The RTX 3080 is Nvidia’s newest flagship graphics card, and it’s a Beast with a capital B. The company formally announced the RTX 30-series earlier this month, including the yet to be released RTX 3070 and RTX 3090. The 3080 is the first of the three cards I’ve gotten my hands on, and I’m stunned by the sheer power of the thing. If you’ve put off buying an older RTX 20-series card, your wait has paid off. This is the GPU that finally makes 4K gaming a reality.
4K gaming has been possible for some time now, but it hasn’t actually been pleasant if you’re used to a minimum 60 frames per second when you game. 1080p and 1440p have been much more manageable because they balance a great looking picture with a higher framerate. But the RTX 3080 finally makes 4K gaming at 60 fps possible in a wide range of graphic-intensive games—sometimes even when ray tracing is turned on. It’s an absolute beast when handling 1080p and 1440p too.
The big change from the 20-series that ushered in real-time ray tracing on an average desktop is that the 30-series architecture has been upgraded from the Turing architecture to Ampere. That means these GPUs are supposed to be 1.7 times more powerful than the previous generation. They can do nearly double the amount of RT (ray tracing) calculations, which is good for future games that incorporate a greater number of ray tracing effects, like the yet to be released Cyberpunk 2077.
But the price is another big change. When the RTX 2080 Ti was first released it was priced at $1,000 (or more) with the following major specs: 4352 CUDA cores (aka shader counts, or kind of like the number of cores in a CPU); 1545 MHz boost clock; 11 GB GDDR6 VRAM; 260W TDP. Looking at the RTX 3080 specs in comparison, it’s easy to see that power boost in the numbers alone and let your jaw drop at the $700 price tag: 8704 CUDA cores; 1710 MHz boost clock; 10 GB GDDR6X VRAM (GDDR6X is faster than GDDR6); 320W TDP. A huge boost in performance for $300 less? Uh, yes please!
And compared to the 3090 and 3070, the 3080 seems to have the best balance of price and performance. The 3070 is not really as big an improvement over the RTX 2080 Ti (even priced at $500, which is still very reasonable!), and the 3090 has a mind-numbing 24 GB GDDR6X VRAM for $1,500—or the cost of a mid-range PC and overkill for most people.
Besides giving these GPUs a lot more processing power than their predecessors Nvidia’s given them a totally new look and redesigned how they intake cool air and expel hot air. That means the RTX 30-series should stay cool longer, which translates to longer and better-sustained performance.
A 12-pin power connector is also present, neatly tucked into the front of the card. But most people still rely on the older 8-pin connectors. That’s why Nvidia included an adapter in the box, which splits off from the 12-pin port into two short, separate cables with a standard 8-pin connector at the end of each. The adapter, and placement of the 12-pin port, are small blemishes on an otherwise beautiful card.
The adapter’s dual short cables snake out like Medusa’s hair and partially obscure the beautiful GeForce logo on the GPU’s side—which seems counter-intuitive from a branding standpoint. You could use two separate PSU cables and arrange them in such a way that the adapter cables part further at the base, but depending on your motherboard and case, that could cause more cable management headaches. I’m not sure why the 12-pin port wasn’t placed on the side of the GPU or another inconspicuous location, but the way the adapter juts out adds a little sloppiness to cable management. That’s the only negative when it comes to the RTX 3080's design, though.
Now, let’s jump right into performance. Our test bench including the following: Intel Core i9-10900K, Asus ROG Maximus XII, 16 GB (8 GB x 2) G.Skill Trident Z Royal 2133 Mhz, Samsung 970 Evo 500 GB M.2 PCIe SSD, Corsair H150i Pro RGB 360mm AIO cooler, and Seasonic 1000W PSU. The same configuration was used for comparing the RTX 3080 to the RTX 2080 Ti.
For your basic, everyday PC gaming, the RTX 3080 shreds. Fucking shreds! In addition to our usual gamut of games, we added a few more to showcase what this graphics card is truly capable of. At lower resolutions, the RTX 3080 pulls ahead of the RTX 2080 Ti, about 5-15 fps depending on the game. It’s not a huge difference, never mind the fact that the 2080 Ti has stellar 1080p performance to begin with. But if you’re buying an RTX 3080 to game only at 1080p, you will waste your money.
Depending on the game, CPU bottlenecks can happen. The RTX 3080 is more powerful than even the most powerful consumer CPU can handle. For GPU-bound games, this isn’t something you’ll have to worry about, but CPU-bound games like Hitman 2 and Total War: Warhammer II are going to feel the squeeze.
During testing, Hitman 2 performed the same at 1080p and 1440p on ultra, 90 fps, and only dipped 10 fps when bumped to 4K. Same issue with Total War: Warhammer II. Running RAM at a higher frequency will help alleviate this issue, but some CPU binding will remain. If the CPU and game engine can’t supply the GPU fast enough or effectively enough, the fps will plateau. I’ve omitted Hitman 2 from the graphics for that reason, but kept Total War: Warhammer 2 because the result was less severe than Hitman 2.
GPU-bound games on the other hand: That’s the RTX 3080's bread and butter. The RTX 2080 Ti squeaks by with frame rates in the low 60s at 4K or lower, but the RTX 3080 blows right past that in most games. Division 2, Metro Exodus, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are the best examples of this, averaging a 16-17 fps jump at 4K over the 2080 Ti. Control and Assassins Creed still fell below the 60 mark, but the 3080 gained 10-13 frames over the 2080 Ti, bringing those games very close to 60 fps. So all around, Nvidia’s flagship RTX 30-series card is really the way to go if you want 4K gaming on ultra—for hundreds of dollars less than what the RTX 2080 Ti cost at launch.
Unfortunately, ray tracing is a different story. There’s always going to be a performance hit when it’s turned on. While the RTX 3080 completely trounces the RTX 2080 Ti, if you want 4K with ray tracing on, and a bare minimum of 60 fps, it’s going to vary by game. You’ll definitely be able to ring out some more frames with DLSS turned on, which is Nvidia’s fancy acronym for its AI-powered technology that boosts frame rates and creates sharper images. But even then the 3080 sometimes misses the mark at 4K.
Take a look at the benchmark numbers from Control, which were calculated by using Nvidia’s Frameview and manually running through the same section of a mission multiple times. At 1440p, the average is 61 fps, which is just under what the RTX 2080 Ti can do at 1080p. But both struggle at 4K. Control has a lot of complex lighting and shadow effects that showcase what ray tracing can do, so it’s not surprising that 4K is one push too far for the RTX 3080. Disappointing, yes, but we’re also talking small differences in texture detail.
There’s some greater detail in the tile grooves when you compare all the screenshots with ray tracing on, but not much. Control at 1440p is still gorgeous with ray tracing on and plays perfectly smooth at 61 fps, something that the RTX 2080 Ti can’t do. The same goes for Metro Exodus. The RTX 3080 dominates at 1080p and 1440p, but at 4K it chugs along like a train that never reaches full speed after leaving the station.
Battlefield V surpassed 70 fps, however, which is not surprising considering Battlefield V makes light use of ray traced effects. Wolfenstein: Youngblood was a pleasant surprise as it did more than 70 fps but uses complex ray traced effects. I mean, at 1080p ultra with RTX off, the game gets over 300 fps!
As for raw GPU compute power, take a look at the massive lead the RTX 3080 has over the RTX 2080 Ti in the chart above. In Geekbench 4 and Luxmark OpenCL benchmarks, the RTX 3080 is miles ahead. This means you can expect faster video exporting, transcoding, or 3D rendering times, depending on the application you are using. It’s important for me to note that when comparing GPU compute speeds in Blender, which is part of our usual benchmark kit, both graphics cards rendered the image in the same amount of time. So just like with certain games, it’s possible that some applications might run into a bottleneck. Down the road when new processors are released, that may or may not continue to be an issue.
The official launch of the RTX 3090 and the RTX 3070 is still a little ways away, but I have a feeling for most people the choice will come down to the 3080 and 3070 based on the price versus performance. The 3080 is not a budget GPU, even if it has amazing performance for the price, especially compared to the 2080 Ti when it launched. If you have a 1080p or 1440p monitor and mainly play a lot of first-person shooters, this might not be the ideal card for you. Sure, it still gets killer frames at lower resolutions, but the CPU bottleneck is a bit of a problem. That might not affect your play, but the 3080 isn’t being used to its fullest.
That said, if you invested in a 4K monitor years ago just for this moment, add the 3080 to your holiday wish-list along with Cyberpunk 2077 or another ray tracing-enabled game. I have a feeling that game is going to look amazing in 4K with ray tracing on. I just hope it can get at least 60 fps with the RTX 3080.
- Incredible performance for the price
- The new design keeps the GPU cooler and quieter than the previous generation
- Some games get over 60 fps at 4K with ray tracing on
- CPU-bound games will likely experience bottlenecking
- Ugly 12-pin power adapter