RTX 3080 review: It’s time to get into PC gaming
Now is the best time to get into PC gaming. The high-end graphics cards are cheaper than the last generation. The release of new consoles means AAA games will finally make use of all that graphical power. And most importantly, the PC ecosystem has never been so robust and consumer-friendly.
The question is, “How much should you spend?”
The RTX 3080 is the Goldilocks entry of Nvidia’s latest line of graphics cards. At $699, it’s more powerful and more expensive than the RTX 3070, but less powerful and a lot cheaper than the RTX 3090.
If all these letters and numbers read like alphabet soup, all you really need to know is this: The RTX 3080 is powerful enough to run effectively every modern video game with maximum visual settings at 4K with a 60 frames-per-second frame rate. This graphics card will make the most of any brand-new TV or monitor.
Yes, the latest Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will also technically play video games at 4K with high frame rates, but don’t expect the hardware to also be able to handle the more taxing graphical tricks available in the graphics options of PC games.
For example, I’ve used the extra power of the RTX 3080 to power a variety of novel features.
- I’ve toured the clouds of Microsoft Flight Simulator at maximum settings on my ultrawide monitor.
- I’ve turned the new Marvel’s Avengers into a destruction simulator, taking advantage of graphical options that fill the screen with collateral debris following every smash of the Hulk’s fists or punch from Ms. Marvel.
- I’ve revisited a few favorite old games like Red Faction: Guerrilla, boosting their frame rates to a preposterous 144 frames per second — the maximum speed of my monitor.
- Even newer games like Control have seen outright unnecessary increases in performance, running beyond 60 frames per second with all settings maxed out, including ray tracing, which creates the “oh wow, this is what the future of video game graphics looks like” reflections on every shimmery surface. Do I need to see my character’s reflection in every pane of glass? No. Do I like to? Yes!
Of course, all of the aforementioned games are playable without these features and on far less powerful and more affordable hardware. In fact, they’re appealing without these features, running on a gaming PC from four years ago. The RTX 3080 is unquestionably a “want” graphics card, not a “need” graphics card. If you want an expensive piece of hardware that should play AAA games at high settings for many years, I can’t recommend it enough.
As a fan of raw spectacle, I love obsessing over the little details that a big graphics card like the 3080 can muster. It feeds my habit of freezing the latest games, floating through virtual worlds on impromptu video game photography adventures.
But if you only need a means of getting into video games, what then?
Whatever amount of power you can afford, my key point holds true. PC gaming has never been better, and it would be a shame for anybody who loves this hobby to miss out. At No Escape, Adam Clark recently wrote a helpful guide on medium- and low-budget PC gaming. Clark walks through the questions to answer before investing in PC parts, then shares communities that will help you make the most of your money.
If you’re on a tight budget, I personally recommend older generations of hardware from the past few years, which should play modern games at serviceable settings, sometimes approaching what we’ll see from the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles. But more importantly, they will get you into the PC ecosystem.
That’s the real reason why now is the perfect time to get into PC games. The latest hardware is gravy, making an already fantastic method for playing video games even better. PC gaming provides access and choice. You can buy games on Steam or GOG or the Epic Games Store. You can try small indie games on itch.io or support indie PC creators on Patreon. You can get tons of games for cheap (often in support of a good cause) through Humble Bundle. You can subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and try over 100 PC games and stream many on Android devices via xCloud. I expect every Xbox exclusive to appear on PC. And I won’t be surprised if PlayStation exclusives appear on PC eventually too, as we’ve already seen with Death Stranding and Horizon Zero Dawn.
For many folks, splitting the difference may be a preferred option. In October, Nvidia will also offer the aforementioned RTX 3070, which the company claims will be more powerful than its previous top-end graphics card, the RTX 2080 Ti, and at a fraction of the cost. I used an RTX 2080 Ti for the past year. It was wonderfully powerful, performing whatever task I threw its way. However, it cost a disgusting $1,200. The 3070 is priced at $499.
Both the RTX 3080 and 3070 feature Nvidia’s fancy new features, like the aforementioned ray tracing along with DLSS. Here’s how my pal Tom Warren describes DLSS in his more technical review of the RTX 3080 at The Verge:
Nvidia’s DLSS technology uses neural networks and AI supercomputers to analyze games and sharpen or clean up images at lower resolutions. In simple terms, DLSS allows a game to render at a lower resolution and use Nvidia’s image reconstruction technique to upscale the image and make it look as good as native 4K or better.
Basically, DLSS lets you “fake” high resolutions without requiring the necessary power from your graphics card. So not only are the new RTX cards more powerful, but they also have a method for creating beautiful images while using less power. These features don’t just add a few extra frames per second. In Metro Exodus, using the RTX 3080, I saw my frame rate nearly double with DLSS turned on. Not every game has that dramatic of a boost, but the difference was consistently noticeable and favorable in games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Control. We’ll have to wait and see if the 3070 has similar improvements, but going off its sibling hardware, the early signs are promising.
To be clear, not every game includes the option to use these features, but they will become increasingly common with the next generation of titles. This fall, Cyberpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and other games will take advantage of the features.
The RTX 3080 (and the cheaper RTX 3070) accomplish something I used to love about new video game console launches: big, generational visual improvements. Seemingly overnight, my games looked better, like they’d been delivered to me from the future.
That’s why if you want something cheaper than the RTX 3080, but want to make the most of new games for the next couple of years, I still recommend the RTX 30-series cards — even if that means waiting for the RTX 3070 next month. For newcomers (and even most current PC gamers), the graphics card will feel like a generational leap.
Until now, that sort of improvement was cost-prohibitive, requiring consumers to sink over $1,000 into the highest-end graphics cards. The new Nvidia cards are different. They make the future available in the present.
Over the past decade, PC gaming has become the “one-stop shop” for the medium, giving players freedom with how they buy and play games. Like I said up top, now’s the right time for everybody to get into PC gaming. If you have the means, the RTX 3080 is an ideal entry point.
The RTX 3080 is now available. The GPU was tested on the reviewer’s personal PC with an Intel i9-9900K CPU, 24 GB RAM, and a variety of storage options, including SATA and NVMe SSDs. The reviewer used a retail RTX 3080 provided by Nvidia. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.