Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review: a bright future for PC games
"The Nvidia RTX 3080 sets a new standard for high-end PC games."
Fast and smooth 4K gaming
Attractive new design
HDMI 2.1 support
Improved ray tracing and DLSS performance
Requires cumbersome adapter
Needs more power
The gaming world's attention is focused entirely on the upcoming console launches. I get it. Players can finally get PC-level games in the living room. Between the price and the updated internals, these new consoles are a big deal.
Nvidia won't let the consoles powered by AMD hardware steal the limelight, however.
The Nvidia RTX 3080, available starting today with the rest of the RTX 3000 series, represents the future of PC gaming. With the most significant generation leap in the history of Nvidia, the RTX 3080 wants to prove that real high-end gaming always belongs on the PC. Is this the next leap forward in PC gaming? Or have consoles finally caught up?
The RTX 3080 is a classy looking graphics card.
The previous generation of Nvidia GPUs, from the RTX 2060 to the RTX 2080 Ti, wanted you to know how top notch your experience is. The case and back plate were made of aluminum, and the “Nvidia GeForce” logo glowed green when switched on. The super models even added a highly reflective glass-like texture to the surface.
The RTX 3080 takes a more subtle approach. A matte, dark gray material is used. It even has a white backlight instead of green. None of this is flashy, but it is in line with the simpler direction of modern gaming equipment. It won't be noticed when sitting next to a stark white NZXT H510i case or a Razer Blade 15. Straight lines and muted colors are all the rage, 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. To me, Nvidia's reference model looks great.
In addition to its looks, the RTX 3080 also has a redesigned cooling system. A fan flanks each side of the cover using a unique "push-pull" system for thermal management. One side sucks in air and another sucks it out at the back. According to Nvidia, this results in better airflow, but the RTX 3080 runs a little hotter than the RTX 2080 Ti. In the same run of 3DMark Time Spy, the RTX 3080 hit a maximum of 76 degrees Celsius, four degrees hotter than the RTX 2080 Ti. Both Still stayed away from the 80-degree mark during all of my tests.
The RTX 3080 is almost identical to the RTX 2080 Ti and the 2080 Super. In contrast to the massive RTX 3090, the 3080 only has a standard design with two slots. It could be easily pushed into a 28-liter housing that previously housed an RTX 2070 Super. It's still a great graphics card, of course, but it will fit in your rig as well as the previous generation.
Power supply and connections
While it probably fits your case, the RTX 3080 is power hungry. It requires 320 watts of dedicated power. To keep this in mind, Nvidia recommends at least a 750 watt power supply to support your entire system. That alone can mean buying a new power supply for your system. So far, 650 watts have been the standard to support cards like the RTX 2080 Super or the 2080 Ti.
And yes, the rumors are true – the RTX 3080 has a new 12-pin power connector that requires an adapter to work with your old cables. Nvidia includes the adapter in the box, but in your case it still leaves an awkward dangling dongle.
For ports, the Nvidia RTX 3080 includes three DisplayPort 1.4a, which support up to 144 Hz at 4K, as well as an HDMI 2.1 port. These are the first graphics cards to support this new HDMI standard that can display 144 Hz at 4K resolution. It is noteworthy that the next generation of televisions also includes HDMI 2.1, which for the first time enables a high refresh rate in the living room.
The USB-C port is gone. This was a feature of the RTX 20 series to support NVLink, a way to run two GPUs over SLI. Connecting multiple cards to increase the frame rate is now an exclusive feature of the RTX 3090. Support for multiple GPUs is already dwindling, and removing NVLink on the RTX 3080 is the nail in the coffin.
The Nvidia RTX 3080, along with the 3070 and 3090, uses Nvidia's new Ampere micro-architecture. It is based on Samsung's 8nm node and downsizes the chip compared to the 12nm node used in the Turing architecture. This means more transistors and theoretically higher efficiency.
Ampere offers 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 make up the CUDA cores.
There is one important caveat here. The Ampere micro-architecture has changed the way every CUDA core works so that each one is a little less powerful. So a 50% increase in CUDA cores does not directly lead to a 50% increase in frame rates, even though you get the 29.7 teraflops of theoretical performance. However, this is a significant increase in core count and – spoiler alert – will affect our performance tests.
|Cuda kernels||memory||Storage interface||Boost clock||Graphics card performance|
|RTX 3090||10,496||24 GB GDDR6X||384-bit||1.70 GHz||350w|
|RTX 3080||8.704||10 GB GDDR6X||320-bit||1.71 GHz||320w|
|RTX 3070||5,888||8 GB GDDR6||256-bit||1.73 GHz||220w|
|RTX 2080 Ti||4,352||11 GB GDDR6||352-bit||1.54 GHz||250w|
|RTX 2080 Super||3.072||8 GB GDDR6||256-bit||1.82 GHz||250w|
|RTX 2070 Super||2.560||8 GB DRR6||256-bit||1.77 GHz||215w|
Ampere also brings more ray tracing and tensor cores to the table, expanding the forward tilt capabilities of the RTX 3080. Later more.
Finally, the RTX 3080 has 10GB of 320-bit GDDR6X memory. That's two more GB of faster video memory, almost up to 11 GB, which is offered in the RTX 2080 Ti. This is an important specification that is beneficial for games that use large textures and large amounts of screen data. It also shows how Nvidia has moved its entire GPU line up one notch.
Let's get down to business, shall we?
The performance of the RTX 3080 is impressive in almost all cases. By the time the RTX 3090 launches in a few weeks, it is sure to be the most powerful graphics card you can buy. That's not too surprising, however, as there is no real competitor to AMD.
I assumed it would beat its predecessor, the RTX 2080 Super. But the real fun was discovering how much faster it really is. The comparison with the much more expensive RTX 2080 Ti was the icing on the cake.
My test system included a CML B460 MATX motherboard, 16 GB DDR4 2933 MHz RAM, and an Intel Core i7-10700 processor. These specs are not exhausted, but they are able to support the tests I ran and generally represent what we would recommend putting together a well-balanced gaming rig today.
Until the launch of the RTX 3090, the RTX 3080 is by far the most powerful graphics card you can buy.
I started with 3DMark Time Spy, the DirectX12 benchmark, which is a level playing field for testing graphics of all kinds. Here the RTX 3080 outperformed the RTX 2080 Ti by 15%. Not a huge head start, but let's not forget the $ 500 difference in price between these two cards. This is a bigger price gap than between other cards in the deck. The performance gap between the RTX 2080 Ti and the RTX 2080 Super is also larger.
In the meantime, the RTX 3080 beats the 2080 Super by 28% with no price hike.
That lead continued when 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 which monitor you're using.
Let's start with the most challenging title first. Assassin's Creed Odyssey is a game that no system I have tested can play with native 4K values at 60 frames per second (fps) and extremely high settings. However, the RTX 3080 sets a new standard with an average of 61 fps (frames per second). The RTX 2080 Ti only reaches 47 fps, while the RTX 2080 Super reaches 43 fps. I can't exaggerate how impressed I was with the RTX 3080's 23% lead over the RTX 2080 Ti (and 30% over the RTX 2080 Super).
Next, I started Battlefield V. Historically, it's one of the few games where Nvidia GPUs lagged behind AMD. But not this time. The RTX 3080 has made its biggest leap in the games I tested and now averages up to 97 fps in 4K on Ultra. Entire 4K monitors with a refresh rate of 144 Hz are still uncommon. You 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 (with 76 fps) and 33% ahead of the RTX 2080 Super (with 65 fps).
As expected, the RTX 3080 has the highest lead at 4K, where the GPU takes a higher load. It's still a great card for 1440p gaming, of course. Assassin's Creed Odyssey averaged 78 fps and Battlefield V 147 fps, both 17% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti.
At Fortnite, the winnings weren't quite as high, mostly because the RTX 2080 Ti was already playing well. It was the only game where the RTX 2080 Ti actually outperformed the RTX 3080 in lower resolutions (like 1080p). In 4K, the RTX 3080 averaged 78 fps at epic settings, 17% more than the RTX 2080 Ti, and 29% better than the RTX 2080 Super.
Finally, let's look at a lighter tariff. Civilization VI is a game ideally suited for 4K, offering a wider view of the map and more detail for your expanding empire. Civilization VI averaged 168 fps on Ultra, compared to 141 fps on the RTX 2080 Ti and 117 fps on the RTX 2080 Super.
With all of these games, you won't see that much gain at 1080p or lower settings. In Battlefield V with 1080p Ultra settings, for example, the RTX 3080 was only a few fps ahead of the RTX 2080 Ti. This also applies to Fortnite and Civilization VI, where you start to lose some of the value of the RTX 3080. Unless you plan on upgrading your monitor for a higher resolution or refresh rate, the RTX 3080 is not worth your time. You'd better save some money and wait for the RTX 3070 or the inevitable RTX 3060.
Outside of gaming, a powerful GPU like the RTX 3080 can greatly speed up content creation like video rendering or 3D modeling. Although much of the heavy lifting of these tasks is done by the CPU, a powerful GPU can improve render times.
I started with Adobe Premiere Pro where I loaded a project with a two minute 4K video clip. With the RTX 3080, exporting the clip to ProRes 422 took 2 minutes and 27 seconds. This is 11% faster than the RTX 2080 Super in the same video export and only 5% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti.
Ray tracing and DLSS
The RTX 2080 Ti, which was launched with almost zero titles, supports ray tracing or DLSS. That was extremely disappointing. However, developer support for real-time ray tracing has grown slowly but steadily, and two years later, many new AAA games are supporting Nvidia's RTX capabilities in one form or another. Implementing a la carte is still frustrating as many games opt for more limited (and less strenuous) RTX features.
Even so, RTX is much stronger today than it used to be. It's a good time to bring some new high performance GPUs to market that will take both ray tracing and DLSS to the next level.
I tested one of the first games to have RTX functionality built in: Battlefield V. Fortunately, I found that the RTX 3080's ray tracing capabilities had improved over the RTX 2080 Ti.
In the Tirailleur mission, the RTX 2080 Ti allows for some brilliant reflections in the puddles of water near the start of the level, which can slow the frame rate down to an average of 33 fps. Once DLSS was turned on, this was increased to 45 fps. This was in 4K with settings on Ultra.
The real implementation of real-time ray tracing is still a challenge for even the most powerful graphics cards.
With the RTX 3080, those numbers look a little more promising. This new card processes 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 entirely useless.
I also tested the new ray tracing features in Fortnite. The shadows, reflections, and global lighting are beautiful. Reflections on the water are flawless and even the shadows on the back of your character look incredibly realistic.
But even with the RTX 3080, these RTX functions are still a performance bottleneck. It averaged 53 fps in 1440p in Ultra, with all RTX functions maxed. But in 4K? The game was only played at 23 fps.
Of course, the game also offers a number of DLSS settings (quality, balance, or performance) that increase the frame rate through upsampling. The Performance setting adds noticeable blurring to distant textures, while the Quality setting only brings back up to 27 fps. In the end, the combination of DLSS and ray tracing is still enough for a performance hit that most people will prefer to leave out. That's a shame because the ray tracing is great.
The RTX 20 series has been criticized for being ray tracing and A.I. as raw achievement. The RTX 3080 shows how seriously Nvidia took this criticism. The performance levels open up new possibilities for gamers and no longer force them to choose between high resolutions and high frame rates. Nvidia achieved this raw performance boost without sacrificing its heavy 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 games.
The RTX 3080 will never be Nvidia's most popular card at $ 699, but as an industry leader and flagship model, it's the best PC gaming can offer.
Are there alternatives?
The next alternatives are also offered by Nvidia: RTX 3090 and RTX 3070. The 3090 is the most expensive (and most powerful) graphics card Nvidia has ever made, and it probably doesn't fit into your average PC case. At $ 499, the RTX 3070 is cheaper and, according to Nvidia, also more powerful than the RTX 2080 Ti. The RTX 3090 will be available on September 24, while the RTX 3070 will be available in October.
Rumor has it that AMD's upcoming RX 6000 graphics will include a high-end GPU that could definitely challenge Nvidia's top-notch graphics cards. As of now, however, AMD's offerings are limited to the RX 5700XT.
How long it will take?
The Nvidia RTX 3080 should last at least five years. The graphics cards most used by Steam gamers are still the Nvidia 10 series cards, which were first launched in 2016. Nvidia grants a generous three-year warranty on its Founders Edition GPUs that covers hardware defects and errors.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Nvidia RTX 3080 sets a new standard for first-class, incredibly fast PC games.