Nvidia’s Ampere-powered $1,499 GeForce RTX 3090 is the ultimate price-is-no-object graphics card. It chews up games and spits out frames for breakfast, as we covered in depth in our comprehensive Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition review. You need a pixel-packed monitor to get the most out of it, though—like a 3440×1440 ultrawide display.
Here’s the thing though: Most gamers shouldn’t buy the GeForce RTX 3090. Even at full 4K, it’s only 10 to 15 percent faster than the $700 GeForce RTX 3080, which costs less than half as much. The gains are even less at 1440p resolution, where your CPU and other parts of Nvidia’s GPU architecture become the performance bottleneck, rather than raw shading power. Sometimes, the GeForce RTX 3090 isn’t tangibly faster than the RTX 3080 at 1440p despite its steep price premium. This card is better suited for creative professionals who can utilize its massive 24GB memory buffer. The fearsome gaming performance is more of a nice extra for some off-hours playtime.
Because 3440×1440 ultrawide resolution essentially splits the difference between 4K and 1440p, we only saw modest gains in the 15-percent range compared to the more affordable RTX 3080. Again: Most gamers should stick to the GeForce RTX 3080. That being said, some people demand the best possible performance, value be damned, so we decided to publish our hands-on RTX 3090 3440×1440 ultrawide benchmarks, just like we did with the GeForce RTX 3080.
We conducted our tests on the same $550, 144Hz Nixeus EDG34S monitor as before. It’s an outstanding value for the price, albeit a bit sparse with extra quality-of-life features. While it officially supports only AMD’s FreeSync Premium adaptive sync technology, you can manually activate G-Sync in Nvidia’s control panel, and it works like a charm. You’ll need to use the monitor’s on-screen display to activate adaptive sync first, however. All in all, it’s a great partner for Nvidia’s “BFGPU.”
Note that these benchmarks don’t come from the Nvidia Founders Edition used in our initial GeForce RTX 3090 testing. Instead, they’re culled from the MSI GeForce RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio, an overclocked gamer-centric version of the card that’s bristling with fans, heatsinks, and plenty of RGB lighting. Read our full review of the MSI GeForce RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio here.
Here’s a list of what’s inside our GPU test system, which was built to minimize potential bottlenecking in other components, putting the full brunt of the tests on the graphics card itself:
Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($300 on Amazon) overclocked to 5GHz all-core
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)
Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits when it’s available.
We did not include the legendary GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, as our previous benchmarks show it performing on a par with the RTX 2080 in most games. It’s a hair slower in properly optimized DX12 or Vulkan games.
Hit up our full Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition review for more information on our methodology and testing system. We’ll just present the raw graphs and game info before offering some wrap-up thoughts at the end. We couldn’t include Borderlands 3 or F1 2020, two games in our standard test suite, due to ultrawide compatibility issues we outlined in our earlier RTX 3080 benchmarking piece.
Got it? Good. Let’s go.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Yep, Sony exclusives are hitting the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn hit Steam with some performance issues, but the most egregious ones have been mostly cleared up thanks to hard work from the developers, and the game topped the sales charts for weeks after its release. It also seems to respond somewhat to PCIe 4.0 scaling, which will make this an interesting inclusion when we shift to a PCIe 4.0-based system in the future.
Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding. Ambient Occlusion can still offer iffy results if set to Ultra, so we test with that setting at Medium. Every other visual option is maxed out.
Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12. We love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean. You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware, meaning that “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings.
Fun fact: The GeForce RTX 3080 FE is the only graphics card that doesn’t generate a “Your GPU can’t handle this” warning when enabling Glossy Reflections, and only the 3080 and the RTX 2080 Ti lack that warning for Planar Reflections.
One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus is one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled for our basic benchmarks.
Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.
Total War: Troy
The latest game in the popular Total War saga, Troy was given away free for its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store, moving over 7.5 million copies before it went on proper sale. Total War: Troy is built using a modified version of the Total War: Warhammer 2 engine, and this DX11 title looks stunning for a turn-based strategy game.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with DX12. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider and includes optional real-time ray tracing and DLSS features.
This DX11 game isn’t really a visual barn-burner like the (somewhat wonky) Red Dead Redemption 2, but it still tops the Steam charts day in and day out, so we deem it more worthy of testing. RDR2 will melt your graphics card, sure, but GTA V remains so popular years after launch that upgraded versions of it will be available on the next-generation consoles. That’s staying power.
We test Grand Theft Auto V with all options turned to Very High, all Advanced Graphics options except extended shadows enabled, and FXAA. GTA V runs on the RAGE engine and has received substantial updates since its initial launch.
Rainbow Six Siege
Like GTA V, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch. It’ll be getting a visual upgrade for the next-gen consoles. The developers have poured a ton of work into the game’s AnvilNext engine over the years, eventually rolling out a Vulkan version of the game that we use to test. By default, the game lowers the render scaling to increase frame rates, but we set it to 100 percent to benchmark native rendering performance on graphics cards. Even still, frame rates soar.
Final thoughts and analysis
The GeForce RTX 3090 absolutely screams at 3440×1440 ultrawide resolution—but it’s not that much faster than the GeForce RTX 3080, which costs a whopping $800 less. It usually wins by about 15 percent, with Gears Tactics showing the biggest change, with a 22 percent improvement. On the other end, both Shadow of the Tomb Raider and GTA V are less than 5 percent faster with the RTX 3090 than the 3080.
Just in case we didn’t make this clear yet: If you’re only looking for an excellent gaming experience, you should probably invest in an RTX 3080, not the RTX 3090. Buy yourself some nice upgrades for the rest of your PC with all the extra money you’ll save. That said, if you can use the RTX 3090 for professional workloads it’s an outstanding value, and if you’re seeking the ultimate 3440×1440 performance no matter the cost, you’ll be very happy with this card for ultrawide gaming.