Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review: hybrid ray-tracing and path-tracing performance

Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5, Quake 2 RTX.

Ray tracing is a thing now. While it's hard to imagine a future where every game is ray-traced, the support of both next-gen consoles and both next-gen graphics card families should ensure it becomes an alluring prospect for any game developers looking to push out the boat visually.

Here are four of the most promising RTX implementations so far: Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5 and Quake 2 RTX. The first three items are games with a hybrid approach - traditional rasterised rendering plus ray-traced elements like lighting or reflections - and the final element is a fully path-traced title with no traditional rasterising at all.

We tested each game at 1440p, as we believe this is the most appropriate resolution for balancing ray-traced visuals with a playable frame-rate. However, note that DLSS is disabled for each test, so there's extra performance to be gained in those first three examples - though image quality varies according to implementation.

Control

I've heard from many people that Alex Battaglia's video on Control demonstrating ray tracing was the first time they'd truly grasped the power of the technology, so it seems fitting to begin our RTX performance tests there. This game utilises ray-traced global illumination, reflections and shadows - pretty much all of the RTX features available to developers - and each has a heavy performance cost. The test scene chosen here leans heavily into RT features, so it's a good example of how hybrid rendering plays out when there's more of a heavy focus on the new tech. Let's see how the RTX 3090 fares.

If you've been reading each word of this review - thank you! - it's perhaps no surprise to see the RTX 3090 achieves a 14 per cent higher frame-rate than the RTX 3080. It also beats the Titan RTX by a whopping 54 per cent, the 2080 Ti by 63 per cent and the 2080 by 113 per cent. The new Ampere architecture really does perform well in ray-tracing, which perhaps isn't unsurprising for a second-gen product.

Control: DX12, High, High RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Metro Exodus

We return to Metro Exodus' integrated benchmark once again, but this time we've got the game's RTX implementation of global illumination and emissives turned on. The RTX 3090 achieves the customary 14 per cent lead over the RTX 3080, while also outperforming the Titan RTX by 43 per cent. The Titan RTX is a few frames per second behind that, while the RTX 2080 is the slowest card we've tested here, at just over half the frame-rate of the RTX 3090. We'll be looking at this one in more depth in upcoming RT-specific coverage, but let's just say that once you start adjusting settings and optimising the experience, the Ampere cards can deliver even better results.

Metro Exodus: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Battlefield 5

Battlefield 5 is our last game to sport a hybrid RT/rasterised renderer, and it's put to good use in the opening moments of the Tirailleur campaign with plenty of RT reflections evident in the vehicles and puddles. The 3090 achieves only a nine per cent lead over the 3080 here, but it does beat the Titan RTX and the similarly-performing RTX 2080 Ti by nearly 40 per cent. Looking back at the RTX 2080, the 3090 is 72 per cent to the good. It's worth pointing out that this game is one of the earliest RT implementations and not the most optimal. Also, it is indeed another hybrid renderer where the focus is perhaps more geared towards rasterisation than RT.

Battlefield 5: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

Quake 2 RTX

Our final game is the logical place to test wholly RT performance - the path-traced Quake 2 RTX. Path tracing is essentially RT in its purest form, making it significantly more computationally expensive than supplementing traditional rasterised rendering with a grab-bag of RT effects. Despite Quake 2 coming out more than 20 years ago, the game's RTX iteration is one of the hardest games on the market to run even with dedicated hardware support, as we have here.

The RTX 3080 impressed us here, with basically doubled performance over the RTX 2080, and the 3090 is another strong performer. We recorded an average frame-rate of 75fps, good enough for a 15 per cent advantage over the 3080. Last-gen cards have no chance here, with the 3090 beating out the Titan RTX by 58 per cent, the 2080 Ti by 69 per cent (nice!) and the 2080 by a stonking 122 per cent. Path-traced games are an absurd rarity, but at least the 3090 turns in a stellar performance to end our benchmarks.

Quake 2 RTX, Vulkan, Max Settings

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090

With that, we've reached the end of our testing - so let's move onto the conclusion, as we grapple with the RTX 3090's world-beating performance and equally magnormous price tag.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Analysis

Will you support the Digital Foundry team?

Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.

Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.

Support Digital Foundry

Find out more about the benefits of our Patreon

Read the Eurogamer.net reviews policy

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Jump to comments (124)

About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

Related

You may also enjoy...

Comments (124)

Comments for this article are now closed. Thanks for taking part!

Hide low-scoring comments
Order
Threading