Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review: Staggeringly powerful

Worth the wait (and a new power supply)

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Should you buy the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition?

If you’re interested in spending big to get exceptional 4K or ultra-fast 1440p performance on a 144Hz+ monitor, then yes, you should buy the RTX 3080 Founder Edition. Full stop.

dsc00977 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said that Ampere is GeForce’s greatest generational leap ever, and he wasn’t kidding. Remember being blown away when the GTX 1080 was 60 to 70 percent faster than the GTX 980, even with its slightly higher price? The GeForce RTX 3080 spits out frames up to 80 percent faster in several games, and 60 percent higher in the others. It’s roughly 30 percent faster than the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, the $1,200 previous-gen flagship, and a ridonkulous 100 to 160 percent faster than the older GeForce GTX 1080. All at the exact same $700 price tag as the RTX 2080.

The promises were true. This thing is an absolute monster. Sometimes it’s faster at 4K than the RTX 2080 is at 1440p. Ludicrous. 

There are no games where the GeForce RTX 3080 fails to clear a 60-frames-per-second average at 4K resolution with all possible visuals effects turned on. The exception is the ridiculously strenuous Total War: Troy, which averages 56 fps (and feels just fine at even lower speeds as a strategy game). Most games go significantly faster than that. Other than Troy, again, no games fall below 100 fps at 1440p resolution with everything maxed out. Again, Total War again falls just shy, at 98 fps, and again, most games go significantly faster than that. If you’re fine bumping graphics down to high, games fly along even faster in our off-the-cuff tests. No graphics card has come close to this level of performance before.

The “worst” (but still massive) results come in CPU-bound or older DX11 titles. The Ampere architecture screams when unleashed on properly optimized games that were built for DirectX 12 or Vulkan. More and more of those are being published these days, and all ray-traced games require DX12. The impact of ray tracing and DLSS doesn’t appear to be lessened despite the next-gen RT and tensor cores, but the RTX 3080 is so fast, it doesn’t matter. You can play ray traced games at 1440p, and even 4K now.

dsc00992 Brad Chacos/IDG

Just make sure you can put all this power to good use. If you don’t have a 4K monitor or a 144Hz 1440p monitor, you’re probably wasting your money here. Nvidia says the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 will be just as fast as the last-gen 2080 Ti for less than half the price when it launches in October. That should be a fine ultra-fast 1440p and 4K option too, though you’ll likely need to dial down some graphics settings in strenuous games. You don’t with the RTX 3080.

Note, too, that most games hit a CPU bottleneck playing at 1080p with this card. Unless you’re an esports pro who plans on turning down graphics settings (or playing around with Nvidia Reflex) to hit the highest possible frame rates on a 360Hz monitor, your money is better spent elsewhere if you have a 1080p screen and don’t plan on upgrading it soon.

The design, while gorgeous, is a mixed bag when you dive into the details. The radical new cooler isn’t drastically better than what came before, temperature-wise, but it works well and is significantly quieter than before. The unique flow-through cooling may not work well in small form factor PCs, though. The new 12-pin power connector is fine, but its too-short adapter for 2x 8-pin connectors looks ugly and blocks the card’s illuminated white logo, though power supply makers will sell bespoke cables to fix the issue. It’s also somewhat tricky (but not impossible) to pry apart for repair or water cooling, as you can see in this Gamers Nexus RTX 3080 tear-down video.

Virtually every gripe I can raise is nitpicking. The monstrous performance increase wouldn’t be quite as impressive if the ho-hum RTX 20-series hadn’t been so disappointing. You may need to upgrade your power supply to feed this beast, but it’s worthwhile.

I also wonder whether the 10GB of onboard VRAM will be enough capacity for 4K gaming in a few years. The cutting-edge GDDR6X chips inside the RTX 3080 moves data twice as fast as standard GDDR6, however, and showed no sign of slowing down in our tests.

None of these are major issues for most people.

dsc00964 Brad Chacos/IDG

You could hold off on a day-one purchase to see what custom versions of the GeForce RTX 3080 offer, But you also should feel free to spam F5 on your keyboard at Amazon or Newegg when the RTX 3080 hits online shelves September 17, especially considering rumors that stock of these cards could be in short supply during this crazy year.

Maybe you also want to see what AMD has up its sleeves with the “Big Navi” Radeon RX 6000 reveal on October 28. Sure, AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture looks promising. But don’t forget that Radeon has yet to topple the GTX 1080 Ti nearly 3.5 long years later. I hope Big Navi sparks competition in the enthusiast end of the market yet again, but it looks like a tall order for AMD.

Nvidia brought it this generation. Ampere is indeed Nvidia’s greatest generational leap in recent memory. The GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition isn’t just the fastest graphics card ever released (until next week, when the even more monstrous $1,500 RTX 3090 lands), it also makes its predecessor feel instantly obsolete—and instantly makes ray tracing feel so much more viable.

Like we said at the start: Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card symbolizes why we tell people to wait for the second generation when bleeding-edge technology appears.

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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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