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The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is an absolute powerhouse of a graphics card, bringing about one of the largest generational leaps in GPU history. Anyone that’s interested in 4K gaming should be paying attention to this graphics card – even if the benefits diminish at lower resolutions.
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The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 finally follows up on the controversial Nvidia Turing lineup, bringing with it much improved performance but without raising the price.
You see, when the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti launched, Nvidia courted a bunch of controversy by introducing these cards at higher price points – up from $699 (£649, about AU$950) to $1,199 (£1,099, AU$1,899) in the case of the GTX 1080 Ti to the RTX 2080 Ti). This led many to think that the same would happen this time around.
Instead, what we get with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is a massive 50-80% boost in performance over the RTX 2080 at the same price point, not to mention a 20-30% boost over the RTX 2080 Ti, which retailed for nearly double the price.
And while we would have liked to see the prices go down to where the Pascal 10-series equivalents would have sat, we can now confirm that this really is the biggest generational leap in PC graphics we’ve seen in years – perhaps ever.
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Price and availability
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is available on September 17, starting at $699 (£649, about AU$950) for the Founders Edition. However, as with any major graphics card launch, 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 launches.
Features and chipset
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is based on the new Nvidia Ampere graphics architecture, which brings huge improvements to both raw performance and power efficiency. 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 RT and Tensor cores – we’re 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.
What this means is that, while the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 only has 46% more SMs than the RTX 2080 at 68, it more than doubles 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.
When ray tracing, the SM will cast a light ray in a scene that’s being rendered, and the RT core will take over from there, where it will do all the calculations necessary to find out 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, we’re still not at a point where turning on ray tracing doesn’t have any impact on performance. Maybe some day.
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.