Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti review: the graphics card I want, but shouldn’t
Nvidia’s newest 4K GPU costs too much for its minor performance gains
You could fairly think of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti as a big, stump-necked brute of a graphics card. What better characterisation for the latest tippity-top-of-the-line GPU from Nvidia, who’ve already produced the best graphics card for 4K in the RTX 3080? But rather than be overwhelmed by its power, I personally feel more like the RTX 3090 Ti is trying to trick, tempt and seduce me, Old Testament-style. “Recommend meeeee” it whispers, coasting through another maximum settings benchmark. “Tell evvvvvvveryone these frame rates are totally worth £1879.”
But I can’t. Sorry. While I am a sucker for go-faster gear, the RTX 3090 Ti is just too far of a stretch, with its sometimes imperceptible performance differences to the £1399 RTX 3090 and a tendency towards impractically gigantic partner card models.
I’ll say this for the RTX 3090 Ti, though: it’s not hard to find in stock, even if you can probably guess why. That £1879 starting price gets you Nvidia’s own Founders Edition ($2000 in the States), and the customised Zotac GeForce RTX 3090 Ti AMP Extreme Holo that I’ve been testing is just a snip more at £1899 / $2084. This model overclocks the GPU’s already sky-high boost clock speed to 1890MHz, and because this uses a completely unrestrained version of Nvidia’s GA102 processor, it can take advantage of all 10,753 cores. That's 256 more than the RTX 3090, which also has a lower stock boost clock of 1695MHz. Both cards come with 24GB of GDDR6X memory, far too much for any PC game to need, but the RTX 3090 Ti claims a slightly faster memory clock of 21Gbps to its junior’s 20Gbps.
It’s fast, basically, and here Zotac have made sure all those bunched-up cores don’t get too toasty with a massive triple-fan cooler. After trying to find the money for it, this may prove to be your second problem with ever owning an RTX 3090 Ti: a lot of models are so long that they’ll struggle to fit inside a lot of conventional mid-tower cases. The Founders Edition isn’t too excessive – it apparently measures the same as the RTX 3090 Founders Edition, 313mm – but this Zotac card I’ve got is an immense 356mm long, enough that I had to detach my test rig’s CPU cooler radiator and fans before it would fit in the NZXT H510 case.
And it’s not just Zotac: Gigabyte, MSI, and Asus all make RTX 3090 Ti variants that exceed 320mm in length. Never has checking one’s GPU clearances been so important.
The RTX 3090 Ti’s power demands are steep, too. It even out-chugs the RTX 3090, for which Nvidia recommends a 750W PSU to fuel its 350W rated power usage: the RTX 3090 Ti instead wants an 850W PSU, and is rated at 450W. 450W for a single component! And it had better be a relatively high-end PSU with extra cables, as it needs three PCIe eight-pin connectors to slot into the included power adapter, not the usual one or two.
At least in the AMP Extreme Holo’s case, some excesses have been curbed. With the caveat that my PC case’s side panel was off, thanks to the displaced CPU cooler, core temperatures maxed out at 70°c, which is actually a very healthy level. And it runs quietly enough: after a spell of heavy load, I recorded the fans at 49dB from a 15cm distance, which won’t be loud enough to overpower your desktop speakers or any of the best gaming headsets. Again, that’s just with the side panel off, where it can’t block any of the whirring as it normally would.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti review: 4K benchmarks
I haven’t tested the just-announced AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT, so can’t say if this the RTX 3090 Ti is the quickest gaming graphics card on the market, but it’s surely in the top two. And 4K is its natural habitat – at this punishing resolution, it can still run just about anything at 60fps or higher, even on the highest possible graphics settings. Ray tracing can take its usual toll, but with some upscaling help from DLSS, the RTX 3090 Ti is never far from a slick frame rate.
Take Metro Exodus, one of the toughest games in our benchmark lineup. At 4K with the Ultra preset, it averaged a slick 83fps, and adding Ultra-quality ray tracing only dropped it to 53fps. DLSS then brought it back up to 75fps, ray tracing and all, with no noticeable loss to sharpness. Fine stuff.
Horizon Zero Dawn also got a juicy DLSS bonus, with a combination of the Ultimate preset and Ultra-quality upscaling averaging 124fps. Not that this was strictly necessary, though, as even without DLSS the RTX 3090 Ti got 98fps out of the Ultimate preset as-is. Those with 144Hz and 120Hz monitors may join me in temptation after seeing results like 135fps in Hitman 3’s Dubai benchmark, 159fps in Forza Horizon 4 and 75fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, all with their highest possible settings and without upscaling.
The RTX 3090 Ti also ploughed its way to 73fps in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and 75fps in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, both using their respective Ultra High presets, while Watch Dogs Legion got another 73fps with its own Ultra High setting. With the addition of Ultra-quality ray traced shadows this fell to 39fps, which isn’t ideal, but Quality DLSS bumped it up to the magic number that is 60fps. Back on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it’s possible keep a high FPS and use the best quality ray tracing by lowering the SMAA setting from x4 to x1 – this got me 72fps on average – but DLSS is superior, as it overrode the game’s own anti-aliasing to produce 103fps. To reiterate how strong the RTX 3090 Ti is: that’s with the Highest quality preset and Ultra-quality ray tracing.
Final Fantasy XV also had a top-notch showing, averaging 61fps with the Highest preset and all bonus effects (like Nvidia HairWorks) turned on. With DLSS, that crept up to an even smoother 75fps. Total War: Three Kingdoms doesn’t support upscaling, but the RTX 3090 Ti still became the first graphics card we’ve tested to reach a 60fps average in the Battle benchmark while using Ultra quality settings.
What takes the sheen of these results, however, is that most of them just aren’t that far ahead of what the RTX 3090 has been pumping out since 2020. 60fps for Three Kingdoms is indeed great – but the RTX 3090 got 55fps with the same CPU. Is it really worth paying 35% more for 10% better performance, especially at higher frame rates where it’s harder to tell the difference?
That’s not the only single-digit advantage, either. The RTX 3090 also averaged 62fps in Watch Dogs Legion, a mere 8fps less than the RTX 3090 Ti, and the former’s 35fps with ray tracing suggests the newer GPU isn’t meaningfully better at handling those premium effects. The RTX 3090 also produced 79fps in Metro Exodus, hard to tell apart from the RTX 3090 Ti’s 83fps.
Then there’s arguably the best-value 4K graphics card, the RTX 3080. With 57fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 68fps in Metro Exodus, 130fps in Forza Horizon 4, and 74fps in Horizon Zero Dawn – all on their respective maximum settings – it’s awfully close to the RTX 3090 Ti for a GPU that now costs less than half as much.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti review: 1440p benchmarks
On pure and simple FPS numbers, the RTX 3090 Ti does appear to gain a more substantial lead over its fellow RTX cards at 1440p. But it does so when all three are pushing high enough frame rates that the difference still won’t be all that noticeable.
Metro Exodus is again a prime example. On 1440p / Ultra, the RTX 3090 Ti averaged 116fps, which is 13fps more than the RTX 3090 and 23fps higher than the RTX 3080. A keen eye could discern the latter, but a 13fps difference above 100fps? That’s nowhere near as stark as it would be when comparing, say, 30fps and 43fps.
There’s no denying that, on the RTX 3090 Ti, Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks superb when running at 144fps with its Highest settings, Ultra-quality ray tracing and Quality DLSS all in play. The same goes for Watch Dogs Legion, which at 1440p got 93fps with the Ultra preset and 73fps with a combination of Ultra ray tracing and Quality DLSS. But diminishing returns are real, and the visual advantage over the cheaper cards just isn’t there, even if the figures suggest otherwise. And sometimes they just don’t: the RTX 3090’s equivalent Watch Dogs Legion results were 81fps and 65fps respectively, so the Ti version only secures you an extra 8fps with Quality DLSS.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is a little better, its 120fps average on Ultra quality besting the RTX 3090 by 15fps and the RTX 3080 by 28fps. But for games that are generally less demanding, the case for the RTX 3090 Ti gets even weaker: it scored 179fps in Forza Horizon 4 on Ultra, but then the RTX 3080 scored 150fps, and even on a 240Hz monitor the difference in experience is hardly proportional to the difference in price.
Partly why that’s such a shame is that it’d be nice to celebrate the RTX 3090 Ti’s record-setting results without such caveats. Results like 87fps in Final Fantasy with all the settings trimmings, or 142fps in Ultimate-quality Horizon Zero Dawn up to 149fps with DLSS), or 103fps in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on Ultra High, or 212fps in Hitman 3’s Dubai benchmark on Ultra. There’s just nothing that leaves the other GPUs completely in the dust.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti review: 1080p benchmarks
I’m gonna burn through these quickly, because spending two grand-ish on a graphics card only to play at 1080p is like hiring a personal teppanyaki chef to feed you turkey dinosaurs. Still, in the interests of completionism, at this res the RTX 3090 Ti breezed to 161fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 152fps in Total War: Three Kingdoms, 96fps in Final Fantasy XV, 180fps in Forza Horizon 4, 126fps in Metro Exodus, 153fps in Horizon Zero Dawn, 120fps in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, 98fps in Watch Dogs Legion, and 215fps in Hitman 3’s Dubai test. That’s all with their respective maximum settings (including HairWorks and TurfEffects for Final Fantasy XV), though without any ray tracing. Slapping this on, at the best quality setting possible but without DLSS (which doesn’t look so good at 1080p), got me 111fps in Metro Exodus and 73fps in Watch Dogs Legion.
Some of these, especially Hitman 3 and Watch Dogs Legion, are only a hair faster than at 1440p – a sign that it’s the test PC’s Intel Core i5-11600K starting to cap performance, not the GPU. In other words, don’t get this card for 1080p. Honestly.
Should you get it for any resolution, though? There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting the best, and for all my grumbling about value, I myself blew £1399 on an RTX 3090 early in 2021 (back, in my defence, when the RTX 3080 cost almost as much). So I get the appeal. If anything, part of me craves the RTX 3090 Ti well – a little bit of logic always goes out the window when dealing with something this extravagant.
Not all of it, mind, and deep down it’s clear that the RTX 3090 Ti is not a smart buy. It’s no longer necessary to pay cretinous resellers for the RTX 3080, which is only modestly slower, and the RTX 3090 is still available if you've got cash to burn and want to get over the 100fps mark more reliably.
The RTX 3090 Ti will deliver the fleeting pleasure of owning something that’s technically even better, assuming you can fit it in your chassis. But once the faux-prestige falls away all it can really offer are a small handful of barely-visible frames per second and a fatter dent into funds that could go towards other impactful PC upgrades, like a new SSD or one of the best gaming CPUs. To say nothing of the upcoming AMD Radeon RX 7000 series, Nvidia’s own next-gen GPUs, and the first Intel Arc graphics cards, all of which are set to launch this very year and could well offer even more alternatives for smooth high-res play. Temptation? Maybe. But resist it.