Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review: Staggeringly powerful

Worth the wait (and a new power supply)

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Power draw, thermals, and noise

We test power draw by looping the F1 2020 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else. We note the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. 

This isn’t a worst-case test. We removed the Core i7-8700K’s overclock and specifically chose a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. Consider yourself warned.

power Brad Chacos/IDG

Yep, feeding the Ampere beast takes quite a bit of power. Remember when we said Nvidia put the pedal to the metal with these GPUs? It shows here, where the RTX 3080 draws 50W more than the former 2080 Ti flagship, and over 100W more than its direct 2080 predecessor, and an eye-opening 200W more than the GTX 1080. Spending uncomfortable levels of power to achieve uncomfortable levels of (gaming) power is well worth it by our estimation, but if you’re upgrading from a prior GeForce card, you may need to invest in a new power supply—especially if you’re jumping up from the GTX 10-series.

We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end. We observed the RTX 3080’s temperatures in EVGA’s Precision X1 tool instead, however.

temps Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia’s radical new “flow-through” cooler for the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition works just fine, and it’s significantly quieter than the dual-axial fans on the RTX 20-series Founders Edition cards—especially the RTX 2080 Ti. In practice, it’s a lot better than any reference or Founders Edition cooler we’ve seen before. Keeping the GPU at 79 degrees Celsius isn’t noticeably better or worse than previous FE models in raw thermal performance, and this actually runs slightly hotter than the RTX 2080 FE. The outer metal shroud also gets screaming hot to the touch.

But the GeForce RTX 3080 is a lot more power-hungry and higher-performance than previous-gen GPUs, and I’m not surprised it took an exotic cooling design to keep the RTX 3080 Founders Edition tame while churning out frame rates like these. Nvidia couldn’t just slap a bunch of heavy metal and endless axial fans on these without severely stepping on the toes of partners like EVGA and Asus, after all.

I mention all this because Nvidia made lofty claims about the flow-through cooler’s efficiency. The company’s GeForce RTX 30-series announcement post said it offers “nearly 2x the cooling performance of previous generation solutions,” while CEO Jensen Huang claimed that this “keeps the GPU 20 degrees cooler than the Turing design” during the card’s livestream reveal. As you can see below, those lofty numbers aren’t represented in the final product, the RTX 3080 Founders Edition that you can actually buy.

nvidia geforce rtx 30 series cooler claims Nvidia

How Nvidia achieved its lofty cooling comparisons for the RTX 30-series new design.

The details, as always, are more nuanced. In a presentation to reporters, GeForce product manager Justin Walker shared the above slide, which revealed that the claims were made by comparing the RTX 3090 versus the monster Titan RTX at a fixed 350W. This really is a much more efficient cooler than previous-generation solutions, and it was essential for bringing Ampere to heel. But this serves as a reminder that you shouldn’t take marketing numbers at face value.

I have no complaints about Nvidia’s flow-through design, though I haven’t tested whether the hot air pulled into the top of your system can affect CPU or memory performance. I also love how quiet it is compared to previous models. I’m very curious to see what custom board makers can do with their more traditional cooling designs.

Next page: Should you buy the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition?

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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