What is NVIDIA Reflex?

Check out Nvidia's latest low-latency tech.

Image via Nvidia

System latency plays a significant role in competitive gaming, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Nvidia Reflex is an ecosystem comprised of several components that measure and reduce system latency. The Reflex ecosystem includes both the Reflex software development kit (SDK) and the Reflex Latency Analyzer. 

What is system latency? 

When we’re talking about system latency, it’s important to know how it’s measured. Typically, we measure system latency end to end, meaning the time between the moment you click your mouse to the moment those commands are displayed onscreen. 

System latency can play a massive role in deciding the outcome of any given match. Delayed hit registration, peeker’s advantage, and inaccurate enemy positioning can all stem from higher system latency. So, if you’ve ever been robbed of a crispy flick shot or been the subject of an impossibly big brain peek by an opponent, system latency may have played a part. 

Many factors contribute to system latency. Everything from your CPU and GPU to your game of choice to your monitor’s refresh rate affects system latency. For instance, if you’re using an older GPU and playing at max settings in 1080p, you’re more likely to become GPU bound and experience more latency. 

Being GPU bound occurs when the GPU is maxed out and can’t keep up with the number of frames sent by the CPU. Because of this, the render queue between the CPU and GPU gets backed up and forces the CPU to slow its processes while the GPU catches up, resulting in higher system latency. 

Nvidia’s Reflex technology reduces system latency in these specific GPU-bound scenarios. 

Reflex SDK

The most important part of the Reflex ecosystem is the Reflex software development kit (SDK). This SDK gives developers the tools needed to help players reduce their system latency in GPU-bound scenarios. Using the SDK, developers implement Reflex into their games, granting players access to lower latency through in-game menus. 

Reflex reduces system latency in GPU-bound scenarios by keeping the render queue vacant. Emptying the render queue helps the GPU and CPU stay in sync and alleviates potential CPU back pressure caused by frames piling up in the render queue. This scenario typically results in higher render latency and, therefore, higher system latency. 

Reflex appears in compatible games’ menus with three different settings: Off, On, and On+Boost. When set to On, players who are GPU bound can see drastic drops in their system latency. The second option, On+Boost, can help in scenarios where your GPU utilization dips below 40 percent. 

Using Reflex can be especially handy for players using slightly outdated hardware. Reflex can help players with older GPUs that have difficulty keeping up with games like Fortnite or Overwatch. For instance, our reviewer measured an approximately 23-percent decrease in latency while playing Fortnite with an Nvidia GTX 1080 at 360fps in 1080p with graphics set to Epic. 

Nvidia Reflex is now available in seven of the top 10 competitive titles, including CS:GO, VALORANT, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Warzone, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, and more. In addition to being restricted to compatible titles, players must have a 900 series or newer Nvidia GPU to take advantage of Reflex.

Reflex Latency Analyzer

Because Reflex is an ecosystem, it’s important to differentiate between the Reflex Latency Analyzer and Reflex. The Reflex Latency Analyzer is a tool used to measure system latency, while Reflex is integrated into games by their developers to give players a chance to reduce system latency. These products are a part of the same ecosystem but do not rely on one another to function.

The Reflex Latency Analyzer is baked into the newest 360Hz G-Sync monitors geared toward esports and competitive gaming. This tool works with Nvidia’s GeForce Experience Performance Hud to measure and display system latency. 

Using a compatible mouse, players connect directly to the monitor to check their system latency. The testing process is relatively straightforward. Users plug a compatible mouse into the monitor and position the detection box over the muzzle flash or Latency Flash Indicator, which is available in compatible titles. From there, users can select a sample metric in the Performance Monitoring settings before heading into their game of choice to test with some mouse clicks. The performance overlay keeps track of your average latency based on the sample rate you previously set and can save your testing data to a .csv file that’s editable in Microsoft Excel. 

This product aims to help competitive players fine-tune their game settings to achieve the lowest latency possible. Users will have to sink quite a bit of time into this process by repeatedly testing and tinkering with their settings to see what has a positive effect on their system latency. 

Nvidia’s Reflex Latency Analyzer provides serious players the chance to dial in settings with more control than ever before, but there are a few drawbacks. A significant downside of the Reflex Latency Analyzer is that it’s only available on high-end 360Hz monitors, limiting its accessibility. The other issue is the limited mouse compatibility. Those who purchase a Reflex Latency Analyzer monitor might need to shell out for a new mouse to get their money’s worth from their investment. Nvidia is adding more mice to the list of Reflex-compatible products, though. 

While Nvidia’s Reflex ecosystem isn’t for every type of gamer, it can help aspiring esports athletes and those stuck with older hardware achieve the lowest system latency possible.