Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 still rules the roost, even despite AMD’s efforts to topple it. Nvidia’s newest flagship boasts 24GB of GDDR6X RAM tucked behind that huge heatsink, and it delivers when it comes to hardcore gaming and 3D rendering. In fact, it has since replaced the manufacturer’s two highest performing graphics cards of the previous generation, the Nvidia Titan RTX and the RTX 2080 Ti.

Even with the newest AAA games, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 delivers amazing 4K performance and can even handle 8K gaming at 60fps, though it’s not quite perfect at that level. So, while its predecessors may have set a high bar to meet, it’s proven to be up to the challenge. In fact, while it can handle the best PC games without breaking a sweat, it’s more attractive to those who need some heavy graphical lifting for 3D animation and video rendering.

RTX 3090

Especially at that price. Unfortunately, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 also comes at quite a premium, making the slightly more affordable RTX 3080 and the 3090’s rival, the Radeon RX 6900XT, more attractive to most mainstream gamers. The 3090 is, by far, the most powerful GPU in the consumer market, but it still best serves those who don’t care about price and want the best or those with projects that require hardware-accelerated rendering. 

Price and availability

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 is available right now, starting at $1,499 (£1,399, around AU$2,030) for Nvidia’s own Founders Edition. However, this will be the first time Nvidia has opened up a Titan-level card up to third party graphics card manufacturers like MSI, Asus and Zotac, which means you can expect some versions of the RTX 3090 to be significantly more expensive. 

It’s hard to pin down whether this is a price increase or a price cut over the previous generation. Compared to the Titan RTX, it’s a massive price cut, where that card cost an outrageous $2,499 (£2,399, AU$3,999) for similar, albeit last-generation, specs. However, the RTX 2080 Ti, which in some ways still doesn’t have a direct successor, launched at $1,199 (£1,099, AU$1,899). 

The RTX 3090, then, exists in kind of a middle ground. The GeForce name suggests that this graphics card is aimed at gamers, but the specs and pricing suggest that it’s more geared towards prosumers that need raw rendering power, but aren’t quite ready to jump into the Nvidia Quadro and Tesla worlds. 

Features and chipset

Just like its little sibling, the RTX 3080, the RTX 3090 is built on the Nvidia Ampere architecture, using the full-fat GA102 GPU. This time around, we’re getting 82 Streaming Multiprocessors (SM), making for a total of 10,496 CUDA cores, along with 328 Tensor cores and 82 RT Cores.

At first glance, the small bump up from the 72 SMs on the Nvidia Turing-based Titan RTX seems like a minor improvement, but one of the most groundbreaking differences with the Ampere architecture is the ability for both datapaths on each SM being able to handle FP32 workloads. This means that CUDA core counts per SM is effectively doubled, which is why the RTX 3090 is such a rendering behemoth. 

The RTX 3090 is also rocking 24GB of GDDR6X video memory on a 384-bit bus, which makes for 936 GB/s of memory bandwidth – that’s nearly a terabyte of data every second. Having such a huge allocation of VRAM that is this fast means that anyone that does heavy 3D rendering work in applications like Davinci Resolve and Blender will get a huge benefit. And, when your work involves these applications, anything that can shave time off of project times saves you money in the long term. Combined with the comparatively low cost – at least compared to the Titan RTX – the RTX 3090 is straight up a bargain. 

As we mentioned in our RTX 3080 review, both the Tensor cores and RT cores that Nvidia has made such a huge deal of these past couple graphics card generations see big improvements, too. Namely, throughput of RT cores has doubled with the second-generation ones present on RTX 3000 series cards. 

In ray tracing applications, the SM will essentially cast a light ray, then offload ray tracing workloads to the RT cores, where they will calculate where in the scene it bounces, reporting that data back to the SM. In the past, ray tracing was basically impossible to do in real time, as the SM would be responsible for doing that whole calculation on its own, on top of any rasterization it had to do at the same time. 

But while the RT Core takes on a huge bulk of that workload, ray tracing is still a very computationally expensive technology, which means that it still has a heavy performance cost, which is why DLSS is becoming more and more important, both in gaming and in programs like D5 Render. 

The third-generation Tensor Cores present in Nvidia Ampere graphics cards have also seen a massive improvement, doubling in speed over the Turing Tensor Core. However, DLSS performance hasn’t seen a 2x performance bump overall, as each SM now packs a single Tensor Core, whereas Turing had two Tensor Cores per SM. 

These Tensor Cores do more than just power DLSS, however. They’re also the technology that enables Nvidia Broadcast, which is by far one of the most underrated features released for this generation. 

We have been using Nvidia Broadcast during all of our meetings and late-night Discord hangouts over the last few weeks, and it is phenomenal at both filtering unwanted noise out of your microphone and replacing your background when you’re in the 50th Zoom call of the week, and you have lost all energy and will to clean up. 

Now that we’ve all been working from home for so long, and with it looking like that’s going to become the new normal, anything that makes video conferencing less stressful is a huge benefit. The best part is that this technology is available to anyone with an Nvidia RTX-powered device. 

However, we have to talk about power consumption. At its peak during our testing, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 consumed a maximum of 357 Watts. That’s a lot of juice, especially if you’re pairing it with a powerful processor. Nvidia recommends a minimum power supply of 750W, but we would go further and just recommend a full 1,000W PSU with this card, just to be sure you don’t run into any random shutdowns if your power supply isn’t running at peak efficiency. 

Founders Edition Design

Just like the RTX 3080, the Founders Edition of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 is hands-down the best cooler design Team Green has ever shipped itself. While this is an absolutely massive graphics card – the thing is 12.3 inches long, is a 3-slot card, and weighs, well a lot. Look, we don’t have a scale, and Nvidia doesn’t list the weight, but it’s easily more than 7 lb. 

Aesthetically it looks very similar to the RTX 3080 Founders Edition, with a black and gunmetal gray color scheme, and fans on either side of the GPU. The same cooling philosophy applies here – suck air up through the graphics card and exhaust it towards the top of the case. The heatsink also has a ton of surface area, which lends to more efficient cooling. 

In order to facilitate this cooler design, the PCB had to be completely redesigned, in order for it to even be possible to pass air through the back of the graphics card. Because of this, Nvidia implemented a new 12-pin PCIe power connector, rather than the dual 8-pin connectors you may have expected. At the time of writing there aren’t really any power supplies that natively support this new power connector, though there are some custom cables from the likes of Corsair in the works. Luckily, Nvidia includes a 2 x 8-pin to 1 x 12-pin power connector in the box, so it’s not something you have to worry about right now. 

It is a bit unsightly, however, and it’s hard to have the same kind of clean cable setup as you would otherwise. However, third-party graphics card manufacturers are using the same 8-pin power connector as always, so you can always just go with one of those if you need to. 

Because this is a large triple-slot card, you’re going to want to double check to make sure your case can actually support it. Some people with trendy micro ATX and mini-ITX cards will sadly be out of luck. 

Performance

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: ASRock X570 Taichi
SSD: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro @ 1TB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1000
Case: Praxis Wetbench

When it comes to gaming performance, we’re going to just come out and say it – the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 is just 10-20% faster than the RTX 3080 at more than double the price. That increase in performance, if all you’re looking for is a gaming card, is absolutely not worth it, and that’s ok. 

This is a card that is primarily aimed at the beginning of 8K gaming and professional 3D rendering applications. That being said, we can’t really talk about the RTX 3090 without talking about 8K gaming. 

Right now, 8K pretty much exclusively exists in the realm of high-end TVs, which means the panels aren’t exactly widespread. That will almost certainly change in the coming years, but right now there isn’t a single gaming monitor that supports the resolution. 

We don’t have an 8K display handy, either – the display we use for our 8K performance features is on the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean as our controlled setup for testing computing components. However, thanks to Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution, or DSR, we can test games in 8K, scaling it back down to the native 4K resolution of the monitor we use for testing. 

This comes with a sizable 3-5% performance loss, but otherwise provides a good glimpse at what 8K gaming performance looks like. As you may be able to discern from the charts above, the RTX 3090 doesn’t provide the straight 8K 60 fps experience in the most demanding games on PC. But like most things, it’s complicated. 

The games we selected for testing are there to push the GPU to its limits, so we can compare the performance delta between different graphics cards. They provide easily repeatable benchmark scripts, so we can be sure the exact same workload is applied to each graphics card.  But you can bet your bottom dollar that we threw this graphics card into our personal machine and tried it across a wide spectrum of PC games, both at 4K and 8K DSR to see how it performs. 

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