Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review: Staggeringly powerful

Worth the wait (and a new power supply)

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Odds and ends

Nvidia’s also supporting the GeForce RTX 30-series launch with a few things outside the scope of this review.

nvidia reflex Nvidia

Nvidia Reflex combines GPU and game engine optimizations to greatly improve your latency in games that support Nvidia’s API. Activating it zeroes out the usual GPU render queue, so the GPU renders frames fed to it by the CPU as quickly as possible, reducing latency-inducing “backpressure” on your system processor. As Nvidia’s chart above shows, simply flipping it on in a supported game instantly lowers latency, while upgrading to more powerful graphics cards and faster monitors drop it even further.

Nvidia Reflex is an ingenious way to sell the insane speeds provided by this new generation of graphics cards. This isn’t just for RTX 30-series cards, either; Nvidia says Reflex will work with most cards from the GeForce 900-series on up. I’m looking forward to testing it more extensively in the future.

Call of Duty Warzone, Valorant, Fortnite, and Destiny 2 will be among the first games to support Nvidia Reflex when it launches this month. It’ll also be coming to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Apex: Legends.

If you’re willing to spend up for the best esports experience, Nvidia’s monitor partners are also rolling 360Hz G-Sync displays with hardware built-in to measure your overall system latency. Several low-latency Reflex-supporting mice will hit the streets soon, too, though the system will also work with standard peripherals.

rtx io nvidia Nvidia

Just as exciting is RTX IO, an innovative new technology that taps into Microsoft’s DirectStorage API to let your NVMe SSD funnel data directly to your GPU, removing the potential bottlenecks of a pokey CPU and system memory. It sounds like the drool-worthy storage tech inside the next-gen Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles. Read our article on how Microsoft and Nvidia plan to kill game-loading times on PCs if you want to know more. (We also expect AMD’s “Big Navi” Radeon RTX 6000-series graphics cards to support Microsoft DirectStorage in some way when they’re revealed on October 28.)

Finally, DLSS and ray tracing denoising isn’t all that tensor cores can do. The new Nvidia Broadcast app leverages that AI hardware to provide streamers with all sorts of nifty on-the-fly effects, ranging from the magical RTX Video noise-cancellation feature to video effects that include adjustable background blur, greenscreen-style background replacement, and automatic head-tracking effects. They looked pretty darn impressive in the demo, but we haven’t had time to test the suite ourselves yet.

Phew! That was a lot of info. Let’s get into how this hot rod rides. Spoiler: It’s fast.

Our test system

Our dedicated graphics card test system is a couple of years old, but it’s packed with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.

  • Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($300 on Amazon) overclocked to 5GHz all cores
  • EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($105 on Amazon)
  • Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard
  • 64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($355 on Amazon)
  • EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($352 on Amazon)
  • Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow
  • 2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($70 each on Amazon)

We were faced with a dilemma ahead of this review. As we mentioned in the previous section, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series upgrades to the cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 interface, which could potentially improve performance in limited, ultra-demanding scenarios. But only AMD Ryzen 3000 systems with an AM4 X570 or B550 motherboard support PCIe 4.0. Intel does not support the blazing-fast interface yet, but it holds the single-thread performance crown so crucial to most games. What to do, other than moan about Intel’s failure to support it?

Nvidia representatives say PCIe 4.0 adds only a “few percent” more performance in the limited scenarios where it would make any difference. They claim that CPU choice matters more for overall performance. Nvidia’s own benchmarks were conducted on an Intel Core i9 system with PCIe 3.0.

With that info in hand, we decided to stick with our established test bench for now. Our overclocked 5GHz Core i7-8700K goes toe-to-toe with even the Core i9-10900K in gaming performance, as TechSpot’s testing proved last month, so it shouldn’t be a bottleneck here. While AMD Ryzen has greatly closed the gap with Intel on single-thread performance, it’s still a bit behind the Core chips. We feel we’d be more likely to see performance impacts from slower single-threaded performance than from lacking PCIe 4.0 support. If the new “Zen 3” Ryzen processors debuting in October equal or top Intel’s single-threaded performance, we’ll likely switch to that platform for future tests to get the best of both worlds. But it remains to be seen what AMD’s next-gen chips will offer.

dsc00992 Brad Chacos/IDG

We’re comparing the $700 GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition against a bunch of other FE cards: Nvidia’s $800 GeForce RTX 2080, $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti, and the older $700 GTX 1080. (MSRP prices for the 1080 and 2080 started at $100 less, but Nvidia charged a premium for the FE models.)

Because so many owners of the $700 GTX 1080 Ti decided to skip over the lackluster performance increase in the similarly priced RTX 2080, we’re also including the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 in our roundup. Our GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition died years ago, the only Nvidia GPU ever to expire in our hands.

Why no Radeon comparisons? Simple: Nvidia is in a class of its own with high-end GPUs. Only the barely-available Radeon VII ever managed to come close to matching the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s performance, and the 1080 Ti is now 3.5 years old. The Radeon RX 5700 XT isn’t in the same ballpark either. Big Navi might change that, but Nvidia has defined enthusiast-class GPUs for years now. The time investment to benchmark AMD GPUs ahead of this launch, only for them to appear way at the bottom of the charts, wasn’t worthwhile.

We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted. We disable VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test. We tested the older cards using Nvidia’s publicly available 452.06 Game Ready driver, and the RTX 3080 FE using a 452.16 driver provided early to reviewers.

Let’s go.

Next page: Gaming benchmarks begin

At a Glance
  • The GeForce RTX 3080 delivers a staggering performance upgrade over its predecessor. It lets you play at 1440p and 4K resolution without compromises, even with ray tracing and DLSS enabled. It takes a lot of power, though. Nvidia's Founders Edition model looks sleek and has a radical cooler, but it offers limited repairability and puts its 12-pin power adapter in an ugly place.

    Pros

    • Staggering performance upgrade vs. last gen
    • Excellent 4K and 1440p gaming
    • Ray tracing at 4K and 1440p
    • Gorgeous, innovative cooler design
    • HDMI 2.1, AV1 encoding, PCIe 4.0, 8K/30fps capture
    • Priced at RTX 3080 MSRP
    • Ultra-fast GDDR6X memory

    Cons

    • 12-pin power adapter is ugly
    • Very power-hungry
    • 10GB of VRAM capacity may not be enough for 4K long-term
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