The first four games we're testing here will be familiar to anyone that read our RTX 3080 review: Doom Eternal, Control, Borderlands 3 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. These games showed the power of the RTX 3080 in the best light, with gains in the region of 80 per cent above the outgoing RTX 2080 - so it's no surprise that Nvidia selected them for our early preview of 3080 performance. The RTX 3090 is based around a fully-enabled version of the same GPU as the RTX 3080, so it stands to reason that these titles should also show Nvidia's new Titan-grade graphics card at its best.
So why do we expect greater gains in these titles than in others? Well, each game here is relatively recent - Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the oldest at around two years old - and all four use a modern graphics API, such as DirectX 12 or Vulkan. In each case, the CPU is well-utilised to ensure that we're not too badly bottlenecked there, allowing the graphics card to run close to full tilt even at 1080p and 1440p.
Before we get into the games themselves, it's worth mentioning how are our benchmark results are presented. If you're reading this on mobile, you'll get the basic presentation: a table with average frame-rate and lowest one per cent measurements allowing for quick comparisons between different cards. However, if you're on a desktop or laptop, you get the full-fat DF experience. Play the YouTube video for each title to see the recorded frame-rate and frame-time metrics from each card throughout our test scene. Beneath that you'll see our barcharts, which are generated from these frame-time metrics. Remember that you can mouse over to see various stats and click to toggle between the raw averages and percentage differences.
It's a system designed to give you as much in-depth data as you want - or indeed as little, for at-a-glance viewing - all derived from video captures of each respective GPU to ensure a precise reproduction of actual performance. The RTX 3090 should set a new bar for GPU performance, but how much of an advantage are you getting for nearly double the price? Let's take a look.
Like its forebear Doom 2016, Doom Eternal is a technically impressive game, this time built around the bleeding edge id Tech 7 engine. While Doom offered players a choice of DX12 and Vulkan APIs, Eternal is Vulkan-only - and the choice seems solid, given the excellent CPU utilisation and extremely high frame-rates we see in the game. It's a great example of a modern game that scales well on powerful graphics hardware, so we expect to record very high frame-rates for the RTX 3090.
Performance here is intriguing, with the RTX 2080 Ti and Titan RTX recording very similar scores, with average 4K frame-rate of 121fps for the 2080 Ti and 128fps for the Titan RTX. It's worth pointing out that we're benching the RTX cards in their Founders Edition forms and the 2080 Ti ships with a factory overclock, which as we shall see, eats into the performance advantage of the Titan. Beyond that comparison, it's a big 27 per cent frame-rate advantage for the 3080 over the Titan RTX, which grows to 47 per cent if we compare the Titan RTX to the 3090. That means that the RTX 3090 outperforms its little brother by around 15 per cent.
Surprisingly, that advantage that the 3090 holds over the 3080 remains the same at 1440p and 1080p, with each delta hovering around the 15 per cent mark. In fact, the RTX 3090 hits a whopping 472 frames per second at 1080p, an incredible frame-rate given the level of visual fidelity on display here - and a testament to the strength of our Core i9 10900K test bed as well!
Doom Eternal: Vulkan, Ultra Nightmare, 8x TSSAA
Borderlands 3 is another title that's been developed to take advantage of a modern API, in this case DirectX 12. DirectX 11 shipped as the default option, with the DX12 mode requiring a noticeably longer startup process and barely better performance on most systems, but since then the DX12 mode offers a more noticeable advantage on high core count processors. We tested on the most challenging 'Bad Ass' preset, which at 4K requires a GTX 1080 Ti or better to exceed 30 frames per second - so how does the RTX 3090 fare?
Let's not overstate it, but the 3090 is slightly faster than the GTX 1080 Ti in this title. It delivers 70.6fps at 4K, more than doubling the frame-rate of 2017's fastest consumer graphics card. That's a healthy 16 per cent faster than its littermate, the RTX 3080, and 53 per cent faster than the Titan RTX. Looking further backwards, the RTX 3090 outperforms the 2080 Ti by 59 per cent - not a bad showing if you're coming from Nvidia's previous best consumer graphics card.
If you're gaming with a 1080p or 1440p monitor, the RTX 3090 can perhaps unsurprisingly be relied upon to hit some impressive frame-rates. At 1440p, you'll be able to make good use of a 1440p 120Hz monitor, with an average frame-rate of 120fps, while at 1080p the RTX 3090 manages a healthy 158fps. That's a little more than 10 per cent beyond what the RTX 3080 can manage, and roughly 40 per cent faster than the Titan RTX.
Borderlands 3: Bad Ass, DX12, TAA
Control is perhaps the best example of Nvidia's RTX and DLSS technologies on the market, but it's also a damn fun game even with all the visual tricks disabled. This benchmark is from the beginning of the game, making it more repeatable than later sections, and has both RTX and DLSS disabled to give the GTX cards in our round-up a chance to show their chops. Don't worry - if you're interested in how the 3090 handles those extra bells and whistles, we have a page just for RTX results coming up.
Starting at 4K, the resolution that most deep-pocketed gamers would presumably be targeting with a $1500 graphics card, the 3090 manages to record an average frame-rate of 66fps. That's 13 per cent faster than the 3080 and 46 per cent faster than the Titan RTX - not quite as big an advantage as we saw in Borderlands 3, but still a meaningful upgrade for anyone coming from the old Titan. The 3090 outperforms the 2080 Ti by just over 50 per cent, too. If you're upgrading from a GTX 1080 Ti machine, you can expect a healthy 180 per cent increase in frame-rate, with the average frame-rate over the course of the 4K bench shooting from 23 to 66fps.
Lower resolutions next, where we expect the gap between the RTX 3090 and its competitors to narrow slightly. It's a 12 per cent win for the 3090 against the 3080 at 1440p, a gap of 13fps that sees both cards in the low 100s. Compared to the RTX 2080 Ti and Titan RTX, you're looking at an edge between 40 and 50 per cent for the 3090. 1080p shows similar margins, with a 12 per cent lead for the 3090 against the 3080, a 40 per cent advantage against the Titan RTX and a 44 per cent higher frame-rate than the RTX 2080 Ti.
Control: High, DX12, TAA
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
We'll conclude this page with a classic test for us and many other publications - Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This long built-in benchmark is comprised of three scenes of varying difficulty, so you'll see some scenes where the cards we're testing are closer together and some where there's a more evident performance difference. If you have the time and the inclination, get over to the desktop version of this review and click play on the embedded YouTube video to see how each scene plays on the cards you're interested in.
We record the thinnest margins so far in Shadow, where the 3090 leads the 3080 by only 10 per cent on average - although this does change through the test, with the two cards sitting closer together initially and then moving further apart in the final scene. Compared to the Titan RTX, the 3090 leads by 39 per cent, growing to 44 per cent if we instead set the 3090 against the RTX 2080 Ti. Finally, the 3090 holds a sizeable 130 per cent lead over the fastest Pascal card, the GTX 1080 Ti.
We're more CPU-limited at 1080p and even 1440p, despite our test rig's overclocked 5GHz all-core Core i9 10900K. Here, the 3090 leads the 3080 by a margin of just seven per cent, falling to a meagre two per cent at 1080p. If you want to make any RTX 3090 owners feel bad, be sure to point them to this result.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Highest, DX12, TAA
While we don't see the massive advantages that the 3080 held over the 2080 replicated with the 3090 and the 2080 Ti, it's clear that Nvidia's new high-end consumer card is still set to be the fastest graphics card for the foreseeable future - barring a miracle from AMD. Let's see how the 3090 performs in more games in the next few pages.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Analysis
- Introduction, Hardware and Power Analysis
- Doom Eternal, Control, Borderlands 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Game Benchmarks Part 1 [This Page]
- Death Stranding, Far Cry 5, Hitman 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey - Game Benchmarks Part 2
- Metro Exodus, Dirt Rally 2, Assassin's Creed Unity - Game Benchmarks Part 3
- Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5, Quake 2 RTX - RTX Game Benchmarks
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 - 8K gaming, the value of 24GB RAM and the Digital Foundry verdict
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 £4.50. 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