On the face of it, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 looks like a good-value gaming GPU, bringing you the excellent Ampere architecture for a price of just $249 (£220). However, as with all GPU launches lately, a lack of supply, combined with insatiable demand, has already led to the first batch of RTX 3050 cards selling out on launch day, and they’re now going for at least $100 more than the MSRP on eBay.
At Custom PC, we’ve been reviewing the latest gaming GPUs since 2003, and we run a number of grueling benchmarks in order to gauge performance. Our game tests include measuring the frame rate in Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, and Metro Exodus, all with and without ray tracing, and we also test with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. For more information, see our How we test page.
In the meantime, AMD has released the Radeon RX 6500 XT, a card that no one will send us for review, presumably because it’s had a panning in so many places. It has just 4GB of memory attached to a 64-bit interface, a 4x PCIe 4 interface and 1,024 stream processors.
By all reports, it stinks, which in a normal world would be good for the RTX 3050. In the current chaos, though, the Radeon RX 6500 XT is still going for around $189, while the RTX 3050’s price has become overinflated. As a result, the RTX 3050 is now really up against the Radeon RX 6600 and Radeon RX 6600 XT, rather than the 6500 XT, and this makes life much harder for Nvidia’s new ‘budget’ GPU.
The price inflation is a shame because the RTX 3050’s spec means it’s almost certainly significantly quicker than the Radeon RX 6500 XT. For starters, it has twice as much memory, with 8GB of GDDR6 VRAM running at 1750MHz (14GHz effective).
It also has a much wider 128-bit memory interface, while the Radeon only has a 64-bit interface, giving the GeForce a total memory bandwidth of 224GB/sec. AMD has previously got around this by allocating loads of L3 Infinity Cache to the pricier GPUs based on the AMD RDNA 2 architecture, but the Radeon RX 6500 XT only has 16MB.
In terms of the core spec, the RTX 3050 is based on the same GA106 GPU as the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, except it has just 20 of the streaming multiprocessors enabled. This gives it a total of 2,560 CUDA cores, along with 20 RT cores and 80 Tensor cores. It also has the same 1770MHz GPU boost clock as the RTX 3060, although the RTX 3050 does have a higher base clock.
Like AMD’s lower-end Radeon cards, the GeForce RTX 3050 also doesn’t have a full 16x PCIe 4 interface. Its 8x PCIe 4 interface will offer more than enough bandwidth for a budget card on PCI-E 4 systems, but older PCIe 3 systems will take a small performance hit as the older interface will halve the bandwidth again.
There are a lot of PCIe 3 systems still doing the rounds, from Intel Comet Lake and Coffee Lake machines, to even AMD Zen 3 systems based on B450 and X470 motherboards. On the plus side, at least it doesn’t have the 4x interface of the Radeon RX 6500 XT.
GeForce RTX 3050 performance
After two years of awfulness in the PC GPU market, we really wanted to like the RTX 3050. We haven’t had a decent budget GPU for a long time, and the RTX 3050 looked like it had potential. Sadly, however, it can’t really cut it, even at 1,920 x 1,080.
For single-player games, we have a general frame rate target of a 60fps average with a 45fps 99th percentile (or within 1-2fps of that), but the RTX 3050 couldn’t get close to this in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077 or Metro Exodus at our usual test settings.
We had to drop down to the Medium preset in Cyberpunk 2077 to get a decent frame rate in the end. That would be fine if this card only cost $199, but it’s catastrophic for a card that currently goes for $400.
Comparatively, the Radeon RX 6600 XT, which currently goes for around $400, produced decent playable frame rates in all three of these games. At this point, previous Nvidia Ampere GPU reviews would point out that Nvidia has the upper hand in ray tracing, but the situation isn’t clear-cut when you’re comparing the RTX 3050 with the Radeon RX 6600 XT.
The Radeon is faster in Metro Exodus with High ray tracing, for example, although the frame rates from both cards aren’t amazing in this test. The RTX 3050 has the added bonus of getting a helping hand from DLSS, Nvidia’s AI-based resolution scaling tech, which uses the GPU’s Tensor cores. However, enabling DLSS made no difference to the frame rate on the RTX 3050 in this game.
Where DLSS did help the RTX 3050 was in our Cyberpunk 2077 test with Medium ray tracing, where it averaged 46fps with a 39fps 99th percentile result at 1,920 x 1,080. That’s playable, even if it isn’t smooth, but this game looks horrible with DLSS enabled at 1,920 x 1,080, with significant blurring. With a budget, GPU you’re honestly better off running this game without ray tracing or DLSS.
On the plus side, the RTX 3050 can handle undemanding games at high frame rates, averaging 196fps in Doom Eternal at 1,920 x 1,080. The 8GB of memory means it can run this game at top settings too, unlike the 6GB RTX 2060. Again, though, the Radeons are quicker, with the 6600 XT running 64fps quicker.
If you have a supporting motherboard and CPU, you can gain a small performance boost from enabling Resizable BAR, which is supported by the RTX 3050. This raised the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla average from 52fps to 55fps, but this is still a fair way behind the Radeon 6600-series cards.
Finally, we tested the RTX 3050 with our motherboard set to PCIe 3 rather than PCIe 4, and it resulted in a small drop in performance of 1-2fps in Metro Exodus. This isn’t a massive difference though – you’ll still be able to use this card effectively on a PCIe 3 system.
GeForce RTX 3050 pros and cons
- Better specs than Radeon RX 6500 XT
- Can play some games at 1080p
- 8GB of memory
- Disappointing performance
- Currently massively overpriced
- DLSS looks horrible at 1080p
- 8x PCIe interface
GeForce RTX 3050 specs
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 specs list is:
|Stream processors / CUDA cores||2,560|
|RT cores||20 (2nd-gen)|
|Tensor cores||80 (3rd-gen)|
|Base clock||1552 MHz|
|Max boost clock||1777 MHz|
|Memory||8 GB GDDR6|
|Memory clock||1750 MHz (14 GHz effective)|
|Memory bandwidth||224 GB/s|
|Card interface||8x PCIe 4|
|Power connectors||1 x 8-pin|
GeForce RTX 3050 price
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 price is $249 (£220), but the current supply shortage means it generally costs over $350. Even at its MSRP it’s hard to recommend, as it still struggles in a lot of games, even at 1,920 x 1,080.
Price: Expect to pay $400 (£380).
GeForce RTX 3050 review conclusion
By all reports, the GeForce RTX 3050 is much better than the Radeon RX 6500 XT, but that’s hardly relevant when the RTX 3050 is going for just under $400. To make matters worse, cards with this level of performance (where you have to drop the settings even at 1,920 x 1,080) used to cost around $150. Even at $249, it was overpriced, but at its current price it simply can’t compete with the AMD Radeon RX 6600 series.
Not even having DLSS at its disposal gives it an advantage here, as DLSS looks horrible at 1,920 x,1080, and the frame rates still aren’t great. The RTX 3050 might technically be able to handle ray tracing, but realistically you wouldn’t want to use it.
The same also goes for the AMD GPUs, of course, and the RTX 3050 might have more ray-tracing power in Cyberpunk 2077, but the point is largely moot when none of them can produce decent frame rates with ray tracing anyway.
We could have forgiven the RTX 3050’s disappointing performance if it had a genuinely affordable price, but it simply can’t justify the current asking price. If you want to spend around $400 on a GPU, buy the Radeon RX 6600 XT instead.
If you’re looking to upgrade to a new gaming GPU, make sure you check out our guide to the best graphics card, where we take you through the very best options at a range of prices. Since we published this review in 2022, AMD has also now launched the AMD Radeon RX 7600, which is our current favorite budget gaming GPU.
Struggles with the latest games at 1,920 x 1,080, and currently massively overpriced. Buy a Radeon RX 6600-series GPU instead.