For some people, summarizing the Nvidia RTX 3080 difference may revolve around a slew of high-end—and sometimes proprietary—technologies. Ray tracing. Deep-learning super sampling. Crazy-fast memory bandwidth. In some cases, Nvidia’s new $699 GPU is at its best when software leverages its very specific perks and features.
But as we all know, 2018’s line of RTX 2000 GPUs left fans with high-priced options that didn’t offer enough universally drool-worthy boosts. At the time, I called those cards “a ticket to the RTX lottery,” and for nearly two years, the payoff was scant.
It’s getting better—especially as DirectX 12 Ultimate and a pair of next-gen consoles finally lean into most of 2018’s RTX-specific perks. AMD will soon cash in on this stuff with its own powerful RDNA 2 line of GPUs. Once Nvidia’s RTX features feel less “proprietary,” we should see them in more games—but that also leaves Nvidia to answer a question. Well, what else ya got?
This brings me to the way I prefer to summarize the RTX 3080 difference, as prompted by my Ars colleague Lee Hutchinson. I could practically hear the eager gasps through his keystrokes in an Ars chat session about my GPU tests when he typed four words: “Elite Dangerous in VR?”
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
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As of press time, this space-exploration game’s PC version is not optimized for DirectX 12 Ultimate or RTX-specific features. It’s just a damned hungry game set in an infinite universe—one where you can float through barren space one moment, then abruptly warp into an epic, spinning-all-around dogfight next to a geometrically dense formation.
It’s awesome stuff. It’s even better in VR. And that mode is even better when you can flip the 120Hz switch on a high-end headset like the Valve Index, put both hands on your favorite HOTAS rig, and lay zero-G, 360-degree hellfire upon anyone who might dare interrupt your cargo-shuffling mission… all without dropping frames. (Thanks to the game’s emphasis on high-speed rotation, the normal 90Hz VR standard isn’t enough for standard-issue stomachs. More frames in that game mean more comfort.)
To someone like Mr. Hutchinson, who has a high price ceiling for his gaming rig but not an infinite one, I can say this: with the RTX 3080, you can run Elite Dangerous at its “high” preset in VR, flip to 120Hz mode in Valve Index, and expect a nearly locked framerate. The same goes for Fallout 4 VR, a brutally unoptimized VR conversion of Bethesda’s RPG, which I can finally run at a locked 90fps (or hover in variable 100-110fps territory on Valve Index). Three years after that VR port’s launch, I actually want to play it that way.
Trickling down from the crazies
|RTX 3080 FE||RTX 2080 Ti FE||RTX 2080 Super||RTX 2080 FE||RTX 2070 Super||GTX 1080 Ti|
|Tensor cores||272 (“3rd-gen”)||544||384||368||320||n/a|
|RT cores||68 (“2nd-gen”)||68||48||46||40||n/a|
|Memory Bus Width||320-bit||352-bit||256-bit||256-bit||256-bit||352-bit|
|Memory Size||10GB GDDR6X||11GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||11GB GDDR5X|
|MSRP at launch||$699||$1,199||$699||$799||$499||$699|
I can say similar things for so much demanding PC software as handled by this card in ways that I couldn’t with 2018’s eye-watering $1,199 RTX 2080 Ti. In an alternate universe—the one where Nvidia ran unopposed in the GPU race, beating the pants off AMD for years—Nvidia could have continued charging something like $800 or $900 for that 2018 card, whose price tag was much more about dedicated effects-processing cores than about sheer, across-the-board power.
With AMD finally nipping on its heels this year, Nvidia has arrived with a $699 beast of an RTX 3080 whose “Founders Edition,” without any overclocks added, consistently beats an overclocked 2080 Ti Founders Edition in modern 3D games and software (and flexes stronger muscles on RTX-specific features). In performance tests, the margin of gained performance always clears the 13-percent threshold, sometimes much more. (In the case of Elite Dangerous VR’s “high” preset, which is much tougher to benchmark, it makes a roughly 20 percent difference in frame times across the board.)
This isn’t just good news for the crazy Lee Hutchinsons of the world. This card’s impact on the market will hopefully push the average GPU value proposition into reasonable territory. A $699 GPU may not be your cup of tea, but if prices for everything beneath the RTX 3080 (and its sibling, the RTX 3070, slated to launch in October at $499) adjust according to the below benchmarks, that means a rock-solid 1080p or 1440p GPU may finally land within your budgetary reach.
Listing image by Sam Machkovech