A truly incredible piece of graphics engineering. The RTX 3080 trounces the RTX 2080 Ti for nearly half the price, offering significant improvements to both ray tracing and raw shader performance.
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition looks deceptively modest and unassuming when you first unbox it. The packaging doesn’t present the card to you on a foam stand when you lift the lid, unlike the GeForce RTX 2080 cards, and it’s not built like a shiny metal tank with big green lights either. In fact, if you hold this classy black and silver card up to the light, you can see right through the right-hand fan vent, as the PCB is so small.
Behind this humble appearance, though, lies an incredible piece of silicon engineering. We knew it was going to be quicker than the RTX 2080, but we weren’t expecting it to well and truly trounce the RTX 2080 Ti for nearly half the price. This GPU really makes ray tracing properly achievable at high settings with decent frame rates, even at 4K in some games.
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 Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus, and we also test with Doom Eternal and Battlefield V. For more information, please read our How we test page.
It’s still not cheap, of course. Three years ago we would have been offended by the $699 price of the RTX 3080, but it looks wholly reasonable in the context of the overpriced RTX 2080-series cards.
They’re still expensive, but you get an awful lot more for your money. Also, while the RTX 2080 was kicked at its launch for the lack of supporting software for its new features, we now have ray-tracing options in lots of the latest games, as well as DLSS support, and CyberPunk 2077 is just around the corner.
The Nvidia GA102 GPU
The beating heart under the RTX 3080’s cooler is Nvidia’s brand-new GA102 GPU, based on the company’s Ampere architecture. Built on an 8nm process, it packs 28.3 billion transistors into a 628mm² chip.
The RTX 3080 has one graphics processing cluster (GPC) disabled, leaving you with six of them, but the specs are still formidable. Unlike the RTX 20-series, Nvidia hasn’t just focused its biggest efforts on ray-tracing performance here, but raw shader performance too. As such, the RTX 3080 has a colossal count of 8,704 stream processors, which Nvidia calls CUDA cores, compared to 4,352 in the RTX 2080 Ti and 3,702 in the RTX 2080 Super.
Both the RT and Tensor cores have also been improved, and there are 68 of the former and 272 of the latter. That’s half the number of Tensor cores you’ll find in the RTX 2080 Ti, and the same number of RT cores, but Nvidia has refined the way both these processor types work.
Another key change is the use of GDDR6X memory, which doubles the per-pin bandwidth of GDDR6 memory at the same clock speed, and it’s attached to a 320-bit memory interface. With an effective clock speed of 19GHz, compared to 14GHz for the RTX 2080 Ti, the RTX 3080 has a memory bandwidth of 760GB/sec, compared to 616GB/sec on the RTX 2080 Ti.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition card
Not only has Nvidia introduced a new GPU architecture, but there’s also a brand-new cooler design for its Founders Editions. In fact, when you first get it out the box, you might take a second to work out which way up you’re holding it. The ‘RTX 2080’ writing is on what you’d usually expect to be the back of the card, along with a fan on the right. Flip the card over and you’ll find another fan on the left side of the card’s front.
It’s a very different design from usual graphics card coolers, which mount all the fans on the front, with a metal plate on the back. The idea behind this design is that it works in conjunction with your case’s airflow system.
Instead of dumping hot air into the bottom right of your case, the card’s two fans work to pull cool air from the bottom of your case into the cooler. The fan on the front expels hot air through a vent on the card’s expansion slot backplate, while the fan on the back pushes hot air out the top, where it can be effectively pulled out by your exhaust fan.
Meanwhile, the PCB itself is tiny. Rather than making a PCB that extends for the length of the card, the RTX 3080’s board is densely packed and has a large triangle cut out of the right-hand side, so the back fan can pull air all the way through the cooler.
It’s an innovative design, and it looks classy too. It feels reassuringly solid, but it’s also surprisingly light. The only frill is the glowing white light that illuminates the ‘GeForce RTX’ writing on the edge, as well as shining through the point where the back fan vent meets the cooler’s shroud.
Pleasingly, the cooler also works really well. We tested the RTX 2080 Super and 2080 Ti Founders Editions again for this review, and the latter makes a really annoying high-pitched fan noise when you push it hard for a while, and the backplate gets very hot.
Comparably, the RTX 3080 was very quiet throughout testing, even when we’d been pushing it hard for hours. The fans don’t spin up when it’s idle (you can easily see the fan on the back lying still), and while it makes some noise during gaming, it’s consistent and not overly loud or irritating.
There are some other surprises too, one of which is the power connector nestled in the middle of the card’s top edge. Rather than the usual 6-pin or 8-pin PCIe power connectors, the RTX 3080 has a new 12-pin connector. Don’t worry if your PSU doesn’t have a 12-pin plug though – an adaptor that goes to a pair of 8-pin plugs is included in the box. The 12-pin socket is neat, however. The pins are small, and it enables a graphics card to get loads of power from just one cable.
A further surprise comes from the lack of an NVLink SLI connector. The top-end GeForce RTX 3090 is the only card in the new line-up that supports Nvidia’s dual-GPU technology, showing that the company is keen to move away from it everywhere except the very top end. There’s also no sign of the VirtualLink connectors found on the RTX 20-series cards for VR headsets.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 performance
We decided to tweak our game test suite for this review, in order to better reflect the current gaming landscape, so we’ve added a couple more test games. The first is Metro Exodus, which is extremely demanding (but also extremely gorgeous!) when you run it at Ultra settings with Ultra ray tracing. In addition to testing frame rates, we’re also now using several back-to-back runs of this test to gauge power consumption at full load.
The second new game in our graphics test suite is Doom Eternal, which we run at the very top (Ultra Nightmare) graphics settings. There’s no ray tracing in this game, and it’s also highly scalable – you can clock up hundreds of frames per second without it becoming CPU limited. This makes it a great test for raw shader power, while also showing performance in a fast-paced first-person shooter where a high frame rate is arguably more important than eye candy.
In addition, we’ve tweaked our Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark so that we test with ray-traced shadows enabled. We’re continuing to test with our custom Battlefield V DXR benchmark as well, and we’ll likely be adding a CyberPunk 2077 test when it comes out.
Nvidia RTX 3080 Doom Eternal frame rate
Let’s start with Doom Eternal, which shows the big jump in raw shader power over Nvidia’s previous-gen GPUs. With 8,704 CUDA cores at its disposal, the RTX 3080 averaged a ridiculous 424fps at 1,920 x 1,080 and 362fps at 2,560 x 1,440. Even at 4K, the RTX 3080 had a 99th percentile minimum of 135fps and an average of 212fps, compared to 95fps and 147fps for the RTX 2080 Ti.
The previous-gen cards could already cope with this game well enough anyway, but the RTX 3080 gives you the headroom to run a fast-refresh monitor in sync. Either way, it’s clear that there’s a decent boost in shader performance between the RTX 2080 cards and the RTX 3080.
Nvidia RTX 3080 Metro Exodus frame rate
Conversely, Metro Exodus with Ultra settings and Ultra ray tracing is the test that really pushes RTX cards to their limit, and the RTX 3080 shows its might here as well. It still doesn’t have enough power to cope at 4K without some help from DLSS, but it’s consistently 9-12fps in front of the RTX 2080 Ti. If you enable DLSS, you can even get a happily playable 43fps 99th percentile minimum, compared to a borderline playable 33fps on the RTX 2080 Ti, or an unplayable 28fps on the RTX 2080 Super.
Nvidia RTX 3080 Shadow of the Tomb Raider frame rate
Shadow of the Tomb Raider also showed the RTX 3080 to be significantly quicker than not only the RTX 2080 Super, but also the RTX 2080 Ti. It can’t quite cope with ray traced shadows enabled at 4K in this game, but its 68fps 99th percentile frame rate in this game at 2,560 x 1,440 is superb, and that’s without any help from DLSS too. in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Nvidia RTX 3080 Battlefield V frame rate
As with Metro Exodus, native 4K without DLSS is still a struggle in Battlefield V, although it’s at least borderline playable (unlike the RTX 2080 cards). Enable DLSS, though, and you can run Battlefield V with High DXR at 4K without dropping below 60fps – that’s an amazing feat.
The RTX 3080 is also ideal for gaming at 2,560 x 1,440 with ray-tracing eye candy enabled, even without DLSS. Its 99th percentile minimum of 75fps in Battlefield V at this resolution is a superb result that’s well above the RTX 2080 Ti’s 58fps.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 overclocking
If you’re prepared to dabble in a bit of tweaking, you can also overclock the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition, although our sample didn’t have a huge amount of headroom. We managed to add an extra 52MHz to the GPU core clock without any trouble, but going any higher caused instability. We were also able to add 350MHz (700MHz effective) to the memory clock.
Just these tweaks made a noticeable difference, though, with the Metro Exodus frame rate improving by an extra 2fps at 4K and up to 5fps at 2,560 x 1,440. Just as noticeable was the difference between the figures on our wattage meter though.
When overclocked, our test system drew a peak of 508W from the mains with the RTX 3080 installed, compared to 456W at stock speed. Both these figures are also a fair bit higher than the 381W of the RTX 2080 Ti.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 pros and cons
- Amazing ray tracing performance
- Quiet and classy cooler
- Solid raw shader power
- High price
- Already hard to find in stock
- Requires non-standard PSU cable
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 specs
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 specs list is:
|Stream processors / CUDA cores
|Max boost clock
|10 GB GDDR6X
|1188 MHz (19 GHz effective)
|16x PCIe 4
|1 x 12-pin / 2 x 8-pin
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 price
Price: Expect to pay $699 (£649).
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review conclusion
Wow. Just, wow. It’s fair to say that anyone who bought a full-price GeForce RTX 2080 Ti recently is probably pretty annoyed now. The GeForce RTX 3080 really brings ray-traced gaming to the fore, even in highly demanding games at 4K if you enable DLSS. For close to half the price of the RTX 2080 Ti a few weeks ago, you can now get a card that’s not only significantly quicker in ray-traced games, but also when it comes to raw shader power.
Nvidia’s Founders Edition is also a superb example, with a stylish new cooler that’s both quiet and highly effective. It’s expensive, yes, but it’s such a big leap from its predecessors that it offers cracking value.
Of course, AMD is also waiting in the wings with its line-up of GPUs based on the AMD RDNA 2 architecture, which will also support ray tracing. We’ll be very pleasantly surprised if they can compete with the RTX 3080, though, given AMD’s recent history of only competing in the mid-range.
At the moment, we wouldn’t hesitate to buy a GeForce RTX 3080 card right now. The only downer is that it’s already very hard to find any stock, but it’s a truly fantastic graphics card if you can find one.
Since we published this review back in 2020, Nvidia has also released the GeForce RTX 4080, based on the Nvidia Ada architecture, which is much more powerful, though also very expensive. If you’re looking to upgrade your graphics card, but the RTX 3080 is a bit out of your price range, or perhaps not quite powerful enough, then make sure you check out our full guide to the best graphics card, where we run you through your best options at a range of prices.