Nvidia’s ugly side: a rollercoaster ride that reveals when Big Tech doesn’t get it.

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A different storey about the tracing of rays

 

Editor’s take: In a tersely-worded email, Nvidia told Hardware Unboxed (and by extension TechSpot) that it would no longer be providing them with GeForce Founders Edition review units. The stated reason? Spending too little time focusing on RTX ray tracing, as opposed to raster performance. Hardware Unboxed, apparently, did “not see things the same way that we (Nvidia), gamers, and the rest of the industry do.”

As most of you know, Hardware Unboxed is Steve and Tim’s YouTube channel, and both Steve and Tim have been long time TechSpot partners. To this day, our publications collaborate and share the same PC enthusiast DNA that we forged together over nearly two decades. At TechSpot, we are proud hosts of their work for written versions of their latest reviews and analysis on CPUs, GPUs and views on the PC hardware industry as a whole.

As a corporation, it’s Nvidia’s prerogative to decide on the reviewers it chooses to collaborate with. However, this and other related incidents raise serious questions around journalistic independence and what they are expecting of reviewers when they are sent products for an unbiased opinion. As an independent tech publication, we’ve spent the past 20+ years providing objective and informative content. Hardware Unboxed tech reviews are comprehensive. They’re meant to inform consumers about every aspect of a particular product, so you know exactly what you’re getting before making a purchasing decision.

In today’s dynamic graphics hardware space, with 350W flagships, hardware ray tracing, and exotic cooling solutions, there’s a wide range of data points HUB looks at. But at the end of the day, there’s only one real question every GPU buyer wants to know: how well do games run on a particular piece of hardware? Considering that 99% percent of Steam games feature raster-only rendering pipelines, rasterization performance was, is, and will be, a key point that Steve considers in GPU reviews.

Ray tracing is becoming increasingly important. AMD outfitted both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S with hardware ray accelerators, and we’ve seen remarkable ray-traced visuals in games like Spiderman: Miles Morales on PlayStation 5 and the upcoming Forza Motorsport on Xbox Series X/S. While performance isn’t really where it ought to be (even with the help DLSS), Cyberpunk 2077 delivers a jaw-dropping vision of the next-gen on PC, with RTX effects dialed all the way up.

However, most games (including almost all RTX titles) are built on raster renderers. A hypothetical graphics card with most of its die space reserved for ray tracing would run Quake II RTX great and… not much else. Ray tracing absolutely deserves a place in modern GPU reviews. But there’s simply not enough of it in enough games for any responsible reviewer to put it center-stage, in place of raster performance. It wouldn’t do justice to consumers, who will primarily be running raster workloads. This is why Nvidia’s complaint is so puzzling.

In his email to Steve, Nvidia Senior PR Manager Bryan Del Rizzo says that “Nvidia is all-in for ray tracing,” and “despite all this progress, your GPU reviews and recommendations have continued to focus singularly on rasterization performance and you have largely discounted all of the other technologies we offer gamers.” Del Rizzo goes on to state that “you do not see things the same way that we, gamers, and the rest of the industry do.”

This statement is particularly ironic and obnoxious. On Nvidia’s landing page for DLSS, the GPU manufacturer literally uses a Hardware Unboxed quote (“Extremely impressive”) to promote their AI upscaling technology. Our initial look at DLSS in Battlefield V revealed a technology that was in dire need of improvement. Two years later, we revisited DLSS 2.0 in Control and Wolfenstein Youngblood and recognized the tremendous improvement Nvidia made to this technology. Claiming HUB “doesn’t see things the same way” is disingenuous, to say the least. As an objective reviewer, it’s Steve’s responsibility to its viewers and readers to see things the way they are, which may not always coincide with the way Nvidia sees them.

Trust and objectivity are critical for any successful reviewer. Not every graphics card is a winner. Some, like the Radeon VII and the GeForce GT 1030 DDR4, were just plain awful. Not every graphics technology is a game-changer either.

Clearly, reviewers know this is no isolated incidence, but it was very arrogant of Nvidia to write an entire email explaining you could either get in line with their views, or else.

A decade ago, Nvidia’s hardware PhysX acceleration was touted as a revolution, enabling advanced destruction, fluid dynamics, and particle simulation in games like Arkham City and Metro: 2033. Back in 2010, we included PhysX benchmarks in our review of Mafia II. AnandTech, Tom’s Hardware, and other outlets also extensively covered PhysX. However, it was never made out to be more important than raster performance. There were raster benchmarks, more raster benchmarks with anti-aliasing enabled, and then a PhysX test. There’s a clear, consistent thread here from PhysX to RTX: HUB and TechSpot give GPU technologies the amount of coverage we believe they need for consumers to make an informed choice.

It’s even more trouble (and out of touch, as JayZTwoCents describes it), when Del Rizzo alludes to how Hardware Unboxed and other outlets “benefit” from GPU review units, in contrast to customers. Del Rizzo states the obvious here, that customers “don’t get free GPUs, they work hard for their money.” Setting aside the fact that HUB’s detailed reviews often take several days and weeks to put together, this statement misses the forest for the trees. Yes, most review outlets get units from hardware vendors. But they get these on the understanding that their reviews will reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers, who are looking for trusted information.

It’d be hard to assess exactly how many people purchased a GeForce RTX graphics card after watching one of HUB’s several RTX reviews — between TechSpot and HUB combined, we estimate in the thousands — but it’s certainly worth more than the cost of a single graphics card. But, ultimately, that’s not what’s at play here…

Attacking press freedom is always a lose-lose-lose scenario: reviewers, customers, and businesses are all impacted negatively. Shortly after Steve went public with Nvidia’s email, he’s seen overwhelming support from the tech community. Not just fans of Hardware Unboxed, or viewers and readers, but numerous tech outlets who understand that this is not just about Steve or Hardware Unboxed, but it’s about principle.

Clearly, reviewers know this is no isolated incidence, but it was very arrogant of Nvidia to write an entire email explaining you could either get in line with their views, or else. This could have happened to any other outlet. In fact, it has happened to many of them already, but either to a lesser extent or handled in a way that Nvidia (or any other big tech company) simply played the part of ignoring the reviewer without ever giving them any explanation.

Less than 48 hours later, Steve received the good news.

Nvidia apologized and walked everything back. Great news indeed, but let’s be clear this wouldn’t have happened if not for the support of the community at large and key people in the tech space that have such an enormous influence that it was too much for Nvidia to ignore. Linus from LinusTechTips (his angry rant on the WAN Show embedded above is pure gold) and Steve from Gamers Nexus, were two of those persons.

Our own Steve Walton (HUB) was the one living this whole situation close to his chest for the past few days and he’s expected to upload a video soon with his recount.

Things really don’t need to be this hard. At the end of the day, reviewers, customers (and “the rest of the industry”) all want the same things. We want Nvidia, AMD, Intel (and heck, even Apple!) to produce great hardware that can do justice to the next generation of games and computing. There is so much to look forward to in the coming years.

We’re going to continue to take a broad, holistic view so that every technology that we cover gets its fair space. As Nvidia said, consumers work hard for their money. We just want to make sure you know what you’re spending it on.

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