NVIDIA kicked off this year's next-generation product launch cycle with the GeForce RTX 30 Series "Ampere" graphics card announcement on September 1. We finally have our hands on a GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition graphics card, which is the de facto reference design for the RTX 3080. Since its 2015 "Maxwell" generation, NVIDIA sought to release the reference-design products as premium "Founders Edition" SKUs, so they form a benchmark for custom-design board partners to reach rather than baselines for them to build upon.
If you've read our Ampere Architecture article, you'll know the GeForce RTX 3080 is based on a variant of the 8 nm "GA102" silicon, with 8,704 CUDA cores, 68 2nd generation RT cores, 272 3rd generation Tensor cores, 272 TMUs, and 96 ROPs. It features 10 GB of fast 19 Gbps GDDR6X memory, a technology NVIDIA co-developed with Micron, using a 320-bit wide memory interface. This is also NVIDIA's first GeForce GPU to take advantage of the PCI-Express 4.0 x16 bus.
But the silicon is only half the story. The elephant in the room has to be the unique new board design by NVIDIA. The RTX 3080 Founders Edition is as long and tall as most high-end reference-design graphics cards, but the cooler is designed to tame a GPU with 320 W typical board power without keeping your neighbors up at night. NVIDIA did not resort to ugly liquid-cooling solutions, but rather re-imagined the cooler, which we'll try to talk about in a bit.
In this article, we unbox the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition graphics card and bring you detailed pictures of the card exterior. As of today, NVIDIA only allows "photography of the card, no disassembly, no plugging in, no installing, no powering on, no performance results or hints of any kind." Our comprehensive GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition performance review will be up on September 14.
Update September 12: NVIDIA has changed the embargo for Founders Edition reviews to September 16th at 6 AM Pacific Time / 3 PM CEST.
Unboxing the RTX 3080 Founders Edition
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition comes in an extremely premium-looking soft-touch paperboard box. The clamshell opens up not unlike the Apple iPhone retail box. Much of the artwork is on the faces of the upper cover. The rear face below the bottom half has multilingual information, regulatory and retail labels. Clear tapes and pressure hold the two halves together. You lift the upper half to unbox.
There it is! The bottom half has staging for the main product, boldly presented at an incline. You'll notice that this is probably the first graphics card that's presented along its back-plate instead of its front. This is to highlight the innovative new cooling solution that features a fan at the back. Once you pull the card out of its foam cushion, you'll see a paperboard insert, which contains the accessories.
The accessories package includes an adapter that converts two 8-pin PCIe power inputs to the much talked about 12-pin power connector and documentation that consists of a Quick Start Guide to help you with installation, a Support Guide with tech support contacts, and a multilingual warning on a separate piece of paper only to use the power connector adapter included in the box if your PSU lacks 12-pin outputs.
GeForce RTX 3080 Out of the Box
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition card feels like a piece of jewelry to hold. There is an almost Apple-like attention to detail and the product finish. No surface looks or feels cheap to the touch. There are no visible screws or faux rivets. Nothing looks out of place.
The most recognizable part about this design has to be the arrangement of the fans. There are two large 85 mm fans, one on either side of the card. Each of these features impellers with webbed edges to guide all the air axially, so none of it is bled axially. Airflow plays a big role in this cooler's design.
Unlike most multi-fan air-cooling solutions in the market, including the one on the RTX 2080 Founders Edition, the new RTX 3080 Founders Edition cooler features two aluminium fin stacks that are skewered by four copper heat pipes, according to NVIDIA's public presentation. These heat pipes make contact with a vapor-chamber plate that pulls heat from all the hot components on the PCB.
When installed in a typical tower-type case, the fan closest to the rear IO pulls cooler air from the bottom, pushing it onto the first fin stack, with tapered aluminium fins that guide heat exhaust out of the rear. The second fin stack further removed from the rear IO is ventilated by the second fan at the backside of the card. This fan pulls cooler air through the fin stack and vents it on top of the card, where your case's rear/top exhaust should push it out. There are two other non-ventilated heatsink elements between the two fin stacks. The one at the "top" of the card has the main power connector. A sturdy metal alloy superstructure holds the card together, which makes up the shiny part.
This picture by NVIDIA highlights how the various individual fin-stack elements are joined by the heat pipes. These heat pipes make contact with a vapor chamber plate. The NVIDIA render summarizes the airflow scheme beautifully.
The rear IO panel has the card's large rear air vent and four display connectors. These include three DisplayPort 1.4 and an HDMI 2.1 connector that enables 8K 60 Hz HDR with a single cable. NVIDIA removed the USB type-C VirtualLink connector it launched with the RTX 20-series "Turing." Apparently, there are no takers for the standard.
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