For the Ampere generation of Founders Edition coolers, Nvidia had to go back to the drawing board and completely redesign the cooling solution to suit the significantly higher TDPs of the GeForce RTX 3080 and GeForce RTX 3090 graphics cards. Many of the design changes also carry over to the GeForce RTX 3070, though it doesn't have a higher TDP than previous generation GPUs.
The radical new design for the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 Founders Edition coolers represent Nvidia's new solution to an old cooling problem, but it has also sparked a lot of controversy in the enthusiast community. Will the new cards propel more heat into your CPU's cooler, and will AIOs have a bigger benefit? Let's take a closer look at the design.
Looking back at 20-series Founders Edition coolers, it's your very typical open air design with two fans pushing air into a vapor chamber heatsink, which then gets heat dissipated out the rear and sides of the chassis.
Nvidia noticed that this cooling solution doesn't take full advantage of a modern case's default airflow configuration. Taking the standard ATX tower case as an example, there's typically one or two intake fans positioned low at the front of the case, and a single fan at the top-rear of the case that exhausts all the hot air out of the case.
If you stick a graphics card in a case with this traditional airflow pattern, it disrupts the airflow. Instead of air passing freely from the front intake fans thru the chassis and to the rear fan, most of the air gets sucked into the GPU fans. That air is then slammed into the PCB. The design doesn't exhaust air out of the rear of the case, so it has to make a 90 degree turn and exhaust to the side. This adds resistance and moves air less efficiently.
Nvidia uses a push-pull fan system with a hybrid vapor chamber cooler for the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 coolers. The left fan pushes air onto the baseplate and exhausts out the PCI-E slot (just like a blower style cooler). The right fan pulls air through the finstack and heatpipes, which then gets exhausted right out the other side of the card and makes its way directly to your CPU tower cooler (if any). It then passes to your rear exhaust case fan.
Nvidia claims this cooling solution lowers temperatures by about 20C on the RTX 3080, and 30C for the RTX 3090 when compared to 20-series founders coolers designed for the RTX 2080 and Titan RTX (and that's if they were running at their Ampere-equivalent TDPs). Nvidia also says the new design reduces noise levels – the 3080 is 10dBA quieter than the 2080, and the 3090 is 20dBa quieter than the TITAN RTX.
The RTX 3080 cooler is two slots wide, and the RTX 3090's cooler is three slots wide. Nvidia boasts that you can push high overclocks on the RTX 3090 FE card and it'll still run cool and quiet.
But the real question is, how will the new design affect CPU temperatures? The 3080 and 3090's right fan will directly exhaust air into a CPU tower's heatsink, which is causing concern.
Usually with graphics cards, the actual heat being pumped out of the card is more important than where it directs all that heat. If you look at most graphics cards today, they intake air from the front (where the fans are), and eject most of that heat back into the case, thru the sides of the card. All that heat will reach your CPU cooler eventually in some form, and it can cause case ambient temps to rise. However, we won't be sure how the new coolers will impact case thermals until the cards land in our labs.
The official launch date for Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3080 is set for September 17. We'll have more to say about cooling by then, once we've put the card through its paces.