Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition: It works hard, it plays hard

The 24GB of VRAM makes it a stunning value for prosumers.

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia says its monstrous $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 delivers “the ultimate gaming experience.” That’s very true. You can even game at 8K—not 4K, 8K—with some titles on this so-called “BFGPU.”

You probably shouldn’t buy it if all you do is game, though. Unless you’re a deep-pocketed enthusiast who doesn’t mind spending lavishly for the absolute best performance possible, the staggeringly powerful $700 GeForce RTX 3080 offers much better bang-for-buck for pure gamers. Nvidia actually calls the RTX 3080 its flagship gaming GPU, even though the RTX 3090 offers more raw horsepower.

But if you’re a professional who could save real money by creating videos or churning through GPU-intensive tasks at a massively faster clip, the GeForce RTX 3090 truly shines—especially if you can take advantage of its massive 24GB memory capacity. Nvidia also says this card delivers “Titan-class performance,” and that's no exaggeration. The GeForce RTX 3090 will absolutely melt your face (and your render times) in many content creation tasks, toppling both the last-gen RTX Titan as well as AMD’s creator-beloved Radeon VII. Oh, and at $1,500, the GeForce RTX 3090 costs a full $1,000 less than the RTX Titan it replaces in all but name.

If you need the ultimate graphics card for both work and play, Nvidia’s BFGPU tramples the competition. Let’s dig into Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition.

Editor’s note: This comprehensive review of the GeForce RTX 3090 goes longer than most as it’s good for much more than just 4K gaming—we dive into 8K benchmarks and prosumer tasks, too. Check out Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 tested: 5 key things you need to know for high-level takeaways of this in-depth info. And you can use this table of contents to hop between the various sections of this review.

dsc01065 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 specs and features

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3090 is built using the same next-gen “Ampere” GA102 graphics processor as the GeForce RTX 3080, but it’s stuffed with more of everything—more CUDA cores, more RT and tensor cores, more SMs, more memory, a bigger memory bus, you name it. Check out our RTX 3080 review for a deeper look at Ampere’s most significant architectural changes, as we won’t be rehashing those GPU-level technical details here. You can also find more info about how the new RTX 30-series GPUs stacks up against the previous generation in our GeForce RTX 30-series vs. RTX 20-series spec comparison

Here’s a high-level look at the GeForce RTX 3090’s insides:

  • CUDA cores: 10,496
  • Boost clock: 1.7GHz
  • Memory: 24GB GDDR6X
  • Memory bus: 384-bit
  • Memory bandwidth: 936 GBps
  • RT cores: 82 (2nd-gen)
  • Tensor cores: 328 (3rd-gen)
  • NVLink SLI: Yes
  • PCIe: Gen 4
  • HDMI: 2.1
  • HDCP: 2.3
  • Display connectors: 1x HDMI 2.1, 3x DisplayPort 1.4
  • Length: 12.3 inches
  • Width: 5.4 inches
  • Height: 3-slot
  • Maximum GPU temp: 93
  • Graphics card power: 350W
  • Recommended power supply: 750W
  • Power connectors: 2x 8-pin (with supplied 12-pin adapter)

By comparison, the RTX 3080 packs 68 SMs and 8,704 CUDA cores. That gives the GeForce RTX 3090 a 20-percent advantage in raw specs, though it’s worth noting that it is not 20 percent faster in every workload. The GeForce RTX 3080 offers roughly 85 to 90 percent of the RTX 3090’s 4K gaming performance at under half the cost, as you’ll see in our benchmarks later.

The upgraded RT and tensor cores in Ampere GPUs help with playing ray traced games at 1440p and 4K resolution, alleviating a concern with the RTX 20-series. But Nvidia’s new-look cores can make an even more tangible difference for creators. Several creative applications now support Nvidia’s OptiX technology, which lets them tap into the specialized capabilities of RT and tensor cores to speed up tasks. In addition to the raw denoising and ray tracing speed boosts in rendering tasks, the 2nd-gen RT cores inside the RTX 3090 now support hardware acceleration for ray-traced motion blur, and applications can now support Nvidia’s DLSS technology to speed up their real-time visualizations. The D5 Render tool for architects already supports DLSS. 

Two specs in particular should make professionals drool, though: The SLI connector, and the 24GB of GDDR6X memory.

3090 vs rtx titan Nvidia

Taking on Titans.

Nvidia teamed up with Micron to create GDDR6X, the ultra-fast new memory in the RTX 3080 and 3090. It uses advanced “PAM4” signaling technology that can send up to four possible values per cycle, rather than the usual two. That lets GDDR6X move data twice as fast as previous incarnations. Again, read our RTX 3080 review for deeper Ampere details.

The RTX 3090’s mammoth 24GB capacity is the real draw for professionals. Creators need more capacity than standard gaming-class graphics cards provide when they’re editing 8K videos or processing other tasks. More VRAM helps AI and analytics pros handle larger data sets.

The 16GB of HBM2 inside AMD’s Radeon VII helped it win over creators more than gamers during its brief lifespan. The GeForce RTX 3090 offers 8GB more capacity. While HBM2 helped the Radeon VII hit a massive 1TB/s memory bandwidth, GDDR6X’s advances help the RTX 3090 hit a blistering 936GB/s. By contrast, the RTX 3080 packs in only 10GB of GDDR6X.

dsc01069 Brad Chacos/IDG

Prying off a cover reveals the RTX 3090’s NVLink connector.

The GeForce RTX 3090 is also the only RTX 30-series graphics card equipped with an NVLink connector, which helps move data between a pair of RTX 3090 cards in a multi-GPU configuration to the tune of 112.5GB/s. SLI is dead for gamers—Nvidia won’t even offer SLI profiles in its drivers beyond 2020—but this is a critical inclusion for creators and software developers who can utilize multiple linked GPUs for enhanced application performance.

The days of rigs stuffed with four high-end graphics cards may be numbered though, especially if you use a standard PC case. Nvidia’s BFGPU needs a big-ass cooler to tame it.

Next page: RTX 3090 Founders Edition design

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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