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This fall has been big for graphics cards. Namely, we saw the huge launch of NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs in late September. Despite the colossal failings of the company to stock enough cards and bat away scalpers at each launch, the RTX 30-series graphics cards are still hugely sought after.
Now, with stock not expected to be refilled until 2021, patiently waiting NVIDIA enthusiasts have time to consider which model is best for them. Particularly, they are probably trying to decide between the two biggest, most powerful (and most expensive) of the collection: the RTX 3080 or the RTX 3090?
Which should you buy, then? Well, the short answer is it depends. Both cards are a serious improvement on their 20-Series counterparts, both have been deemed successful by the masses and both serve relatively different purposes. For the longer answer, we’ll get into the specifics below.
All of the 30-Series graphics cards are based on NVIDIA’s latest Ampere architecture making them more efficient, powerful, and high-performance than ever. When Huang said these cards would spell a huge generational leap for the company, he wasn’t exaggerating.
Both are replacements – or upgrades – for two of the previous 20-Series cards, with the 3080 a direct upgrade of the RTX 2080 and the 3090 a replacement for the ridiculously expensive RTX Titan which retailed at around $2500. And it goes without saying both are major improvements.
While the 3080 was proclaimed the flagship gaming GPU of this launch, the 3090 was named, by Huang, the BFGPU (Big Friendly GPU). That’s because it is huge. As a replacement for the RTX 2080 Titan graphics card, the 3090 had to deliver on all counts (speed, performance, and power) if it could chalk up to its predecessor. So it makes sense that, on paper, the 3090 has higher stats than the 3080 in key areas like storage and Tensor core count.
With a 24GB memory and 328 Tensor cores (compared with the 3080’s 10GB memory and 272 Tensor cores), the 3090 is an 8K-ready graphics card, with extremely high performance and extraordinary capabilities. This brings us back to “it depends” – this is obviously, objectively good. But, depending on your set up and the purpose you want your GPU to serve, such capabilities might be wasted.
The thing is, 8K gaming is still in its infancy and 4K monitors are still a rarity, much less 8K monitors. Not to mention, most games haven’t been designed with 8K texture packs, and the equipment you need for 8K gaming is very expensive. Obviously, if you’re an enthusiast and you can afford this godly setup, the 3090 looks great. But for others, the 3080 might actually fare better. Although it’s undeniably geared towards 4K gaming, it does feature an 8K ready HDMI 2.1 connection on its back, so the capabilities are still there.
One shortcoming of the 3090 in comparison to the 3080 is its power consumption. With a TDP of 350 (while the 3080 has a TDP of 320), the RTX 3090’s power consumption is almost 35% higher than the TDP of the RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you’ll need a fairly powerful power supply unit of at least 750W to take full advantage of the card.
When looking at the 3090 vs the 3080, one of the biggest questions we’ve seen asked is which is the best value? The two models have fairly different price ranges and, despite being the flagship GPU of the 30-series, the 3080 is much more midrange than the 3090.
Compared to its predecessor, the 3090 – which comes in at around $1499 – is a steal at $1000 less. But, the 3080 is obviously considerably cheaper than that at $699. So it really depends on both your budget and the purpose of your RTX GPU. If you’re a gamer, the 3090 might be a little bit of a rip-off, but for a creator, it’s an investment.
This is where the “it depends” answer is really expanded on. The 3090 and 3080, despite both being stellar graphics cards, serve fairly different purposes. They can serve the same purpose – gamers can use the 3090 if they have an 8K setup, for example – but when it comes to value for money, what you do with your GPU should be the deciding factor.
Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re a gamer, the 3090 might feel like a bit of a rip-off. When we looked at the RTX 3090 reviews on launch day, the general consensus was that if you’re not a professional creator, or someone with the means to access an 8K gaming experience, you might be better off saving your money.
The difference in specs between the 3080 and 3090 don’t facilitate such a huge jump in price, especially for casual gamers. PC Gamer drew the same conclusion, stating, “there are very few people who I would recommend the $1,500 RTX 3090 to. And none of them are gamers.”
For content creators though, the 3090 is, like we said, an investment. Almost everyone agrees that it’s one of the best graphics cards in the world right now, so it’s all about your use cases and the amount of money you’re willing to part with.
Okay, if we’re being completely honest, we think the RTX 3080 is better value for money, for most people. That’s not to say we don’t absolutely love the RTX 3090, which is a genuinely incredible piece of hardware, we just think that $1499 is only worth it for the very niche customers this card is geared towards.
Both have been major successes this fall, despite limited stock, and the reviews speak for themselves. But, if the question is value, the 3080 trumps the 3090 by a mile.