ASUS GeForce RTX 3090 STRIX OC Review 126

ASUS GeForce RTX 3090 STRIX OC Review


Value and Conclusion

  • The ASUS RTX 3090 STRIX OC retails for $1799.
  • 19% faster than RTX 3080
  • 60 FPS 4K gaming a reality now
  • Manual power limit setting goes up to 480 W!
  • 24 GB VRAM
  • Large factory overclock
  • Idle fan stop
  • Fantastic memory overclocking potential
  • Dual BIOS
  • Adjustable RGB lighting
  • Quiet (with quiet BIOS)
  • Low temperatures (default BIOS)
  • One additional HDMI port
  • Power limit greatly increased
  • 2nd generation hardware-accelerated raytracing
  • Fan headers for case fans
  • Support for HDMI 2.1, AV1 decode
  • DLSS improved
  • PCI-Express 4.0
  • SLI support
  • New GeForce Features: 8K, Reflex, Broadcast, G-SYNC 360, and RTX-IO
  • 8 nanometer production process
  • Very high price
  • Noisy (with default BIOS)
  • Still held back by board power limit
  • High heat output
  • Overclocking complicated due to power limit
  • SLI useless without implicit multi-GPU
NVIDIA announced the GeForce RTX 3090 at the beginning of this month, and we're finally allowed to show benchmarks. If this whole "Ampere" thing is new to you, definitely check out our GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review and NVIDIA Ampere GPU Architecture article for some background information. We have four GeForce RTX 3090 reviews for you today: ASUS RTX 3090 STRIX OC, Gigabyte RTX 3090 Eagle OC, MSI RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio, and ZOTAC RTX 3090 Trinity.

The ASUS GeForce RTX 3090 STRIX OC is the company's flagship version of the RTX 3090. There's also the TUF at more affordable pricing, but lower clocks and power limit, and without all the bells and whistles of the STRIX. When averaged over our whole benchmarking suite at 4K resolution, the RTX 3090 STRIX beats the RTX 3080 by 18%—quite nice. The RTX 3080 has 8704 shaders, and the RTX 3090 has 10496, which is 20% more, so where's the rest of the performance? On the RTX 3090 reference, the power limit has been set only marginally higher than on the RTX 3080 to keep power/heat/noise at reasonable levels, 320 W vs. 350 W. ASUS was wise to raise that limit much further, to 390 W, which helps gain additional performance over the base RTX 3090. The difference from 320 to 390 W is 22%, pretty close to the 19% performance difference we measured. It looks like Ampere performance mostly scales with the power limit, not clocks or shaders.

Still, the performance offered by the RTX 3090 is impressive; the STRIX is 56% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti and 85% faster than RTX 2080 Super. AMD's Radeon RX 5700 XT is less than half as fast, the performance uplift vs. the 3090 is 238%! AMD Big Navi better be a success. With those performance numbers, RTX 3090 is definitely suited for 4K resolution gaming. Many games will run at over 90 FPS. At highest details in 4K, nearly all settle in at over 60 FPS—only Control is slightly below that, but DLSS will easily boost FPS beyond that.

We also did a test run with the power limit at the 480 W maximum ASUS provides. 480 W is much higher than anything available on any other RTX 3090, so I wondered how much more performance can we get. At 4K resolution, it's another 2%, which isn't that much, but it depends on the game, too. Only games that hit the power limit very early due to their rendering design can benefit from the added power headroom.

With RTX 3090, NVIDIA is introducing "playable 8K", which rests on several pillars. In order to connect an 8K display, you previously had to use multiple cables. Now, you can just use a single HDMI 2.1 cable. At a higher resolution, VRAM usage goes up, but RTX 3090 has you covered, offering 24 GB of memory, which is more than twice that of the 10 GB RTX 3080. Last but not least, on the software side, they added the capability to capture 8K gameplay with Shadow Play. In order to improve framerates (remember 8K processes 16x as many pixels as Full HD), NVIDIA created DLSS 8K, which renders the game at 1440p native and scales the output by x3 in each direction with machine learning. All of these technologies are still in their infancy—game support is limited and displays are expensive, we'll look into this in more detail in the future.

The ASUS STRIX Ampere cooler design is fantastic. It looks awesome from all sides, the many small improvements add up. The PCB design is the best of any RTX 3090 by far, and the VRM is super strong, using only premium components. Since ASUS has dialed the power limit on their card up to 390 W, comparing just temperatures and fan noise with other cards that run a lower power limit isn't completely fair, but it's all we have at the moment. With 68°C and 42 dBA, the STRIX runs very cool, but too noisy in my opinion. Sure, you have awesome performance on tap, but I'd prefer a quieter experience. MSI has achieved that with their Gaming X, which is slightly slower than the STRIX, but a lot quieter. ASUS includes a "quiet" BIOS with their card, which can be enabled using the BIOS switch. With it, the card runs at a much better 34 dBA and still good temperatures of 75°C. Like all other GeForce 30 cards, the STRIX OC comes with the idle-fan-stop feature (on both BIOSes), which completely turns off the fans in idle, productivity, browsing, and video playback—the perfect noise-free experience.

24 GB VRAM is definitely future-proof, but I doubt you will really ever need that much memory. Sure, more is always better, but unless you are using professional applications, you'll have a hard time finding a noteworthy performance difference between 10 GB and 24 GB. Games won't be an issue because you'll run out of shading power long before you run out of VRAM, just like with older cards today, which can't handle 4K no matter how much VRAM they have. Next-generation consoles also don't have as much VRAM, so it's hard to image you'll miss out on any meaningful gaming experiences if you have less than 24 GB VRAM. NVIDIA demonstrated several use cases in their reviewer's guide: OctaneRender, DaVinci Resolve, and Blender can certainly benefit from more memory, as can GPU compute applications, but these are very niche use cases. I'm not aware of any creators who were stuck and couldn't create because they ran out of VRAM. On the other hand, the RTX 3090 could definitely turn out to be a good alternative to Quadro, or Tesla, unless you need double-precision math (you don't).

The GeForce RTX 3090 is the only graphics card in the Ampere family that features an NVLink interface for SLI. Implicit multi-GPU (the classic SLI you know) is not available—only explicit multi-GPU is supported. Explicit multi-GPU requires that game developers invest their own time and money to add support for the technology, which simply isn't going to happen because of the tiny market size for the feature. Only a handful of games and benchmarks support explicit multi-GPU. To use even this mode, you'll need to buy a new-generation NVLink bridge separately; the NVLink cable from your RTX 20-series cards won't physically fit. And with NVIDIA reportedly stopping the development of SLI profiles for newer games from 2021 for GPUs that support implicit multi-GPU, we can safely conclude that the age of multi-GPU gaming is over. Buying a pair of RTX 3090 cards for multi-GPU would cater to a very tiny niche, mostly professionals.

Thanks to the higher default power limit, overclocking was much more enjoyable on the ASUS STRIX. I could reach significantly higher GPU clocks even without manually adjusting the power limit. While other RTX 3090 graphics cards have a maximum manually adjustable power limit of 385 W, ASUS goes all the way to 480 W, which I have to praise them for. NVIDIA does not limit the power limit adjustment range, so every board partner can set the limit themselves. Looks like some just chickened out—building such high-powered cards is new for everyone in the graphics card industry, so I can understand the careful approach. Just like on Turing, NVIDIA's Boost algorithm complicates overclocking because you can no longer dial in specific frequencies. On RTX 3090, the effect is amplified because the delta between the power limit during normal games and light loads boosting much higher is bigger than on other cards. Still, we managed to achieve 3.4% in real-life performance gains with overclocking.

Pricing of the RTX 3090 is just way too high, a tough pill to swallow. At a starting price of $1500, it is more than twice as expensive as the RTX 3080, but not nearly twice as fast. ASUS has confirmed to us that the STRIX OC will retail for $1800, the STRIX non-OC for $1750, the TUF OC for 1530, and the TUF non-OC for $1500. $1800 is a lot of money—the price increase is very large. $300 extra for the ASUS STRIX experience seems a bit much even though the card's physical design is super impressive. I would personally be willing to spend maybe $150–$200 more, mostly for the higher out-of-the-box performance and awesome 480 W power limit, and VRM that can handle it. NVIDIA emphasizes that the RTX 3090 is a Titan replacement—Titan RTX launched at $2500, so $1500 must be a steal for the new RTX 3090. Part of the disappointment associated with pricing is that the RTX 3080 is so impressive at such disruptive pricing. Either way, Turing showed us that people are willing to pay up to have the best, and I have no doubt all RTX 3090 cards will sell out today, just as was the case with the RTX 3080. Maybe that's the reason why Newegg is asking such a high starting price for the STRIX.

In this context, our "Recommended" award obviously is not addressing the average gamer. Rather, it means you should consider this card if you have the money to spend and are specifically looking for an RTX 3090.
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