Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 evaluation: A wildly costly flagship GPU with a contact of DLSS 3 magic

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You in all probability already knew if you happen to had been keen and in a position to purchase the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 after seeing its value announcement, so right here’s a brief model of the next evaluation: Yes, on pure efficiency it’s the most effective graphics card for 4K you may get. Yes, DLSS 3 is the actual deal. And no, neither of these make the RTX 4090 good worth for cash, even when it makes a compelling argument for Nvidia’s newest upscaling tech.

The Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo mannequin that I’ve used for testing prices £1960 / $1700; each substantial premiums, particularly within the UK, on the already lofty RTX 4090 base RRP/MSRP of £1679 / $1599. To many, if not most PC homeowners, that ALL in all probability seems like unfathomable riches. Especially with the quickest Nvidia GPUs of the final technology, the RTX 3090 and RTX 3090 Ti, now going for lower than £1100 and £1200 respectively.

And in your better-part-of-two-grand, you get a graphics card that will not even slot in your PC’s mid-tower case. The RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo, at 355.5mm lengthy and 165.5mm extensive, adopted within the steps of the Zotac RTX 3090 Ti I reviewed by solely squeezing into my take a look at PC’s NZXT H510 chassis after I eliminated the AIO cooler and followers – leaving the latter spinning outdoors the case like a Dead Space environmental hazard. Even if that weren’t obligatory, the honking nice circuit board and triple-fan cooler are so extensive that attempting to reinstall the case’s glass facet panel would have half-crushed the PSU cable adapter on the sting. The adapter that wants no fewer than 4 8-pin energy cables to gasoline the cardboard, which has the identical mahoosive 450W consumption ranking because the inventory RTX 4090.

It’s a high-maintenance part, then, although no less than the specs are appropriately monstrous. The RTX 4090 packs in 16,384 CUDA cores, over 6,600 greater than the next-best RTX 4080 16GB. It additionally overkills the VRAM even tougher, with 24GB of 384-bit GDDR6X, and on this mannequin, Zotac has upped the increase clock pace from 2520MHz to 2580MHz. A small overclock, however then keep in mind that the RTX 3090 Ti has about 5,600 fewer CUDA cores, and solely boosted them to 1860MHz at inventory.

An RTX 4090 graphics cards running inside a PC, with the AIO cooler's radiator and fans forced outside of the case due to the GPU being so damn big.
This is dumb. Do not do that.

Then there are the much less listable specs, just like the underlying upgrades that type the RTX 40 collection’s Ada Lovelace structure. All RTX 40 GPUs get these, not simply the RTX 4090, however with redesigned RT cores and Tensor cores promising enhanced ray tracing efficiency and improved DLSS efficiency, it’s clear that Nvidia doesn’t simply need quicker framerates in conventional rasterised games. The graphics megacorp can be taking its AI machine studying additional than ever with DLSS 3, a definite new upscaler that may pump out larger FPS boosts than earlier DLSS variations may ever hope for. In particular, supported games, in fact.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 evaluation: 4K efficiency

More on that to return, however first, right here’s the core efficiency lowdown on the RTX 4090’s favorite decision.

Thanks to the higher-end GPUs within the RTX 30 and AMD Radeon RX 6000 collection, you have already got a spread of graphics card choices for hitting 60fps at 4K with out sacrificing a lot when it comes to settings high quality. Even so, the RTX 4090 represents a very generational leap, averaging 100fps or above in all however a few our rasterised (non-ray traced) benchmarks. And even the place it didn’t, it nonetheless put in record-setting scores, like 79fps in Cyberpunk 2077 and 84fps in Watch Dogs Legion.

The latter is 14fps larger than what the RTX 3090 Ti managed, which could disappoint given the value distinction. But the RTX 4090 stomped everywhere in the Ampere GPU elsewhere, particularly within the demanding Total War: Three Kingdoms Battle benchmark. On Ultra high quality, the RTX 4090 cruised to 100fps, a 40fps benefit over the RTX 3090 Ti. That ought to please anybody who owns among the finest 4K gaming screens with a 120Hz or 144Hz refresh price.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider additionally noticed an enormous leap, from 75fps on the RTX 3090 Ti (on the Highest preset with SMAA x4 anti-aliasing) to 125fps on the RTX 4090. That’s a 67% enchancment! Assassin’s Creed Valhalla additionally obtained a good increase from 73fps to 100fps, whereas Horizon Zero Dawn climbed from 98fps to 127fps on Ultimate high quality.

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A Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo graphics card propped up against a PC case.

Again, you’ll must have splurged on a 4K show with a heightened refresh price to see these variations, however they’re extensive sufficient to be seen. As is the case with Final Fantasy XV, particularly if you happen to change on the total set of Nvidia-exclusive bonuses like HairWorks and TurfEffects. With these added to the Highest preset, the RTX 4090 averaged 88fps, comfortably out-smoothing the RTX 3090 Ti and its 61fps outcome. Without these options, the RTX 4090 averaged 108fps, beating the RTX 3090 Ti’s 89fps by the same proportion.

Metro Exodus was one other massive win for the RTX 4090, with it turning out 107fps on Ultra high quality; 24fps quicker than the RTX 3090 Ti. Hitman 3’s Dubai benchmark additionally had the RTX 4090 racking up a blazing 174fps common on Ultra high quality, although because the RTX 3090 Ti scored 135fps in the identical settings, you’d want a 240Hz monitor and eagle eyes to inform the distinction there.

It’s additionally price noting that in Forza Horizon 4, each GPUs really scored evenly: 159fps apiece. That means that the 2 playing cards had been the truth is bumping up towards the boundaries of the take a look at PC’s Core i5-11600K CPU, so between that and the game being 4 years outdated at this level, I’m in all probability going to part it out of our benchmarking routine in favour of Forza Horizon 5. I don’t have RTX 3090 Ti outcomes for that however the RTX 4090 did common 111fps on the Extreme preset, so it’s evidently nonetheless able to liquid clean framerates even with the sequel’s more durable technical calls for.

The Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo graphics card on a wooden table.

Ada Lovelace’s ray tracing optimisations – which additionally embrace a brand new “Shader Execution Reordering” function that lets RTX 40 GPUs crunch the numbers on RT rendering extra effectively – do certainly bear fruits as nicely. Take Metro Exodus: with each the Ultra preset and Ultra-quality ray tracing, the RTX 4090 averaged 80fps, or a 25% drop from its non-RT efficiency. The Ampere-based RTX 3090 Ti? That dropped from 83fps to 53fps with RT, a 36% loss. So not solely is the RTX 4090 a lot quicker with ray traced results in a straight FPS race, however these fancy visible upgrades additionally levy a proportionally decrease tax on general efficiency.

The similar was true in Watch Dogs Legion, the place including Ultra-quality RT results dropped the RTX 4090 from 84fps to 58fps and the RTX 3090 Ti from 70fps to 39fps. That’s a 31% discount for the newer GPU, and a 44% discount for the older one.

I received’t say Nvidia have utterly cracked ray tracing – we’ll have to attend for extra reasonably priced RTX 40 playing cards to see if that’s actually true – however their success in chopping down its FPS price is encouraging.

I want I might be equally impressed by the supposed DLSS enhancements, however weirdly, the RTX 4090 really appears to lack affinity with older variations like DLSS 2.0, 2.3 and a pair of.4. Some checks nonetheless produced good outcomes, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider: with DLSS on its highest ‘Quality’ setting, I may activate Ultra ray tracing and nonetheless get a quicker 137fps common than with RT-less, native 4K. But on a number of events, the beneficial properties from upscaling had been unexpectedly tiny. Metro Exodus, with ray tracing on, solely obtained a single awful body per second with DLSS within the combine, and Horizon Zero Dawn’s Quality DLSS setting solely produced a scant 8fps increase as much as 135fps. That 58fps in ray-traced Watch Dogs Legion additionally rose simply barely, to 63fps, after the addition of Quality DLSS. In all three instances, DLSS made proportionally larger FPS beneficial properties on the RTX 3090 Ti.

The Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo stood upright next to am RTX 3070, showing the size difference.

This is much less of an issue when the identical games run drastically quicker at native decision, which provides them sufficient of a lead that the RTX 3090 Ti can’t catch up even with the facility of upscaling. DLSS 3, as we’ll see shortly, additionally works a hell of so much higher – and you’ll’t get that on any GPUs outdoors of the RTX 40 collection. Still, I’m wondering if the decrease rendering calls for of DLSS (mixed with the GPU’s already fearsome power) is perhaps proving an excessive amount of for the Core i5-11600K to deal with – even when it is not the RTX 4090’s fault, it is not ideally suited to get bottlenecked by a gaming-focused, normally very succesful CPU that is barely two years outdated.

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 evaluation: 1440p efficiency

Dropping the decision to 2560×1440 presents one other efficiency oddity. 1440p isn’t precisely the place the RTX 4090 sees itself in 5 years, however then why is it typically slower than the RTX 3090 Ti at this res? 163fps in Forza Horizon 4 isn’t simply merely 4fps quicker than it was at 4K, nevertheless it’s 16fps slower than the RTX 3090 Ti managed with the identical Ultra settings. Final Fantasy XV was off as nicely, averaging 111fps with the vanilla Highets setting and 84fps with all the additional Nvidia settings enabled. That’s 9fps and 3fps behind the RTX 3090 Ti respectively, with each outcomes solely 3-4fps larger than at 4K.

With 88fps in Watch Dogs Legion, 115fps in Metro Exodus, and 177fps in Hitman 3, the RTX 4090 continued to complete under the RTX 3090 Ti at 1440p. Its 147fps in Horizon Zero Dawn additionally solely beat the last-gen GPU by an invisible 5fps, and a 136fps end in Total War: Three Kingdoms’ Battle benchmark places it simply 16fps forward. Still technically an enchancment, then, however nothing just like the 40fps acquire that the RTX 4090 gives at 4K.

Of all of the games I examined, solely two – Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – actually confirmed an enormous uptick in 1440p efficiency. That consists of SoTR with Ultra-quality ray tracing: with this engaged alongside SMAA x1, the RTX 4090’s 145fps simply outran the RTX 3090 Ti’s 128fps. Over in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, 1440p on the Ultra High preset allowed for the RTX 4090 to succeed in a 130fps common. On 144Hz screens, that can look even slicker than the RTX 3090 Ti’s 103fps.

The power cable adapter on a Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo graphics card, plugged into four PSU cables.

Not that these make up for the RTX 4090 scuffling with 1440p elsewhere. I’ve tried rebooting, reinstalling, verifying caches, measuring thermals, monitoring energy utilization and extra to establish if this was an outright technical drawback, all to no avail. That leaves CPU bottlenecking because the more than likely trigger, however then if that was the deciding issue, why may the RTX 3090 Ti typically shift extra frames on the identical Core i5-11600K?

(Side word: the RTX 4090 does want numerous energy, however no less than on this Zotac mannequin, that power utilization doesn’t end in extreme warmth. During benchmarking, GPU temperatures typically stayed between 50°c and 60°c, with couple of very transient peaks at 70°c.)

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 evaluation: DLSS 3

Mysteries apart, what may make it extra tempting to splash out is that this card’s DLSS 3 help. I intend to place collectively a extra detailed information to this sooner or later, as proper now it’s solely test-ready in a handful of software program, however what I’ve seen of DLSS 3 in Cyberpunk 2077 is mightily convincing.

A closeup of the display outputs on a Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo graphics card.

Here’s how DLSS 3 works: along with rendering frames at a decrease decision then upscaling them, simply as older DLSS variations do to boost efficiency, DLSS 3 has the graphics card insert utterly new, AI-generated frames in between the historically rendered ones. These new frames – generated, interpolated, pretend, no matter you wish to name them – are nonetheless topic to the wonderful AI-based anti-aliasing that DLSS consists of, and supply an excellent larger FPS increase to what the upscaling course of delivers by itself.

And what a lift it’s. Running at 4K, with maxed-out High/Ultra settings and Psycho-quality ray tracing, Cyberpunk 2077 solely averaged 39fps on the RTX 4090 with none upscaling. But with DLSS 3, on its highest Quality setting and with body technology enabled, that shot as much as 99fps. That’s 153% quicker, and by dropping DLSS 3’s upscaling high quality to Performance mode, it turns into a 223% enchancment. That’s unimaginable stuff. I additionally tried old-timey DLSS 2.4 earlier than updating Cyberpunk 2077 to its DLSS 3-supporting model, and obtained 67fps with its Quality mode – good, however nothing on DLSS 3, significantly if you happen to’ve obtained a quicker monitor to reap the benefits of.

The ‘pretend’ frames normally look surprisingly correct, too. My major expertise with AI artwork is comprised of scrolling previous anatomically abominable JPGs on Twitter, however DLSS 3 does an affordable job at drawing information from surrounding, ‘actual’ frames to generate its personal. Here’s a pretend body from some Cyberpunk 2077 footage I recorded, together with the historically rendered body that instantly adopted it:

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077, showing an AI-generated frame in DLSS 3's Quality mode.
3840×2160, High textures, Psycho RT, DLSS 3 Quality, AI generated body

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077, showing a traditionally rendered frame in DLSS 3's Quality mode.
3840×2160, High textures, Psycho RT, DLSS 3 Quality, rendered body

Having hassle taking part in spot the distinction? Here’s each of them zoomed in utilizing Nvidia ICAT:

A Cyberpunk 2077 comparison image showing how traditionally rendered frames compare to AI generated frames in DLSS 3.
Left: generated body. Right: rendered body

Yep, solely factor incorrect on this AI-generated scene is the occasional little bit of mushy UI. And to emphasize, this tiny imperfection is as dangerous because it will get when there are not any sudden modifications or digital camera cuts. Most pretend frames look much more like the actual factor, and since so many frames are showing per second, it is basically unattainable to identify little variations like this when the game is in movement.

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Hell, it is laborious to identify when there are massive variations. The body technology’s weak spot is sudden transitions: when the on-screen picture is totally totally different to the earlier body. This generated body, as an illustration, got here instantly after I modified the driving digital camera place:

An AI-generated frame of DLSS 3 running over Cyberpunk 2077. The interior of a car is blurred due to the rapid frame-to-frame change of a camera transition.
3840×2160, High textures, Psycho RT, DLSS 3 Quality, AI generated body

Much worse, proper? The algorithm is getting correctly confused because of the lack of information from similar-looking frames close by. But once more, that is one body out of dozens upon dozens per second, and DLSS 3 shortly can shortly self-right itself after analysing only one historically rendered body. The result’s that this blurry mess turns into as nigh-invisible because the minor UI hiccups. I used to be actively searching for this precise form of flaw after I recorded the body, and it glided by so shortly that I did not register it till watching and pausing the footage later. It’s nice, actually.

There is one precise downside, in that body technology inflicts a better enter lag enhance than ‘commonplace’ DLSS. You additionally do not really feel the AI-added frames within the sense of management smoothness – it is a purely visible improve – so I can’t see it catching on with twitchy shooters. Cyberpunk at 100fps-plus does look grand, however to me, aiming and driving felt nearer to how it will at 60fps.

Still, I do not suppose that is a ruinous drawback for DLSS 3. Games like your Counter-Strikes and your Valorants and your Apex Legendseses are constructed to run easily on a lot lower-end GPUs, so one thing like an RTX 4090 would offer greater than sufficient frames with out the necessity for upscaling within the first place. And each game with DLSS 3 help additionally has Nvidia Reflex in-built, and its entire goal is to scale back system latency – so the lag is, no less than, saved below management. And Cyberpunk felt clean sufficient to me – mouse and keyboard controls that really feel 60fps-ish are hardly sluggish, and keep in mind that different, much less demanding games will produce extra ‘actual’ frames, so will appear even smoother.

Overall, it is a good begin for DLSS 3, and anybody who remembers DLSS 1.0 will know to anticipate additional efficiency and readability enhancements sooner or later. Really, it is a compelling sufficient function that it may make an RTX 40 GPU appear to be a a lot sounder funding, all by itself. Only just a few dozen games are confirmed to help it thus far, however that quantity is certain to rise, identical to how DLSS initially launched with simply a few suitable games earlier than discovering its means into over 200.

The Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Amp Extreme Airo graphics card lying next to Roxy, a perfect black cat.

As for the RTX 4090 particularly, I can no less than see the purpose of it. I couldn’t do the identical with the RTX 3090 Ti: when that GPU launched, it was majorly dearer than the RTX 3090 regardless of being solely barely quicker. Although the RTX 4090 makes even wilder calls for of your funds, it’s additionally a considerably higher 4K card, repeatedly surpassing 100fps on max-quality rasterised efficiency and 60fps with ray tracing. Add DLSS 3, and it’s the really imposing PC conqueror that the RTX 3090 Ti by no means was.

And but… how a lot? For a GPU that will get confused and upset operating at resolutions under 4K, and appears to have hassle with older DLSS variations until it is paired with equally bleeding-edge CPU? There is perhaps a tiny core of fanatics hungry for the most effective efficiency at any price, however for everybody else, the RTX 4090’s boundaries to entry will rule it out as a severe improve choice.

To my fellow members of the nice un-rich, although, all isn’t misplaced. The most interesting factor right here is clearly DLSS 3, and though it’s the protect of the RTX 4090 and two RTX 4080 variants for now, extra reasonably priced RTX 40 GPUs are absolutely on the best way. Give it just a few months and you need to have the ability to take pleasure in the most effective a part of the RTX 4090’s structure while not having to promote your bone marrow to afford it.

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