Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti review: Changing the game

These graphics cards are built for the future. What does that mean today?

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Should you buy the GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti?

And that’s the question that plagues the GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti’s launch. When?

Nvidia’s beastly Turing-powered graphics cards were built for the bleeding-edge future of gaming. Some of those fruits bear results today; these cards display HDR visuals much more efficiently, and the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the first graphics card capable of shattering the previous 4K/60 performance barrier, especially if you’re willing to dial back some graphics options. VirtualLink is supported by so many companies the first compatible headsets don’t seem very far off, either. Those are tangible gains for gaming enthusiasts that could be boosted even further if DLSS takes off.

dsc00295 Brad Chacos/IDG

The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition, with real-time rays.

Could be. If. When. So much of the GeForce RTX 2080 and GeForce RTX 2080 Ti’s true potential lies in technologies that simply aren’t available today, even for reviewers. Deep Learning Super Sampling holds awesome potential if it’s embraced by developers. Every developer I’ve talked to positively gushes about the idea of real-time ray tracing finally being achievable, though its performance impact remains to be seen. These could be tectonic shifts in PC gaming. Could be. Today, buying a GeForce RTX 2080 or RTX 2080 Ti requires a leap of faith.

That leap of faith’s even more daunting when you consider the staggering price of these graphics cards. The GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition costs $800 at Best Buy and GeForce.com, and the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti costs $1,200 at Best Buy and GeForce.com. The previous-gen GTX 1080 started at $600, and the GTX 1080 Ti launched at $700. Remember, however, that Nvidia says models of the RTX 2080 will start at $700, and you’ll eventually find GeForce RTX 2080 Ti models at $1,000.

But again: When? Just like last generation, the initial wave of custom RTX graphics cards treats the Founders Edition price as the baseline rather than a premium. Don’t expect to see those lower prices for a while. The move to the RTX 20-series effectively increased graphics card pricing by hundreds of dollars, and the futuristic new hardware that caused the hike can’t be used right now.

So we’re holding off on a final rating until ray tracing, DLSS, and Nvidia’s other new technologies start hitting the streets. These cards are built for tomorrow. We can’t render a final verdict today.

What we can do is offer advice based on the information available.

dsc00268 Brad Chacos/IDG

The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the easy one. The huge jump from $700 to $1,000—though you’d need to pay $1,200 to buy one today—is hard to swallow, but some enthusiasts spare no expense on driving as many frames as possible. If you’ve got deep pockets and the burning desire to feed a 4K, 144Hz monitors like the G-Sync HDR-equipped, $2,000 Predator 27 or the wave of (comparatively) more affordable high-speed Acer displays, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the only real option. It’s the fastest graphics card ever released, and friends, it makes for an utterly sublime pairing with the Predator X27.

The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti’s gains over the GTX 1080 Ti at 4K resolution ranges from 11.5 percent in GTA V to a whopping 45.28 percent in Shadow of War. Averaged across our entire testing suite, it’s about 33 percent faster than its predecessor. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti obliterates the speed vs. fidelity compromise of the 4K/60 era, and it could wind up achieving even loftier heights if DLSS takes off. Right now, today, it’s enabling experiences that simply weren’t possible before, though you pay for the privilege. And Nvidia’s revamped Founders Edition design is surprisingly sturdy, attractive, and effective.

The GeForce RTX 2080 is trickier.

The Founders Edition card carries a slight overclock, and trades blows with an overclocked PNY GTX 1080 Ti in traditional games. You can buy a custom, overclocked GTX 1080 Ti for $700 on Newegg right now, or even less if you find a deal, which isn’t too hard to do. The GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition costs $800, and custom cards sell for more—sometimes significantly so. We’ve yet to test the effectiveness of the one-click Nvidia Scanner overclocking tool, and we’re laying hands on custom RTX 2080 cards soon to see how far they’re able to push. But compared to an overclocked GTX 1080 Ti out of the box, you’re paying a significant price premium for the GeForce RTX 2080 today, with no increase in traditional performance.

Deep Learning Super Sampling is like black magic in the demos we tested. If DLSS blows up and stays true to the 39-percent performance gains shown in our Nvidia-provided demos, that could push the GeForce RTX 2080 well past the GTX 1080 Ti in supported titles. Could. Our hands-on with the Star Wars demo proves that the GTX 1080 Ti sucks at ray tracing, so if you believe that developers will embrace the technology en masse in the near future, you might spend the RTX 2080’s premium to ensure a seat on the train. Remember, though, that the cut-down RTX 2080 itself doesn’t render the Star Wars demo as cleanly as the pricier RTX 2080 Ti. And we still don’t know what sort of performance impact real-time ray tracing will have in games—or how the final results will look.

dsc00288 Brad Chacos/IDG

Like I said: Investing in the GeForce RTX 20-series today is a leap of faith, especially for the RTX 2080. I can’t deny the mouth-watering potential of DLSS and ray tracing, but who knows what the future will bring? Lots of people expected DirectX 12 to explode two GPU generations ago, after all. If you believe in Nvidia’s vision and want to help crack this technology’s chicken-or-the-egg scenario, by all means, buy in. You know what you’re getting into as far as traditional gaming performance, at least. But if, like us, you want more proof before reaching a verdict on these futuristic graphics cards, the wait for benchmarks continues.

We’ll update this review when those ray tracing and DLSS benchmark results become possible.

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