Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti review: Changing the game

These graphics cards are built for the future. What does that mean today?

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

The GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti aren’t like any other consumer graphics cards. Nvidia built these cards for the future. So much so, in fact, that we’re going to take the unusual step of not rendering a final, rated verdict today.

Unlike existing graphics cards, these include dedicated RT cores to vastly improve real-time ray tracing performance, putting the Holy Grail of gaming graphics within reach. Also unlike existing graphics cards, the GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti include dedicated tensor cores to leverage the awesome power of machine learning and a Saturn V supercomputer in the games you play. Nvidia’s new hardware is the first designed specifically for the 4K, 144Hz HDR era, with a revamped architecture that increases performance in traditional games, and they’re the first graphics cards equipped with GDDR6 memory or a VirtualLink connector. Our Nvidia Turing GPU deep-dive explains all.

But changing the game doesn’t come cheap. These graphics cards cost much, much more than their predecessors, and buying into Nvidia’s futuristic vision requires a big leap of faith—ray traced games won’t even be available when they launch. Are the GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition ($799 on GeForce.com) and RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition ($1,199 on GeForce.com) worth your money today? Let’s dig in.

GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti: Specs and features

Here are the high-level specs for the GeForce RTX 2080 and GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, before we delve into some of the more interesting bits:

GeForce RTX 2080 Ti: 

  • CUDA cores: 4,352 
  • Clock speed: 1,350MHz base, 1,545MHz boost (OC Founders Edition 1,635MHz boost)
  • RT cores: 72
  • Tensor cores: 576
  • Texture units: 288
  • ROP units: 96
  • Memory capacity: 11GB GDDR6 
  • Memory path: 352 bits 
  • Memory bandwidth: 616GBps 
  • Ports: VirtualLink/USB-C, DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b 
  • Power: 2 x 8-pin, 250W TDP stock, 265W TDP OC Founders Edition
  • Release date: September 27, 2018 
  • Price: $999 stock, $1,199 Founders Edition

GeForce RTX 2080: 

  • CUDA cores: 2,944 
  • Clock speed: 1515MHz base, 1710MHz boost (OC Founders Edition 1800MHz boost)
  • RT cores: 46
  • Tensor cores: 368
  • Texture units: 184
  • ROP units: 64
  • Memory capacity: 8GB GDDR6 
  • Memory path: 256 bits 
  • Memory bandwidth: 448GBps 
  • Ports: VirtualLink/USB-C, DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b 
  • Power: One 6-pin, one 8-pin, 215W TDP stock, 225W TDP OC Founders Edition
  • Release date: September 20, 2018 
  • Price: $699 stock, $799 OC Founders Edition

The GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti Founders Edition cards come overclocked out of the box. That’s a first for Nvidia’s reference cards, and a nice perk for the people who plunk down extra cash for a Founders Edition model, but it makes establishing a performance baseline difficult. Nvidia GPUs scale clock speeds depending on thermal and power constraints. You can’t just use an overclocking tool to bring the RTX cards down to stock boost clock speeds and count that as gospel. So the benchmark results you’ll see in this review are higher than you’d get with an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti that truly sticks to reference speeds.

Reference speeds for both cards are slower out-of-the-box than those of their predecessors, however. On the flip side of the coin, Nvidia says it expects the RTX 20-series to overclock better than the GTX 10-series, and it’s shipping a new Nvidia Scanner API that lets you auto-overclock your graphics card with a single push of a button. Our experience with an early version of the tool wasn’t quite so seamless, but we’ll be testing release versions of Scanner ASAP. Look for it in updated versions of popular overclocking software, such as EVGA’s Precision.

dsc00272 Brad Chacos/IDG

The upgrade to GDDR6 pays dividends on the memory side. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti boast identical memory capacity and bus widths, but the new card hits a blazing 616GBps, versus the GTX 1080 Ti’s 484GBps. That also surpasses the radical HBM2 memory in AMD’s Vega graphics cards, which hit 484GBps like the GTX 1080 Ti. Who says traditional VRAM is dead?

Finally, the TU102 GPU inside the RTX 2080 Ti is a bigger, more bad-ass version of the RTX 2080’s TU104 GPU in every aspect, including those swanky new RT and tensor cores. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti has 56.5 percent more of each, which could make a big difference when the first games with ray tracing and Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling arrive. They aren’t here yet so we can’t benchmark them, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re all-in on the idea of ray tracing.

That’s all most people need to know about the GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti. For much more information in much greater technical detail, check out our massive Turing GPU deep-dive.

Nvidia GeForce RTX Founders Edition design

Nvidia shook up the exterior of its GeForce RTX Founders Edition just as much as the interior. Say adios to the single-fan, blower-style design established long ago for reference designs from both AMD and Nvidia. Now, Nvidia’s competing with its hardware partners in cooler design, too.

founders edition geforce rtx Nvidia

The GeForce RTX 20-series Founders Edition cards upgrade to dual axial fan design, and those fans—spread farther apart than you see in most graphics cards—come equipped with 13 blades each. They’re sitting atop a card-length heat sink with a heat pipe embedded in the base plate, and a full-length vapor chamber to dissipate heat from the GPU and other components. A forged aluminum shroud covers those cooling components, curving around the end of the card to transform into a sleek backplate with the graphics card’s name emblazoned across it. It’s an utterly gorgeous enclosed design, and by my touch after an intense benchmarking round, that backplate helps dissipate heat as well.

dsc00274 Brad Chacos/IDG

These Founders Edition models feel impressively substantial in your hand. Nvidia claims the new design is five times quieter than the previous one, and up to around 20 degrees cooler depending on the scenario. We didn’t find it quite that potent, as you’ll see in our performance benchmarks, but it’s indeed a significant improvement over the older blower-style design. An illuminated green “GeForce RTX” logo classes up the side edge of the card.

Nvidia bulked up the Founders Edition PCB, too. It includes more overclocking headroom than the previous design did, giving you 55 watts to play with rather than 38, and cleaner overall power delivery, per product manager Justin Walker. It also includes an 8-phase design that can dynamically switch off those phases if you aren’t pushing the card hard, to improve efficiency.

founders edition built to oc Nvidia

Both Founders Edition cards measure 10.5 x 4.55 inches, in a traditional two-slot design. The GeForce RTX 2080 FE pulls 225W over a 6-pin and an 8-pin power connector, while the RTX 2080 Ti FE pulls 260W via dual 8-pin connections. Nvidia recommends a 650W power supply for each.

Finally, there’s been a shake-up in display connections, too. A VirtualLink USB-C connector now adorns the Founders Edition cards, capable of supplying all the video, audio, and data pipelines necessary to power a virtual reality headset…whenever VirtualLink starts appearing in VR headsets, that is. It’s joined by a single HDMI 2.0b port, and dual DisplayPort 1.4 connections that are ready for DisplayPort 1.4a in the future.

Got it? Good. On to the benchmarks!

Next page: Test system overview, gaming benchmarks begin

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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