Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti Review: Will This Fix the Shortage?

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Nvidia faces two primary challenges in 2021. First, no one who wants to actually play games on a GPU can buy one. Second, with the Radeon RX 6900 XT, AMD came within striking distance of Nvidia’s crown jewel, the RTX 3090. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

The RTX 3080 Ti is Nvidia’s solution to both of these problems. But does it solve them or merely kick the can further down the road? I spent some time testing out the new graphics card to find out if it ranks among the best graphics cards you can buy.

Design

My review unit was a Founders Edition model, meaning it’s designed by Nvidia itself. It matches the design of the RTX 3080 that came before, sporting a premium look that has no equal. It’s a gorgeous shroud.

The cooling is better than in the 20-series model, too, using the same “push-pull” fan system as the rest of the 30-series cards.

The system kept the card plenty cool in my testing, never breaching the 83 degree Celsius max temperatures listed by Nvidia. It’s not a quiet GPU though. It’ll spin up quickly, and in when it’s pushed to it’s max, such as in a video export, it’ll sound like a rocket taking off from your desk.

A Nvidia representative was quick to tell me that it should only be marginally louder than the other RTX 30-series cards, which was already a good deal quieter than the 20-series.

Of course, there will be plenty of third party designs that take a more brute force approach to cooling. As always, the Founders Edition version of the RTX 3080 Ti will likely be the most beautiful design, but not the most powerful.

The RTX 3080 Ti is the exact same size as the RTX 3080 at 11.2 by 1.4 inches. It’s a standard two-slot card, but it’s quite long. It can be a tight squeeze if you have extra storage cages in your case or are trying to plop it into a smaller prebuilt desktop. It’ll fit well enough into our 30-liter case, though, and it’s almost a full inch shorter. That makes it a much more manageable upgrade than the RTX 3090.

A “much more manageable RTX 3090” is a good description of the RTX 3080 Ti in general. It has all the power of that top-end card without any of the unnecessary baggage.

Port selection on back is the same as both the RTX 3090 and the RTX 3080: Three DisplayPort 1.4a ports and one HDMI 2.1.

Specs

It’s not just the design of the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3090 that match. They’re also quite similar under the hood. A quick look at the spec sheet reveals just how much these two cards have in common.

RTX 3080 Ti RTX 3090 RTX 3080 
GPU GA102-225 GA102-300 GA102-200
Interface PCIe 4.0 PCIe 4.0 PCIe 4.0
CUDA cores 10,240 10,496 8,704
Tensor cores 320 328 272
RT cores 80 82 68
Base clock 1,365MHz 1,395MHz 1,440MHz
Boost clock 1,665MHz 1,695MHz 1,710MHz
Memory 12GB GDDR6X 24GB GDDR6X 10GB GDDR6X
Memory speed 19Gbps 19.5Gbps 19Gbps
Bandwidth 912GBps 936GBps 760GBps
Memory bus 384-bit 384-bit 320-bit
TDP 320W 350W 320W

The primary difference is the memory amount. The RTX 3080 Ti has half as much, down from 24GB to 12GB. Games won’t know what to do with 24GB of VRAM anyways, making the 12GB of the RTX 3080 Ti a more realistic amount. The RTX 3090 is still a better part for the heaviest of workloads, such as data science, 3D animation, and high-resolution video encoding.

You’ll also get eight fewer Tensor cores, two fewer RT cores, and 247 fewer CUDA cores. That’s not enough to make a PC gamer sweat — especially with a $300 price difference between the two.

Is it worth the extra $500 over the RTX 3080 though? It’s a tough call — but in terms of specs and performance, the RTX 3080 Ti is much closer to the 3090 than the 3080.

Importantly, the RTX 3080 Ti is still $200 more expensive than the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT, which was only marginally slower than the RTX 3090.

Regardless of which of these three cards you get, Nvidia recommends at least a 750-watt power supply.

Of course, the thing that makes the RTX 3080 Ti an antidote for the GPU supply problem is its Lite Hash Rate. I’m no Ethereum miner — so I wasn’t able to test this myself — but the idea is that the hash rate limiter should make the cards less attractive for cryptocurrency mining.

Performance

I tested the Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti in a system paired with the Intel Core i9-10900K and 32GB of RAM. All games were tested at 4K max settings but not with ray tracing effects turned on. I also tested the RTX 3080 in this same system. The RX 6900 XT results shown in the chart below, however, were tested in a different system with the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X. That’s not ideal, but unfortunately it’s not a graphics card I had on hand to retest in the same system.

Keep that in mind — especially for more CPU-bound games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Civilization VI.

Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti Nvidia RTX 3080 AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT
3DMark Time Spy 17634 16108 17340
3DMark Fire Strike 30951 28460 38911
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla 56 52 69
Battlefield V 104 100 106
Fortnite 95 93 99
Civilization VI 177 158 184

The RTX 3080 Ti is clearly more powerful than the RTX 3080 — but it’s not by a lot. The 9% difference in Time Spy scores carries through pretty evenly across games too, with the RTX 3080 Ti beating the RTX 3080 by a few frames per second. You can expect anywhere between 5-10% better frame rates compared to the RTX 3080. You’re unlikely to notice the variance visually, which is something keep in mind when considering the $1,200 price point of the RTX 3080 Ti.

The comparison to the Radeon RX 6900 XT is fascinating, however. The AMD card is $200 cheaper but wins in most head-to-head gaming matchups. Even with the processor difference in my testing, you can expect the RX 6900 XT to be up by a few fps in most games. It was already neck and neck with the RTX 3090, giving it a narrow but complete edge over the RTX 3080 Ti in this matchup. It is a more power-hungry card, though, at 300 watts.

Of course, ray tracing is the primary weakness of the Radeon RX 6900 XT. The company is just now beginning to make some headway on its answer to DLSS, known as the FidelityFX Super Resolution. Nvidia has a few years of development over AMD in both ray tracing and A.I., making the RTX 3080 Ti the obvious choice over the RX 6900 XT if you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into ray tracing.

I don’t have comparative data for it, but I also tested out Cyberpunk 2077. No other game relies on ray tracing so heavily to produce its incredible visuals. At Ultra settings and with ray tracing cranked up, the frame rate slowed down considerably. As has been demonstrated many times, even the RTX 3090 can’t always steadily handle this game at 60-plus fps — at least not without reducing image quality with the higher settings of DLSS.

Compared to AMD graphics cards, though, the RTX 3080 Ti is a ray tracing machine. It’s also a more effective part for content creation and 3D modeling. The RTX 3080 was already a better option than AMD’s best, and the RTX 3080 Ti only extends that lead. It was faster in two of the three Blender benchmarks I ran, sometimes by as much as 49%.

It was also a much more capable video editing card, providing a 29% better GPU score in the PugetBench Adobe Premiere benchmark. That means smoother playback and faster exports.

Should you buy one?

A $1,200 price tag for a graphics card is ungodly. It’s way too much money to spend on a single component in your system. And yet people continue to do it — and for cards far more meager than the RTX 3080 Ti. With that in mind, the proposition of buying a card as powerful as the RTX 3080 Ti doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

Someday, the GPU supply issue will lapse, and prices may normalize — but we may have moved on to the next generation of graphics cards by then.

Until then, it’s the Wild West out there. The RTX 3080 Ti doesn’t change that grim situation by much, but having another fantastically powerful graphics card on the market can’t hurt.

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