Our test system
Our dedicated graphics card test system is a couple years old, but packed with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.
- Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($300 on Amazon) overclocked to 5GHz all cores
- EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($105 on Amazon)
- Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard
- 64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($355 on Amazon)
- EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($352 on Amazon)
- Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow
- 2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($70 each on Amazon)
We’re comparing the $1,589 MSI RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio against Nvidia’s $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition, naturally, as well as the $700 GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition. (The RTX 3080 MSI Gaming Trio delivered virtually identical performance.) We’ve also included results for a bunch of prior-gen Founders Edition cards: Nvidia’s $800 GeForce RTX 2080, $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti, and the older $700 GTX 1080 FE. (MSRP prices for the 1080 and 2080 started at $100 less, but Nvidia charged a premium for the FE models.) We’re also including the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 in our roundup, as our GTX 1080 Ti FE gave up the ghost years ago. AMD Radeon graphics cards can’t compete with Nvidia’s enthusiast-class GPUs in gaming performance, so they’re not included here.
We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the Ultra graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test. We tested the older cards using Nvidia’s publicly available 452.06 Game Ready driver, the RTX 3080 cards using a 452.16 driver provided early to reviewers, and the RTX 3090 cards using the publicly available 456.38 driver.
Overall, the GeForce RTX 3090 offers about 10 to 15 percent more performance than the RTX 3080 at 4K resolution, and less of an improvement at 1440p. We’ll present these 4K and 1440p gaming benchmarks but withhold additional commentary for our final analysis. Our RTX 3080 review already proved this even more potent card isn’t a good 1080p option, as cheaper cards are just as fast at that resolution.
Again, traditional gaming is only part of the reason why you’d want an RTX 3090: Check out our full Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition review for a deeper dive into the GPU’s content creation and 8K gaming chops.
MSI GeForce RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio gaming benchmarks
Horizon Zero Dawn
Yep, Sony exclusives are hitting the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn hit Steam with some performance issues, but the most egregious ones have been mostly cleared up thanks to hard work from the developers, and the game topped the sales charts for weeks after its release. It also seems to respond somewhat to PCIe 4.0 scaling, which will make this an interesting inclusion when we shift to a PCIe 4.0-based system in the future.
Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding. Ambient Occlusion can still offer iffy results if set to Ultra, so we test with that setting at Medium. Every other visual option is maxed out.
Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12, and we love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean. You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware, meaning that “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings, including the GPU-melting Glossy and Planar Reflections options.
One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus is one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled for our basic benchmarks.
Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue