After years of development, Nvidia's new Turing graphics cards are finally here: the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti. While the RTX 2080 Ti offers a clear performance advantage over the best of the last-gen Pascal cards (plus a ton of new features) the RTX 2080's broadly similar performance to the GTX 1080 Ti makes it a less obvious choice. Given that the RTX 2080 is often cheaper than the top-tier 10-series card, does it make sense to get the GTX 1080 Ti? As usual, the answer is complicated, but this article is intended to give you the information you need to make a decision one way or the other.
First of all, we'll take a look at the new features provided by the Turing architecture to see if any of these are potentially game-changers. For example, DLSS - deep learning super-sampling - may provide a significant performance boost in supported titles, while the real-time ray tracing that gives the new RTX cards their name might justify the added premium for a high-end RTX card. There are other considerations too, like improved shader models, improved connectors and better streaming capabilities, which might justify the purchase for early adopters, content creators or owners of extremely high resolution displays.
After this brief feature discussion, we'll show you a performance comparison between the RTX 2080 and the GTX 1080 Ti, letting you see how these two cards swap positions between games. The bulk of our testing was performed at 4K, where the difference between graphics cards is most pronounced and where high-end cards make sense, but we'll also have some 1080p and 1440p results along with some general trends to keep in mind.
We'll conclude with some remarks on pricing and availability, which will obviously have a significant affect on your purchasing decision (or lack thereof) as well. It's also worth noting that we've covered many of the issues in this article in greater depth in our GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review, so that's worth checking out if you're still undecided when all is said and done or you just want to know more about these new cards. Without further ado, let's get into the comparison!
RTX 2080 vs GTX 1080 Ti: feature comparison
Deep learning super-sampling (DLSS)
DLSS is one of the most exciting features of the new Turing architecture as it has the potential to significantly boost frame-rates in games that support it - this could be a nice way to offset the performance hit of real-time ray tracing or to max out the capabilities of high refresh rate monitors. We've already produced an in-depth discussion of DLSS but essentially this new feature works by rendering a lower-resolution image which is then upscaled by an efficient deep learning algorithm which has been trained on tonnes of high-res images of the game that's being played. This allows the RTX hardware to deliver a final image that looks similar to the standard full-size image using around 50 per cent of the shading power, opening the door to significantly higher frame-rates.
You can see from the benchmark below that enabling DLSS potentially delivers dramatically higher performance in supported games - though at the time of writing, there's little beyond demo software to test the functionality. In a Final Fantasy 15 benchmark demo, the RTX 2080 result is nearly 40 per cent higher and we see similar advantages for the RTX 2080 Ti. Combined with the significant gap in raw hardware performance between the two card generations, Final Fantasy 15 shows an 80 per cent leap with DLSS enabled between the GTX 1080 and RTX 2080 - impressive stuff! However, while we're confident in this technology, we have only had demo software to test it with - we need more actual games to fully verify its credentials. Right now, the Final Fantasy 15 benchmark run is the best way.
Final Fantasy 15 demo: TAA vs DLSS
Real-time ray tracing
Nvidia's new 20-series cards are dubbed RTX cards rather than GTX, which refers to the cards' real-time ray tracing abilities. Ray tracing refers to a process of simulating light as it bounces realistically around a scene, allowing for greater graphical fidelity through lights and shadows that appear more realistic. Performing ray tracing in real-time just wasn't viable without dedicated hardware, which is exactly what Nvidia have included on their RTX 2080 card and its stablemates.
However, the visual impact of ray tracing varies depending on its implementation and the practice still incurs a heavy performance hit even with dedicated hardware. On the RTX 2070 in Battlefield 5, frame-rates can be more than cut in half at 1080p ultra. This could be counteracted by the performance advantages of DLSS, as mentioned above, but thus far, we've only seen RT and DLSS combined in demo software. We believe that real-time ray tracing is indeed the future of gaming visuals, but RT is a new tool in the developer's toolbox - we need to see how many games support it and how performant it is in those titles.
Turing architecture: new rendering features
As well as the inclusion of RTX and DLSS, Nvidia's Turing GPUs include other feature improvements over their predecessors. For example, there are new shading models, including mesh shading, which essentially allows the GPU to take more control over level of detail settings, significantly freeing up CPU and GPU resources while giving a visually identical look. Then there's variable rate shading, which reduces processing on scene elements that don't require so much attention, potentially adding a further 15 to 20 per cent of performance based on a Wolfenstein 2 demo we've seen. All of these technologies are potentially exciting for VR too.
Speaking of VR, the new RTX cards also include a single USB-C VirtualLink port, which can allow next-gen VR headsets to be connected using a single cable rather than separate cables for video and data. DisplayPort 1.4a is also included, just in case you want to hook up an 8K 60Hz display with a single cable any time soon.
Finally, streamers and game video creators will be able to take advantage of a better NVENC encoder which allows for higher resolutions and supports a wider range of video standards. More importantly, the new version of the encoder provides better quality with less CPU utilisation, opening the door to 4K streaming on mainstream PC setups.
RTX 2080 vs GTX 1080 Ti: performance benchmarks
In order to give you a better idea of the difference in performance between these two cards, we've tested them in nine recent games. As well as the RT 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti, we've also included their stablemates: the RTX 2080 Ti and the GTX 1080. Our benchmarks have been run at 4K resolution, as higher resolutions will best emphasise the difference in performance between these GPUs. We will however also share our initial 1080p and 1440p results at the end of this section, in order to give more information for gamers using high refresh rate (100Hz, 144Hz or 240Hz) displays.
To give you a better idea of their raw performance, you can also see some of the relevant stats in the table below. Note that Founders Edition figures are given first, with their reference equivalents in parentheses, as the RTX FE cards we tested come factory overclocked.
|RTX 2080 Ti||RTX 2080||GTX 1080 Ti||GTX 1080|
|RTX-OPS||78T (76T)||60T (57T)||12T||8T|
|VRAM||11GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||11GB GDDR5X||8GB GDDR5X|
|TDP||260W (250W)||225W (215W)||250W||180W|
Our testing results are shown using a unique Digital Foundry benchmarking system - as long as you're viewing the desktop version of this page, anyway. A YouTube video will show you the scene that we tested each card on, with live frame-rate and frame time data embedded below.
The advantage of this added complexity is that you can use the controls to the right of the video to add or remove different cards and resolutions, letting you compare between just the cards you're interested in - perhaps you're trying to decide whether it's worth upgrading your GTX 1080 for an RTX 2080, or maybe it's a toss-up between the GTX 1080 Ti and the RTX 2080. With these controls, you decide what information to see.
Below the real-time telemetry, you can find quick summaries for the entire run, including the handy lowest one per cent and lowest five per cent figures which give you an idea of each card's worst-case performance and overall stability. It's worth remembering that to see these different figures, you need to mouse over the image. You can also click the chart to toggle between absolute figures and percentages.
Without further ado, let's get into the benchmarks!
Assassin's Creed Odyssey
We'll begin with the latest game to be added to our current benchmark selection: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the 2018 release of the long-running AC franchise. The game's detailed texture work and expansive vistas make tough work for even high-end GPUs, and there's a significant CPU cost as well - although this is less obvious at the 4K resolution and ultra high preset we're using here. The RTX 2080 is seven per cent ahead of the GTX 1080 Ti here, with both cards oscillating between frame-rates that could do with G-Sync to avoid judder and torn frames.
AC Odyssey: Ultra High, TAA
Assassin's Creed Unity
Our second game is the classic title Assassin's Creed Unity, which was released in 2014 but remains a challenging test - especially in this pre-mission scene from early in the singleplayer campaign. The RTX 2080 offers near-identical performance to the GTX 1080 Ti at around 45fps, while the RTX 2080 Ti becomes the first card to squeak over the 60fps waterline. Interestingly, the difference between the RTX 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti is smaller than it was in the more modern AC title, at just four per cent.
AC Unity: Ultra High, FXAA
Our second test is Battlefield 1, which came out in 2016. There's no dedicated benchmark here, so we're using part of the War Stories mode which sets the player in a British tank racing across French no man's land. While there are a few frame-time spikes thanks to randomised explosions throughout the run, the performance is representative. The RTX 2080 achieves 80fps in the 4K benchmark, which is 6.5 per cent better than the GTX 1080 Ti. The GTX 1080 still squeaks past the 60fps mark, so no recent high-end card truly struggles with this game, even at 4K.
Battlefield 1: Ultra, TAA
More than 11 years after the series debuted and five years since its latest iteration, running Crysis remains the shorthand for having an awesome gaming PC - and running it at 4K remains a legitimately challenging test. Even the RTX 2080 isn't able to hit 60fps here, with only the RTX 2080 Ti surpassing the figure at 68fps. The RTX 2080 is poor by comparison, at just 52.6fps, about 23 per cent slower than the new fastest card on the market. The RTX 2080 also comes behind the GTX 1080 Ti, which just outperforms it at 54fps. This may indicate that newer games may perform better on the new cards, and older games may prove relatively more challenging - though few other 2013-era titles are as tough on hardware as Crysis!
Crysis 3: very high, SMAA T2X
Far Cry 5
2018 release Far Cry 5 replaces 2016's Far Cry Primal in our benchmarks, trading the facade of prehistory for a modern pre-collapse setting. The RTX 2080 Ti is at the top of the pile here once again, with an average result of 75fps, while the RTX 2080 sits 23 per cent back at 58fps. However, that's still enough to moderately outpace the GTX 1080 Ti, which manages only 56fps in the same test - a gap of around six per cent.
Far Cry 5: Ultra, TAA
Ghost Recon Wildlands
Ghost Recon Wildlands remains the most challenging benchmark we have, thanks to its shattering ultra detail preset and a tough but fair integrated benchmark. Even the RTX 2080 Ti isn't capable of pushing 60fps at 4K here, turning in just 47fps on average, while the RTX 2080 manages 39, one frame per second more than the GTX 1080 Ti. That's still in range of a G-Sync monitor and there are still nice-looking presets at high and very high, so achieving a playable result at 4K should still be eminently possible even on the smaller RTX card.
Ghost Recon Wildlands: Ultra, TAA
Rise of the Tomb Raider
2016 release Rise of The Tomb Raider is a good test of relative performance between GPUs, although the title's actual gameplay is significantly more demanding. Here, the GTX 1080 Ti outpaces the RTX 2080 for the second time so far out of six tests, although the margin is just two per cent and both cards are able to reach 60fps. Meanwhile, the RTX 2080 Ti is a good 20 per cent ahead with an average score of 80fps; even its lowest one per cent score is still over 60fps.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Very High, SMAA
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Next up we have another new benchmark, 2018 release Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which is a better indicator of in-game performance. Here, only the RTX 2080 Ti manages to turn in an average result about 60fps at 4K, at least with the challenging settings that we've selected on this occasion. The RTX 2080 comes 21 per cent behind the RTX 2080 Ti, but nearly 10 per cent above the GTX 1080 Ti. It's also worth keeping in mind that the RTX 2080's results could be further improved with DLSS, which we'll look at in more detail later on in this piece.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider DX12: Highest, TAA
The Witcher 3
We couldn't test a graphics card without having a good old run through Novigrad on the back of our favourite gaming steed. We're talking of course about The Witcher 3, which was released in 2015 and remains a challenging test at 4K. The RTX 2080 Ti unsurprisingly takes home the top prize with an average frame-rate of 77fps, compared to 59fps for the RTX 2080. The GTX 1080 Ti does even better at 64fps, giving it a seven per cent lead over its ostensible replacement. Meanwhile, the GTX 1080 still manages a tolerable score of 45fps, allowing the former GPU king to still reach 60fps by adjusting a few key settings.
The Witcher 3: Ultra, POST-AA, No Hairworks
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
Our third and final new game is Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, which was originally released in October 2017. We tested a level from the campaign that sees BJ astride the Panzerhund in New Orleans using the uber preset, giving the game a good opportunity to test our graphics hardware. Here the RTX 2080 Ti holds a 22 per cent lead over the RTX 2080, which in turn is 14 per cent ahead of the GTX 1080 Ti.
Wolfenstein 2 Vulkan: Uber, TSSAA 8x
1080p/1440p performance at high refresh rates
At the beginning of this piece, we noted that our testing was done at 4K, due to both time constraints and a need to emphasise performance differences in GPU-bound scenarios. However, our initial testing at lower resolutions, including 1080p and 1440p, shows that the RTX 2080 may fall behind the GTX 1080 Ti by an appreciable margin at lower resolutions in some titles. Rise of the Tomb Raider, shown below, is one example. It's interesting to note that this title sees the GTX 1080 Ti run faster than RTX 2080 at 4K too - but as we move down to lower resolutions, GTX 1080 Ti's performance advantages expressed in percentage terms actually increases.
This is somewhat surprising and unexpected - while spending this kind of money on 1080p gaming makes little sense (you will constantly encounter CPU bottlenecks, even with the fastest processors), we would hope for RTX to hold up at 1440p. To give some sense of balance, we went back to Shadow of the Tomb Raider - a title that favours RTX over GTX - and ran 2080 vs 1080 Ti tests at lower resolutions. At 4K, RTX 2080 commands a 9.2 per cent lead. This drops to 4.5 per cent at 1440p and 3.2 per cent at 1080p. We specifically chose Shadow for this test because its excellent DX12 implementation ensures impressive scaling across all resolutions. It strongly suggests that RTX - with its current drivers, latest - is best utilised on 4K resolution displays.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Very High, SMAA
Given the difference in price - which we will cover in the next section - these results could make the GTX 1080 Ti a better choice for gamers aiming for a higher refresh rate rather than increased resolution, leaving more money for a stronger CPU. However, it's worth bearing in mind that the RTX 2080 may well become the better-performing card over the long term, for three reasons:
- Driver updates could well improve performance - especially if the initial drivers have issues
- DLSS support could increase frame-rates for many titles and provides future-proofing
- Newer games with more modern engines tend to perform better on RTX hardware
Ultimately, it's up to you whether the promise of future performance justifies the higher price of the RTX 2080 over a cheaper card that offers better performance - in some games - right now.
RTX 2080 vs GTX 1080 Ti: price and availability
At present, the GTX 1080 Ti is sometimes available on the used market for lower than the price of the RTX 2080, but new examples all cost significantly more. The best price we found for the GTX 1080 Ti in the UK was £759, compared to £600 for the RTX 2080! In the US, things are even more lopsided: the cheapest new GTX 1080 Ti we spotted was $1200, with the RTX 2080 costing $500 less. This is compounded by the fact that the RTX 2080 comes with three free games from participating retailers: Anthem, Battlefield 5 and Metro Exodus. If it's at all a similar situation for you at retail, then a used (and heavily discounted) GTX 1080 Ti or a new RTX 2080 are the only defensible choices.
However, there are still some territories where the RTX 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti are relatively similar in price. Here, it gets more complicated, as the horsepower advantage possessed by the RTX 2080 is fairly minimal. However, the promise of future technologies like RTX and DLSS starts to shift the balance of power towards the RTX 2080. We don't know to what extent these technologies will be adopted by video game makers, but given Nvidia's whole-hearted support, it's hard to envisage a world where at least some of the biggest games aren't in Nvidia's camp. As well as the headline features, there are also smaller bonuses - new shader support, better VR connectivity and so on - that again push buyers towards RTX cards.
For the moment, we recommend that anyone looking to buy a graphics card now consider an RTX 2080 over the GTX 1080 Ti, unless you can find a good discount on new or used GTX 1080 Ti hardware. The GTX 1080 Ti is close in terms of raw performance, but if you plan on playing recent games as they're released, the GTX 1080 Ti will become outdated more quickly than the one generation gap would suggest.
Perhaps the most sensible solution is simply to wait - let's see what kind of an impact DLSS and RTX have on the quality of game experiences, let's see how many games will end up supporting these features, and let's see if driver updates and developer improvements improve RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti performance. Then we'll have a better idea of which is the best card for the money.
For more information, we encourage you to check out our full GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review to learn more about these new cards in either article or video format.
Which GPUs are worth buying? We've made our picks for the best graphics cards available, updated with the latest graphics cards as they're released. As well as an overall performance champ, we name the best value graphics card and best cheap graphics card to guide your next upgrade.