First, a quick refresher on where we’re at in this alt. reality: For desktop PCs, NVIDIA sells the RTX 3060 for $329, the 3060 Ti for $399, the RTX 3070 for $499, the RTX 3080 for $699 and the RTX 3090 for $1,499. Given, historically, the best selling cards are the ones that go for around $250, the most glaring hole remains gaping, but there are other important price points unfilled: The $500-$698 range and every price point between $699 and $1,499.
The new RTX 3070 Ti will cost $599, and fills the first hole as a fairly mild upgrade over the RTX 3070, while the RTX 3080 Ti sits neatly between the 3080 and the super-pricey 3090 at $1,199. Problems solved!
RTX 3080 Ti
In gaming terms, the RTX 3080 Ti is a lot closer in spec to the 3090 than the 3080. All three cards are based on the same GPU — the GA102 — just with different numbers of active cores, divergent clock speeds and wildly disparate memory configurations:
|Card||RTX 3080||RTX 3080 Ti||RTX 3090|
|Memory||10GB GDDR6X||12GB GDDR6X||24GB GDDR6X|
|Memory bandwidth||760 GB/s||912 GB/s||936 GB/s|
We’ll have to review the 3080 Ti to discern its real-world performance, but we can do some basic math to get an idea of where the Ti sits. For rasterization — putting pixels on a screen — the RTX 3080 has 29.8 teraflops of power, the RTX 3080 Ti has 34.1 and the RTX 3090 has 35.6. (You derive these numbers, which aren’t really comparable to anything but RTX 30-series GPUs, by multiplying the number of cores by their max clock speed, and then multiplying that by the number of operations each core can handle per clock.) So, the 3080 Ti has about 96 percent of the power of the 3090, while the 3080 has about 84 percent.
As hinted at, memory is where the cards really differ: The 3090 has 24GB of 9,750MHz* GDDR6X on a 384-bit bus, while the 3080 has 10GB of 9,500MHz GDDR6X on a narrower 320-bit bus. The 3080 Ti, as you’d expect, sits somewhere between, pairing 12GB of 3080-like 9,500MHz memory with a 3090-like 384-bit bus. This puts it very close to the 3090 in terms of memory bandwidth, although obviously it has only half of the actual memory capacity, which could rule it out for professionals like 3D animators and those who work with complex video projects.
*This figure isn’t actually the memory clock, it’s the effective memory speed, but who are we to argue with NVIDIA?
What does this all mean, then? NVIDIA has made clear that the target audience for the 3080 Ti is gamers. (Specifically, the press materials have lots of comparisons to the 2080 Ti.) That makes a lot of sense: you’re likely, in games, to get extremely close to the 3090’s performance, which, given the price differential, means the 3090 only really makes sense to professionals. That was already the case due to how well the 3080 performs, but there’s a certain type of gamer who can’t help but buy the best — the 3080 Ti gets so close that even they might be swayed.
The value decisions facing gamers now are pretty similar to when I was deciding to become a 2080 Ti owner last generation. Those looking for high-end performance at a somewhat reasonable price can pick up a 3080 at $699, the same price as last generation’s 2080, while idiots like me who are willing to pay 40% more for a tiny uptick in performance can grab the 3080 Ti in the same price range that the 2080 Ti launched in. Things differ at the rainbow-wrapped Aventador end of the equation, as the 3090 at $1,499 has the same use-case as the 20-series RTX Titan, which for some reason launched at $2,499. The 3090 is definitely a more viable “halo” card for flush gamers than that ever was.
For those who do own a 2080 Ti and want “the best” — so long as the best doesn’t cost $1,500 — the 3080 Ti will be a meaningful upgrade across the board. We don’t have real-world figures yet, but the 3080 already outperforms the 2080 Ti in almost every situation. Given the 3080 Ti has more memory than the 2080 Ti, those extremely fringe cases are over, and with the increased cores we should be looking at a large gap in performance generationally. For those with older flagship cards like the 1080 Ti or Titan Xp, the difference will be even more pronounced, although the 3080 still makes a lot of sense as a cheaper upgrade there if you can find one.
Let’s step out of our “mining isn’t a thing” bubble real quick to address hash rates: All NVIDIA gaming cards produced now, save the 3090, are “hash limited,” meaning they have their mining potential impeded as a way to dissuade folks from taking away GPUs from gamers. (Or, if we’re being cynical, as a way to sell mining-specific cards at a markup and prevent thousands of second-hand gaming GPUs flooding the market when they’re no longer viable for mining.) This doesn’t apply to older cards, as NVIDIA has promised it won’t retroactively nerf mining, but if you buy any RTX card that shipped from the factory after May— or either of the new Ti cards — it’ll have that limit applied, along with an “LHR” or “Lite Hash Rate” badge on the box.
NVIDIA had a torrid time with its first attempt to prevent mining on the RTX 3060, and nothing is unhackable, but if it sticks this time, the hash limiting should go a way to improving the current supply situation. Things aren’t going to get fixed overnight: The shortage has lasted so long, there’s pent-up demand that is going to outstrip supply for the foreseeable future, and scalpers are still gonna scalp. There’s at least a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the “a 2080 Ti just went for $2,500 on eBay” tunnel, though.