Nvidia RTX 40 Series vs AMD RDNA 3: The Current GPU Landscape

Nvidia launched their flagship RTX 4090 in October 2022, a behemoth of a card that set a new precedent for GPUs. It became the first card to offer a truly high refresh rate 4K gaming experience. But extreme performance comes at an extreme price, and consumers groaned at the MSRP of $1599. Not that the card was even attainable at that price, as scalpers snatched it up during launch week and we saw listings of up to $3000 on eBay.

The RTX 4080 suffered the same fate, although its eBay sales were poor in comparison to the 4090, mainly because it was already expensive at $1199 MSRP. Due to the lack of interest, scalpers were forced to return or sell their RTX 4080s at MSRP. Moment of silence… um, anyone? Newegg made many RTX 4080s non-refundable in response to an influx of returns from scalpers. Currently both RTX 40 SKUs are available from Newegg and Amazon.

With mining profitability at an all-time low and the worldwide chip shortage easing, GPU prices normalised towards the end of 2022 and consumers were understandably disgruntled by Nvidia’s greedy pricing. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang claimed that Moore’s Law was dead and chip prices going down over time was a story of the past. Nvidia has also been dealing with an excess supply of RTX 30 Series cards due to low demand, and until inventory is cleared the RTX 40 Series will remain expensive.

The unveiling of the RTX 40 Series didn’t go too smoothly either. In addition to the RTX 4090, Nvidia planned to release two variants of the RTX 4080, a 16GB version at $1199 and a 12GB version at $899. This sparked outrage in the community, as the naming scheme was very misleading. The 12GB model not only had less VRAM, but it also had less CUDA cores and lower memory bandwidth. Nvidia later “unlaunched” the 12GB variant and reportedly reimbursed some AIB partners for retail packaging that had already been made. The 4080 16GB is now simply called the 4080, and the 12GB version was released as the 4070 Ti with a reduced MSRP of $799.

Nvidia is using the new PCIe 5.0 power connector (12VHPWR) on the RTX 40 Series, which is designed for ATX 3.0 PSUs. But as these PSUs are still fairly rare, Nvidia includes a 12VHPWR adapter with every RTX 40 Series card. The adapter allows you to convert three or four 8-pin PCIe connectors into one 12VHPWR connector for 450W to 600W of power delivery.

To add to Nvidia’s torment, several users experienced melting connector issues on their RTX 4090s. The 12VHPWR adapter would melt while plugged into the graphics card, and in some instances the 16-pin connector on the card itself melted. As of 18 November 2022, Nvidia were aware of about 50 cases globally. They released an official statement, suggesting that a common issue was connectors weren’t fully plugged into the graphics card. They also promised to expedite RMAs for affected users. You can find a list of cases on the 16 Pins Adapter Megathread on the r/nvidia subreddit. The current rate of failure is 0.04% of sold cards.

All issues and controversies aside, the RTX 4090 offers some serious brunt and the generational improvement is astounding. It crushes the RTX 3090 Ti by a whopping 50% and the RTX 3090 and RX 6950 XT are left in its wake by 70%. Nvidia abandoned the Samsung 8nm process in favour of TSMC’s 4nm process. Based on the Ada Lovelace architecture, the AD102 chip boasts 176 billion transistors, which is a 170% increase over GA102. Nvidia’s flagship packs 16,384 CUDA cores with 24GB 384-Bit GDDR6X video memory. The RTX 4090 features 512 4th gen Tensor cores and 128 3rd gen Ray Tracing cores. Nvidia also introduced DLSS 3.0 which is exclusive to the RTX 40 Series.

The RTX 4090 is unbeatable at 4K (Credit: techpowerup.com)

The RTX 4090 Founders Edition has mammoth dimensions of 304mm x 137mm x 61mm and will take three PCIe slots worth of space. Most AIB cards will push that size up to 3.5 slots. That’s a chunky card and you’ll need to make sure your case has enough space. While many expected the RTX 4090 to be a power hog, it comes with a power rating of 450W which is the same as the 3090 Ti and 100W more than the RTX 3090. We’re actually seeing less power draw and better efficiency than the 3090 Ti, and the card typically runs at 350W when gaming–the Founders Edition at least. Nvidia allows up to a 600W manual power limit increase, but the performance gains from overclocking is minimal.

Nvidia vs AMD MSRP

GeForce RTX 4090 – $1599
GeForce RTX 4080 – $1199
Radeon RX 7900 XTX – $999
Radeon RX 7900 XT – $899
GeForce RTX 4070 Ti – $799

Nvidia’s extreme pricing on the 4080 and 4090 left an opening for RDNA 3, and the RX 7900 XTX and XT represent a more gentle entry point at the high end. One of the key matchups is the RTX 4080 vs the RX 7900 XTX. These two cards offer comparable framerates at 1440p and 4K, which is favourable for AMD as the RX 7900 XTX is $200 cheaper. This means there is a decisive cost per frame advantage for AMD, but when you throw ray tracing and upscaling into the mix, things swing in Nvidia’s favour.

On average the 4080 has a 15% advantage with ray tracing enabled, and AMD’s FSR is still no match for DLSS. Running Cyberpunk at ultra settings with ray tracing and DLSS/FSR enabled, the RTX 4080 doubles the 7900 XTX’s FPS, and AMD’s flagship even struggles to compete with the previous-gen RTX 3090 Ti. Ray tracing is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially at the high end, so the extra $200 for the 4080 is probably justified.

The RTX 4080 is already very expensive at $1199 MSRP, so even at $999 the RX 7900 XTX won’t exactly take the market by storm. If you’re solely looking for good old-fashioned frame rates, it offers good value, but the inferior ray tracing and upscaling will be a caveat for some.

While the generational improvement over the RX 6950 XT isn’t as high as AMD promised at the unveiling, it’s still very impressive with an uplift of around 25% at 1440p and 35% at 4K. If you’re looking for a high refresh rate 4K experience, it might just be worth the upgrade at $999. Ray tracing and upscaling doesn’t quite match the RTX 4080, but there is a big improvement over RDNA 2 and it isn’t bad by any means.

The RTX 4070 Ti is Nvidia’s best value card, but even the reduced MSRP of $799 feels steep. One can only imagine the backlash if they stuck with the original MSRP of $899! The 4070 Ti vs 7900 XT is an interesting matchup, where the 7900 XT has around 10% better frames, but again Nvidia has the edge when it comes to ray tracing and upscaling.

The 4070 Ti’s 12GB of VRAM could potentially become an issue in the future, but currently 12GB is ample for 1440p and even 4K gaming. Nonetheless, the 7900 XT is more future-proof with 20GB VRAM. The RTX 4070 Ti has a small advantage in terms of cost per frame, and when you combine that with superior ray tracing and upscaling, it offers slightly better value, although it isn’t an overwhelming victory by any means. Neither card is terribly compelling at current prices, and I’m hoping for a price cut on the 7900 XT in response to the 4070 Ti.

The new generation GPUs will mostly appeal to high-end consumers, and prices should come down once RTX 30 and RDNA 2 inventory is cleared. Furthermore, Nvidia and AMD are dealing with considerably lower consumer demand, which could leave them with no choice but to to reduce prices. Even TSMC is starting to feel the effects of the economic slowdown as their clients are ordering less wafers.

The December 2022 Steam survey shows the most used cards are the GTX 1650 and GTX 1060, the latter of which was released in 2016. Gamers are still happily playing at 1080p, and unless you want 4K with Ray Tracing or high refresh rate 4K–or bragging rights of course–there is no reason to jump on the Ada Lovelace or RDNA 3 bandwagon just yet.

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