NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition Review - Must-Have for 4K Gamers 355

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition Review - Must-Have for 4K Gamers


Value and Conclusion

  • The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition will retail for $699, starting tomorrow.
  • Huge performance increase over RTX 2080/2080 Ti
  • 60 FPS 4K gaming a reality now
  • Excellent price/performance
  • Idle fan stop
  • Very good temperatures and noise levels for a 320 W dual-slot card
  • 2nd generation hardware-accelerated raytracing
  • DLSS improved
  • Fantastic memory overclocking potential
  • Compact dual-slot cooler
  • New GeForce Features: Reflex, Broadcast, G-SYNC 360, and RTX-IO
  • Stunning looks
  • Power efficiency improved
  • RGB lighting
  • Support for HDMI 2.1, AV1 decode
  • PCI-Express 4.0
  • 8 nanometer production process
  • Makes little sense for gamers without a 4K or 1440p high refresh-rate monitor
  • Runs in power limit all the time
  • Overclocking more complicated due to power limit
  • Awkward power connector placement
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past weeks, you must have heard all the buzz around NVIDIA's new GeForce Ampere architecture. Big promises were made, and I'm happy to report that they are all true. Yes, the GeForce RTX 3080 retails for $699; yes, it is faster than RTX 2080 Ti; yes, RTX and DLSS have been improved; and yes, the new cooler rocks.

I have to admit I'm more than impressed with what NVIDIA has achieved with this launch. Having covered my fair share of hardware launches, it's common to hear phrases such as "it's our best x yet", or "oh we're so excited" which go up in smoke. NVIDIA, on the other hand, did a great job promoting the Ampere architecture, starting with Jen-Hsun's flawless presentation, more technical details slowly trickled in over the coming days, and unboxings happened just a few days ago. Today, we finally have the benchmark numbers, and they look good!

In preparation for this launch, I've revamped our graphics card test suite, added several new titles, kicked out some older and unpopular ones. I've also retested all our 27 comparison cards on the latest drivers—most of these cards won't play much of a role in this review, but they give a feel for the massive performance differences.

Averaged over our whole benchmarking suite at 4K resolution, the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition is 66% faster than the RTX 2080 it replaces (both launched at $699). NVIDIA's new card even beats last generation's flagship, the RTX 2080 Ti, by a whopping 31%! AMD's Radeon RX 5700 XT is half as fast as the RTX 3080. Yup, the RTX 3080 ups the 5700 XT by +100% in performance—AMD better get things right with RDNA2. If you've held out on a GTX 1080 Ti until now, congrats, now is the right time to upgrade. The RTX 3080 will double your FPS, and gives you all the latest technologies and features, like raytracing and DLSS.

When looking at lower resolutions, the lead of the RTX 3080 shrinks considerably, +51% over RTX 2080 at 1440p, +35% at 1080p. The reason is that with so much GPU horsepower, games are becoming increasingly CPU limited. A poster child for that is Anno 1800—at lower resolution, all cards are bunched up against an invisible performance wall of around 68 FPS in this case—that's the CPU limit. We're already on a very fast CPU, Ryzen won't run any faster, either. We've tested this extensively in our RTX 3080: 10900K vs. 3900XT review that just went up, too. Back to Anno 1800—1080p is totally CPU limited on all high-end cards, and after switching to 1440p, most comparison cards fall behind in FPS because their GPU isn't fast enough, so they become GPU limited. The only exceptions are the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 3080, which both achieve 67 FPS at 1440p—still CPU limited. When switching to 4K, the RTX 2080 Ti falls back to 46 FPS, and the RTX 3080 still seems quite CPU limited at 63 FPS. While unfortunate, CPU limits are a reality of gaming—the RTX 3080 will not magically give you 360 FPS in all games, no graphics card can. CPU power, game engines, and developers have to catch up with the new performance first.

The GeForce RTX 3080 is perfect for 4K gaming. It's able to exceed 60 FPS in nearly all titles, with the only exception in our test suite Control, which runs at 48 FPS. NVIDIA does have an ace up their sleeve: DLSS, which renders the game at lower resolution and upscales the frame to your native monitor resolution. While traditional upscaling comes with blurriness and artifacts, NVIDIA DLSS uses AI to improve the scaling. The algorithm has improved over the years, but the basic concept remains. Machine learning is used to train a model to excel at upscaling of game content. While only few games support DLSS at this time, the numbers are growing quickly. The same goes for raytracing, which was pioneered by NVIDIA, adopted by Microsoft, and is now seeing its introduction on the next-gen consoles this holiday season. Raytracing support on consoles is a confirmation that game developers will release titles with the new tech—NVIDIA is now on generation two of their RTX tech, and you can bet they learned a lot from Turing. The number of RTX cores has been increased significantly in Ampere, and several optimizations have been added, probably more than NVIDIA is telling us about.

We added a new page to our NVIDIA reviews, which takes a closer look at RTX and DLSS performance specifically. In Metro Exodus, for example, the RTX 2080 Ti achieves 73 FPS with RTX off at 4K. When you turn on raytracing, the framerate drops to 38 FPS—too low for many, which is why those people dismissed the feasibility of raytracing. With Ampere's massive increase in shading power and the RTX improvements, you're now looking at 55 FPS RTX on vs. 96 FPS RTX off—that's a much more acceptable tradeoff for most, I would say.

Using NVIDIA DLSS can further improve these framerates. We benched Control; the RTX 3080 drops from 48.3 FPS with RTX and DLSS off to 28.2 FPS with RTX on, which is not good. Once you enable DLSS, you're back at 52.4 FPS, which is even higher than with both RTX and DLSS off. Of course, DLSS isn't the same quality as native 4K, but it's damn close, and I can see how a large portion of the audience will be willing to trade some image quality for raytracing effects.

NVIDIA's new Founders Edition design has been the topic of endless discussions. After having tested it extensively, I have to admit that NVIDIA managed to one-up the whole custom-design graphics card industry. The new Founders Edition is still a compact dual-slot design, yet is able to run at 320 W board power without any thermal throttling. Previous Founders Edition cards were thermally constrained all the time, which NVIDIA back in the day mitigated very well with their boost algorithms. What's even more impressive is that the noise levels on the new FE are very good, though not whisper quiet—that's an unrealistic expectation from a dual-slot card that runs 60+ FPS at 4K. The fans are audible, but not loud or annoying in any way. One of the biggest criticisms about previous Founders Edition cards was that they don't support fan stop. NVIDIA RTX 3080 FE ticks that checkbox, too. When not gaming, which includes productivity, browsing, and video streaming, the card will turn off its fans completely for the perfect noise-free experience.

Thanks to Samsung's new 8 nanometer production process and various improvements in the silicon and architecture, the GeForce RTX 3080 is once again setting a new record for power efficiency. We measured around 17% improvement over the RTX 2080, the previously most-efficient card at 4K. While 17% is not a monumental difference, it's still key for achieving the performance levels the RTX 3080 can deliver. If the GPU were less power efficient, the power limit would throttle the card earlier, resulting in lower performance. The alternative would be a higher power-limit setting, but the card would run hotter, and the fan would have to be noisier. The new 12-pin connector makes a lot of sense, but I'm not convinced a new connector was absolutely necessary. I'm also questioning the positioning in the middle of card. This will become a nightmare for people with OCD about hiding the cables in their case. I have to applaud NVIDIA for including a 12-pin to 2x 8-pin adapter with every Founders Edition card as it ensures people can start gaming right away without having to hunt for adapter cables of potentially questionable quality. NVIDIA confirmed to us that every custom-design that uses the 12-pin must bundle adapter cables, too.

Overclocking on Ampere is pretty much the same as on Turing. You're limited by the maximum board power even though NVIDIA includes the option to increase the power limit from the 320 W default up to 370 W in the OC software. While GPU overclocking potential was slim on our card, just a few percent, memory overclocking was very impressive. GDDR6X is a brand-new memory technology that's more complex than ever, yet we could increase the memory clocks by over 10%. Overall performance improved by 4% from overclocking.

NVIDIA has always been criticized for high pricing in the past; it seems they listened to the feedback. The RTX 3080 Founders Edition retails at $699, which is an extremely competitive price. Remember, the RTX 3080 is twice as fast as the RX 5700 XT ($370) and 31% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti ($1000+). It seems NVIDIA is concerned mostly with the new consoles, which will bring high-fidelity gaming to the masses at prices of around $500. Charging $1000 for a graphics card will be a tough sell for many when they can have a whole gaming console for $500. At the RTX 3080 price point, there really is no alternative, maybe a used RTX 2080 Ti at bargain prices? Not sure, definitely nothing that AMD offers at this time. We are working on several reviews of RTX 3080 custom-designs from board partners that will be up very soon. It will be interesting to see if their cards will be able to match or exceed the RTX 3080 Founders Edition. NVIDIA set the bar very high.
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