Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Review: Great Performance at a High Price

GeForce RTX 3080 Ti
(Image credit: Nvidia)

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti story should be familiar ground. Halfway through the regular product cycle, release a higher-spec, higher-performance variant of the existing x80-series part with a price that makes for a compelling upgrade. The GTX 1080 was a great card back in the day, and the GTX 1080 Ti upped the ante and basically redefined what we came to expect from a mid-cycle update. But anything even remotely competitive from our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, along with all the best graphics cards, are in a bad place right now with virtually no availability at retail and exorbitant prices on places like eBay. As a result, the RTX 3080 Ti ends up looking a lot more like the RTX 2080 Ti than the GTX 1080 Ti: Fast but expensive.

Fundamentally, nothing has changed with the Nvidia Ampere architecture. More games support ray tracing and DLSS, and driver improvements over the previous nine months have altered performance a bit since launch. Otherwise, the RTX 3080 Ti takes the same GA102 GPU found in the GeForce RTX 3090 and GeForce RTX 3080, disables two more SMs compared to the 3090, and slashes the VRAM capacity in half compared to the 3090. That's not actually that big of a deal in most games, and performance should generally be quite similar between the two.

The real question will be retail pricing and availability, which will undoubtedly be awful. Officially, the RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition has a $1,199 price tag — $300 less than the 3090, but $500 more than the 3080. In practice, the RTX 3080 already sells for close to $2,000 on eBay, and even in the Newegg Shuffle, it routinely goes for over $1,200. Meanwhile, the RTX 3090 pushes closer to $3,000 on eBay and costs more than $2,000 in the Newegg Shuffles we've tracked — and your odds of getting picked in the Shuffle are extremely low, based on our experience.

Here's a quick overview of the specifications for the RTX 3080 Ti, along with similar Nvidia GPUs:

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Nvidia GPU Specifications
Graphics CardRTX 3090RTX 3080 TiRTX 3080RTX 2080 Ti
Process TechnologySamsung 8NSamsung 8NSamsung 8NTSMC 12FFN
Transistors (Billion)28.328.328.318.6
Die size (mm^2)628.4628.4628.4754
SMs / CUs82806868
GPU Cores104961024087044352
Tensor Cores328320272544
RT Cores82806868
Base Clock (MHz)1395137014401515
Boost Clock (MHz)1695166517101545
VRAM Speed (Gbps)19.5191914
VRAM (GB)24121011
VRAM Bus Width384384320352
TFLOPS FP32 (Boost)35.634.129.813.4
TFLOPS FP16 (Tensor)142 (285)136 (273)119 (238)108
RT TFLOPS69675843
Bandwidth (GBps)936912760616
TDP (watts)350350320260
Launch DateSep 2020Jun 2021Sep 2020Sep 2018
Launch Price$1,499 $1,199 $699 $1,199

In terms of theoretical performance, the RTX 3080 Ti lands 3–4% behind the RTX 3090 and 14–20% ahead of the RTX 3080. Memory bandwidth shows the biggest gains, thanks to the addition of two memory channels, though clocks are slightly lower on the GPU side of things. Power consumption is rated at 350W, the same as the 3090 and 30W more than the 3080, which could be a problem given the 3080 Ti Founders Edition uses the same cooler design as the 3080 rather than the triple-slot monstrosity that is the 3090 Founders Edition.

Looking at generational improvements, the RTX 3080 Ti is potentially more than double the compute performance of the 2080 Ti, with nearly 50% more memory bandwidth. In practice, we expect performance will be about 40–50% faster than the 2080 Ti, but that will mostly be at 4K and 1440p. Buying a GPU like this for 1080p gaming (unless you're playing games with lots of ray tracing effects) would be a waste of money.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

One final item of note before we continue is that the RTX 3080 Ti implements Nvidia's Ethereum hashrate limiter. The limiter works as expected for the time being, and we saw average hash rates of 55–65 MHps at stock settings, depending on the software used. That's basically half the performance we'd expect from the hardware and similar to what we saw with the launch of the GeForce RTX 3060. Hopefully, Nvidia doesn't accidentally circumvent its own lock this time, though we expect pricing will remain higher than the official starting point, even with the limiter. 

GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Design: Unchanged From RTX 3080

For better or worse, Nvidia hasn't altered the card design relative to the RTX 3080 Founders Edition. The cooler mostly worked well before and ran reasonably quiet… except when the GDDR6X memory got hot and the fans had to kick up to full speed. We hoped Nvidia would use better thermal pads for the GDDR6X memory this round, especially with the addition of two more GDDR6X chips, but that doesn't appear to have happened.

In testing, games generally didn't have major problems, with memory temperatures peaking at anywhere from 94C–104C. The higher end of that range is a concern, however, as we're dealing with a brand-new card. How will it perform after a year or two of use? We've been there, countless times, and the answer will inevitably be higher temperatures and fan speeds over time.

Testing mining algorithms was a different story, with multiple algorithms pushing the GDDR6X temps to 110C, max fan speeds, and throttling of GPU clocks to try to compensate. Some future game, or game that we haven't tested, might behave in a similar fashion, but we haven't encountered any specific games that match the intensity of mining. That's the good news. The bad news is that a $10 thermal pad upgrade for the Founders Edition is still a good idea, but it would void your warranty. Nvidia should have done the 'upgrade' itself and used higher-quality pads.

One thing that has changed since the launch of the RTX 30-series last year is support for the RGB lighting on the cards. We've verified that multiple RGB utilities, including Corsair's iCue, can now control the LEDs on the 3080 and 3090 Founders Edition cards, and that applies to the 3080 Ti Founders Edition as well. Do you want your Nvidia GPU to dress up in AMD red? Now it can! And there was much rejoicing.

We'll be looking at some third party cards in the coming days as well, and hopefully those will pay more attention to memory cooling. This has been a sore spot on RTX 3080 and 3090 cards since launch, with only about 25% of the cards we've looked at using better GDDR6X cooling methods. Considering the extreme nature of these parts, we expect manufacturers to pay more attention to this important aspect of cooling going forward.

GeForce RTX 3080 Ti: Gaming Performance

Our test setup remains unchanged from previous reviews, though we'll be doing additional testing with ray tracing and DLSS — using the same tests as our AMD vs. Nvidia: Ray Tracing Showdown. We're using the test equipment shown above, which consists of a Core i9-9900K, 32GB DDR4-3600 memory, 2TB M.2 SSD, and the various GPUs being tested — all of which are reference models here.

That gives us two sets of results. First is the traditional rendering performance, using thirteen games at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K with ultra/maximum quality settings. Then we have ten more games with RT (and sometimes DLSS, where applicable). We'll start with 4K since this is a top-tier GPU more likely to be used at that resolution, plus it's where the card does best relative to the other GPUs — CPU bottlenecks are almost completely eliminated at 4K but more prevalent at 1080p.

Overall, 4K ultra gaming puts the RTX 3080 Ti right behind the RTX 3090, just as expected. The difference between 24GB and 12GB VRAM generally doesn't show up in our standard test suite in any meaningful way, with the largest gains topping out at around 5%. Basically, it comes down to clock speeds and core counts.

One clear impetus for the RTX 3080 Ti can be seen in the standings. Previously, the RTX 3090 claimed the top spot, but the RTX 3080 traded blows with the RX 6800 XT and often fell behind the RX 6900 XT. The RTX 3080 Ti 'corrects' things and puts Nvidia back in first and second place. AMD still has its strong points, like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Borderlands 3, and Forza Horizon 4, but at least the two most expensive (based on MSRP) GPUs take the top two spots at 4K ultra — and as we'll see later, ray tracing definitely favors Nvidia by a larger margin.

Dropping down to 1440p, the gaps between the fastest cards narrow slightly, and AMD's Infinity Cache starts to play a bigger role. Where the RTX 3080 Ti placed second overall at 4K, just behind the 3090, it now drops behind the RX 6900 XT and lands in third place, with the RX 6800 XT nipping at its heels.

Assuming any of these GPUs were even available at MSRP, AMD makes a very strong case for its RDNA2 cards. Considering the 3080 already costs more (on eBay) than the 6900 XT, the 3080 Ti will likely be even worse — though the limited Ethereum mining performance might affect eBay prices.

The individual games tell a similar story as above, but AMD has even more wins relative to Nvidia. Valhalla remains the major outlier, with its optimized-for-AMD performance, but Borderlands 3, Forza Horizon 4, and Horizon Zero Dawn all put the RX 6800 XT ahead of the 3080 Ti. Nvidia counters with significant wins in The Division 2, Final Fantasy XIV, Metro Exodus, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Strange Brigade — with the remaining games being basically tied.

Remember when we said that buying a card like this for 1080p gaming was overkill? This is what we were talking about. The top five cards are relatively tightly packed, partly due to CPU bottlenecks, with AMD's RX 6900 XT now sitting in the pole position, followed by the RTX 3090, RX 6800 XT, and RTX 3080 Ti, and RTX 3080. If you're after ultra-high framerates (e.g., on a 1080p 360Hz monitor), you'll definitely want to get the fastest CPU for gaming possible — possibly the Core i9-11900K if you can handle the power and cooling, though the Ryzen 9 5900X is arguably the better pick overall.

The rather questionable results in certain AMD promoted games — particularly Assassin's Creed Valhalla — become even more apparent. That game either really loves AMD's Infinity Cache, or contains heavy AMD optimizations, or both, as its 45% lead for the 6900 XT over the 3080 Ti is an extreme outlier. The Infinity Cache definitely helps at 1080p more than higher resolutions, however, and AMD's cards have a strong showing in general. Of course, everything from the RX 6800 and up averages more than 144 fps in our test suite at 1080p, which frankly should satisfy all but the most demanding esports competitors.

GeForce RTX 3080 Ti: Ray Tracing and DLSS Gaming Performance

So far, we've focused on gaming performance using traditional rasterization graphics. We've also excluded using Nvidia's DLSS technology in order to provide an apples-to-apples comparison. Let's change things up for a moment and look at ray tracing performance, with and without DLSS 2.0, where applicable. We're only showing DLSS results on the 3080 Ti, and we used the Quality mode (2x upscaling) in the six games where it was supported. AMD's FSR will provide an alternative to DLSS in the coming months, though we don't yet have hands-on experience with it, so we can't comment on the image quality. We'll also confine testing to 1440p and 1080p here since native 4K with ray tracing tends to push even the fastest GPUs beyond their reasonable limits. This is the same testing we used in our recent AMD vs. Nvidia Ray Tracing Battle.

While AMD was competitive in games that use traditional rendering techniques, ray tracing continues to strongly favor Nvidia. We even included two AMD games (Dirt 5 and Godfall) that don't actually benefit all that much from ray tracing. Games that use more effects, like Bright Memory Infinite, Control, Cyberpunk 2077, Fortnite, and Minecraft really benefit from Nvidia's second-generation RT cores, not to mention DLSS 2.0. (Note that we're still using the original Metro Exodus and not the Enhanced version, which also adds more RT effects and DLSS 2.0.)

We're not going to say ray tracing is required to enjoy most games, but it can make a difference. Given a few more years of work and hardware improvements, we'll hopefully see games that push visuals to new levels of fidelity. We're just not there yet.