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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review: the Digital Foundry verdict

Extreme performance at a fair price.

The RTX 3080 is an important product. For two years now, the pinnacle of PC graphics technology has been defined by the Turing-based RTX 2080 Ti. It's fast, very fast. It's so fast in fact, that there's a strong argument that any resolutions below ultra HD or high resolution ultrawide won't see the GPU horsepower fully utilised on anything other than the fastest gaming CPU. And yet the RTX 3080 takes everything to the next level - you're looking at an average range of 65 to 80 per cent more performance up against 2080, and around 24 to 37 per cent more grunt than 2080 Ti. With ray tracing factored into the equation, the boosts can be even more significant.

What we haven't really tested yet is how all of this combines with DLSS - the AI upscaling technology that has now matured to the point where not only can it replace TAA with big performance boosts, it can also improve image quality. Nvidia has shown the top-end RTX 3090 delivering titles like Wolfenstein Youngblood and Control running 8K ray traced experiences based on a new performance mode introduced with DLSS 2.1. I would hope to see this performance scaling used at lower resolutions to boost frame-rates still further should the player wish, but the nature of the frame-rate boosts delivered by Ampere is remarkable - increases in rasterisation performance, bigger upticks to ray tracing and then the DLSS multiplier on top of that. It's a compelling package.

And in a world where the console manufacturers have been bashful about telling us how much the next generation is actually going to cost, Nvidia coming straight out of the gate with $699/£650 pricing for a product so powerful is a massive statement - and delivering an upcoming RTX 3070 with 2080 Ti-level performance at Series X money may also give many pause: should they buy a new console or upgrade the PC they may already own?

There's a lot more to the RTX offering we've not looked at in this review either - the firm's commitment to streamers and broadcasting with bespoke tools is significant. We use the RTX voice tool all of the time to provide cleaner voiceovers in our video work, but it's clear that Nvidia is looking to push its AI hardware to deliver much more functionality both inside and outside of gaming. Software is often a value-added extra we don't consider, but there's a lot of interesting work happening here. My only criticism? Extra features are very, very welcome but the Nvidia GPU control panel is well past its sell-by date and really needs a fresh lick of paint and a ginormous speed-up.

Everything you need to know about the RTX 3080, including those all-important performance figures.Watch on YouTube

Criticisms? As we saw in the rough power consumption tests carried out on the first page, while the Ampere architecture is more efficient than Turing, it requires that extra efficiency and the huge increase to power to deliver the big performance win the RTX 3080 hands in. What this means is that the chip is more power hungry, more expensive to run and also harder to cool - which doesn't seem a massive problem for the Founders Edition cards with the innovative cooling solution, but if you're picking up a third-party card with a different thermal solution, it should be checked out quite thoroughly before purchase. But to cut a long story short: we've got a massive boost to performance here in line with the jump delivered by the Pascal 10-series over its 9-series equivalents - but that was matched by an equally impressive level of power consumption and efficiency and that's where RTX 3080 is less successful.

It's unlikely that paying a bit more for electricity is likely to worry the kind of user willing to spend so much on a graphics card - and the 220W TDP for the upcoming RTX 3070 suggests that Nvidia knows that, throwing everything it possibly can at the more premium 3080 and 3090 where the kind of user likely to buy in at this level won't mind the 'performance at all costs' approach to the products. Certainly, I really enjoy using this card - I like using RTX 2080 Ti for 4K gaming and the RTX 3080 doesn't feel like an iterative upgrade. I can do more with it, I can feel the difference. Side-by-side with RTX 2080, it's almost a night and day improvement in many regards. But with that said, I still think the 20-series cards have much to offer: they don't become obsolete overnight, they're still strong performers and they have the complete next-gen feature set. And I suspect the real audience for this card lies elsewhere: there's still a lot of folks out there with a 10-series Pascal cards and as the graphs across these pages demonstrate, those products are starting to show their age - and in that respect, the new Ampere line looks like a highly compelling upgrade.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Analysis

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