Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition: It works hard, it plays hard

The 24GB of VRAM makes it a stunning value for prosumers.

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GeForce RTX 3090 8K gaming benchmarks

Now let’s get a little weird.

nvidia 8k splash Nvidia

As our 4K gaming benchmarks show, the GeForce RTX 3090 is insanely powerful. It’s so powerful, in fact, that Nvidia pitched this “BFGPU” as the world’s first 8K graphics card as part of its marketing, then bolstered that claim with AV1 encoding, HDMI 2.1 for 8K/60 over a single cable, and native 8K/30 video capture with GeForce Experience’s Shadowplay feature.

The company even upgraded its fantastic Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) 2.0 technology to 2.1 to support 8K gaming. Whereas DLSS 2.0 previously topped out at 4x upscaling—rendering games at 1080p, then using smart AI-based upscaling to render at 4K resolution with little to no visual degradation—DLSS 2.1 deploys “9x AI Super Resolution,” using your GPU to render visuals at 2560x1440 resolution then upscaling the image to 8K. Nvidia calls the new 8K support “Ultra performance mode.”

It’s a smart use of DLSS 2.0, a technology I wish more games embraced. Nvidia sent over access to beta versions of Death Stranding and Control that support 8K Ultra Performance Mode. I was, indeed, able to play those games just fine at 8K with DLSS on at High presets. Well, kinda 8K. I don’t have a pricey 8K monitor or TV, so I used Nvidia’s 4x Dynamic Super Resolution feature to unlock 8132x4320 resolution on my 4K monitor. That’s a smidge above the official 7680 x 4320 “8K” resolution. F1 2020’s DLSS 2.0 (not 2.1) also helped that game crack the hallowed 60fps barrier at the high preset.

nvidia 8k games Nvidia

Nvidia-supplied benchmarks of various games at 8K using High visual presets.

Look at the rest of the games in Nvidia’s 8K benchmarks above, though. They’re mostly lighter, less-intense games, with several esports titles and the fantastically optimized Forza Horizon 4 in the mix. Screwing around in Destiny 2 and Rainbow Six Siege at High settings indeed proved playable at my pseudo-8K resolution, though RB6 had a nasty habit of trying to render at a lower 6K-ish resolution. 

But is the RTX 3090 really an 8K graphics card? I decided to run several games in our benchmark suite at the strenuous resolution, both at our original Ultra settings, then again at High settings. (Borderlands 3 couldn’t see the higher Nvidia DSR resolutions, for some reason.) Here are the results, but keep in mind that because my DSR resolution is slightly higher than actual 4K, performance should be 3 to 5 percent higher on a native 8K display:

8k gaming Brad Chacos/IDG

As you can see, it’s a mixed bag. Grand Theft Auto V, Strange Brigade, and F1 2020 indeed hover around 60 fps on average at 8K with High settings. Despite the 35-fps average, Gears Tactics also felt okay—not great, but okay—in real life, because it’s a slower turn-based game. Metro Exodus, Total War: Troy, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider didn’t perform well at 8K. In fact, even the menus felt sluggish in Shadow of the Tomb Raider because they’re full of animated characters and scenes. 

Several games (HZD and Gears Tactics among them) offer dynamic resolution scaling features that can offer higher performance when enabled, but they work by scaling down the actual render resolution and then fitting it to your screen. The dynamic resolution scaling you find in most games doesn’t use any of the AI smarts that DLSS 2.0 does, and can sometimes get real ugly, real quick depending on their implementation. Play around with the feature if you think it can help you play on a 4K monitor, but keep an eye out for blurriness.

We also ran into some funkiness with games. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses first-gen DLSS technology that tops out at 4K resolution, so we couldn’t activate it at 8K. Total War: Troy’s user interface scaled horribly at 8K, rendering incredibly small, which is a bummer in a menu-heavy game.

Bottom line? The GeForce RTX 3090 can indeed game at 8K—sometimes. The sky-high resolution still manages to bring even this beast to its knees in many triple-A games. Consider 8K gaming more of a bonus than the RTX 3090’s gold standard, unless you mostly play esports games. Here’s hoping that more developers embrace the awesome potential of DLSS 2.0 in the future, as it looks like that makes all the difference in the world, both in 8K and at lower resolutions.

Next page: Power, thermals, noise, and conclusion

At a Glance
  • The extravagant GeForce RTX 3090 is a poor value for pure gamers, but a stunning value for creators who can use its massive 24GB of memory. Nvidia's Founders Edition cooler is exceptional.

    Pros

    • Amazing value for professionals
    • Fastest graphics card for gaming
    • Massive 24GB memory capacity
    • Exceptionally cool, quiet Founders Edition design
    • NVLink support
    • HDMI 2.1, AV1 decode makes some 8K gaming possible
    • Nvidia CUDA and OptiX supercharge content creation

    Cons

    • Poor value for pure gamers
    • Very large, potentially limiting multi-GPU deployment
    • 8K gaming is very hit and miss
    • Only 1 HDMI 2.1 port
    • 12-pin power adapter is ugly
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