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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090: 8K gaming, 24GB RAM and the Digital Foundry verdict

Prosumer price-points for the current last word in performance.

So there we have it. The RTX 3090 delivers - at best - 15 to 16 per cent more gaming performance than the RTX 3080. In terms of price vs performance, there is only one winner here. And suffice to say, we would expect to see factory overclocked RTX 3080 cards bite into the already fairly slender advantage delivered by Nvidia's new GPU king. Certainly in gaming terms then, the smart money would be spend on an RTX 3080, and if you're on a 1440p high refresh rate monitor and you're looking to maximise price vs performance, I'd urge you to look at the RTX 2080 Ti numbers in this review: if Nvidia's claims pan out, you'll be getting that and potentially more from the cheaper still RTX 3070. All of which raises the question - why make an RTX 3090 at all?

The answers are numerous. First of all, PC gaming has never adhered to offering performance increases in line with the actual amount of money spent. Whether it's Titans, Intel Extreme processors, high-end motherboards or performance RAM, if you want the best, you'll end up paying a huge amount of money to attain it. This is only a problem where there are no alternatives and in the case of the RTX 3090, there is one - the RTX 3080 at almost half of the price.

But more compelling is the fact that Nvidia is now blurring the lines between the gaming GeForce line and the prosumer-orientated Quadro offerings. High-end Quadro cards are similar to RTX 3090 and Titan RTX in several respects - usually in that they deliver the fully unlocked Nvidia silicon paired with huge amounts of VRAM. Where they differ is in support and drivers, something that creatives, streamers or video editors may not wish to pay even more of a premium for. In short, RTX 3090 looks massively expensive as a gamer card, but compared to the professional Quadro line, there are clear savings.

Which brings us on to the 24GB of useable memory offered by the RTX 3090. Do you need it for games? No, not now. Perhaps you will in the future, but for now, most of that RAM lays dormant. However, I use a 24GB GPU for the video editing work I produce for Digital Foundry and I consider it essential. Working with Adobe Premiere Pro, layering 4K videos, running effects of that, employing expensive transitions I paid a lot of money for quickly overwhelms 8GB and even 12GB GPUs. Only by exporting pieces of the video and re-importing them back into the main project, am I able to make 4K video editing work for me on a lower VRAM card. And if I don't do this, there's a strong chance I will encounter crashes when the final video is exported. Using a high VRAM GPU, I'd say that there's a 95 to 99 per cent chance my edit will successfully export. On a lower VRAM GPU - even an RTX 2080 Ti with 11GB - my edits stand a good 80 per cent chance of failure. On the one hand, the software should tell me of issues ahead of time but on the other, you have to handle the cards you're dealt. Exporting video is a time-intensive enterprise. It can take hours on the most complex projects and losing that time is unacceptable. That's my personal use-case and justification for investing in a card like this. Nvidia provided a bunch of examples of rendering programs and 8K video workflows to test, so I am sure there are others too.

GeForce RTX 3090 is also being marketed as an 8K gaming card, and thanks to its HDMI 2.1 support, this means you'll be able to run at native resolution output at 60Hz on the latest high-end televisions. I do plan to test this and I do think that properly experiencing this is the only way forward. Right now, without a screen, the only way to get some sense of the RTX 3090's capabilities is to use DSR and effectively downscale from 8K internal rendering to a 4K display. Using DSR does incur a three to five per cent performance hit and potentially causes issues you may not have with a native screen, but I did find the RTX 3090 to perform fairly well.

At high settings, Dirt Rally 2.0 with MSAA disabled and TAA active could allow you to lock at 60 frames per second at full 8K resolution. Meanwhile, at ultra settings, Doom Eternal varies between 45 to 60 frames per second - which is fine but not quite the experience you would hope for. Not to worry though: dynamic resolution scaling solves most of the problems, meaning that frame-rate sticks mostly at 60 frames per second but can hit a little down to 57fps. Nvidia DLSS can certainly help a great deal. Death Stranding at 8K60 is possible using DLSS performance mode, upscaling from 60fps - however, I did note regular 'pulsing' down to 45fps which I couldn't explain. Control at 8K60? It's possible via DLSS but I found using RT features as well could add instability. This is all rather inconclusive testing right now because benchmarking via DSR downsampling or using it at all even in standard gaming introduces variables to the equation you won't get while rendering on an actual 8K screen. I also think that assuming memory can be managed, 8K gaming on an RTX 3080 may be manageable simply through decent settings and memory management - it's something I'm looking forward to trying out.

In the meantime, RTX 3090 delivers the Titan experience for the new generation of graphics hardware. Its appeal is niche, the halo product factor is huge and the performance boost - while not exactly huge - is likely enough to convince the cash rich to invest and for the creator audience to seriously consider it. For my use cases, the extra money is obviously worth it. I also think that the way Nvidia packages and markets the product is appealing: the RTX 3090 looks and feels special, its gigantic form factor and swish aesthetic will score points with those that take pride in their PC looking good and its thermal and especially acoustic performance are excellent. It's really, really quiet. All told then, RTX 3090 is the traditional hard sell for the mainstream gamer but the high-end crowd will likely lap it up. But it leaves me with a simple question: where next for the Titan and Ti brands? You don't retire powerhouse product tiers for no good reason and I can only wonder: is something even more powerful cooking?

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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