Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Thirty Second Review
When the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 was first released, it had to significantly improve upon Nvidia's top-tier graphics card from the Turing era, so expectations couldn't have been higher.
But just like the rest of the Nvidia Ampere, the RTX 3080 hasn't just been more than up to the challenge, it absolutely redefines the performance of the elite graphics cards by bringing fast, 4K gaming at an accessible, if not totally affordable, MSRP.
In fact, the improvements of the RTX 3080 over the cards it’s replaced seems to be the biggest generation leap in power we’ve seen in a long time. It performs 20-30% better than the card in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti review and, more impressively, 50-80% better than the one in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 review.
What makes this GPU all the more attractive is that performance bump comes with a much more reasonable retail price. It’s almost half the cost of the previous generation GPU.
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 makes high-end gaming much more attainable for the average gamer, running the best PC games with faster refresh rates and higher resolutions for less money.
There are cheaper cards with a better value proposition, but when it comes to the elite class of graphics cards, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is simply the best value for those who have the money to spend, but want the most bang for their buck, and so we highly recommend it as the best graphics card to buy for those who can clear the cost of entry.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Price and availability
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is available now starting at $699 (£649, about AU$950) for the Founders Edition. However, as with any major graphics card, there will be dozens of aftermarket graphics cards from companies like MSI, Asus, Zotac and more.
Just be aware that some of these aftermarket card designs may see steep price increases over this Founders Edition, based on things like exotic cooling solutions and factory-tuned overclocks. But every RTX 3080 should more or less be in the ballpark of performance as the one Nvidia itself has released.
This is cheaper than the Founders Edition card in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 review, which debuted at $799 (£749, AU$1,199), so that's a good thing. It's still ridiculously expensive, especially when you get to aftermarket cards.
It's not as outrageous as the Founders Edition card in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review, which launched at $1,499 (£1,399, around AU$2,030). The Founders Edition card in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 review, meanwhile, is a much more relatively reasonable $499 (£469, AU$809). The reference card in our AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT review and the Gigabyte card in out AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT review have an MSRP of $649 (around £649, AU$960) and $1,299 (about £1,040 / AU$1,820), so the RTX 3080 is somewhere in the middle of the mix here among this generation of cards.
It's not the cheapest graphics card around, but there are marginally better cards out there for twice the price. So even though the RTX 3080 is really expensive, compared to its peers and the card it is replacing, the MSRP price is actually pretty good given the level of performance you get out of it compared to the rest of this generation.
- Value: 3.5 / 5
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Features and chipset
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is based on the Ampere graphics architecture, which brings huge improvements to both raw performance and power efficiency over its Turing predecessor. The fact that Nvidia has increased the power budget so much over the RTX 2080 while boosting power efficiency means that the overall performance profile is far above what any Nvidia Turing graphics card was capable of.
There have been obvious improvements to the ray tracing (RT) and Tensor cores – which are on the second and third generation, respectively – but perhaps the biggest improvement has been to the rasterization engine.
Through some clever optimization, Nvidia was able to double the amount of CUDA cores present on each Streaming Multiprocessor (SM) by making both data paths on each SM able to handle Floating Point 32 (FP32) workloads – a vast improvement over Turing, where one data path was dedicated entirely to integer workloads. This effectively doubles raw FP32 throughput core for core, though this won't directly translate into double the frame-rate in your favorite PC games – at least, not for many of them.
Stream multiprocessors: 68 (128 CUDA per SM)
CUDA Cores: 8,704
Tensor cores: 272
Ray tracing cores: 68
Power Draw (TGP): 320W
Boost clock: 1,710MHz
VRAM: 10GB GDDR6X
Memory Speed: 19Gbps
Interface: PCIe 4.0 x16
Outputs: 1 x HDMI 2.1, 3 x DisplayPort 1.4
Power connector: 1 x 12-pin
What this means is that while the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 only has 46% more SMs than the RTX 2080 at 68, it nearly triples the CUDA core count, from 2,944 to 8,704. This translates to nearly three times the theoretical FP32 throughput from around 10 TFLOPs to 29.7 TFLOPs – an absolutely massive generational leap.
When you pair the uplift in CUDA cores, with massive boosts to cache, texture units and memory bandwidth – thanks to the move to faster GDDR6X memory on a 320-bit bus – gaming performance gets one of the biggest generational jumps in years, even if it does fall a bit short of that '2x performance' target that we're sure some folks were hoping for. But more on that later.
Nvidia RT cores are also back – that's why Nvidia has the RTX name, after all – and they also see massive improvements. Nvidia Ampere graphics cards, including the RTX 3080, include second-generation RT cores, which will function similarly to the first generation RT cores, but will be twice as efficient.
If you've ever asked "what is ray tracing?", it is a new way to realistically render a scene by having an SM cast a light ray into a scene that's being rendered, and the RT core will take over from there. The RT core will do all the calculations necessary to calculate where that light ray bounces, and will report that information back to the SM. This means that the SM is left alone to render the rest of the scene, but it can now incorporate that ray tracing data to more realistically light the scene.
Unfortunately, we're still not at a point where turning on ray tracing doesn't have an absolutely brutal impact on performance. Maybe some day, and the Nvidia RTX 3080 does an admirable job, especially with DLSS turned on (more on that later).
Tensor cores are also twice as powerful this time around, which has led Nvidia to only include 4 in each SM rather than the 8 you would find in a Turing SM. Coupled with the fact that there are now more SMs in general, DLSS performance also gets a massive boost.
This generation of graphics cards isn't all about gaming, however, and Nvidia has brought a couple of new features to the table that will make life better for pretty much everyone with an RTX card.
For instance, we were already big fans of RTX Voice, and Nvidia has finally brought it out of beta and worked it into a fully-featured broadcasting app. While RTX Voice filtered background noise out of your microphone, you can set up Broadcaster to filter backgrounds out of your webcam – or even just apply a blur.
The video section is still in beta, and we did see some glitches, but it's way better than any other solution out there for blocking out your background without a green screen.
One of the features we're most excited to see implemented, however, is Nvidia RTX I/O, which is an API that will work in tandem with Microsoft's DirectStorage API, to route data straight from your SSD to your graphics card. In next-generation games, this should not only massively reduce loading times, but also mirror the groundbreaking I/O performance that has been teased with next-generation consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Far more than high frame rates or pretty graphics, this technology is critically important to future gaming tech.
Unfortunately, this is a technology that needs to be implemented by game developers in their games, and we weren't actually able to see what kind of real-world difference it will make. Though it is something we will be actively testing once the technology is widely implemented – and because the consoles are going to be using similar tech, we expect it will have a faster turnaround than ray tracing did.
- Features and chipset: 5 / 5
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Design
- New cooler style effectively manages heat while looking great in a case
- The new 12-pin power connector adapter cable is too short
- Lack of USB-C output is disappointing
For the actual Founders Edition graphics card, Nvidia went with an all-new cooler design, which is way more practical than anything it's ever done with a reference design before. The company used a shorter, multi-layered PCB in order to have the back end of the card just be all heatsink. By doing this, Nvidia was able to mount a fan on the back of the graphics card that will suck cool air through the heatsink, and expel it up and out of the case.
We were a bit worried when we first saw this fan design that it would affect CPU and RAM temperatures, as it's blowing hot air directly over these components. But even in our personal rig, where we have a Noctua NH-12UA air cooler on an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, we didn't observe any difference in performance. We guess it helps that most PC games don't really stress both the GPU and CPU to the same extreme – not yet at least.
As far as power delivery goes, that new 12-pin power connector is definitely there, and we have some mixed feelings about it. It's clear that the new PCB design of the Founders Edition card needs this smaller connector to make this new cooler work, we just wish that the 2 x 8-pin PCIe to 1 x 12-pin dongle Nvidia includes was a bit longer. As it stands, it's kind of hard to tie it out of the way to not be immediately visible, but at least aftermarket cards won't be using it right away. It's worth noting, though, that Nvidia is making the 12-pin power connector design available to any manufacturer – even AMD – that wants to use it.
The Founders Edition also has three DisplayPort and one HDMI 2.1 output for displays, which is good. However, we don't like that Nvidia got rid of the USB-C output here. Creators will definitely still want to use this incredibly powerful card, and professional content creators are all about the best USB-C monitors these days.
Despite our little issues with the Founders Edition – and despite thinking it was ugly when it was first shown off – it's an attractive piece of hardware in person. All black with silver accents, the RTX 3080 looks like a professional-grade piece of hardware.
The only lighting is the 'GeForce RTX' logo on the side of the graphics card in white, which will surely please any anti-RGB users out there. Plus, gamers that really want to go all-out with rainbow lighting will have that option with third-party cards.
- Design: 4 / 5
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Performance
- 4K @ 60 fps is finally reaching into the mainstream
- Ray tracing is finally delivering on its promise (with DLSS on, that is)
- Absolutely massive generational leap over the RTX 2080
This is the system we used to test the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition:
CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X (16-core, up to 4.7GHz)
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Masterliquid 360P Silver Edition
RAM: 64GB Corsair Dominator Platinum @ 3,600MHz
Motherboard: X570 Aorus Master
SSD: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro @ 1TB
Power Supply: Phanteks RevoltX 1200
Case: Praxis Wetbench
Just from Nvidia's own (overblown) marketing, we were already expecting the RTX 3080 to be a fast graphics card, but calling it "fast" is a bit of an understatement. From the moment we opened the box, it's been in our personal machine, running everything from Final Fantasy XIV to Control, only coming out of our personal rig to be plugged into our test bench for actual benchmarking.
Before the 3080, we had an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti in that machine, and the difference was immediately apparent before we even start measuring performance in a quantifiable way. For instance, one of the games we play the most is Final Fantasy XIV – it's a problem – and in that game, particularly in the latest expansion, there were moments where the RTX 2080 Ti would drop below 60 fps at 4K.
That doesn't happen with the RTX 3080. In fact, the game is typically running anywhere from 75-100 fps at 4K with Maximum graphics settings, where the RTX 2080 Ti typically chilled around the 60 fps mark – a massive jump in performance at around half the price.
This story just kept repeating itself over and over no matter what game we played. Metro Exodus maxed out with Ray Tracing and DLSS? Smooth locked 60 fps at 4K. Control with the myriad ray tracing effects? Silky smooth. Even Final Fantasy XV with all the weird optional graphics effects sits pretty at a steady 60 fps at 4K. Accessible 4K@60 gameplay is here – even if we are using the term "accessible" very loosely here.
While the thermals in our benchmarks aren't too exciting, you should keep in mind that those were recorded on an open-air test bench. In our closed tower, with two 240mm fans serving as intake, temperatures peaked around 60°C – way cooler than the mid-80°C temperatures we would typically see with the RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition.
When looking at the actual benchmark results, it's clear that the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is in a class of its own, standing head and shoulders above the RTX 2080 Ti. Right off the bat in 3DMark Time Spy Extreme, the RTX 3080 is a whopping 63% faster than the RTX 2080 and 26% faster than the 2080 Ti – a massive generational leap when you consider that the RTX 2080 was only 40% faster than the GTX 1080 in our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 review back in 2018.
But Time Spy Extreme isn't even even the best-case scenario for the RTX 3080's gains. In Red Dead Redemption 2, where we basically maxed out every single option that wasn't MSAA – multi-sample anti aliasing is very expensive and not worth it – we saw a massive 87% improvement gen-on-gen.
This falls short of that 2x performance leap that was teased at the RTX 3080 reveal, but it's definitely closer than we thought it would actually get. The RTX 3080, all told, is between 50-80% faster than the RTX 2080, while only falling below that in Fire Strike Ultra, where it only managed a 29% lead – but that's still a meaty advantage.
That wide gap in performance is only really present at 4K, however, when the graphics card is free of bottlenecks. There are many titles in our testing suite where even the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X, paired with 64GB of RAM at 3,600MHz, held back the RTX 3080. This is why, for instance, the RTX 2080 Ti and the RTX 3080 are virtually identical at 1080p in Metro Exodus, but opens up to a 19% performance advantage at 4K.
For this reason, we really don't recommend anyone actually buy the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 unless they're going to be playing at 4K, or possibly 3,400 x 1,440 if you've got the best ultrawide monitor around that can really take advantage of what the RTX 3080 brings to the table. The gains are just not going to be there at lower resolutions, so you're better off just picking up the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070.
The performance on offer with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 even further widens the gap that exists between Nvidia and AMD on the high end, though. The AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT is one of the best AMD graphics cards around – especially when it comes to gaming performance – but it simply can't stand up against the RTX 3080, which outscored it on every synthetic banchmark we tested.
- Performance: 5 / 5
Should you buy an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080?
Buy it if...
You want the best 4K performance
4K gaming is incredibly difficult to run, but the RTX 3080 is one of the best graphics cards for handling it, especially when you factor in its price. You'll be able to max out every game under the sun at this resolution at or very near 60 fps.
You want next-gen ready performance
With the next generation of games on the horizon, performance requirements are about to skyrocket. The RTX 3080 is significantly more powerful (at least on paper) than the GPUs in either the PS5 or Xbox Series X.
You have an older graphics card
Because the generational gains between Nvidia Pascal and Nvidia Turing graphics cards were pretty minor, many folks held onto their 10-series cards. If you have one of these older cards, however, you'll get absolutely massive gains with the RTX 3080.
Don't buy it if...
You play games at a lower resolution
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is a 4K graphics card, and as such, you really shouldn't pick this graphics card up for gaming at a lower resolution, you'll run into bottlenecks with even the most powerful CPUs on the market.
You're on a budget
When Nvidia Turing launched, the RTX 2080 saw a significant price increase over the GTX 1080. And, while Nvidia didn't raise the price, it didn't lower the price back to pre-Turing levels. If you want to get your hands on the RTX 3080, you're going to be paying a high price – even if it is worth it.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
If you don't plan on doing much 4K gaming, then you should really consider going with the RTX 3070, which is an outstanding 1440p graphics card and it'll save you some money in the process.
Read the full Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090
The RTX 3090 is nearly twice the price of the RTX 3080, so you should strike this card off your list for consideration if you have any concern about the cost of the card. If you're looking for the best 4K graphics card around though, the RTX 3090 is pretty much best-in-class for this kind of gaming.
Read the full Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review
AMD Radeon RX 6800
The AMD Radeon RX 6800 isn't as good as the RTX 3080, there's no getting around that fact, but if you're just looking for a gaming graphics card that is a major upgrade over an older GTX 10XX-series card, then before you run off and buy Nvidia's best, give the RX 6800 a look, especially if you're looking for something that's marginally cheaper but still offers great performance.
Read the full AMD Radeon RX 6800 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: Report Card
|Value||While the RTX 3080 is quite expensive, it's cheaper than the RTX 2080 it's replacing and there are marginally better cards selling for twice as much or more.||3.5 / 5|
|Features & chipset||With the doubling of CUDA cores, generational improvements to RT and Tensor cores, and features like DLSS and Nvidia Voice, this is the most exciting release in years from an engineering perspective.||5 / 5|
|Design||The new cooler design does a great job with thermals and it looks better than we'd thought it would, but the new 12-pin power connector and lack of USB-C output take the design down a notch.||4 / 5|
|Performance||What else can we say? The performance of the RTX 3080 from gaming to creative content and research work is astounding. 4K gaming at 60 fps is now possible for many more people than before.||5 / 5|
|Total||On balance, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is the best graphics card by value among the elite-class of GPUs.||4.5 / 5|
First reviewed September 2020