Even in 2013, everyone knew that the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles weren’t really a match for PC gaming. Those consoles came with an underpowered and outdated AMD CPU that would go on to limit what was possible throughout the entire generation. But in 2020, it’s more difficult to tell how the consoles will stack up against modern PCs. Nvidia, however, made it clear today that it’s not gonna let Sony and Microsoft leave it behind thanks to the new RTX 3000-series GPUs it officially revealed this morning. And as of today, I’m more excited for the Nvidia RTX 3080 than either the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5.
The biggest factor here is Nvidia’s determination to compete with its own legacy in addition to AMD and the consoles. In 2018, Nvidia launched the GeForce RTX 2000-series GPUs, and gamers were hesitant to adopt those cards. The biggest reason for that wasn’t any failing of the RTX 2070 or 2080 — it’s that the previous GTX 1000-series generation is so damn good. The Pascale architecture is a shining moment for Nvidia, and consumers picked up millions of GTX 1060 and 1070 cards. And then, facing pressure from AMD, it released the all-time great GTX 1080 Ti for $700.
Nvidia crushed the price-to-performance with Pascale, and it decided to use that wiggle room to do two things. It reset price expectations, so the RTX 2080 launched for $700 where the the GTX 1080 was $600.
The company also focused on real-time ray tracing. This new technology simulates the behavior of light, and it’s a “holy grail” for computer graphics. But those advancements came without much improvement to traditional performance. And without many RTX-capable games on the market, few Pascale owners felt a desire to upgrade.
Nvidia is pushing itself
“To all my Pascale friends, it’s now safe to upgrade,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during his presentation today.
Nvidia knows it has millions of potential repeat customers who are getting ready to upgrade. With the RTX 2000 cards, it promised a distant future. With the RTX 3000 cards, it is trying to win those customers over with an aggressive generational leap.
The company is promising that the Ampere architecture of the RTX 3090, 3080, and 3070 are two-times as powerful as their equivalent Turing cards. They are also 1.9-times more power efficient. We’ll have to test those claims for ourselves, but those are exactly the kinds of gains that PC gamers are waiting for.
This should ensure a high-end PC still outpaces even the Xbox Series X in terms of graphics capabilities. And again, the key here is that Nvidia took this pressure on from within. AMD is finally threatening to release a high-end GPU with its “big Navi” architecture, but I don’t think that’s what motivated Huang. Instead, Nvidia realized that it didn’t want to lose current GeForce owners to another couple years of complacency.
Why the RTX 3080 is more exciting than PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X
Ampere is more exciting than the next-gen consoles in part because the PS5 and Xbox still feel somewhat mysterious. We haven’t seen a ton of gameplay and Sony and Microsoft are still keeping the price and release dates quiet.
And in contrast to that, Nvidia shared everything about its cards. The RTX 3080 is a $700 GPU with 10GB of GDDR6X memory that runs at 19Gbps. It’s faster than an RTX 2080 Ti. And it uses known tech like deep-learning supersampling (DLSS) and the combination of its multiprocessor cores, ray-tracing cores, and AI tensor cores. We know how these things works, and why it’s exciting that we’re getting twice the transistors and twice as fast RT cores.
But I’m maybe most excited for Nvidia’s promised RTX IO. This is its upgraded input/output architecture that it says is 100-times faster at loading in assets compared to traditional storage APIs paired with hard drives.
One of the promises of the PS5 and Xbox Series X are its NVME SSDs and their superfast architectures. But with Windows also getting the DirectStorage API that powers the Xbox Series X Velocity architecture, RTX can now offer similar performance.
Like Sony and Microsoft, Nvidia is promising “near-instantaneous game loading” on PC. Most importantly, this means that developers can potentially start building multiplatform games to take advantage of hyper-speedy loading. This is good news no matter where you are playing games.
For me, though, the excitement for the RTX 3080 is about confidence. I believe that this card can do what Nvidia claims. It’ll run ray traced games at 4K and 60 frames per second with DLSS. And as we hear more about “performance modes” for PS5 games, I’m more skeptical than ever in getting great performance from the consoles.