Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 Review: Queen of the Castle

Ada Lovelace delivers the goods, at a steep price.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090
Editor's Choice
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Two years between major GPU architectural updates can feel like a long time, and the past two years have been incredibly painful for all gamers looking to upgrade their graphics card. Thankfully, the long dark night of GPU cryptocurrency mining is over (for now at least), and we can only hope that supply and availability of the RTX 40-series cards is vastly improved over the Ampere generation.

The RTX 4090 and Ada Lovelace are, frankly, impressive as hell. From a performance and technology perspective, Nvidia has pushed things further than we've likely ever seen between GPU architectures. In our testing, we saw performance improvements of over 50% at 4K ultra, and a 78% increase in ray tracing heavy games. Toss in DLSS and DLSS 3 Frame Generation and the potential gains are even more impressive.

We're finally at the point where game developers can really go nuts with ray tracing effects, at least for the highest tier of gamers who own RTX 40-series hardware. That's obviously going to be an extremely small market right now, but over time we can expect it to grow. Hopefully, we'll get some next-generation games in the coming months that can truly show off what the RTX 4090 can do.

It's not just games that benefit, though. Professional applications see equally large improvements in performance. Video editing can be more than twice as fast as on previous generation RTX 30-series hardware, and AV1 is fully supported as well. Updated applications should arrive this month with native AV1 support, including Discord and OBS.

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There is of course a price to pay, and the piper isn't holding back. $1,599 (or more) for an RTX 4090 that's only used for gaming is far more than most people would be willing to pay. But we also don't expect Nvidia to ship huge quantities of 4090 cards. Looking at the RTX 30-series in the latest Steam Hardware Survey, the 3080 models combined account for over five times as many installations as the 3090, the 3070 models nearly double the 3080 models, and the RTX 3060 variants double that again. RTX 3050 as the low man on the totem pole drops back to slightly lower than RTX 3070 levels of adoption, likely in large part due to that card's history of an abnormally high price to performance.

Considering the price of the RTX 3090 and RTX 3090 Ti, there are clearly plenty of gamers willing to spend well over $1,000 on a graphics card, and that's the market Nvidia is targeting. In fact, if Steam is to be trusted (sprinkle liberally with salt), there are more RTX 3090 series cards in the hands of gamers than any single RX 6000-series card, with the exception of the RX 66xx models — those account for 0.74% of the total compared to 0.49% for the RTX 3090.

Should you buy an RTX 4090? That depends on how much disposable income you have and what you plan to do with it. Some people have expensive hobbies — sports cars, attending professional sports games, model airplanes, stylish clothing, fancy restaurants, whatever — and dropping a couple of grand over a two-year period wouldn't even make them flinch. Others struggle to make ends meet and are content with a complete gaming PC for under $500.

If you can't afford an RTX 4090, that's fine. Many of us will simply have to look on in awe or grumble like someone getting passed by an exotic sports car on the freeway. Lower-priced RTX 4080 models will arrive next month, and AMD will launch its RX 7000-series and RDNA 3 GPUs before the end of the year. Hopefully sometime in the not-too-distant future we'll see substantially faster GPUs enter the high-end, mainstream, and budget sectors.

But for now, Ada Lovelace reigns supreme. Maybe AMD will contend for the throne in the near future, but with a graphics die size (not including cache or memory controllers) of just 308mm^2 according to the latest rumors, it's difficult to imagine AMD packing as many significant upgrades in the package as Nvidia has here. If you can't or won't wait to see what AMD has to offer, the RTX 4090 will remain as the fastest GPU from Team Green for a good while, or at least until the inevitable RTX 4090 Ti arrives.

The GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition (opens in new tab) and other RTX 4090 models (opens in new tab) officially go on sale tomorrow, October 12, with a starting price of $1,599. We'll be reviewing quite a few AIB partner cards over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that as we'll also add their performance results to this article.

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.

  • -Fran-
    Shouldn't this be up tomorrow?

    EDIT: Nevermind. Looks like it was today! YAY.

    Thanks for the review!

    Regards.
    Reply
  • colossusrage
    Can finally put 4K 120Hz displays to good use.
    Reply
  • brandonjclark
    colossusrage said:
    Can finally put 4K 120Hz displays to good use.

    I'm still on a 3090, but on my 165hz 1440p display, so it maxes most things just fine. I think I'm going to wait for the 5k series GPU's. I know this is a major bump, but dang it's expensive! I simply can't afford to be making these kind of investments in depreciating assets for FUN.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    -Fran- said:
    Shouldn't this be up tomorrow?

    EDIT: Nevermind. Looks like it was today! YAY.

    Thanks for the review!

    Regards.
    Yeah, Nvidia almost always does major launches with Founders Edition reviews the day before launch, and partner card reviews the day of launch.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    brandonjclark said:
    I'm still on a 3090, but on my 165hz 1440p display, so it maxes most things just fine. I think I'm going to wait for the 5k series GPU's. I know this is a major bump, but dang it's expensive! I simply can't afford to be making these kind of investments in depreciating assets for FUN.
    You could still possibly get $800 for the 3090. Then it’s “only” $800 to upgrade! LOL. Of course if you sell on eBay it’s $800 - 15%.
    Reply
  • kiniku
    A review like this, comparing a 4090 to an expensive sports car we should be in awe and envy of, is a bit misleading. PC Gaming systems don't equate to racing on the track or even the freeway. But the way it's worded in this review if you don't buy this GPU, anything "less" is a compromise. That couldn't be further from the truth. People with "big pockets" aren't fools either, except for maybe the few readers here that have convinced themselves and posted they need one or spend everything they make on their gaming PC's. Most gamers don't want or need a 450 watt sucking, 3 slot, space heater to enjoy an immersive, solid 3D experience.
    Reply
  • y2kmady
    can this be used in aorus b550 pro ac ?
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    kiniku said:
    Most gamers don't want or need a 450 watt sucking, 3 slot, space heater to enjoy an immersive, solid 3D experience.
    Congrats on stating the obvious. Most gamers have no need for a halo GPU that can be CPU limited sometimes even at 4k. A 50% performance improvement while using the same power as a 3090Ti shows outstanding efficiency gains. Early reports are showing excellent undervolting results. 150W decrease with only a 5% loss to performance.

    Any chance we could get some 720P benchmarks?
    Reply
  • LastStanding
    the RTX 4090 still comes with three DisplayPort 1.4a outputs

    the PCIe x16 slot sticks with the PCIe 4.0 standard rather than upgrading to PCIe 5.0.

    These missing components are selling points now, especially knowing NVIDIA's rival(s?) supports the updated ports, so, IMO, this should have been included as a "con" too.

    Another thing, why would enthusiasts only value "average metrics" when "average" barely tells the complete results?! It doesn't show the programs stability, any frame-pacing/hitches issues, etc., so a VERY miss oversight here, IMO.

    I also find weird is, the DLSS benchmarks. Why champion the increase for extra fps buuuut... never, EVER, no mention of the awareness of DLSS included awful sharpening-pass?! 😏 What the sense of having faster fps but the results show the imagery smeared, ghosting, and/or artefacts to hades? 🤔
    Reply
  • chalabam
    This card is for AI. Where are the tensorflow and AI benchmarks
    Reply