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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review: the typical performance upgrade spectrum

Death Stranding, Far Cry 5, Hitman 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

So far, we've seen around a 15 per cent uplift from the 3080 to the 3090 at 4K, with thinner margins at 1080p and 1440p. Of course, these are in games that tend to offer excellent CPU utilisation thanks to modern APIs and some clever engineering, allowing the RTX 3090 to motor on. So what happens in games that are more typical performers?

To investigate, we turn to Kojima Productions' Death Stranding, IO Interactive's Hitman 2 and and two Ubisoft titles: Far Cry 5 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Far Cry and Odyssey are two returning DX11 titles, while Hitman and Death Stranding are new additions running on the more modern DX12 API. That means they should be better equipped to utilise modern multi-core processors, although of course this will change from engine to engine and game to game.

To test these games, we're relying on our late 2020 test bench, updated as of the RTX 3080 review. To ensure the highest possible frame-rates from 1080p to 4K, we've opted for the Core i9 10900K on a ultra high-end Asus Maximus 12 Extreme Z490 motherboard. The processor is locked to an all-core turbo of 5.0GHz, with cooling duties handled by a Corsair H110i 280mm AiO. This is paired with two 8GB sticks of G.Skill Trident Z Royal DDR4 RAM running at 3600MHz CL16. To keep our entire test suite installed on a single drive, we're relying on a 2TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus NVMe SSD. All of this is powered by a 1000W Corsair RM1000i PSU.

Death Stranding

Death Stranding made headlines on PC not just for its faithful translation of Hideo Kojima's weirdly fascinating story and its 'strand' type gameplay, but for its implementation of Nvidia's DLSS feature. Our analysis showed it often looked better than traditional temporal antialiasing, while delivering a massive performance advantage. Not all cards support DLSS though, so to keep it fair we've stuck with that traditional TAA for this test.

Let's start with 4K. The game actually runs smoothly even on last-generation hardware, averaging 60fps on the RXT 2080 for our 85-second run. The RTX 2080 Ti manages 26 per cent better, with the Titan RTX just a few percentage points beyond that. We were pleased to see the RTX 3080 hit 96fps in this game, and the 3090 manages 105fps - an uplift of around nine per cent. Comparing the 3090 to its Titan predecessor, the 3090 is just over 30 per cent faster.

We've continued to run into 'access violation' crashes on the GTX 1080 and GTX 1080 Ti that have hampered our efforts to document their performance, so let's focus the rest of our analysis at 1440p. The nine per cent advantage for the 3090 over the 3080 remains unchanged, but the 3090's lead over the Titan RTX shrinks to 29 per cent. This isn't a poor result, but it's not as impressive as the results we saw in our first round of rasterisation performance testing.

Death Stranding: Max, DX12, TAA

Far Cry 5

Far Cry 5's integrated benchmark is a pretty accurate reflection of the real game, in that you're often limited by the speed of your processor's fastest core. At 1080p, the RTX 3090, RTX 3080, Titan RTX and RTX 2080 Ti are nearly indistinguishable, just 40 per cent ahead of the venerable GTX 1080. Things improve somewhat at 1440p, but the Titan RTX and RTX 2080 Ti remain in very close company, with the RTX 3090 leading the 3080 by less than five per cent on average.

4K is where we start to see meaningful differences, with the 3090 able to hold onto a 13 per cent lead over the RTX 3080 after the bench is complete. Compared to the Titan RTX, the 3090 achieves a solid 35 per cent edge. If your modus operandi is to upgrade from consumer flagship to consumer flagship every two generations, you'll get double the frame-rate by swapping your GTX 1080 Ti for an RTX 3090.

Far Cry 5: Ultra, DX11, TAA

Hitman 2

Hitman 2's integrated benchmark shows off the game's scenery in its packed Miami level, moving from the race track to the dark corners where murders must be done. The game is brutally CPU-bound at lower resolutions, with the top four cards all within margin of error at 1080p and only a 15 per cent spread between the RTX 2080 Ti and the RTX 3090 at 1440p. It's only at 2160p where the differences become more meaningful, with the RTX 3090 leading the RTX 3080 by 14 per cent, the Titan RTX by 38 per cent and the 2080 Ti by 40 per cent. If you're upgrading from a GTX 1080 Ti, expect your frame-rate to be multiplied by a factor of 2.2 times at 4K.

Hitman 2: Ultra, DX12, TAA

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

The most recent Assassin's Creed game at the time of writing, Odyssey packs an open world with detailed characters and richly textured objects, making it a nice choice for evaluating performance - and a potential predictor for AC Valhalla performance too.

The RTX 3080 was the first card to exceed 4K 60fps in this title, and the RTX 3090 does even better with an average frame-rate of 72fps. That's a nine per cent advantage over the RTX 3080 at 66fps, a little less than we've seen from other games. Compared to the Titan RTX, it's still good for an advantage of 37 per cent - noticeable, if not by itself a reason to throw out a former god. We see similar frame-rate margins at 1440p, but at 1080p the RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 are within a few frames of each other - we're definitely CPU-bottlenecked here.

A word about lowest one per cent scores. Basically, they can be all over the place in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, meaning that results at the far left of the graph that can look bad vary on a run by run basis (our advice: best ignore them in this case). Not only that but the benchmark itself can have a five to eight per cent variance per run depending on cloud cover, which randomises each time around. It makes this benchmark something of a pain to execute, but the overall averages here are verified.

AC Odyssey: Ultra High, DX11, TAA

It's all interesting stuff, so let's wrap up our rapid rasterisation running research (say that five times fast) with three more titles - two new, one old.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Analysis

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

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.

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