Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition review: Blistering performance gets $700 cheaper

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition graphics card delivers performance on par with last generation's flagship for $700 less, but compromises on memory capacity.

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

“Faster than the 2080 Ti.” That’s the promise Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang made while revealing the GeForce RTX 3070 in September, and it’s a scintillating one. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti sat atop Nvidia’s RTX 20-series graphics card stack, offering performance as scalding as its $1,200 price tag. Could the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 and its new-look Ampere GPU really go toe-to-toe with the last generation’s luxurious flagship for a whopping $700 less?

Spoiler alert: Yep. It wins some and loses some, but on the whole, the GeForce RTX 3070 is effectively just as fast as the RTX 2080 Ti in gaming (and much more so in some creative tasks) for well under half the price. And it absolutely smokes its RTX 2070 predecessor. That’s a massive step forward for PC gamers—but AMD’s counterpunch looms, with the Radeon RX 6000 series scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday. Whether the GeForce RTX 3070 continues to rock  oursocks in the wake of AMD’s announcement remains to be seen, but at least for one day, Nvidia’s new graphics card rules the school.

Let’s dig in.

dsc01213 Brad Chacos/IDG

The backplate of the RTX 3070 Founders Edition.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070: Specs, features, and price

First, the technical info, as the RTX 3070 Founders Edition differs quite a bit from previously released RTX 30-series graphics cards.

While the GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 use Nvidia’s biggest “GA102” Ampere GPU, the new GeForce RTX 3070 is built using the smaller “GA104” GPU. This GPU supports up to 48 streaming multiprocessors in its full incarnation, but the RTX 3070 pares that back slightly with 46 SMs, presumably to help compensate for potential defects during the manufacturing process. Check out our RTX 3080 review or Nvidia’s own Ampere whitepaper for a deeper look at the most significant architectural changes, as we won’t be rehashing those GPU-level technical details here.

Here’s a high-level look at the $500 GeForce RTX 3070’s insides and outsides, compared against the tech specs for its predecessor, the $500 RTX 2070, and the $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti that Nvidia is so keen to compare it against.

rtx 3070 vs 2080 ti vs 2070 Brad Chacos/IDG

The “Ampere” GPUs in the RTX 30-series sport a new design that effectively doubles the CUDA core count compared to the older generation. Not all of those can be used at once in most games, however, so performance doesn’t scale linearly. Likewise, the RTX 3070 packs more advanced RT and tensor cores—the dedicated hardware used for ray tracing and AI tasks like DLSS, respectively—than the last-gen GPUs, so don’t be scared off by the lower counts there. This card handles real-time ray tracing on a par with what the RTX 2080 Ti could handle, and it’s clocked much higher.

Memory is the biggest difference here. The RTX 3080 and 3090 upgraded to much faster, much more efficient GDDR6X memory, which gives those cards hefty bumps to overall memory bandwidth. The GeForce RTX 3070 doesn’t. It comes with the same 8GB of GDDR6 memory as last-gen’s RTX 2070, over the same 256-bit bus. That’s a disadvantage compared to the RTX 2080 Ti it usurps, both in raw capacity (8GB vs 11GB) and overall memory bandwidth (448GBps vs. 616GBps). It shouldn’t make a difference at 1440p resolution, but you have to wonder if 8GB of GDDR6 will be enough for 4K gaming in a couple of years, especially because the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles are both moving to 16GB of VRAM when they launch in a couple of weeks. Today, though, it’s fine for the vast majority of 4K games.

Despite the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090’s earned reputation as power hogs, the GeForce RTX 3070 shows that Ampere is indeed more power-efficient than the Turing GPUs inside the older RTX 20-series. The GeForce RTX 3070 delivers performance roughly on a par with the former RTX 2080 Ti flagship, but the newer graphics card consumes 30 watts less power, and drops from 2x 8-pin connectors to a single 8-pin connector. That said, it still draws significantly more than the RTX 2070 it’s replacing, which drew 70W less and could run on a less potent power supply.

dsc01189 Brad Chacos/IDG

The RTX 3070 FE still uses Nvidia’s proprietary 12-pin connector, but in a different place than other Founders Edition models.

The Founders Edition model we’re reviewing today still uses Nvidia’s tiny, highly customized PCB with a notch taken out of it to help with airflow. This means that like the other FE cards revealed so far, it powers on via a proprietary 12-pin connector. Nvidia includes an (ugly, short) adapter in the box. Unlike the more powerful RTX 30-series Founders Edition cards, however, the 12-pin connector is located horizontally in the middle of the edge of the card, rather than positioned vertically and at a 45-degree angle. If your case’s power supply shroud has a cutout for wires underneath your GPU, this is a much better placement.

That’s not the only design change. Nvidia created a highly unique custom “flow-through” cooling solution for the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090, with independent push-pull fans and bristling, thick metal heat fins comprising the body of the card itself. It’s very effective.

The GeForce RTX 3070 changes things up a wee bit. Rather than having one fan on the top and the bottom of the card in a push-pull configuration, the RTX 3070 FE places both fans in their standard places in the face of the card and adds a sleek backplate to the top. The two fans pushes air through the heatsink; the blower-style fan at the rear of the card expels heat through the 3070 FE’s I/O bracket, while the other one sends the hot air through a cut-out in the backplate back into the top of your system, where it can be sucked out by your case’s rear outtake fan. It’s functionally the same idea as the cooler on the more powerful RTX 30-series cards, but it takes a different path to get there.

dsc01219 Brad Chacos/IDG

RTX 3080 Founders Edition (top) vs. RTX 3070 Founders Edition (bottom)

Between the cooler redesign and the less demanding power requirements, the GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition wound up much smaller than its FE siblings, as well as the RTX 2080 Ti. This 2-slot card measures just 9.5 inches long and 4.4 inches wide. Like the other RTX 30-series FE cards, the RTX 3070 Founders Edition offers three DisplayPort 1.4 connections and a single HDMI 2.1 port capable of 8K video output, along with AV1 decode support for watching 8K videos with much less stutter and fewer dropped frames.

The RTX 3070 also supports other neat features that Nvidia introduced with the RTX 30-series. If you’re a streamer or video creator, you’ll want to check out Nvidia Broadcast, a suite of tools that uses the AI capabilities of Nvidia’s tensor cores to enable automatic noise cancellation and software-based greenscreen, background blur, and head tracking capabilities. You can also take advantage of Nvidia’s Reflex suite of technologies built to minimize latency in competitive esports games. We tested Nvidia Reflex recently and were highly impressed. Finally, the RTX 3070 also supports RTX I/O, an upcoming technology that allows your GPU and NVMe SSD to talk directly. Here’s how Microsoft and Nvidia plan to kill loading times in games. If it takes off after debuting next year, it could be a true game-changer.

dsc01208 Brad Chacos/IDG

The RTX 3070 Founders Edition still uses thick, black heat fins for most of its construction.

Nvidia’s new generation also upgraded to PCIe 4.0 connectors, which can currently be utilized only on AMD Ryzen systems, though Intel plans to move up from PCIe 3.0 next year. Of course, the card also works with traditional Nvidia features like Shadowplay, NVENC, and one-click game optimization via the GeForce Experience app.

But enough about the features. Let’s get to the games (and a couple of creative workloads, too).

Next page: Our test system, gaming benchmarks begin

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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