The GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition is everything we expected. It's a lower power card with a smaller footprint, and it basically trades blows with the previous generation king of the hill, the RTX 2080 Ti. Two years later, and $500 now potentially gets you the same performance as the old $1,200 GPUs. If there's one constant in the world of GPUs, it's the ever-increasing performance at any given price point. But we're in the midst of a lot of GPU stuff, and without seeing what AMD's Big Navi brings to the table, it's impossible to give a final verdict for the RTX 3070.
AMD will spill the beans on Big Navi tomorrow, but we don't expect the hardware to arrive for review until mid-November or later. That's fine because, in all likelihood, almost no one is going to be able to buy an RTX 3070. Just like the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 sold out within minutes (or seconds) of launch, we expect the initial batches of RTX 3070 will go fast. Historically speaking, that's what always happens for new high-end cards. RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti sold out at launch; GTX 1070, 1080, and 1080 Ti also sold out at launch; and so did GTX 970 and 980. The question isn't so much whether the new GPUs will sell out, but rather how long they'll be harder to purchase.
Launching in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, plus the holiday shopping season, is only going to exacerbate things. That's why Nvidia's CEO already said supply likely wouldn't keep up with demand until 2021. Hopefully, the supply of the RTX 3070 is better than it's bigger siblings — it should be since it's a smaller chip that will likely yield better. Plus, Nvidia knows it sells more $500 GPUs than it does $700 and $1000+ GPUs, so it almost certainly ordered more GA104 chips than GA102.
Besides AMD's incoming RX 6000 series, you can also count on Nvidia releasing RTX 3060 or RTX 3060 Ti or something similar in the not-too-distant future. It's basic silicon manufacturing: The GA104 chip has up to 48 SMs, 46 of which are enabled on the RTX 3070. While there will be some chips that are fully functional and could run with all 48 SMs, only selling 46 SM chips means overall improved yields. But inevitably, there will be a bunch of chips that can't meet the 46 SM requirement, so there will be another graphics card that's a step down from the 3070, and probably one more that's a step down from there. That's where the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3060 come into play. What we don't know is exactly when they'll launch or how much they'll cost, but we'd bet on a $399 replacement for the RTX 2060 Super, and probably a $349 or $299 replacement for the RTX 2060. It all hinges on how well AMD's RX 6000 does.
Speaking of which, early indications of Big Navi and RX 6000 are promising. There's a good chance AMD will have something that comes pretty darn close to the RTX 3080, or maybe even exceeds it, and then there will be lower-tier parts trickling down from there. The catch is that most of the rumors and purported leaks are for games running without ray tracing. AMD will support DirectX 12 Ultimate, which includes ray tracing and VRS (variable rate shading), as well as VulkanRT. What we don't know is how fast AMD's chips will be in such workloads. The general opinion is that AMD won't match Ampere when it comes to RT performance, which could prove to be increasingly important, what with the next-gen consoles adding RT support, not to mention games like Cyberpunk 2077.
While ray tracing is arguably going to become even more important in the coming years, I think the bigger problem for AMD is DLSS. AMD has made no mention of anything equivalent to the Tensor cores present on Turing and Ampere RTX GPUs. For any game that supports DLSS — and the list is growing — Nvidia will probably offer a superior experience. Given a choice between 4K DLSS running at 75 fps or 4K native with TAA running at 45 fps, as an example, I'd take the DLSS option every time.
Right now, there are at least 19 games that support DLSS (Anthem (1.0), Battlefield V (1.0), Bright Memory (2.0), Control (2.1), Death Stranding (2.1), Deliver Us the Moon (2.0), F1 2020 (2.0), Final Fantasy XV (1.0), Fortnite (2.1), Justice (1.0?), Marvel's Avengers (2.1), Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries (2.0), Metro Exodus (1.0), Minecraft RTX (2.0), Monster Hunter World (2.0), Pumpkin Jack (2.0), Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1.0), Watch Dogs Legion (2.1), and Wolfenstein Youngblood (2.1) — I might have missed a couple). DLSS 2.x integration appears to be quite easy, relatively speaking, since it doesn't require game-specific training from Nvidia's supercomputer, and support from Unreal Engine makes it almost silly not to support DLSS.
Besides those already available (or available tomorrow, if you count Watch Dogs Legion), at least 14 more games are coming that support DLSS 2.x (Amid Evil, Atomic Heart, Boundary, Call of Duty Black Ops, Cyberpunk 2077, Edge of Eternity, Ghost Runner, JX3, Mortal Shell, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, Ready or Not, Scavengers, Vampire the Masquerade — Bloodlines 2, and Xuan-Yuan Sword VII). Several of those games aren't even on my radar, but a handful are right at the top of most 'anticipated games' lists.
Let me put it another way: If you give me an option of basically equivalent image quality, with 50-70 percent higher performance, what games would I not want to support that? Maybe pixelart indie games, because it could throw off the aesthetic (and they already run fast enough), but everything else? Yes, please, I'd like some DLSS 2.x. There are games where DLSS lets the RTX 2060 perform more like a 2080 Super, and the 2080 Super ends up looking like an RTX 3080. I didn't think DLSS 1.0 was all that great, but DLSS 2.0 changed things. It's not that it always looks better (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't), but it almost always runs a lot faster.
It's possible AMD will have some DLSS alternative that works equally well available at some point. I'd really love to see that happen because TAA tends to be way too blurry, and FidelityFX/CAS, while good, isn't quite at the level of DLSS 2.x. But then AMD will have to get developers to utilize its DLSS alternative, which puts it about two years behind Nvidia's RTX and DLSS efforts. For games that don't support ray tracing or DLSS, it's easier to see how AMD can win the coming battle. But pricing is still likely to be key.
On that point, we don't expect AMD to severely undercut Nvidia. It will simply try to offer an attractive option. The reason is that Zen 3 looks ready to clean Intel's clock come November. Even the Ryzen 9 5950X only uses two 7nm Zen 3 chiplets, each of which measures just 75-80mm square. That's an $800 chip that only requires at most 160mm square of TSMC N7 manufacturing. Sure, CPUs are different than GPUs, but TSMC is basically at capacity for how many wafers it can produce each month. Given the size of Zen 3, and an estimated size of 500-536mm square for Navi 21? AMD will want to charge quite a bit for the GPUs, as much as it can reasonably manage. That or it would just produce more Zen 3 chips, which will probably sell like hotcakes.
The bottom line is that we can't declare a winner right this moment. Nvidia's Ampere RTX 30-series GPUs are potent, and the RTX 3070 brings new levels of performance to the $500 market. We expect to see 30-series parts push down into the $300-$400 range in the coming months as well. AMD's Big Navi is more of a wildcard since we don't quite know what to expect in terms of ray tracing performance or DLSS alternatives. AMD may have as many as four Navi 2x GPUs launching in the next month or two (or three or four), also with prices ranging from perhaps $250 up to $600 or more.
If you're already set on going with Nvidia and don't want to spend more than $500, you can try to pick up an RTX 3070 on Thursday. If you're willing to spend a bit more money, we'd argue the added VRAM, bandwidth, and performance of the RTX 3080 means it's the better option at $700 — not that you can find RTX 3080 in stock, but you can keep trying. For the undecided, we suggest waiting to see what happens with Big Navi, and of course, those who prefer AMD GPUs will want an RX 6000 regardless of how it stacks up.
Whatever your GPU choice, it's an exciting time after about two years of waiting for the next big thing to arrive. Of course, there will be even faster options next year, so if you already have a capable GPU, just enjoy it until it's no longer sufficient. Maybe by then, we'll be talking about RTX 6070 and RX 9000.
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