When the RTX 3080 was announced alongside the RTX 3070 and 3090 earlier this month, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang made a simple promise. Owners of the GTX 10-series cards, he urged, could now feel safe to upgrade.
The RTX 3080 is the effective flagship of Nvidia’s gaming GPUs this time around, with the $2429 RTX 3090 filling the role of the Titan-class GPUs from previous generations. It’s likely that Nvidia will offer something between the RTX 3080 and 3090 before long, potentially something with a bit more VRAM down the road as next-gen games start to tax memory buffers, and caching limitations, more.
For now, however, the RTX 3080 certainly has no problem playing games at 4K. The Founders Editions were priced at $1139, although whether the AIB partner cards come in at that price is another matter. It’s worth noting that $1139 is a good chunk cheaper than what the GTX 1080 first sold for in Australia, too. And it’s a fraction shy of the original pricing for the RTX 2080.
Question is: what gains are you getting for the cost of a small PC?
RTX 3080: Specs, Price, Release Date
First, let’s get into the raw specs. The RTX 3080 is pitched as a much more powerful replacement for gamers who would have considered an RTX 2080 Ti, promising 4K high refresh rate gaming — or 4K/60fps gaming with every ray-traced bell and whistle you can imagine.
The card was initially promised as being almost twice as powerful in the performance per watt specs — but if you actually checked the graph, that performance bump was at power usage that Ampere or Turing cards don’t actually run at. At least not when doing things like running video games.
In Australia, the RTX 3080 has an MSRP of $1139 with a release date of September 17. The Founders Edition of the RTX 3080 and 3090 will be available locally, although Kotaku Australia understands there will be much greater supply of the AIB partner models, particularly given that the Founders Edition boards are only available through one retailer.
Still, we’ll get into the precise performance jumps later. Here’s what’s on offer:
RTX 3080 specs
- Base / Boost Clock: 1.44GHz / 1.71GHz
- VRAM: 10GB GDDR6X
- CUDA Cores: 8704
- Memory Interface Width: 320-bit
- Power: 320W
- Power connectors: 2x PCIe 8-pin into custom 12-pin connector
- Recommended System Power: 750W
Like the 3090, the RTX 3080 comes with a new 12-pin connector. It’s pretty sweet, although functionally it just means users will be plugging their 2x 8-pin PCIe cables into an adapter which ships with the RTX 3080. You can see what that looks like above.
Third-party RTX 3080 cards (and 3070 and 3090) will use 2x standard 8-pin PCIe power connectors.
The RTX 3080 cards are larger than the 20-series, too. Here’s a side by side of the RTX 2080 and the RTX 3080 for good measure.
OK, now let’s get into the nitty gritty.
RTX 3080 Test Bench
As before, here’s what was used to put the RTX 3080 through its paces. While Nvidia was generous in offering almost two weeks with the embargo, a family emergency (brain tumour surgery) meant that I only had a few days to put the card through its paces. So I’ve just got the single AMD system, with no Intel comparison just in case.
That shouldn’t skew the results too much, but it’s worth flagging for those who want to know. This will also be the first review using the 3900XT, instead of the Ryzen 3900X, so I’ve rerun all the tests from scratch for this article. And as before, much thanks to Sydney tech retailer Mwave for supplying a nice, customised Corsair case for testing. (The CPU and motherboard have been supplied by Nvidia and ASUS, with all other parts purchased at the writer’s own expense.)
- CPU: Ryzen 3900XT
- CPU Cooler: Corsair H115i RGB Platinum
- RAM: 32GB DDR4 3200MHz GSkill Trident Z (14-14-14-34)
- GPUs: RTX 3080 Founders Edition, RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG CROSSHAIR VIII HERO (WI-FI)
- PSU: Corsair CX750M 750W 80 Plus Bronze
- GPU Drivers: Pre-release Nvidia 456.16, with a custom firmware for the RTX 3080 applied to correct a multi-monitor display issue
All fairly straightforward. I was thinking about swapping out the PSU given some of the concerns and noise from AIB partners about the RTX 30-series power usage, but so far things have been fine. At least with the Founders Edition card provided for testing, anyway.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks
Here’s the metric we’re up against: supposedly twice as fast as an RTX 2080 at 4K, according to the launch video.
I’ve gone a different direction. Nvidia pitched the 3080 as being significantly better than the RTX 2080 Ti, so I’ve compared the two across a cross-section of modern AAA games, including some new ray-traced testing and, of course, Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Let’s get started.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: 3D Mark Fire Strike
The robot battling that never ends is still in rotation. UL have more modern benchmarks, and ones that specifically test DirectX 12 and ray-tracing, but I like the old Fire Strike tests because they offer a synthetic comparison that’s well tested. Here, we’re looking at a 30 per cent gap between the RTX 2080 Ti and 3080 in Fire Strike Ultra, which is the 4K test. That gap narrows to about 23.6 per cent at the 1440p test, Fire Strike Extreme, and just under 14 per cent in the base Fire Strike test.
But this is just a synthetic benchmark — but it’s definitely within the same territory as some of the leaked results that popped up online recently. Video games are a very different kettle of fish, though. And we’ll start with one of the most well optimised ones.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: Forza Horizon 4
As with previous tests, Forza Horizon 4 remains in the mix. I keep it in the rotation for how well optimised it is not only with AMD hardware — more GPU than CPU — but just at 4K gaming in general. Sure, it’s a bunch of cars going around the prettiest version of Britain, and not as populated as the chainsaw massacres of Doom Eternal, but Turn 10’s talents shouldn’t be discounted. They remain one of the most technically proficient developers under Microsoft’s wing.
For clarity, all tests were run at the Ultra preset, with dynamic resolution disabled.
It’s about a 25 per cent jump here in regular 4K performance, with virtually no discernible difference between the 1080p and 1440p tests for the RTX 3080. The RTX 2080 Ti still holds up well, although you’d expect it to given that it was a $1900 card at launch.
Again, there’s no ray-tracing in Forza Horizon 4. That’s another reason why I like this in the testing suite, because there are many more games without ray-tracing than ones with. A lot of the Nvidia launch spoke about the difference in ray-traced performance between the 20 and 30 series, which means little to gamers today who are playing titles that don’t even support ray-tracing. That’ll obviously change in the coming years with more widespread developer, but it helps people making a decision now to understand the performance metric in normal, rasterised-only titles.
Next cab off the rank is another non-raytraced game, and a particularly brutal one at that.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: Total War Three Kingdoms
Until Flight Simulator rolled around, Total War: Three Kingdoms was one of those games you pumped all the settings up to Ultra just to feel miserable about the state of the world. Although 2020 has done a good job of that already.
Nonetheless, the game’s battle benchmark is still an exceedingly brutal test on most modern systems and an example of how far the game can push hardware under absolute extreme scenarios. So keep that in mind when reading the test results: most battles of Total War: Three Kingdoms will run quite a bit smoother than this, but we use the benchmark anyway because it provides a consistent result.
As before, all benchmarks were run at the Ultra preset.
About a 27 per cent gap between the cards at 4K here, and just over 25 per cent at 1440p. There’s a not insignificant difference at 1080p as well — but if you’re buying an RTX 3080, you’re not playing games at 1080p (unless it’s something like CS:GO or Valorant at 360fps).
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Lara’s a frequent visitor in our benchmarks, and with good reason. This time around I’m running two sets of tests with Shadow of the Tomb Raider: one using the standard settings, and another with DLSS and the ray-traced shadows on full blast. The latter should provide some hard data to lay expectations on the jump in ray-traced performance.
All tests were done at the highest preset. (Shadow doesn’t have an Ultra preset.)
The difference is a bit greater here — almost 34 per cent between the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 3080 at standard 4K. That shrinks to just under 19 per cent at 1440p, but as with Forza Horizon, the gains are really starting to be shrunk by the 3900XT at this stage. (It’d be interesting to see the results with the next-gen AMD CPUs, or Intel’s 10900K or 10850K CPUs, but you can only work with what you’ve got.)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s benchmark will let you apply ray-traced shadows and DLSS as well, although there’s a small caveat. The game won’t let you use DLSS at 1080p — it’ll only go as low as 1920×1200, bizarrely. Given that you wouldn’t need DLSS for 1080p anyway, I’ve run the tests at 1440p and 4K, with the DLSS upscaling from 960p and 1440p respectively.
As before, these tests were run at the highest preset, with ray-traced shadows then set to Ultra.
Here the gap is about 25 per cent at 4K, and just under 22 per cent at 1440p. DLSS basically makes up for any FPS lost when enabling the ray-traced shadows at 4K, which just highlights just how astoundingly good a weapon it is in Nvidia’s featureset.
That said, Shadow of the Tomb Raider certainly isn’t the most intensive ray-traced game around. Or even the most intensive game. For that, we’ve gotta take to the skies.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: Microsoft Flight Simulator
Flight Simulator is the modern Crysis, the video game that brings all systems to their knees. It should come as no surprise that even the RTX 3080 with its improved process node and extra power still struggles in Asobo’s virtual Planet Earth, although how much it struggles depends on where you’re flying. Of course, that’s partially because Flight Simulator isn’t well optimised for modern PCs. It runs off DirectX 11 and it doesn’t do a great job of using all the CPU cores in your system the way something like Doom Eternal does.
Flight Simulator doesn’t have a benchmark of its own, so I’ve come up with my own test. Other reviewers will have their own metrics, so gauge this against where they’re flying and you should have a good idea of how it’ll handle on your end. For these results, I’ve run 2-minute tests of the Courchevel landing challenge, a famously dangerous airstrip in France nestled in a series of mountains. The landing challenge also has a great deal of clouds around, and throughout the test I do a full 360 view of the surroundings in cockpit mode, and then in third-person camera before running the remainder of the test in third-person (since more data is viewable on screen that way).
While Flight Simulator has developer tools for tracking frame rates and frame times, I’ve recorded these using Nvidia’s updated FrameView software. In the most simplest of terms, it’s a more modern FRAPS, spitting out a wealth of handy results including 90th, 95th and 99th percentile averages as well as individual frame timings.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a bit of a tricky one to bench because there are a lot of different choices you can make. And the streaming element — not to mention data streaming and ensuring that’s not a factor in the results — can also be problematic. Cities like New York or Sydney are also vastly more taxing because of the amount of data that can be streamed in at any one time.
So don’t take these figures as particularly definitive. Use them in conjunction with results from other reviewers to get a better overall picture of how hardware performs in Flight Simulator. Nobody has quite worked out what the ideal way to benchmark this game is, although there’s one thing for sure: it’s sure as hell gonna push any rig on the planet. I’d love to see what an RTX 3090 can do, but ultimately it’d just be better if Asobo Studio could get the game running on DX12 instead — since that’d result in much better performance for all systems.
RTX 3080 Benchmarks: Control Ray-Tracing
Control was recommended by Nvidia as one of the best examples for testing ray-tracing, and that makes total sense. It’s also one of the best use cases for DLSS, but for this article it’s the ray-tracing we’re mostly concerned about.
The problem with Remedy’s Lynchian shooter is that it can be a bit tricky to benchmark. The standard way most people have tested Control is to just jump into a large area — something like Central Research — and then just run around fighting enemies, since you can reliably guarantee that some enemies will always show up. But it’s not consistent, and you can never guarantee how much mobs will actually appear, or where.
Fortunately, the AWE expansion makes life a lot easier. One of the arcade machines found not far into the Investigations sector will let you replay older missions — including the supremely entertaining Ashtray Maze. This is excellent, because it means reviewers now have access to a decent length, real-world slice of gameplay that can be tested with or without ray-tracing, with or without DLSS, and the enemies, pacing and level format will remain the same every single time.
So that’s what I’ve done. As before, DLSS is something you’d really only use at 1440p and 4K — using DLSS at 1080p with an RTX 3080 would just be a total waste — with the ray-tracing preset on high, meaning all ray-tracing effects are enabled.
The blue and orange bars here are the raw data, with everything else representing the 90th, 95th and 99th percentiles. (Because we’re only dealing with two resolutions here and no adjustments in presets, it’s a bit easier to display it all in the one graph.)
The main takeaway difference is that the RTX 3080 is capable of hovering around 60fps at 4K with all ray-tracing enabled … although it will drop below that figure for a decent portion of combat. If you’re on an Intel CPU, like a 10850K or 10900K, I think the performance would be above 60fps for the 90th, 95th and 99th percentiles as well. As is, there’s a 40 per cent difference between the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 3080 at 4K with all ray-tracing effects enabled. At 1440p, the difference is around 35 per cent. That’s still a pretty sizeable improvement, but not on the same scale as the performance jump from the GTX 900 era to the GTX 10-series cards.
As for the RTX 2080 Ti, it’s either playing at 1440p with all the bells and whistles, or dialling down some of the options at 4K. Whatever card you have, the real value add here is DLSS. Both cards would struggle to perform at such decent frame rates without it.
We haven’t really seen the true potential with the RTX 3080 yet, either
A key thing to remember out of all of this is that ray-tracing is still, even two years after the initial RTX launch, pretty rare in video games. More and more blockbuster games are using it this year — Watch Dogs: Legion, Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla some of the upcoming highlights — but for the most part, it’s technology that most developers haven’t properly dabbled in yet. Even something like DLSS, improved as it is, is still fairly infrequent in games. It works supremely well in Control and especially Death Stranding — but we’re still waiting for the technology to really become more popular.
What’s really going to be interesting is revisiting these cards a year later when ray-tracing is much more common. For now, there are so few games, and so few games that use multiple ray-tracing effects to really tax the RTX cards. There’s games like Minecraft RTX and Quake 2 RTX, but that isn’t the same kettle of fish as a fresh AAA title. As more and more major developers get comfortable with the tech, they’re going to start leveraging not just the ray-tracing potential of GPUs, but also other technologies like Nvidia IO, a technology that leverages the GPU for asset decompression and loading speeds. That will become a massive tool in dealing with games that stutter, or frustrating pop-in. Once that becomes commonplace, the difference between the Ampere RTX cards and the previous generation is going to become real stark. Nvidia IO won’t come into effect until at least 2022 though — developers won’t get access to an SDK until 2021 — and we’ll probably be talking about a new generation of GPUs by that stage.
But you can only play and test what you have available. And in a lot of regular testing, the card that’s going to be priced several hundred dollars less than the 2080 Ti is delivering between 25 per cent and 40 per cent more performance depending on the game, resolution and settings. Control was obviously the biggest winner, but it’s also one of the games that uses the most ray-tracing techniques. Something like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which only uses ray-tracing for multiple sunlight, spot light and point light shadows, but not reflections, doesn’t see quite as much of a boost.
We know games are coming out that are more taxing. Cyberpunk 2077, for instance, has diffuse illumination, reflections, ambient occlusion, and ray-traced shadows. I’d expect the gap in performance to be much larger when more ray-traced effects are enabled, and given that’s the type of experience many people are upgrading their PCs this year for, it makes the value argument pretty clear.
The RTX 30 series are coming with new features too, although unfortunately I don’t have the time to go into full detail here. I said Nvidia Broadcast looked like a genuine gamechanger, and it’s an impressive piece of software. Nvidia Reflex is much more niche, and it’s certainly interesting, although at the moment its use is limited to a few games — some of which are already, even by Nvidia’s own admission, fairly well optimised. There’s more to say on that front, but what’s most exciting there is if Nvidia Reflex gets added to more existing games, particularly ones like CS:GO that could genuinely use the improved latency.
My time with the RTX 3080 has left me with a few thoughts. Firstly, let’s all give a big round to Nvidia’s local team for going into bat for Aussies. The company originally didn’t have any stock of the FE cards, but some good public management turned that around. And it matters. In my testing, the RTX 3080 is definitely quieter and more efficient than the RTX 2080 Ti or RTX 2080. FrameView data collected showed the RTX 3080 running at largely the same temperature — around 75 to 76 degrees in Microsoft Flight Simulator at 4K, and 75 degrees in Control with all ray-tracing enabled at 4K.
What I wasn’t able to test is the difference the RTX 3080 Founders Edition’s dual-fans make on airflow and cooling efficiency. Despite Nvidia extending the review embargo by 48 hours, personal circumstances and a lack of equipment meant I’m not able to run any testing or data on the design. I’d recommend checking out other channels who specialise in that kind of testing, particularly if you’re worried about blowing hot air directly over your RAM, CPU block. The Aussies behind Hardware Unboxed are a good shout, and Gamers Nexus has specifically been working on new testing methodologies to answer questions around thermals.
That aside, there’s also the performance difference between the Ampere and Turing generations. The RTX 3080 is definitely an impressive card — although how impressive depends on what you’re coming from. The RTX 3080 definitely isn’t twice as powerful as the RTX 2080 Ti, but that would have been extraordinary if that was the case.
Still, and even without ray-tracing, someone upgrading from the GTX 10-series cards is going to see a substantial bump in performance. The value is partially because of AMD, but also the threat of upcoming consoles. It’s not that consoles are a threat to PCs, but the reality that gamers in 2020 might not have as much money to spend. Nvidia’s bet is that gamers will happily pull the trigger this week on a GPU that’ll arrive well before the PS5, Xbox Series X, or whatever AMD announces.
Ultimately, whether you should buy a RTX 3080 (or any new GPU) is going to come down to a bunch of different factors. But I’ll say this. If you’re upgrading from the 20-series GPUs, then you’ve probably already made your mind up. The RTX 30 series is the only guarantee you’ll have this year of all the ray-traced bells and whistles for Cyberpunk 2077, so it’s more a question of which RTX GPU. Those upgrading from the 10 series cards — now is definitely a good time to pull the trigger, as you’ll see a substantial uptick in regular gaming and ray-tracing where appropriate.
As for everyone else on the fence, I’ll leave you with this. AMD’s Big Navi might be more competitively priced, or genuinely competitive this time around. But for those who pull the trigger this week, and for those who have spent all year factoring in a four-figure premium, I can’t see buyers being unhappy with the RTX 3080. The drivers are mature. The performance certainly delivers. The Founders Edition design is truly slick. And tools like Nvidia Broadcast and the NVENC encoder are properly useful in a wide series of applications.
I can’t tell you whether the RTX 3080 will be the best value for money GPU when 2020 is all said and done. And it might not have quite as much headroom with everything enabled that users would like — but if it did, then what would be the point of the RTX 3090? Something has to run Flight Simulator at 4K/60, after all.
But in all other scenarios, the RTX 3080 will make most gamers pretty happy. Your move, AMD.