MSI GeForce RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio review: Big GPU, big cooler, big results

And big power draw

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

Borderlands 3

Borderlands is back! Gearbox’s game defaults to DX12, so we do as well, and it gives us a glimpse at the ultra-popular Unreal Engine 4’s performance in a traditional shooter.

borderlands 3 msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.

strange brigade msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Total War: Troy

The latest game in the popular Total War saga, Troy was given away free for its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store, moving over 7.5 million copies before it went on proper sale. Total War: Troy is built using a modified version of the Total War: Warhammer 2 engine, and this DX11 title looks stunning for a turn-based strategy game. We use the more intense battle benchmark scene.

total war troy msi Brad Chacos/IDG

F1 2020

The latest in a long line of successful racing games, F1 2020 is a gem to test, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options, making it a much more reliable (and fun) option that the Forza series. It’s built on the latest version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine, complete with support for DX12 and Nvidia’s DLSS technology. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies on and DLSS off.

f1 2020 Brad Chacos/IDG

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with DX12. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider and includes optional real-time ray tracing and DLSS features.

sotr msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue, power and thermals

GTA V

This DX11 game that isn’t really a visual barn-burner like the (somewhat wonky) Red Dead Redemption 2, but still tops the Steam charts day in and day out, so we deem it more worthy of testing. RDR2 will melt your graphics card, sure, but GTA V remains so popular years after launch that upgraded versions of it will be available on the next-generation consoles. That’s staying power.

We test Grand Theft Auto V with all options turned to Very High, all Advanced Graphics options except extended shadows enabled, and FXAA. GTA V runs on the RAGE engine and has received substantial updates since its initial launch.

gtav msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Rainbow Six Siege

Like GTA V, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch, and it’ll be getting a visual upgrade for the next-gen consoles. The developers have poured a ton of work into the game’s AnvilNext engine over the years, eventually rolling out a Vulkan version of the game that we use to test. By default, the game lowers the render scaling to increase frame rates, but we set it to 100 percent to benchmark native rendering performance on graphics cards. Even still, frame rates soar.

rb6 msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Power draw, thermals, and noise

We test power draw by looping the F1 2020 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. We’re adding the MSI Gaming X Trio version of the RTX 3080 to the mix for these tests, so you can see the difference between the MSI and Nvidia coolers in their RTX 3080 and 3090 iterations.

This isn’t a worst-case test; we removed the Core i7 8700K’s overclock and specifically chose a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. We saw Borderlands 3 draw well over 600W on our system with the Gaming X Trio installed. Consider yourself warned, and maybe consider upgrading your power supply.

power msi Brad Chacos/IDG

Hot damn. The Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition was the first GPU to ever top 500W of total system draw in our tests, but between the extra fans, RGB lights, and 85MHz overclock, MSI’s Gaming X Trio sucks down considerably more juice. It comes closer to 600W than 500W. Oof. It doubly hurts because MSI’s card isn’t noticeably faster in real-world games even with the overclock.

We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.

temps msi Brad Chacos/IDG

While the Gaming X Trio’s beefy triple slot Twin Frozr 2 cooler gave it the edge in its RTX 3080 incarnation, the tables get turned with the RTX 3090. Nvidia bulked the RTX 3090 Founders Edition up to three slots and it’s incredible: cool on par with the best custom designs we’ve seen, and utterly silent under even the most strenuous loads.

That said, MSI’s card still very much impresses. It keeps the ferocious RTX 3090 GPU at a very cool 73 degrees itself, and while it’s not silent, it’s awfully quiet. The Gaming X Trio’s thermals and acoustics will probably hold up well against rival custom RTX 3090s, but the Nvidia Founders Edition is more efficient.

Next page: Should you buy the MSI GeForce RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio?

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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