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Nvidia RTX 4090 review: a 4K beast

The RTX 40 series starts with a big performance leap

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The huge RTX 4090 GPU sits on a wooden bench with its new fan design
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

I had to triple-check my benchmarks over and over during this review because I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. The RTX 4090 is a beast of a graphics card that marks a new era for PC gaming, where the high frames I’ve been getting used to at 1440p are now available in 4K.

Coupled with Nvidia’s latest update to its Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), the RTX 4090 can deliver the type of smooth 4K performance in Cyberpunk 2077 that’s never been possible before. I’m talking nearly 140fps at 4K with all settings maxed out and psycho ray tracing enabled. And at 1440p, it’s nearly hitting the limit of my 240Hz monitor.

DLSS 3 provides an incredibly impressive performance bump, but in games where it’s not yet supported, you’re still getting around 70 percent better frame rates on average.

All of this comes at a cost, though. At $1,599, the RTX 4090 is at the very top end of the GPU market, and its huge footprint could make it difficult to slot into some PC cases. The RTX 4090 also uses 450 watts of power, and you’ll need plenty of spare PCIe power connectors to get this card powered up. But if you can deal with the price, size, and power requirements, this is a card capable of delivering a 4K experience like no other.

HOW WE RATE AND REVIEW PRODUCTS

The RTX 4090 Founders Edition ships in a box that’s comically huge. It’s how I imagine you’d be sent a winning check from the lottery because the oversize box really prepares you for the surreal size of the RTX 4090.

Although it’s nearly 10mm shorter than the RTX 3090, the extra inch in height makes it look a lot chunkier. I didn’t have any problems fitting it into my case, but I can imagine the sheer size will be problematic in some cases, particularly if you pick a third-party RTX 4090 where the sizes go way beyond the Founders Edition models.

While the overall aesthetics of the RTX 4090 are very similar to an RTX 3090, the RTX 4090 has a redesigned fan that includes seven blades instead of nine. That fan dominates more of the rear of the card now.

RTX 3090 versus RTX 4090 (bottom).
RTX 3090 versus RTX 4090 (bottom).

Nvidia has also switched up its power connector with the RTX 4090, and it’s using the single 12-pin PCIe 5 standard that can deliver up to 600 watts in total. It’s the same connector found on the RTX 3090 Ti, and Nvidia ships a 12VHPWR adapter cable in the box so you can connect four eight-pin PCIe power cables. That’s double the amount of eight-pin cables needed over the RTX 3090, but you technically only need to connect three eight-pin cables that can deliver 150 watts each. That covers 450 watts in total, and Nvidia recommends connecting the fourth eight-pin if you’re planning to overclock the card.

You’ll probably want to have a 1,000-watt power supply on hand for the RTX 4090, particularly because you’ll need to pair this with the latest generation CPUs to really take advantage of the power on offer here. Nvidia recommends 850 watts in total, but having that extra headroom for overclocking could be useful.

I’m still a big fan of the Founders Edition design for Nvidia’s RTX cards, even if very little has changed on the outside for this Ada Lovelace generation.

1440p benchmarks

Test machine:

  • CPU: Intel Core i9-12900K
  • CPU cooler: Corsair H150 Elite LCD
  • Motherboard: MSI MAG Z690 Carbon Wi-Fi
  • RAM: 32GB Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR5 5600
  • Storage: Western Digital SN850 1TB
  • Case: Corsair Crystal 570X
  • PSU: Corsair HX1000W

I’ve been testing the RTX 4090 with Intel’s Core i9-12900K processor. For 1440p tests, I’ve paired this GPU with a 32-inch Samsung Odyssey G7 monitor. This monitor supports refresh rates up to 240Hz as well as Nvidia’s G-Sync technology.

I’ve put the RTX 4090 head-to-head with the RTX 3090 to see exactly what this new Ada Lovelace generation of GPUs offers over Ampere. I’ve been testing a variety of AAA games, including Forza Horizon 5, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Cyberpunk 2077. I’ve also been testing DLSS 3 on Cyberpunk 2077 and Microsoft Flight Simulator, both notoriously demanding games.

All games were tested at max or ultra settings on the RTX 4090, and most games deliver frame rates well beyond 100fps, even with ray-tracing options enabled. Control manages to hit a massive 223fps at 1440p, and even with ray tracing enabled, the RTX 4090 still manages to deliver an impressive 167fps frame rate.

RTX 4090 (1440p)

BenchmarkRTX 3090RTX 4090
Microsoft Flight Simulator52fps52fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 250fps50fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider170fps247fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider + DLSS 2200fps249fps
Forza Horizon 5111fps175fps
CS:GO592fps652fps
Gears 5140fps190fps
Control145fps223fps
Control + DLSS 2 + RT151fps185fps
Control + RT94fps167fps
Metro Exodus Enhanced80fps121fps
Metro Exodus Enhanced + DLSS 2 + RT84fps128fps
Assassin's Creed Valhalla98fps171fps
Watch Dogs: Legion97fps132fps
Watch Dogs: Legion + DLSS 2 + RT81fps94fps
Cyberpunk 207797fps142fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + RT75fps119fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + Psycho RT70fps114fps

Watch Dogs: Legion has always been particularly demanding, even on the RTX 3090, and the RTX 4090 manages to deliver 132fps without ray tracing enabled, a 36 percent jump in performance. Out of all the games I’ve tested, I saw an average of a nearly 50 percent jump in performance from the RTX 3090 to the RTX 4090 at 1440p. That alone is an impressive leap, but things get even more interesting with DLSS 3 enabled.

I’ve been testing new versions of Cyberpunk 2077 and Microsoft Flight Simulator, which both include DLSS 3. This latest version uses the same AI upscaling techniques from DLSS 2 alongside a new AI frame generation technology using the new Ada Lovelace architecture. The frame generation feature essentially generates two frames using existing rendering techniques, then a third frame is inserted between them using the new frame generation tech. The result is a giant leap in performance that’s exclusive to DLSS 3 on the RTX 40 series right now.

RTX 4090 DLSS 3 (1440p)

BenchmarkRTX 4090
Microsoft Flight Simulator62fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 264fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 3133fps
Cyberpunk 2077142fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + RT119fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + Psycho RT114fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 + RT190fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 + Psycho RT181fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 Perf + Psycho RT217fps

Playing Cyberpunk 2077 with maxed settings and psycho ray tracing and DLSS 2 quality enabled on the RTX 4090 runs at around 114fps on average. If you simply enable frame generation, that jumps nearly 60 percent alone to 181fps. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little image quality, then the performance DLSS 3 mode will bump this all the way up to 217fps. That’s an incredible jump at 1440p for a game that runs at 70fps on an RTX 3090.

The same can be found on Microsoft Flight Simulator, too. I used the special test build of Flight Simulator and found it could manage around 64fps with settings at ultra, DLSS 2 quality, and online mode disabled. Simply flicking a switch to DLSS 3 frame generation bumped this by more than 100 percent to 133fps. I couldn’t believe the performance I was seeing in Microsoft Flight Simulator, an incredibly demanding game.

4K benchmarks

If the 1440p benchmarks sound impressive, wait until you see what the RTX 4090 can do at 4K. For 4K testing, I’ve paired this GPU with a 31.5-inch Acer Nitro XV2 monitor. This monitor supports refresh rates up to 144Hz, and you’ll see from the benchmarks that the RTX 4090 was able to deliver the types of frame rates to really take advantage of this 4K monitor.

If the performance gains at 1440P with the RTX 4090 are getting close to 50 percent at times, they’ve even bigger at 4K. Out of the games I’ve been testing, the RTX 4090 delivers around a 70 percent jump in performance at 4K over the RTX 3090. It’s truly a beast of a card for 4K gaming.

I’ve not really been interested in 4K gaming simply because GPUs haven’t been able to deliver the types of high frame rates I’m used to at 1440P. I’m the type of person who can immediately tell when I’m playing at 120fps instead of close to 200fps, but the RTX 4090 coupled with DLSS 3 is really tempting me over to 4K.

RTX 4090 (4K)

BenchmarkRTX 3090RTX 4090
Microsoft Flight Simulator47fps51fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 249fps49fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider98fps195fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider + DLSS 2132fps227fps
Forza Horizon 585fps151fps
CS:GO421fps426fps
Gears 580fps138fps
Control76fps134fps
Control + DLSS 2 + RT88fps158fps
Control + RT74fps86fps
Metro Exodus Enhanced53fps96fps
Metro Exodus Enhanced + DLSS 2 + RT58fps106fps
Assassin's Creed Valhalla68fps119fps
Watch Dogs: Legion62fps109fps
Watch Dogs: Legion + DLSS 2 + RT55fps89fps
Cyberpunk 207748fps74fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + RT41fps72fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + Psycho RT37fps66fps

I spent most of my time playing Cyberpunk 2077 at 4K with the RTX 4090, simply because I’ve always wanted to play this game maxed out with all the settings and ray tracing at 4K. The RTX 3090 couldn’t really cut it at everything maxed out at 4K, dropping below 30fps frequently in an experience that felt like sludge.

With DLSS 3, I managed to hit nearly 140fps at 4K on average with everything maxed out, psycho ray tracing, and DLSS 3 performance mode enabled. Even without DLSS 3, Night City looked and felt a lot smoother with regular DLSS 2 quality delivering 66fps on average, but playing Cyberpunk 2077 at way beyond 100fps at 4K is a true delight.

RTX 4090 DLSS 3 (4K)

BenchmarkRTX 4090
Microsoft Flight Simulator64fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 261fps
Microsoft Flight Simulator + DLSS 3125fps
Cyberpunk 207774fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + RT72fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 2 + Psycho RT66fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 + RT109fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 + Psycho RT103fps
Cyberpunk 2077 + DLSS 3 Perf + Psycho RT138fps

And it’s not just Cyberpunk 2077 that plays well at 4K on the RTX 4090. Across the board, most games managed to deliver more than 100fps at 4K. Control felt super smooth maxed out with ray tracing enabled and DLSS, with a 158fps frame rate I’ve only ever been used to playing at 1440p. I truly hope DLSS 3 comes to Control because the stunning improvements found in Cyberpunk 2077 would be great to see in more games that support DLSS.

Microsoft Flight Simulator also runs really well on the RTX 4090 with DLSS 3 enabled. The special test build of Flight Simulator manages 61fps with settings at ultra, DLSS 2 quality, and online mode disabled. Moving to DLSS 3 frame generation bumps this by more than 100 percent to 125fps and makes the game far more playable at ultra settings in demanding sections.

The RTX 4090 is impressive at 4K.
The RTX 4090 is impressive at 4K.

Nvidia’s first Ada Lovelace card shows that there are some big performance improvements over the Ampere 30-series generation. The $1,599 price tag puts the RTX 4090 way out of the price bracket for most PC gamers, but it sets the stage for what could be an exciting next generation of cards.

DLSS 3 genuinely transforms frame rates here, all while maintaining the options of quality, balance, or performance for imagery. Only 35 games or apps have been confirmed for DLSS 3 so far, though, so it’s going to be some time before we truly see the impact of this new technology.

Even without Nvidia’s DLSS 3 support, the RTX 4090 is in a performance league of its own right now. If you have to have the best of the best for 4K gaming, then the RTX 4090 won’t disappoint. For everyone else, the RTX 4080 cards are both launching in November and offer a more reasonable entry point into this generation of cards. But will performance be as impressive on the controversial $899 12GB RTX 4080?

AMD could arrive in November and upset the Nvidia RTX 40-series show with RDNA 3, but it’s hard to imagine it will have anything close to DLSS 3. That’s really the star of the show for the RTX 4090 — and reason alone to upgrade if you believe Nvidia will be able to pull off the kind of support we’ve seen with DLSS 2 so far.

Either way, the RTX 4090 is a beast of a GPU for 4K gaming, and it’s seriously tempting me to upgrade. It’s the $1,599 price tag that’s tempting me not to.