Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review: A bright future for PC gaming
“The Nvidia RTX 3080 sets a new standard in high-end PC gaming.”
- Fast and fluid 4K gaming
- Attractive new design
- HDMI 2.1 support
- Improved ray tracing and DLSS performance
- Needs awkward adapter
- Requires more power
The gaming world’s attention is focused squarely on the upcoming console launches. I get it. Gamers are finally getting PC-level gaming in the living room. Between the price and the upgraded internals, these new consoles are a big deal.
But Nvidia hasn’t let the consoles, which are powered by AMD hardware, steal the spotlight.
The Nvidia RTX 3080, which is available starting today, along with the rest of the RTX 3000-series, represents the future of PC gaming. Boasting the most significant generational leap in Nvidia’s history, the RTX 3080 is out to prove that true high-end gaming will always belong on the PC. Is this the next leap forward in PC gaming? Or have consoles finally caught up?
The RTX 3080 is one classy-looking video card.
The previous generation of Nvidia GPUs, from the RTX 2060 up to the RTX 2080 Ti, wanted you to know how premium an experience you were getting. The shroud and backplate were aluminum, and the “Nvidia GeForce” logo glowed green when powered up. The Super models even added a highly reflective glass-like texture to the surface.
The RTX 3080 takes a more subtle approach. It uses a matte, dark gray material. It even features white back-lighting instead of green. None of this is showy, but it’s in line with the more simplistic direction of modern gaming gear. It won’t stick out sitting next to a stark white NZXT H510i case or a Razer Blade 15. Straight lines and muted colors are fashionable, and the RTX 3080 reflects that.
For something with a bit more edge, third-party cards from Asus or MSI will likely work just fine. For me, Nvidia’s reference model looks great.
Apart from the look, the RTX 3080 also features a redesigned cooling system. A fan flanks each side of the shroud, using a unique “push-pull” system of heat management. One side sucks air in, and another exhausts it out the back. Nvidia says this results in better airflow, but the RTX 3080 runs slightly hotter than the RTX 2080 Ti. In the same run of 3DMark Time Spy, the RTX 3080 maxed at 76 degrees Celsius, four degrees hotter than the RTX 2080 Ti. Both still stayed clear of the 80 degree mark throughout all my tests.
The RTX 3080 is nearly identical in size to the RTX 2080 Ti and 2080 Super. Unlike the massive RTX 3090, the 3080 features just a standard two-slot design. It slid comfortably into a 28-liter case that previously housed an RTX 2070 Super. It’s still a large graphics card, of course, but it’ll fit in your rig as well as the previous generation.
Power and ports
Though it’ll likely fit in your case, the RTX 3080 is power-hungry. It demands 320 watts of dedicated power, and to account for this, Nvidia recommends at least a 750-watt power supply to support your whole system. That alone may mean buying a new PSU for your system. Previously, 650 watts was the standard to support cards like the RTX 2080 Super or 2080 Ti.
And yes, the rumors are true — the RTX 3080 features a new 12-pin power connector that requires an adapter to work with your old cables. Nvidia includes the adapter in the box, though still leaves an awkward dangling dongle in your case.
For ports, the Nvidia RTX 3080 includes three DisplayPort 1.4a, which support up to 144Hz at 4K, as well as an HDMI 2.1 port. These are the first video cards to support this new HDMI standard, which can display 144Hz at 4K resolution. Notably, the next generation of televisions include HDMI 2.1 as well, allowing for a high refresh rate gaming in the living room for the first time.
The USB-C port is gone, which was a feature of the RTX 20-series to support NVLink, a way for running dual GPUs over SLI. Connecting multiple cards to boost frame rates is now an exclusive feature of the RTX 3090. Multi-GPU support was already dwindling, and the removal of NVLink on the RTX 3080 is the nail in the coffin.
The Nvidia RTX 3080, along with the 3070 and 3090, use Nvidia’s new Ampere microarchitecture. It’s based on Samsung’s 8nm node, shrinking the die from the 12nm node used in the Turing architecture. This means more transistors, and theoretically, higher efficiency.
Ampere features a massive 50% jump in CUDA cores, now up to 8,704. Nvidia’s GPUs are made up of streaming multiprocessors (SM), the individual units of processing power that contain its CUDA cores.
There’s an important caveat here. The Ampere microarchitecture has changed how each CUDA core works in a way that actually makes each individual a bit less performant. So, a 50% jump in CUDA cores doesn’t directly translate to a 50% increase in frame rates, though it’s what gets you the 29.7 teraflops of theoretical performance. Still, this is a major boost in core count, and — spoiler alert — it’s going to have an impact when we get to our performance tests.
|Cuda cores||Memory||Memory interface||Boost clock||Graphics card power|
|RTX 3090||10,496||24GB GDDR6X||384-bit||1.70GHz||350w|
|RTX 3080||8,704||10GB GDDR6X||320-bit||1.71GHz||320w|
|RTX 3070||5,888||8GB GDDR6||256-bit||1.73GHz||220w|
|RTX 2080 Ti||4,352||11GB GDDR6||352-bit||1.54GHz||250w|
|RTX 2080 Super||3,072||8GB GDDR6||256-bit||1.82GHz||250w|
|RTX 2070 Super||2,560||8GB DRR6||256-bit||1.77GHz||215w|
Ampere also brings more ray tracing and Tensor cores to the table, extending the more forward-leaning capabilities of the RTX 3080. More on that later.
Lastly, the RTX 3080 features 10GB of 320-bit GDDR6X memory. That’s two more GBs of faster video memory, almost up to the 11GB that’s offered in the RTX 2080 Ti. That’s an important spec, beneficial in games that use large textures and large amounts of on-screen data. It also shows how Nvidia has shifted its entire line of GPUs up a notch.
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
The performance of the RTX 3080 is impressive in almost all cases. Until the RTX 3090 launches in a few weeks, it’ll easily be the most powerful graphics card you can buy. That’s not too surprising, though, as it doesn’t have a true competitor from AMD.
I assumed it would beat its predecessor, the RTX 2080 Super. But the real fun was discovering just how much faster it really is. Being able to compare it to the far more expensive RTX 2080 Ti was the icing on the cake.
My test system included a CML B460 MATX motherboard, 16GB of DDR4 2933MHz RAM, and an Intel Core i7-10700 processor. These aren’t maxed-out specs, but they’re plenty capable to support the tests I was running, and generally represent how we’d recommend putting together a well-balanced gaming rig today.
Until the RTX 3090 launches, the RTX 3080 is easily the most powerful graphics card you can buy.
I started with 3DMark Time Spy, the DirectX12 benchmark that provides a level playing field for testing graphics of all kinds. Here, the RTX 3080 proves surpassed the RTX 2080 Ti by 15%. Not a huge lead, but let’s not forget the $500 price difference between these two cards. That’s a larger price gap than between other cards in the stack. The performance gap between the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2080 Super is also wider.
Meanwhile, the RTX 3080 beats the 2080 Super by 28%, all without a price hike.
That lead continued as I tried a number of games, both in 1440p and 4K. The RTX 3080 doesn’t force gamers to choose between high resolution and high frame rate — it’s a smooth gaming experience no matter what monitor you use.
Let’s start with the most challenging title first. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a game that no system I’ve tested can play at native 4K at 60 frames per second (fps) and Ultra High settings. But the RTX 3080 sets a new standard, averaging 61 fps (frames per second). The RTX 2080 Ti hits just 47 fps, while the RTX 2080 Super is at 43 fps. I can’t overstate how impressed I was by the RTX 3080’s 23% lead over the RTX 2080 Ti (and 30% over the RTX 2080 Super).
Next, I booted up Battlefield V. Historically, it’s one of the few games where Nvidia GPUs have lagged behind AMD. But not this time. The RTX 3080 enjoys its biggest leap in the games I tested, now averaging up to 97 fps in 4K at Ultra. Whole 4K monitors with 144Hz refresh rates are still uncommon, you’ll need one to get the most out of the RTX 3080 in this game. Here, the RTX 3080 is 22% ahead of the RTX 2080 Ti (at 76 fps) and 33% ahead of the RTX 2080 Super (at 65 fps).
As expected, the RTX 3080’s lead is highest in 4K, where the GPU takes a heavier load. It’s still a magnificent card for 1440p gaming, of course. It averaged 78 fps in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and 147 fps in Battlefield V, both 17% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti.
As for Fortnite, the gains weren’t quite as high, largely because the RTX 2080 Ti already played it well. It was the only game where in lower resolutions (such as 1080p), the RTX 2080 Ti actually outdid the RTX 3080. In 4K, though, the RTX 3080 averaged 78 fps at Epic settings, 17% higher than the RTX 2080 Ti, and 29% better than the RTX 2080 Super.
Lastly, let’s look at some lighter fare. Civilization VI is a game that is ideal in 4K, providing a wider view of the map and more detail for your expanding empire. At Ultra, Civilization VI averaged 168 fps compared to the 141 fps of the RTX 2080 Ti and 117 fps of the RTX 2080 Super.
Across all these games, you won’t see as big of a gain playing in 1080p or at lower settings. In Battlefield V at 1080p Ultra settings, for example, the RTX 3080 was only a few fps ahead of the RTX 2080 Ti. That was also true in Fortnite and Civilization VI, where you begin to lose a bit of the value of the RTX 3080. If you don’t plan on upgrading your monitor for either higher resolution or refresh rate, the RTX 3080 is not worth your time. You’re better off saving some money and waiting for the RTX 3070 or inevitable RTX 3060.
Outside of gaming, a powerful GPU like the RTX 3080 can significantly speed up content-creation tasks like video rendering or 3D modeling. Though a lot of the heavy lifting is carried by the CPU in these tasks, a powerful GPU can make a difference in render times.
I started with Adobe Premiere Pro, where I loaded up a project with a two-minute 4K video clip. With the RTX 3080, It took 2 minutes and 27 second to finish exporting the clip to ProRes 422. That’s 11% faster than the RTX 2080 Super in the same video export and just 5% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti.
Ray tracing and DLSS
The RTX 2080 Ti launched with almost zero titles support ray tracing or DLSS. That was supremely disappointing. The growth of support from developers around real-time ray tracing has been slow but steady, however, and two years later, many new AAA games support Nvidia’s RTX features in one form or another. The à la carte implementation is still frustrating, with many games opting for more limited (and less taxing) RTX features.
Still, RTX is much stronger today than it was. It makes for a good time to launch some new high-powered GPUs that take both ray tracing and DLSS to the next level.
I tested out one of the first games to integrate RTX features: Battlefield V. Happily, I discovered that the ray tracing capabilities of the RTX 3080 have improved over the RTX 2080 Ti.
In the mission Tirailleur, the RTX 2080 Ti allows for some brilliant reflections in the puddles of water near the start of the level, which can slow down the frame rate to an average of 33 fps. Once DLSS was turned on, that was bumped up to 45 fps. This was in 4K with settings at Ultra.
The true realization of real-time ray tracing still provides a challenge for even the most powerful graphics cards.
On the RTX 3080, those numbers look a bit more promising. This new card handles the same scene with the same settings at 55 fps and jumps up to 69 fps with DLSS. There’s room to grow, but at least in Battlefield V, ray tracing isn’t completely useless.
I also tested out the new ray tracing features in Fortnite. The shadows, reflections, and global illumination are gorgeous. Reflections on the water are pristine, and even the shadows on the back of your character look incredibly realistic.
But even with the RTX 3080, these RTX features are still a performance bottleneck. It averaged 53 fps in 1440p in Ultra with all the RTX features maxed. But in 4K? The game only played at 23 fps.
Of course, the game also offers a number of DLSS settings (Quality, Balanced, or Performance) that boost the frame rate back up through upsampling. The “Performance” setting adds some noticeable blur to distant textures, while the “Quality” setting only gets you back up to 27 fps. In the end, the combination of DLSS and ray tracing is still enough of a performance hit that most people will prefer to leave it off. That’s a shame, because the ray tracing is gorgeous.
The RTX 20-series was criticized for paying more attention to ray tracing and A.I. than raw performance. The RTX 3080 shows how serious Nvidia took that criticism. The performance levels open up new possibilities for gamers, no longer forcing them to choose between high resolutions and high frame rates. Nvidia achieved that raw performance bump without sacrificing its deep investments in features like ray tracing and DLSS, as it was determined to keep the PC at the forefront of the conversation in next-gen gaming.
The RTX 3080 will never be Nvidia’s most popular card with its $699 price point, but as the industry leader and “flagship” model, it represents the best that PC gaming can offer.
Are there any alternatives?
The closest alternatives are also made by Nvidia: The RTX 3090 and RTX 3070. The 3090 is the most expensive (and most powerful) graphics card Nvidia has ever made, and won’t likely fit in your average PC case. The RTX 3070, meanwhile, is more affordable at $499, and Nvidia says it’s also more powerful than the RTX 2080 Ti. The RTX 3090 will be available on September 24, while the RTX 3070 is due out in October.
AMD’s upcoming RX 6000 graphics are rumored to include a high-end GPU that could finally challenge Nvidia’s top-shelf graphics cards. As of now, though, AMD’s offerings are capped at the RX 5700XT.
How long will it last?
The Nvidia RTX 3080 should last you at least five years. The most common graphics cards among Steam gamers is still Nvidia 10-series cards, which first launched in 2016. Nvidia offers a fairly generous three-year warranty on its Founders Edition GPUs that covers hardware failures and defects.
Should you buy it?
Yes. For top-notch, blisteringly fast PC gaming, the Nvidia RTX 3080 sets a new standard.
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