Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review: welcome to the next level

A new generation of Nvidia GeForce graphics cards has finally arrived. The new Ampere line includes three confirmed cards and should eventually swell to a lineup of at least a half-dozen, if past series are anything to go by, but in the here and now we have just one: the RTX 3080. Thankfully, it’s a cracker – we already shared some preliminary data that revealed impressive boosts to 4K performance over the outgoing RTX 2080 – but that was with Nvidia choosing the games and resolution. Now, the gloves are off and we can share a more complete picture of RTX 3080 performance, all the way from 1080p and 1440p to 4K in a much wider range of titles.

Before we get into the benchmarks, it’s worth covering the makeup of this new Ampere card. Nvidia has claimed that it’ll deliver twice the ray tracing performance and the biggest generational leap ever, and that’s largely down to the die shrink from a 12nm process to an 8nm process, delivered courtesy of Samsung rather than usual fab, TSMC. That allows Nvidia to pack in many more transistors than ever before, boosting performance and power efficiency. The card’s memory has also been upgraded, with 10GB of GDDR6X memory that’s more power-efficient than its GDDR6 predecessor to allow for higher frequencies and more bandwidth. Nvidia is also working with next-generation versions of its ray tracing and tensor cores, all the better for improving in an area that clearly demands extra grunt. In short, pretty much everything here has been pushed to the limits for maximum performance, with Nvidia in many cases literally doubling down on the hardware responsible for RTX and AI-accelerated workloads.

While there’s plenty happening under the hood, one of the first things you’ll notice about the RTX 3080 is its unusual thermal solution. We still have a pair of fans, as we saw on 20-series cards, but they’re now in a push-pull configuration with one fan on each side – something Nvidia calls ‘flow-through’. This should improve temperatures at a given fan speed, but it might also push hot air onto the CPU more than you’d expect from a traditional design – something to keep in mind if you’re using an air cooler rather than an AiO or custom water cooling. In our testing, the RTX 3080’s Founders Edition cooler performed well, given the level of power and performance on display. It’ll be interesting to see whether it represents a significant advantage over custom cards once the embargo for these reviews has lifted.

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