, AND a compatible mouse (should be expanding with time) then you'll be able to see a full rundown of the system performance. From the top, you'll have your framerate and then each component of the latency breakdown with an average system latency metric at the bottom (what we used in the end for checking comparisons).
But what if you are missing a compatible mouse? Well if it's a mouse in the Database it'll just go off the average to fill in that gap. But if it's unsupported? You can still get your PC + Display latency which is what I'd have to use if I wanted to use my CM MM710. As of right now, there are no output files for these results, but that could change.
Okay, all the jargon out of the way, what does it do for your gaming?
Aim Right, Not High With NVIDIA Reflex
I could likely go on for quite some time about how ultra-high refresh rate gaming makes a massive difference in motion fluidity and how you can pick out movement in the distance while you are strafing or swinging around a corner. Or how in Modern Warfare I've finally been able to get shot in the back and flick around catching the assailant while mid-turn, return fire, and greatly increase my chances of not just dropping dead like I always do. I'm also one of those people who can see the benefit of a 240Hz panel over a 144Hz, if you're not then you likely won't get the appeal of the move to 360Hz.
But, we're here for the Reflex aspect of it and short and simple is it works. But it's not just cut and dry saying it works and walking away from it, we have to measure it right? We paired up the Alienware 25 Gaming Monitor with the included Logitech Pro G Wireless with the Cooler Master NC100 that houses the Intel Ghost Canyon Core i9 NUC along with 16GB of DDR4 2666 and an ADATA Falcon 1TB drive. We wanted to test a couple of different video cards to see who really benefits the most from the Reflex Low Latency mode within Fortnite and Modern Warfare since both are games I play and support the technology. So I pulled out the Zotac GTX 1660 to represent the large swath of gamers along with the RTX 2080 Super to see how things go on the super high end, it's all at 1080p so the 2080 Super is still quite high on that performance chart.
From there we loaded up the newest version of GeForce Experience, setup the overlay, and got underway. Testing was pretty straightforward for both games where we used the exact same settings for both cards. In Fortnite, we just went to the 'High' preset and landed in our personal creation island, grabbed a hand cannon and loaded it up with ammo, aimed at the mountains....and fired away! For Call of Duty Modern Warfare, we loaded up the Fog of War map and set to testing just before the aerial strike took place with the settings cranked to the highest but 'Ray Traced Shadows' disabled.
Fortnite shows amazing results for the GTX 1660 with bringing it nearly in line with latency that you get by default with the much more powerful RTX 2080. Of course, that brings something to the forefront, the RTX 2080 Super barely benefited at all but it did benefit by 10% or better. This is because the GTX 1660 was heavily limited by the GPU in the testing scenario whereas the RTX 2080 Super was not showing that when the GPU is the heavier load the payoff is much greater.
We got somewhat similar results in Modern Warfare but not quite nearly as striking as a result. The GTX 1660 still managed to see bigger gains by enabling Reflex Low Latency mode and the RTX 2080 Super received smaller gains. But with the RTX 2080 Super you could easily push up the render resolution or enable RT Shadows and be able to bring the total system latency back down to what you were used to.
If you're already min-maxing settings the Reflex Low Latency mode being enabled may only give you a slight advantage in the total system latency area but it'll be an advantage nonetheless. The biggest benefit here will be the more casual player, like myself, who doesn't want to kill the settings in favor of latency, but would love to have a boost where they can get it. It's definitely noticeable with the GTX 1660 and while it doesn't boost framerates, so you'll still get the same there, it definitely makes the game more responsive.
Okay, cool, so the software implementation is great for a lot of people, but what about that crazy expensive 360Hz 1080p panel. Who is that for and what's the deal there. Those 360Hz panels are quite frankly geared to those who want the absolute leading edge advantage. While Reflex Low Latency Mode can indeed improve latency across any refresh rate you simply can't make up for lost frames and motion fluidity. The combination of 360Hz and the ability to properly measure your tuning (via the Reflex Analyzer Tool) means you're able to tune your game settings and system component settings for every absolute advantage on the playing field.
There is one major disadvantage to fine-tuning your system to that level when you're not a pro and that is it's your fault when you die, not your system's. Seriously, times in MW when I would normally have said someone was cheating, I saw them, I saw what they were doing, I just wasn't fast enough. It's a surreal kind of experience for those who play competitively, nothing has come close to the fluidity that you get with a low latency 360Hz experience. So whether you're already playing competitively or want to play competitively I see a strong argument for the total NVIDIA Reflex package. But as always, if you can't see the benefit for yourself, then there might not be one for you.
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