Like many other gadgets, graphics cards live on an annual product-release cycle. Every year, there’s a new latest-and-greatest that promises gamers higher frame rates, better graphics, and bragging rights over all of your PC gamer friends who are still playing on last year’s offering. That constant churn can make it difficult to figure out when a new card is really a big jump over what came before it.
Last year, when Nvidia released the RTX 2080 Ti flagship graphics card, it was a big deal. The card brought with it ray tracing, an advanced graphic technology typically utilized by movie special effects houses to create realistic graphics. Expect to hear a lot more about ray tracing later this year, as both Sony and Microsoft have included it in their upcoming next-gen video game consoles. With its new RTX 30-series cards, however, Nvidia is already into its second generation with this latest 2020 release.
There are three models in the new RTX update, including the entry-level (relatively speaking) $499 RTX 3070, the $699 RTX 3080, and the beastly $1,499 RTX 3090. All three are built on Nvidia’s new Ampere architecture, which Nvidia says will improve power efficiency over the previous system by nearly double.
Some early benchmarks suggest that even the $499 RTX 3070 shows substantial performance improvements over last year’s RTX 2080 Ti, which checked in at $1,000. Moving up to the pricer units adds more computing firepower, including a jump to GDDR6X memory, which has essentially double the bandwidth of the standard version. In short, the new architecture should make Nvidia’s cards monsters when it comes to cranking out HD graphics at high-frame rates.
That also means that they will pump out absurd amounts of heat. In order to handle the high operating temperatures involved with all of those cores, Nvidia totally redesigned the cooling system built into the cards. The RTX 3080 is massive—it’s 11.2 inches long and 4.4 inches wide, which is an inch longer than the already-huge 2080 Ti.
The cooling system moves air through the entire setup to pull heat away. A heatsink sits above the memory and GPU cards and a fan blows the hot air out of the chassis. A vapor chamber—an enclosed cooling system that relies on liquid evaporating and condensing to cool the air around it—employs another fan to help vent hot air out through the top. According to Nvidia, this configuration runs three times quieter than previous configurations while venting considerably more heat.
The $1,499 RTX 3090 and the $699 RTSX 3080 are slated to hit the market later this month, while the cheaper $499 RTX 3070 is supposed to hit in October. With the next-generation gaming consoles dropping right around the same time, it will be a full-fledged battle for graphic dominance.