Almost nine months ago, Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series graphics cards launched into a beleaguered world as a seemingly glimmer of hope. The first two GPUs of the series, the RTX 3080 and 3070, were almost everything for all graphics dogs. Nvidia built these cards on its own successes of the RTX 2000 series and added pure, every API imaginable rasterization power on top.
A game optimized for “RTX” ran great on the opening salvo of the RTX 3080, sure, but even without streamlined ray tracing or the impressive upsampling of DLSS, it delivered a lot of FLOPs. Talk about a fun potential purchase for nerds stuck in the house.
In fact, that power came along with more modest MSRPs compared to what we saw in the RTX 2000 series. As I wrote in September 2020:
The impact of the RTX 3080 on the market will hopefully push the average GPU value proposition into reasonable ground. The $699 price tag might not be your thing, but if prices for anything below the RTX 3080 (and its brother, the RTX 3070, slated to launch in October for $499) align with the benchmarks below, that means a solid 1080p or 1440p GPU can finally come within your budget range.
…so yes. About that…
At the time, I was too busy running benchmarks to ask my crystal ball about an imminent future of exploding crypto values and dwindling chip and silicon stocks. The graphics card market went insane and that left me with a ridiculous claim about future GPU prices. Anyone who has paid close attention has witnessed many instant sell-out GPUs and dazzling eBay listings.
But somehow, while the series’ existing cards are already hard to find, Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series remains to expand—as seen in the recent announcement of two new models, the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3070 Ti, which start at a suggested retail price of $1,199 and $599, respectively. (When fans asked you to make more graphics cards, Nvidia, I’m not sure if that’s what they meant.)
If you’re surprised by that news, you’re not alone. Last week, I learned about the new models via an unannounced knock on the door and an 11-pound box packed with one of each new GPU as supplied by Nvidia. This is the first time I can remember getting a sample graphics card from a vendor without sending an email telling me to prep the net off my porch to catch avid crypto mining package thieves .
An asteroid-sized star, as usual
Today, the embargo on reviews of the 3080 Ti has been lifted. And as has become more and more common with Ars, this review comes with an asteroid-sized asterisk that will likely destroy your hopes of purchasing this card in the near future. Nvidia has not briefed on the company’s efforts to stabilize supply, nor has the company tried to guarantee that real people will be able to buy the RTX 3080 Ti starting tomorrow, June 3, “starting at” $1,199. It remains a mystery if, when and how a mild-mannered tech enthusiast like you will get a good jolt in today’s market.
Should a real opportunity arise to buy this card, I can say that the RTX 3080 Ti completes what the RTX 3080 started, at least for this GPU generation. The gains over the 3080 are interesting: they’re significant, but they’re not necessarily worth another $400 at MSRP. But purely on a gaming basis, this week’s new card makes the RTX 3090 and its suggested retail price of $1,499 absolutely out of the question.
Specs for the RTX 3080 Ti are closer to the 3090 than the 3080, with the biggest difference being a gap in VRAM. This card has 2 GB more than the 3080, but a whopping 12 GB less than the 3090. That’s a big VRAM difference, but between the spec table above and the performance results below, the 3080 Ti is clearly a better choice than the 3090 if it is high. res gaming is your GPU priority.
That makes sense, considering the 3090 was a showcase VRAM card, perfect as an entry-level option for high-end video editing or something to attach to an 8K display. If you don’t fall into one of those camps, rest assured that the 3080 Ti is a better option for overspending GPU spending, especially if your system is tuned for rev games with 4K resolutions and solid frame rates with very few compromises. Meanwhile, if “only 12GB GDDR6X VRAM” is a phrase you might say out loud with a tear falling from your video processing tear duct, the RTX 3080 Ti probably won’t appeal to you.
Identical construction, with one notable difference
Last year’s RTX 3080 is definitely not chopped liver. if you find eachthing priced between 3080 and 3090 near MSRP and eager to fill your favorite 4K display with as many pixels as possible, buy first and ask questions about model number later. Depending on your ideal use case, you might want to add AMD’s RX 6800XT to that list of ideal high-end GPUs, as it still has significant wins in our battery of tests. But the newer 3080 Ti is doing compete remarkably well with every high-end option mentioned in this section (especially if the price is a completely arbitrary concept to you; in this market, unfortunately, it probably is).
I received the Nvidia-produced “Founders Edition” of the 3080 Ti, and the physical case and fan look identical to the 3080, down to the dual fan assembly and “blowing through” cooling process. But one thing is definitely different this time: the sound.
I’ve tested every RTX 3000 Series Founders Edition so far and most have done a great job balancing heat, airflow and fan speed to perform efficiently and gently. These things rarely push their fans to their limits. But the physical structure of the 3080 Ti houses a more densely packed board of chips, with typical power consumption jumping from 320 W to 350 W. That means it’s gone down a decibel to keep this GPU performing and running cool.
To clarify, the 3080 Ti’s decibel level doesn’t exceed its non-Ti sibling. Rather, the 3080 Ti’s gains come at the expense of the greater chance its fans will accelerate at standard tunings, caused by what appears to be an 81°C threshold.
Average profit over 3080: 10-12%
For this review, my benchmark tests compare the 3080 Ti to two of its closest neighbors: the 3080 and AMD’s RX 6800XT (List price: $649). I enlisted Ars’ Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson to chip in a few GPU-specific tests of the RTX 3090 FE, but they were on a different rig. As such, those RTX 3090 FE results only show up in selective testing.
All the weaker cards in my tables were tested on the same rig, which has an Intel i7-8700K CPU overclocked to 4.6GHz, 32GB DDR4-3000 RAM, an 850W power supply, and SSD storage. These tests have been done in older reviews of older drivers, so their counts come with a slight margin of error.
The easy part of the review is confirmation that the 3080 Ti outperforms the 3080 across the board. In rare cases, gains above 3080 are mild, with Gears 5 4K performance looks nearly identical between the two cards, and lower gains when resolutions drop from 4K to 1440p (as would be expected in less CPU-throttling scenarios). But usually the gains are approaching 10-12 percent.
Plus, the 3080 Ti’s powerful stats don’t come at the expense of frame rate volatility. I’ve followed most benchmarks with MSI Afterburner’s “one percent lowest” framerate count, and this time-consuming double-check answers a crucial question: whether the reported framerate average is associated with hidden peaks in frame time. As the stats above show, this card is holding up. (My test rig’s CPU is getting a little long in the tooth, so your one percent stats with one of these GPUs might actually look better than mine.)