Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review: Staggeringly powerful

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card symbolizes why we tell people to wait for the second generation when bleeding-edge technology appears.

The radical new-look Turing GPUs inside Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series packed all sorts of cutting-edge technologies designed to usher in real-time ray tracing, a long sought-after goal for the gaming industry. Not only did Turing introduce specialized RT cores devoted to processing ray tracing tasks, it also debuted tensor cores, dedicated hardware that uses machine learning to help denoise ray traced visuals and enable AI-enhanced tools like the fantastic Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) technology. Turing’s improvements also extended to the traditional shader cores, introducing an overhauled processing pipeline better equipped to handle games built using the newer DirectX 12 and Vulkan graphics APIs. All of these were huge departures from the norm.

But new doesn’t always mean great. While the RTX 20-series indeed birthed a new ray-traced era, games that supported ray tracing or DLSS were few and far between over its lifetime. Worse, the RTX 20-series cards offered essentially the same performance in traditional games as their older GTX 10-series predecessors at the same price point. The initial reception (and sales) weren’t glowing.

The $699 GeForce RTX 3080 and Nvidia’s new Ampere GPU architecture changes all that. This thing freakin’ smokes. It’s a massive upgrade over the older $699 GeForce RTX 2080, significantly faster than the former $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti flagship, and if you’ve been holding onto your older GeForce GTX 1080? The GeForce RTX 3080 absolutely crushes it. This is an excellent graphics card for 4K and ultra-fast 1440p gaming—if you can afford it when it launches on September 17.

Editor’s note: This comprehensive review of the GeForce RTX 3080 goes longer than most as it’s our first evaluation of an Ampere-powered GeForce RTX 30-series graphics card. Check out Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 tested: 5 key things you need to know for high-level takeaways of this in-depth info, or use this table of contents to hop between the various sections of the review.

GeForce RTX 3080: Specs, features, and Ampere

dsc00942 Brad Chacos/IDG

Before we dive into what’s new in the GeForce RTX 3080, here’s a high-level look at the Founders Edition card’s specifications. You can find more info about how it stacks up against the previous generation in our GeForce RTX 30-series vs. RTX 20-series spec comparison.

  • CUDA cores: 8,704
  • Boost clock: 1.71GHz
  • Memory: 10GB GDDR6X at 9500MHz
  • Memory bus: 320-bit
  • Memory bandwidth: 760GB/s
  • RT cores: 68 (2nd-gen)
  • Tensor cores: 384 (3rd-gen)
  • NVLink SLI: No
  • PCIe: Gen 4
  • HDMI: 2.1
  • HDCP: 2.3
  • Display connectors: 1x HDMI 2.1, 3x DisplayPort 1.4
  • Length: 11.2 inches
  • Width: 4.4 inches
  • Height: 2-slot
  • Maximum GPU temp: 93
  • Graphics card power: 320W
  • Recommended power supply: 750W
  • Power connectors: 2x 8-pin (with supplied 12-pin adapter)

Got it? Good. Now we’re going to get geeky for a bit. Skip to the next section if you aren’t interested in some deeper details on how the tech inside the GeForce RTX 3080 works.

ampere vs 20 Nvidia

The beating heart inside the GeForce RTX 3080 is Nvidia’s new GA102 “Ampere” GPU. Ampere is built using Samsung’s 8nm processor node, moving up from the TSMC 14nm and slightly modified 12nm nodes used for the GTX 10- and RTX 20-series cards, so this is a generational leap for Nvidia. The last time Nvidia leaped a node, the GeForce GTX 10-series demolished their direct predecessors. It’s no different this time around, as you’ll soon see.

ga102 block diagram final2 sm Nvidia

Inside an RTX 30-series Ampere SM.

While Turing shook up GPU design, Ampere builds on Turing’s foundations. Turing’s simultaneous multiprocessors (SMs)—the building blocks of the GPU—received a significant overhaul, adding a new integer pipeline (INT32) alongside the floating point pipeline (FP32) traditionally used to process shading. The new pipeline let Nvidia’s GPU handle integer instructions at the same time as traditional FP instructions, giving Turing-based graphics cards a big speed boost in games that leaned heavily on those tasks—namely, well-optimized Vulkan and DirectX 12 games. Performance in traditional games stayed largely stagnant in the RTX 20-series graphics cards, however, partially because FP32 is generally more important for gaming workloads.