Until something changes, we assume the worst about the supply and demand curves of the current graphics card market. Unfortunately, the most pessimistic sign of things to come comes from GPU manufacturers themselves, as both Nvidia and AMD have started pricing new products a bit more in line with market reality.
January has already seen some dismal GPU launches. The slightly modified RTX 3080, now with 12 GB of VRAM instead of 10 GB, came in at a suggested retail price of about $1,200 earlier this month — a whopping 42 percent higher than the recommended price of the highly-reviewed launch model. At the other end of the price spectrum, last week’s AMD RX 6500XT, with a suggested retail price of $199, has proven quite disappointing in reviews so far. In fact, between the 64-bit memory interface, the 4GB of VRAM, and the fines for PCIe 3.0 systems, the card’s performance pales in comparison to the $199 RX 5500XT… launched in 2019.
Not wanting to be left out of the latest low-end headlines, Nvidia is releasing the RTX 3050 this week, continuing the GPU manufacturers’ old habit of repurposing “scrambled” GPUs. The card’s $249 MSRP is the lowest yet in the RTX desktop series, below the $329 MSRP associated with the nearly year-old RTX 3060, but above the GTX 1660 Super’s $229 MSRP. of 2019. I feel like this GPU is the monkey’s leg that PC gamers get when we scream things like, “Please make more graphics cards!”
Starting with the verdict: This is a 1080p card
Will you find RTX 3050 cards in the wild, let alone at prices 25 percent lower than the 3060? We are not optimistic. But if you do, be warned: Even with its own tricks like Nvidia DLSS in your pocket, the RTX 3050 generally still lets you fiddle around with settings menus to run modern games at 60 frames per second… at a resolution of up to . 1080p. For the most part, this is a card that maxes out at 1080p for decent PC performance, not just for the latest games, but some of the best games from the past seven years.
If your PC’s GPU has been sitting particularly long in the tooth and you like to max out your favorite PC games at 1080p resolution, you may want to – out of desperation – head to a brick and mortar store when the RTX 3050 goes on sale. Stores historically have outperformed online with “one GPU per customer” limits and other reasonable measures.
Plus, I recommend setting a price cap somewhere around $329, as OEMs can choose to pile on Nvidia’s MSRP with extras like dainty fans and overclocking promises — and we know there’s at least one overclocked RTX 3050 model. will launch at a price of $329. But that recommendation is more about market concerns than the fact that this GPU is a steal in any sense of the word.
GTX 1070 Flashbacks
Depending on the game or benchmark in question, the Nvidia GTX 1070 is the best performance peer of the RTX 3050 on the market, which launched in June 2016 for around $379. If we lean on Ars Technica’s usual set of tests, that largely in-game performance, the results come remarkably close to that older map:
Unlike the RTX 2060 Super, which provided better performance across the board compared to the GTX 1070, the RTX 3050 simply cannot make the same progress many years later. For some rendering scenarios, the RTX 3050’s silicon flaws are very noticeable.
But the graphs above and below highlight something critical in graphics card benchmark testing: how a GPU handles overkill settings and higher resolutions so that a given workload is GPU-specific and can be compared across different cards. Unfortunately, that standard scenario assumes that you have many choices in the market. In the here and now, however, it’s not necessarily helpful to see the RTX 3050 disappoint in 1440p situations at maximum settings; you can’t expect to buy a rival card that’s either cheaper or more future-proof.
If you’re still reading this review, you probably just want a working graphics card with 1080p performance as a baseline. Will the RTX 3050 make it? In a word: usually. I’ve found the strengths come out on a case-by-case basis, but there are very few legitimate 1440p applications.