Nvidia stuck to the high-end goods for their GeForce RTX 40 series announcement, revealing their next graphics card generation with only the premier RTX 4090 and two flavours of RTX 4080. All three are coming soon with varying degrees of price bumps over the RTX 3090 and RTX 3080, though Nvidia reckon the performance and feature improvements of the 40 series’ Ada Lovelace architecture will make them worthy investments. Especially with the aid of DLSS 3, a new and significantly upgraded version of Nvidia’s DLSS upscaler that will only work with RTX 40 series GPUs at launch.
Indeed, while AMD’s next-gen RDNA 3/Radeon RX 7000 series GPUs will apparently focus in on efficiency improvements, the RTX 4090 and RTX 4080 are all about going big on power and AI-aided performance tricks. Personally I’m still hoping for less financially devastating members of the RTX 40 family – GPUs like the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070 are still some of the best graphics cards you can buy – but for now, here’s everything you need to know about the confirmed cards so far.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series prices
Might as well get this out of the way quickly, as the RTX 40 series pricing is (thus far) kinda wince-worthy:
- RTX 4080 12GB: £949 / $899
- RTX 4080 16GB: £1269 / $1199
- RTX 4090: £1679 / $1599
…Yeah. For comparison, the RTX 3080 launched at £649 / $699, while the RTX 3090 cost $1400 / $1500, and since these are Nvidia’s starting prices it’s likely that most board partner versions will set you back even more. The RTX 4090 and the 16GB version of the RTX 4080 will have Nvidia-designed Founders Edition models, which will sell at the prices listed above, but the ‘cheapest’ 12GB RTX 4080 could easily break the £1000 / $1000 line via partner cards as well.
Speaking of, Asus, Colorful, Gainward, Galaxy, Gigabyte, Inno3D, MSI, Palit, PNY, and Zotac are all producing their own RTX 40 series models. Not EVGA, mind, who are quitting the graphics card business entirely, citing uncooperative practices on Nvidia’s part.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series release dates
The RTX 4090 will go on sale on October 12th 2022; here’s hoping, for the sake of anyone that does want to drop the cash straight away, it’s less of a teeth-grinding launch day than the RTX 3080 had when it sold out in seconds in 2020.
There’s no specific RTX 4080 release date at the time of writing, though Nvidia say both the 12GB and 16GB variants will launch in November. If there is an RTX 4070 and /or RTX 4060 in the works, don’t expect them for a while longer.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series specs
As it happens, calling the 12GB and 16GB RTX 4080s two versions of the same GPU isn’t technically accurate: the 12GB model is based on a different underlying Ada Lovelace chip, the Nvidia AD104, to the 16GB RTX 4080 and its AD103 processor. You can see in this specs table how the two compare in full, along with the AD102-based RTX 4090.
|RTX 4080 12GB||RTX 4080 16GB||RTX 4090 24GB|
|PSU connections||2x 8-pin||3x 8-pin||3x 8-pin|
Evidently, there are some significant differences between the 12GB and 16GB RTX 4080s that extend beyond simply how much memory they got in the ol’ noggin. And it’s not just prices that are creeping up, as the RTX 4090 now has the same quoted power usage and PSU wattage requirement as the mighty RTX 3090 Ti – though conversely, if you already have an RTX 3080 and bought its recommend 750W PSU, you won’t need to upgrade the latter for either of the RTX 4080s.
In terms of upgrades, Ada Lovelace does look like a big architectural advance over the RTX 30 series’ Ampere design. The RT and Tensor cores (which enable ray tracing and AI/machine learning tools like DLSS, respectively) have both been redesigned to be faster and more efficient. You also just get more of them than on Ampere, and CUDA core counts – think of these as the basic workhorse cores for everyday game running – are higher across the board.
The RTX 40 series won’t take advantage of PCIe 5.0 slots on next-gen motherboards, as Nvidia say PCIe 4.0 can still provide the cards with ample bandwidth. That’s fine – even with the impending launch of the AMD Ryzen 7000 CPUs and chipsets, PCIe 5.0 graphics support on motherboards is several years off becoming the norm. The RTX 4090 and RTX 4080s will work in the PCIe 3.0 slots of older mobos, too.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series features
Faster, more numerous cores are welcome, but if the RTX 40 series does end up being worth the money, it will most likely be thanks to its big feature upgrades.
The most interesting of all is DLSS 3. If you’re not already familiar, DLSS in its current form (the latest version is 2.4) improves performance in games by rendering each frame at a lower resolution, thereby using less horsepower. It then applies upscaling and custom anti-aliasing – both generated by Nvidia teaching an AI algorithm how to produce the best images – to make each frame look like your monitor’s native resolution. It’s brilliant, most of the time, and DLSS 3 goes a long step further by inserting new, entirely AI-generated frames between each of the ‘real’ rendered frames.
In theory, this should produce starkly better frames-per-second gains than previous DLSS versions could. Each frame could be generally prettier, too: the Ada Lovelace architecture includes a new “Optical Flow Accelerator” that aims to reduce artifacting on objects when the camera is in motion. This is a rare but unsightly weakness of upscalers like DLSS and AMD FSR, and by combining this Optical Flow engine with motion vectors (data from surrounding frames that detail how the image changes between them), DLSS 3 promises to make upscaled games look cleaner and sharper.
Drawbacks? One is that only a fraction of games supporting (or that will support) older DLSS versions will support DLSS 3 as well. Generating new frames also increases input lag, which can be partially balanced out with Nvidia Reflex but might hurt DLSS 3’s usefulness in competitive scenarios. Lastly, DLSS 3 is so reliant on this new Optical Flow Accelerator that older GeForce RTX GPUs, i.e. the RTX 30 series and RTX 20 series, won’t be able to use the new upscaler once it launches alongside the new cards. Nvidia aren’t ruling out eventually making DLSS 3 available to all RTX GPUs, as preceding versions are, though it will take some more engineering on their end. In short, it’s an RTX 40 series exclusive for the time being.
Ray tracing is also getting an upgrade, specifically in how Ada Lovelace GPUs crunch the numbers on rendering ray traced graphics. I don’t think I can explain this without getting a bit dorky, but bear with me.
So, graphics processors work best when they’re performing lots of identical tasks in a row; it’s faster to, say, draw an object with many instances of a repeating texture than if it had fewer, but more varied and unique textures. Kind of like how SSDs are faster when reading data that’s stored sequentially. A big part of why ray tracing slows down game performance so much is that it demands that the GPU perform potentially millions of distinct tasks, enough that developers can’t manually order them in a processor-friendly way.
The RTX 40 series, however, can use a technique called Shader Execution Reordering. This allows the GPU itself to arrange these tasks in a nice, neat row, allowing itself to tackle them more efficiently. Nvidia say this can improve overall performance with RT enabled by up to 25% over Ampere, which wouldn’t completely wipe out the FPS tax in most games but would certainly make them run more smoothly.
RTX 40 GPUs will also have AV1 encoding capabilities as standard. This won’t make your games run faster, but it’s good news if you’re into livestreaming or creating videos from games footage: the AV1 format beats the trousers off current-gen formats for image quality and data usage. It’s bad news for Intel, though, as AV1 encoding looked like the one real USP of their long-overdue Arc Alchemist graphics cards. So much for that advantage.
What is RTX Remix, and what does it have to do with the RTX 40 series?
The RTX 4090/RTX 4080 launch has involved a lot of Nvidia showing off its new RTX Remix app. Perhaps not undeservedly – if it works as intended, RTX Remix could be a very big deal for modding older PC games.
The idea is that RTX Remix uses Ada Lovelace’s AI/machine learning features to massively streamline the process of making HD mod packs for aging games. With it, modders can import a game into the app and ‘capture’ assets (like textures, geometry and lighting) with a few clicks. These assets are then auto-converted into the USD (Universal Scene Description) file format, allowing the modder to make changes with RTX Remix’s various tools.
These include AI-powered texture tools that can upscale textures by up to 4x, or detect what kind of a material an old texture is supposed to represent – wood, metal, etc. – and automatically give them an appropriate, more detailed roughness or shininess. Ray tracing effects, Nvidia Reflex, and DLSS 3 support can all be applied as well, and by syncing RTX Remix to other apps like Blender, Maya, Photoshop, and Adobe Substance, it’s possible to create whole new models and see them take shape inside the mod in real time.
Once complete, RTX Remix can export everything as a mod pack, which just needs to bunged in the same folder as the game’s .exe to launch. Loads of games could potentially work with this: the only requirements, so say Nvidia, is that they’re based on DirectX 8 or 9 and use a fixed function graphics pipeline.
Where, then, does the RTX 40 series specifically come in? For starters, you’ll need one of these Ada Lovelace GPUs to run RTX Remix; it’s not available for older Nvidia graphics cards. And, although the resultant mod packs have no such hardware requirements, features like ray tracing and DLSS 3 are clearly incentivising the use (or, let’s be honest, purchase) of an RTX 4090 or RTX 4080 on the player side.
Will most modders want to make conversions that only owners of this brand new, crushingly expensive graphics card line can enjoy to the fullest? I don’t know, though anything that streamlines a tricky process like games modding is likely to attract eager new users as much as it can appeal to old veterans. Nvidia are also speaking to Nexus Mods and Mod DB about hosting Remix creations, so promoting and finding these mods shouldn’t be any harder than with handcrafted ones.