Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. RTX 3080: Here’s how they stack up

Nvidia’s next generation of GPUs is here. The new Ampere architecture promises a significant performance improvement, and Nvidia is making some ambitious claims about its potential for gamers.

The RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 sit at the top of the stack, and are both extremely powerful cards. But they’re also some of the most expensive mainstream cards Nvidia has ever produced. From performance to features to price, here are our thoughts on how the two compare.

Pricing and availability

RTX 3090

Both the RTX 3090 and 3080 made their worldwide debut on September 1, 2020, when Nvidia announced slightly staggered release dates and drastically different pricing. The RTX 3080 will release on September 17 priced at $699, while the 3090 will go on sale on September 24 at $1,499.

These prices and release dates are for Nvidia’s Founders Editions of the cards only. A number of add-in-board partners, including MSI, Powercolor, Palit, Gainward, and Inno3D, have already announced their own versions of the RTX 3090, 3080, and 3070. With a number of options for each of these top-tier GPUs, it could be that the third-party alternatives launch alongside, or very soon after Nvidia’s own Founders Edition options. Their pricing is likely to be a mix of slightly cheaper, and vastly more expensive cards, depending on their cooling and clock speeds.

Specs and performance

RTX 3090 RTX 3080 
GPU TBD TBD
Interface PCIe 4.0 PCIe 4.0
CUDA cores 10,496 8,704
Tensor cores TBD TBD
RT cores TBD TBD
Base clock 1,395MHz 1,440MHz
Boost clock 1,695MHz 1,710MHz
Memory 24GB GDDR6X 10GB GDDR6X
Memory speed 19.5Gbps 19Gbps
Bandwidth 936GBps 760GBps
Memory bus 384-bit 320-bit
TDP 350w 320W

Although Nvidia hasn’t addressed the possibility directly, it seems the 3090 is set to replace the Titan RTX. The specs certainly line up with that. Nvidia’s top-line Ampere GPU comes with a massive 24GB of GDDR6X memory, matching the Titan RTX. The RTX 3080 is more conservative with 10GB of GDDR6X, but both cards offer improvements in memory speed and bandwidth over the last gen.

Nvidia hasn’t provided any reference benchmarks for the 3090 yet, but the 3080 is set to overtake the 2080 Super and 2080 Ti. Digital Foundry had some hands-on time with the 3080 and found it could offer between a 60 and 90% performance improvement over the RTX 2080 (with a mild factory overclock) in a variety of Nvidia-chosen games, including Control, Doom Eternal, and Borderlands 3. That was both with and without ray tracing enabled, at 4K resolution, and with all settings at their maximum. DLSS was still needed to hit a comfortable 60 frames per second at 4K with ray tracing at its highest setting, but even that is a staggering achievement and shows how far the 3080 has come over its Turing predecessors.

The 3090 should be even better. How much more? It’s hard to say. It has 20% more CUDA cores, 23% more memory bandwidth, and almost 2.5 times the memory capacity of the 3080. According to Nvidia, this enables the 3090 to deliver 60 fps at 8K resolution with DLSS on.

That means it’s likely that the RTX 3090 will be able to offer 100 fps at 4K without ray tracing, or 60 fps at 4K without the need for DLSS.

With all that said, we’ll need to wait to see how the 3090 performs in independently-tested benchmarks and games before drawing a hard conclusion.

Power and cooling

The RTX 3080 and 3090 both have higher power draw compared to the last generation. The cards demand 320W and 350W at stock, respectively, on the reference design, supported by Nvidia’s new 12-pin power connector. Third-party alternatives seem to do just fine with dual eight-pin connectors, so the necessity for Nvidia’s new connector design has yet to be determined.

Both power-hungry cards warranted a new Founders Edition cooler design, which involves a dual push-pull fan configuration and a V-shaped PCB. This new design should help air more easily pass through the case, and Nvidia claims it allows the cards to operate at much lower noise levels than previous generations, despite the additional performance.

The new cooler makes the 3080 quite a chunky card — almost an inch longer than the 2080 Ti and slightly taller, too. The 3090, described by Nvidia as a “BFGPU,” measures 12.3-inches long and 5.4-inches high, a full inch greater in each dimension than the 3080. That raises some questions over clearance issues in smaller cases. It’s also a triple-slot design, so don’t expect to fit this into a Mini-ITX case or motherboard.

Despite these enhancements, expect third-party alternative cooler designs to be more efficient and quieter — and possibly even bigger.

Ray tracing, DLSS, and more

Ray tracing and DLSS are at the core of the 3080 and 3090. Nvidia’s redesigned RT cores deliver up to 2 times the performance of Turing with ray tracing turned on. Compared to last gen, both cards deliver higher frame rates with ray tracing, and, combined with DLSS, higher resolutions.

To take advantage of either card’s ray tracing abilities, you’ll need to play one of these games with ray tracing.

Although 4K is the focus right now, both cards support 8K with three HDMI 2.1 ports and a lone DisplayPort 1.4a connection. Nvidia’s benchmarks show the 3090 reaching over 60 fps in games like Apex Legends and Destiny 2 at 8K with ray tracing and DLSS.

Nvidia Reflex is new to RTX 30 series GPUs, too. With an RTX 3080 or 3090 and a G-Sync monitor, you can use Reflex to reduce system latency in competitive games. Nvidia’s benchmarks show a decent improvement in overall system latency with Reflex turned on, and a drastic improvement when paired with a high refresh rate display and a 30-series GPU.

A new RTX I/O is also intriguing, as it could leverage the GPU to handle data decompression from storage, helping to better take advantage of PCIExpress storage drives for even faster load times and in-game asset loading for reduced pop-in. That will be available on all Nvidia GPUs since the GTX 10-series, however.

Feature-for-feature, the 3080 and 3090 are nearly identical. The only major difference is that the RTX 3090 supports dual-GPU setups through SLI, while the RTX 3080 doesn’t, and it’s likely to have a greater number of RT and tensor cores.

A BFGPU with a price tag to match

The RTX 3090 is a hugely impressive card from a specs standpoint and certainly an upgrade over the RTX 3080. Price is the issue here. As a replacement for the Titan RTX, the 3090 is an expensive card aimed more at data scientists and media creators than gamers — even if it will be the fastest GPU for gaming when it hits store shelves. A $1,499 price tag is more than most people pay for their entire rig, let alone just a graphics card.

Because of that, the RTX 3090 will always be a niche card, reserved for only the most extreme enthusiasts.

The RTX 3080 should prove to even be a capable 4K gaming GPU, and for $699, it’s a far better value. The RTX 3080 will end up being the go-to, high-end option for gamers. There’s a reason Nvidia has called it its flagship GPU.

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