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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 review: 4K gaming is here, at a price

Next-generation GPUs for next-generation PC gaming

Nvidia’s next generation of graphics cards is finally here, and it comes with big promises. The RTX 2080 is supposed to be up to 75 percent faster than the GTX 1080 in certain games, and it’s designed to finally deliver the ultimate goal of 4K gaming at 60 fps. Aside from the usual architectural improvements, this time around Nvidia is also using some new tricks to make its bold claims a reality.

The new RTX 2070 (starting at $499), RTX 2080 (starting at $699), and RTX 2080 Ti (starting at $999) are all powered by the company’s Turing architecture, and designed to offer more power and prettier cinematic effects in games. That extra power comes at a cost. Nvidia’s price premium for its Founders Edition cards, which have a three-year warranty and are overclocked by default, pushes the RTX 2080 Ti up to an eye-watering $1,199. Smartphones made the $1,000 jump last year thanks to new tech, and it’s now your graphics card’s turn to hit your wallet.

So what do you get for your money? Nvidia’s new cards include support for both real-time ray tracing and AI-powered anti-aliasing. Ray tracing is the big new capability with this generation, and it’s used to generate real-time light reflections and cinematic effects in games. But before you even get a game installed on your PC, Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super-Sampling (DLSS) leverages the company’s supercomputer farms to scan games before they are released and work out the most efficient way to render graphics. That’s all according to Nvidia, at least, because we haven’t been able to fully test ray tracing or DLSS with the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti units we’ve been reviewing over the past week. Until Microsoft delivers its Windows 10 October 2018 Update, none of Nvidia’s fancy new tech will be available for regular games.

Nvidia assures us it won’t be long before 25 games will support DLSS, and at least 11 will have ray tracing in the coming months. But along with discrete new features, these new graphics cards come with a lot of added horsepower, so we’ve been testing the RTX 2080 with 1440p and 4K G-Sync monitors to see if these new cards can deliver on Nvidia’s performance promises.

8 Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Quiet and cool
  • Great for 1440P / 1080P gaming
  • A step up in power from the GTX 1080

Bad Stuff

  • Can’t handle 4K at 60 fps in demanding games
  • Ray tracing / DLSS improvements are still unknowns
  • 650W power supply requirement, and extra power draw
7.5 Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Capable of 4K gaming at 60 fps
  • Impressive power jump over the GTX 1080 and RTX 2080
  • Quiet and cool

Bad Stuff

  • Only real option for 4K PC gaming, and high price reflects that
  • Ray tracing / DLSS improvements are still unknowns
  • 650W power supply requirement, and extra power draw

Hardware

Before we look at performance, there are a few things about the actual hardware you need to know. Nvidia has redesigned these RTX cards in many ways, but perhaps the biggest is how they’re cooled. Nvidia has ditched the metal shield and blower combination that has served it well in the past in favor of a new dual-fan setup for its Founders Edition cards that’s closer to what most third-party card makers already utilize. There’s also now a full-length vapor chamber that helps make the cards run quieter and cooler.

I’m obsessed with having as quiet a PC as I can possibly get, and I use a case that has sound-damping panels so I don’t hear any fans whirring away. For the past year, I’ve been using an EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 with dual fans, so I wasn’t expecting a massive difference with Nvidia’s new design. But I’ve been genuinely impressed: the gentle hum of the RTX 2080 is so subtle that when I eventually switched back to my regular GTX 1080, I thought someone had hidden a hair dryer in the case.

All of this new power and more efficient cooling isn’t free. Nvidia is recommending that your system has at least a 650W power supply if you want to run either the RTX 2080 or RTX 2080 Ti properly. If you’re purchasing the Founders Edition cards, they’ll draw up to 225 watts and 260 watts, respectively. That’s a significant step up from the recommended 500W power supply (and 180W draw) of the GTX 1080, and it means you’ll need a 6-pin and 8-pin connector for the RTX 2080 or two 8-pins for the RTX 2080 Ti. I was also alarmed to see the RTX 2080 Ti drawing 45 watts of power when idle during my testing, but Nvidia tells me a driver update will address this issue shortly and bring idle consumption down to between 10 watts and 15 watts.

Other than the fan design, Nvidia has also included three DisplayPort 1.4a outputs that can handle up to 8K resolution on a single cable with DSC 1.2. There’s also an HDMI 2.0b connector and a VirtualLink USB-C connector for the next generation of VR headsets.

1440p testing

To see how these new cards perform with a typical 2018 gaming setup, we’ve been testing both the Nvidia RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti with a 27-inch Asus ROG Swift PG279Q monitor and a slew of demanding AAA titles. This monitor has 1440p resolution and up to 165Hz refresh rates with G-Sync, so it’s a great match for these new cards.

Our performance testing was done with PUBG, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Far Cry 5, Nvidia’s Star Wars DLSS demo, and Epic Games’ Infiltrator DLSS demo. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the latest DirectX 12 games, and it showed the biggest performance gains during our tests. While Tomb Raider was only able to average around 39 fps with all the settings maxed out on my GTX 1080, the RTX 2080 was able to hit an average of 54 fps (an increase of 38 percent). That’s still not quite good enough for perfect 1440p gaming at max settings, but the beefier RTX 2080 Ti was able to push an average of 71 fps on the same settings.

Far Cry 5 is less demanding than Tomb Raider, and it runs a lot better at max settings, averaging around 81 fps on my GTX 1080 and 96 fps on the RTX 2080. The RTX 2080 Ti pushes this to 113 fps, which is a nice sweet spot for the high-refresh capabilities of this monitor. PUBG also performs far better on the RTX 2080 Ti, averaging around 125 fps compared to the 80 fps I’m used to from the GTX 1080.

Nvidia RTX 2080 benchmarks (1440p)

Benchmark EVGA GTX 1080 RTX 2080 Founders Edition RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
Benchmark EVGA GTX 1080 RTX 2080 Founders Edition RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
3DMark Time Spy 6,933 9,363 11,384
3DMark Fire Strike 9,381 11,652 14,347
Destiny 2 95fps average 120fps average 140fps average
PUBG 80fps average 95fps average 125fps average
Shadow of the Tomb Raider 39fps average 54fps average 71fps average
Far Cry 5 81fps average 96fps average 113fps average
Infiltrator DLSS demo 65fps without DLSS 103fps with DLSS / 91fps without DLSS 108fps with DLSS / 101fps without DLSS

If you’re planning to game at 1440p and don’t intend to upgrade to 4K anytime soon, the RTX 2080 hits the right balance of price and performance. While the 2080 Ti certainly offers a lot more headroom for upcoming games like Battlefield V, the RTX 2080 is more than capable of running modern titles at this resolution.

While we aren’t yet able to test ray tracing (Shadow of the Tomb Raider is expected to be one of the first games updated with it), Epic Games has created an Infiltrator demo that tests the Unreal Engine 4’s rendering engine with Nvidia’s new DLSS capabilities. Although it’s just a demo, the results looked promising. The RTX 2080 averaged 103 fps with DLSS enabled versus non-DLSS rendering at 65 fps average on the GTX 1080. That’s more than a 50 percent performance improvement, and close to Nvidia’s performance claims for the RTX 2080. If similar improvements can be applied to existing and upcoming games, then the RTX 2080 will be an even more comfortable option for 1440p.

4K, the future

Gaming at 1440p may be the standard for today, but it won’t be long before everyone will be looking to game at 4K resolutions. So to see what these new cards are capable of with the next generation of gaming, we also tested these same games using the Acer Predator X27 monitor, a $2,000 display that has 4K, HDR, G-Sync, and a 144Hz refresh rate. Your eyes aren’t fooling you; the monitor does, in fact, cost more than the GPU and as much as a complete PC gaming rig.

To answer the obvious question right away, neither RTX graphics card can play graphically intensive 4K games at a full 144 frames per second. None of the games we tested were able to hit an average or peak fps value near the native refresh rate of the Acer X27 monitor; the technology just isn’t there yet.

The RTX 2080 had a difficult time reaching 60 fps at 4K resolution while playing Destiny 2 (avg. 50 fps), Far Cry 5 (avg. 56 fps), Shadow of the Tomb Raider (avg. 28 fps), and even good old PUBG (avg. 54 fps). If you’re looking to play games in 4K — which also requires investing heavily into a capable monitor like this one — then you’ll also have to account for buying the RTX 2080 Ti, not the RTX 2080 because it just won’t cut it.

Nvidia RTX 2080 benchmarks (4K)

Benchmark RTX 2080 Founders Edition RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
Benchmark RTX 2080 Founders Edition RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
3DMark Time Spy 4,687 5,536
3DMark Fire Strike 6,365 8,009
Destiny 2 50fps average 84fps average
PUBG 55fps average 90fps average
Shadow of the Tomb Raider 28fps average 36fps average
Far Cry 5 56fps average 71fps average
Infiltrator DLSS demo 55fps with DLSS / 47fps without DLSS 81fps with DLSS / 56fps without DLSS

The RTX 2080 Ti is much better suited for 4K PC gaming. Playing the same titles, the 2080 Ti reached an average of 84 fps in Destiny 2’s crucible mode, 71 fps in Far Cry 5, and 90 fps playing PUBG (or a stable 60 fps if locked). Meanwhile, Shadow of the Tomb Raider still proved to be a challenge, and the 2080 Ti didn’t fare much better than the 2080, averaging only 35 fps at maxed settings. The forthcoming ray-tracing update for Tomb Raider could make a difference here, but until it’s out, we can’t say for sure.

In the Infiltrator demo, which has DLSS turned on, the 2080 Ti peaked at 81 fps before hovering around 75 for most of the demo, whereas the 2080 peaked at 55 fps, dropping to 43 fps during busy scenes.

Big promises, but we’ll have to wait and see

Based on our testing, Nvidia’s big promise of 4K gaming at 60 fps with the RTX 2080 is one that simply doesn’t hold up right now. If you’re willing to compromise on detail settings, then it can work, and some older titles will be able to manage to hit this milestone. But if you’re buying the 2080, you should plan to stick to 1440p or lower resolutions. That’s something you can already do with existing cards, but the 2080 gives you a lot more headroom for better settings today and more challenging games in the future. Our brief tests of the DLSS demo showed potential for some of the performance gains it could bring, but you shouldn’t spend cash on a card and hope it will get better in time.

Ray tracing is the headline-grabbing feature, and it sounds great, but the practical benefits remain unknown outside of snazzy demos. Plenty of games will likely support it in the future, but the real test will be whether the next generation of consoles will offer support. Game developers are increasingly creating titles that are designed to scale across a variety of hardware. Console adoption would certainly spur PC adoption too. If there is any company that can push ray tracing, it’s Nvidia, but it will still be a challenge. The Turing architecture has some genuinely impressive changes, and Nvidia still has very little competition from AMD in this range of high-end graphics cards. If you’re considering a high-end graphics card right now, you’ll probably be looking exclusively at something from Nvidia, so the company is just competing with itself until AMD catches up.

The RTX 2080 general performance is impressive, and the jump from the GTX 1080 is noticeable and worth the investment, especially for demanding games. But the only viable option for 4K gaming is the RTX 2080 Ti, and Nvidia’s Founders Edition will run you $1,199. That’s a serious investment for 4K gaming, and that’s before you even get to the $2,000 you currently need to spend to get a 4K monitor with 144Hz refresh rates.

So yes, 4K / 60 fps gaming is here with the RTX line of graphics cards, but you’re going to have to pay a high premium to obtain it.

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