Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review: Staggeringly powerful

Worth the wait (and a new power supply)

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GeForce RTX 3080 gaming benchmarks

Horizon Zero Dawn

Yep, Sony exclusives are hitting the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn hit Steam with some performance issues, but the most egregious ones have been mostly cleared up thanks to hard work from the developers, and the game topped the sales charts for weeks after its release. It also seems to respond somewhat to PCIe 4.0 scaling, which will make this an interesting inclusion when we shift to a PCIe 4.0-based system in the future.

Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding. Ambient Occlusion can still offer iffy results if set to Ultra, so we test with that setting at Medium. Every other visual option is maxed out.

hzd Brad Chacos/IDG

Just look at that. The GeForce RTX 3080 flies. At 4K it’s a ludicrous 81 percent faster than the RTX 2080, its direct predecessor. It’s also 34 percent faster than the former RTX 2080 Ti flagship, and a monstrous 151 percent faster than the GTX 1080. If you’ve been sitting tight since spending $700 on the GTX 10-series, it’s definitely safe to upgrade, as these benchmarks will continue to show.

The GeForce RTX 3080 dominates even at lower resolutions. The lead narrows as you move down to 1080p or 1440p, settings that put more of the burden on the CPU rather than the GPU, like 4K does. That’ll be a trend in most, but not all games as we continue through these.

Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12. We love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean.

You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware. That means “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings, and disable the minimum/maximum frame rate options.

gears tactics Brad Chacos/IDG

Fun fact: The GeForce RTX 3080 FE is the only graphics card that doesn’t generate a “Your GPU can’t handle this” warning when enabling Glossy Reflections. Only the 3080 and the RTX 2080 Ti lack that warning for Planar Reflections. Told you these cards are monsters. 

Those especially strenuous options hammer these GPUs, causing the RTX 3080 to achieve a narrower but still substantial 55 percent margin of victory over its predecessor at 4K. The RTX 3080’s extra oomph carries over to 1440p as well, where it’s 50 percent faster than the RTX 2080, 30 percent faster than the 2080 Ti, and 89 percent faster than the GTX 1080.

More interesting is the gap between the GTX 1080 Ti and RTX 2080. The two cards offer virtually identical performance in many games, but with Gears Tactics being designed around DX12, the integer pipelines introduced in the RTX 20-series get to flex their muscles. Then all those shader improvements in Ampere come to bear with the RTX 3080.

Again, CPU comes into play more at 1080p.

Metro Exodus

One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus is one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled for our basic benchmarks.

metro exodus Brad Chacos/IDG

Another whupping at 4K. The GeForce RTX 3080 FE is 63 percent faster than the RTX 2080, 23 percent faster than the RTX 2080 Ti, and 136 percent faster than the GTX 1080.

The gap narrows a bit at 1440p, but Nvidia’s new card remains over 50 percent faster than the RTX 2080 and almost 20 percent faster than the 2080 Ti.

Borderlands 3

Borderlands is back! Gearbox’s game defaults to DX12, so we do as well. It gives us a glimpse at the ultra-popular Unreal Engine 4’s performance in a traditional shooter.

borderlands 3 Brad Chacos/IDG

This is yet another game where the RTX 3080 flies beyond its predecessor by a ridonkulous 80 percent at 4K. It’s also 37 percent faster than the 2080 Ti, and 154 percent faster than the GTX 1080. The performance lead shrinks at 1440p, but not by much. And even at 1080p, the RTX 3080 is 58 percent speedier than the 2080.  

To frame it another way: The 3080 is faster at 4K than the 2080 is at 1440p!

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.

strange brigade Brad Chacos/IDG

Here, the RTX 3080 remains roughly 80 percent faster than the RTX 2080, and over 100 percent faster than EVGA’s overclocked GTX 1080 Ti SC2. Like in Borderlands, the domination continues even as you move down in resolution. While the RTX 2080 barely tops 200 frames per second at 1080p, the RTX 3080 hits a stratospheric 330 fps.

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue

At a Glance
  • The GeForce RTX 3080 delivers a staggering performance upgrade over its predecessor. It lets you play at 1440p and 4K resolution without compromises, even with ray tracing and DLSS enabled. It takes a lot of power, though. Nvidia's Founders Edition model looks sleek and has a radical cooler, but it offers limited repairability and puts its 12-pin power adapter in an ugly place.

    Pros

    • Staggering performance upgrade vs. last gen
    • Excellent 4K and 1440p gaming
    • Ray tracing at 4K and 1440p
    • Gorgeous, innovative cooler design
    • HDMI 2.1, AV1 encoding, PCIe 4.0, 8K/30fps capture
    • Priced at RTX 3080 MSRP
    • Ultra-fast GDDR6X memory

    Cons

    • 12-pin power adapter is ugly
    • Very power-hungry
    • 10GB of VRAM capacity may not be enough for 4K long-term
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