Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition Review: Heir to the Titan Throne

The GeForce RTX 3090 is a Titan-class card, with a bigger performance benefit than older GPUs, but minus a few professional features.

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Nvidia made significant changes to its Founders Edition cards for the RTX 30-series. The new designs still include two axial fans, but Nvidia heavily redesigned the PCB and shortened it so that the 'back' of the card (away from the video ports) consists of just a fan, heatpipes and radiator fins, and the usual graphics card shroud. Nvidia says the new design delivers substantial improvements in cooling efficiency, while at the same time lowering noise levels. The GeForce RTX 3090 FE takes the overall industrial design and aesthetics of the 3080 FE, then presses the 'Get Pumped' button.

The GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition is massive, and we mean that quite literally. It tips the scales at 2189g, or 4.82 pounds. That may not be the heaviest single-GPU card ever created, but with a triple-slot cooler, it's definitely the biggest Nvidia-created card. The 3090 FE also measures 313mm (12.3 inches) in length, about 3cm longer than the 3080 FE, and it's 138mm (5.43 inches) tall. That's about an inch more in each dimension than its little sibling, and it's very solidly built — future archeologists will dig these up and probably think we used them to club each other.

As usual, aesthetics are a highly subjective matter. It looks a bit drab in some ways, but there's no flimsy metal shroud that feels like it might get snagged on something and bent. Also, we were mistaken when we said the Founders Edition cards didn't have RGB lighting. The white GeForce RTX logo and lit up 'X' are RGB LEDs. Nvidia just hasn't provided the software to users yet. If you want to go back to the earlier Nvidia-green for the logo, you can do that, or you can try to merge matter and antimatter by going with Radeon red. Or at least, you'll be able to do that once Nvidia releases its lighting utility.

Nvidia provided the images below showing the various parts of RTX 3090 Founders Edition. The PCB is the same as the RTX 3080, only now with all memory slots populated — on both sides of the board. (Nvidia didn't provide a photo of the back of the PCB, unfortunately.) The cooler may take cues from the 3080 FE design, but it's far larger. The PCB only extends about halfway down the length of the card, with the entire back portion dedicated to helping dissipate 350W of power.

The fans on the RTX 3090 are also 'super-sized' relative to the 3080. The 3080 fans are custom 85mm models, though the two fans are different — the back fan is designed to pull air through the radiator and spins counterclockwise, while the front fan (closer to the video outputs) is slightly thinner and also spins counterclockwise, pushing air out the back of the card. The 3090’s fans are 110mm, again with a thicker fan at the back, and you can see how the fins are angled to help pull air through the radiator.

The integrated rims on the fans help improve static pressure as well, which is something we've seen on some other RTX 30-series cards. Clearly, Nvidia and its AIB partners are pulling out all the stops to ensure the new Ampere GPUs stay cool and quiet. From what we've seen so far, they're succeeding, though the factory overclocks on some models are certainly pushing the GPUs to the limit. There have been a few reports of instability with AIB cards, though nothing concrete yet. We didn't encounter any issues with the Founders Edition at stock clocks, though, so if you'd rather play it safe and skip the bling, the 3090 FE might be your best bet.

GeForce RTX 3090: What About Overclocking? 

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We had less time with the RTX 3090 FE than the RTX 3080 FE, and we're adding some professional workloads to the mix because this is that sort of card. As such, we haven't had time to investigate overclocking fully yet. We'll be updating this section with more details, but let's just make this clear: This is a $1,500 GPU, already pushing the limits of what most people would deem sensible in terms of power and performance. The stock clocks are slightly lower than the 3080 for a reason, and typical boost clocks still hit 1800-1850 MHz in our testing. If you want to shoot for a world record, by all means, break out the LN2 and strip the cooler and have at it. Our initial testing, meanwhile, is focused on what you get out of the box.

Based on what we saw with the RTX 3080 FE, you can likely get a stable 50-100 MHz bump in GPU clocks with a bit of tuning. That will also mean more power, of course, though the cooler and fans seem to be up to the task. For the GDDR6X, we managed a seemingly stable 20.5 Gbps, but we don't currently have the tools to read the individual memory module temperatures. There's concern from some corners of the web suggesting the chips get hot, though our experience so far suggests overclocks to 20.5 Gbps are viable for benchmarks. Still, don't go too crazy — no one wants to fry a $1,500 GPU.

Sorry if you wanted more for the overclocking section; the calendar is a harsh mistress and just didn't provide enough time to run more tests. Again, we'll be updating this review with more information in the coming days.

GeForce RTX 3090: Test Setup 

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We're using our standard GPU test bed for this review, which consists of a Core i9-9900K CPU, Z390 motherboard, and 32GB of DDR4-3200 memory. We do want to run some additional tests on other CPUs and platforms, similar to what we did with the RTX 3080 FE CPU scaling tests, but that takes about one solid day of testing per CPU. We'll post a follow-up article once we're able to dig into things more. 

We're also focusing on 4K ultra performance, with 1440p ultra being a secondary consideration. We've got nine games in our existing test suite, plus 15 additional gaming benchmarks (one more than we did with the 3080). None of the existing gaming tests used ray tracing or DLSS, while the bonus games and benchmarks focus more heavily on that aspect of the cards.

Our comparison GPUs for this review are limited to Nvidia's top-tier cards from the previous generation, and we've included the Titan Xp, GTX 1080 Ti, and the GTX 1080 FE for good measure. The reasoning is simple. First, AMD doesn't currently have anything that can compete with the RTX 2080 Ti; never mind the 3080 and 3090. The Pascal GPUs are present (but not in the bonus games) to give some historical perspective on Nvidia's Titan vs. x80 Ti vs. x80 series. We'll talk about that more in a bit.

We also tested with Microsoft GPU hardware scheduling enabled this time — it didn't massively affect performance one way or the other in our 3080 testing, but we'll make the switch going forward. We've used the results from the RTX 3080 FE with hardware scheduling, but the other GPUs were tested previously without HW scheduling. Again, at 4K ultra and 1440p ultra, the difference between the two settings is generally negligible, though individual games may show up to a 4% delta in either direction. Overall, the 3080 FE was 1.2% faster with HW scheduling at 1440p ultra, and 1.8% faster at 4K ultra.

Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • mdd1963
    In your chart list of cons: "Highest TGP"?

  • VforV
    "Titan-class card" - again with this nvidia BS?
    It's not, it's a catchphrase from nvidia and the media keeps playing this tune. It's only a more expensive 3080 Ti, which will be proven soon. A halo product for people with more money than sense.

    "Fastest current graphics card, period" - Wrong, it's not, it's based on the game and if it's optimized for nvidia (DLSS) or AMD (and no DLSS). In the first case it wins in the latter one it gets beaten by RX 6800 XT and RX 6900 XT, sometimes by a mile... as much as it beats them in the first case with DLSS ON, but then AMD does it by raw power. So it's 50/50, period.

    "8K DLSS potential" - yeah, sure "potential". If you count dreaming of 8k gaming potential too, then yes. Again nvidia BS propagated by media still.

    "Needs a 4K display, maybe even 8K" - no it does not "need" an 8k display unless you want to be majorly disappointed and play at 30 fps only. That is today, with today games and today's graphics demands, but tomorrow and next gen games you can kiss it goodbye at 8k. Another nvidia BS, again supported by the media.

    GJ @ author, nvidia is pleased by your article.
  • Loadedaxe
    Titan Class card? No offense, but to Nvidia it is. The rest of the world its a 3080Ti.
  • HideOut
    Mmmm 2 months late for a review? Whats happened to this company. Late or missing reviews. Nothing but rasberry Pi stuff, and sister publication anantech is nearly dead.
  • Blacksad999
    HideOut said:
    Mmmm 2 months late for a review? Whats happened to this company. Late or missing reviews. Nothing but rasberry Pi stuff, and sister publication anantech is nearly dead.
    Yeah, the Raspberry Pi stuff is getting annoying. They brought out their 5800x review way after the fact, too. Kind of odd. I understand it's a difficult year to review things, but months later than most review sites isn't a good look when that's supposed to be the sites specialty.