EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra review: Built to push the bleeding edge of performance

EVGA's GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra packs a fantastic custom cooling system and all sorts of extras designed to push clock speeds to 11.

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

Before we can review EVGA’s luxurious GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra, we need to take stock of its place in this new world of graphics cards.

Nvidia has relentlessly improved the design of its own Founders Edition graphics cards over the last few generations. The GTX 10-series Founders Edition added a sleek, metallic design; the RTX 20-series FE swapped out loud blower-style fans for a more common dual-axial setup; and the new GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition deployed a radical “flow-through” push-pull cooler than runs significantly quieter than before.

Those constant advancements are great for people who buy the Founders Edition at MSRP, but make life more difficult for board partners like EVGA, Asus, and MSI. What can custom boards offer to justify their premium prices?

Simple: If the Founders Edition is “good enough,” more expensive custom RTX 3080 graphics card need to be better.

The MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio went with a beefy three-slot cooler to run much cooler and quieter than Nvidia’s FE, for $60 more. EVGA takes things a step further. The $810 GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra also relies on heavy metal to run just as cool and even quieter than MSI’s card, but then it loads up on extravagant, overclocking-friendly extras like a dual-BIOS switch, sensors embedded throughout the board to provide temperature insight for all sorts of board components, built-in fan and RGB headers, and more. Let’s dig in.

EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra specs, features, and design

Based on raw under-the-hood specs, the EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra is largely similar to the Nvidia Founders Edition and essentially identical to the MSI Gaming X Trio, because they’re all based on the same “GA102” RTX 3080 chip using the new “Ampere” GPU architecture. Check out our GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition review for a deeper look at what’s new in Ampere. 

evga rtx 3080 ftw3 ultra 4 Brad Chacos/IDG

The special sauce for custom cards lies in their specialized cooling design and extra features. Here’s a high-level look at what’s inside the EVGA RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra:

  • CUDA cores: 8,704
  • Boost clock: 1.8GHz
  • Memory: 10GB GDDR6X at 9500MHz
  • Memory bus: 320-bit
  • Memory bandwidth: 760GB/s
  • RT cores: 68 (2nd-gen)
  • Tensor cores: 384 (3rd-gen)
  • NVLink SLI: No
  • PCIe: Gen 4
  • HDMI: 2.1
  • HDCP: 2.3
  • Display connectors: 1x HDMI 2.1, 3x DisplayPort 1.4
  • Dimensions: 3 slots, 11.81 x 5.38-inches
  • Power: 3x 8-pin
  • Recommended power supply: 750+ watts

Like the MSI Gaming X Trio, EVGA factory-overclocks the FTW3 Ultra to 1.8GHz out of the box, a 900MHz increase over the Founders Edition’s reference specs. Paired with the 10GB of ultra-fast GDDR6X memory, the EVGA RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra winds up just a hair faster than the Founders Edition in games, but really, all three of these cards deliver essentially the same out-of-the-box performance.

Many people won’t buy the EVGA FTW3 Ultra to run it at stock, though. This premium card was built for overclocking and pushing performance boundaries.

evga rtx 3080 ftw3 ultra 6 Brad Chacos/IDG

I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!

While Nvidia’s Founders Edition stuck to a standard 2-slot thickness, embracing an (ugly) new 12-pin adapter that connects to a pair of traditional 8-pin power connectors to help achieve such relative slimness, EVGA took the opposite route. This puppy’s a chonker. The RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra takes three slots in your case, runs almost a foot long, and comes with a trio of 8-pin power connectors rather than a pair. The extra connection doesn’t provide much benefit out of the box, but should come in handy during ambitious overclocking endeavors, especially if you’re adding a custom waterblock or you’re one of the brave few using shunt mods to bypass the GPU’s normal power limits.

You can indeed push the EVGA FTW3 Ultra’s power limits further than with many rival RTX 3080 cards. The stock reference spec is 350W, but EVGA’s card features a stunning 420W power limit. The Founders Edition tops out at 370W if you increase its power target limit in overclocking software like EVGA’s fantastic Precision X1. Precision X1 also lets you tap into the not one, not two, but nine “iCX3” sensors that EVGA embedded throughout the card, letting you see temperature readings for different parts of your GPU, memory, and voltage regulation systems. EVGA introduced iCX technology in the GeForce GTX 1080 Superclocked 2 following a (mostly overblown) cooling controversy. It remains a killer exclusive feature for graphics card nerds.

EVGA’s entire cooling solution revolves around iCX now. The RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra features three large second-generation “HDB” fans in its wavy shroud. Their asynchronous control lets each fan respond independently to the actual temperature conditions inside your card, pulling data from those iCX sensors. Better yet, they won’t spin whatsoever if your GPU temperatures are under 55 degrees Celsius, so you’ll enjoy silent, passively cooled operation during standard desktop usage. (The Founders Edition and MSI Gaming X Trio support idle fan stop as well.) EVGA also offset the center fan by 10mm, which the company claims helps to “increase the direct airflow area by 16 percent.”

There’s indeed plenty of metal for that air to cool. EVGA slapped an absolutely massive heatsink on this triple-slot card. It’s infused with “180-degree” semi-circular heatpipes that EVGA says increases contact area by 65 percent, and bolstered by a large, unified copper block helping to keep both the GPU and memory cool. EVGA says it redesigned the heatsink to allow air to move more freely throughout, then matched that with cut-outs in the custom PCB and aluminum backplate to let air flow through the card (perhaps in a nod to the Founders Edition’s unique flow-through design).

evga rtx 3080 ftw3 ultra 7 Brad Chacos/IDG

That’s a lot of marketing-speak and technical talk, but bottom line? This cooler flat-out works. It tames even the power-hungry RTX 3080 GPU with ease and remains utterly silent even during hot and heavy gaming sessions.

The unique coolers on the RTX 3080 Founders Edition and MSI Gaming X Trio work pretty darn well too, though, and they’re cheaper. EVGA justifies the FTW3 Ultra’s premium by slapping on extra features you won’t find on those other cards.

Don’t forget about the higher power limit and iCX sensors, which can prove helpful while overclocking. There’s also a dual-BIOS switch on the edge of the card. We test with the stock BIOS, but the secondary “OC” BIOS increases fan speeds to reduce temperatures and give Nvidia’s GPU Boost feature more thermal headroom to hit higher clocks (potentially--your luck in the silicon lottery always determines how far a GPU can go). A dual-BIOS switch is really a killer feature for overclockers, though. If you push things too far and things go bad, it’s very nice to be able to flip a switch and have another BIOS you can safely boot into.  

evga rtx 3080 ftw3 ultra 8 Brad Chacos/IDG

Fan and ARGB headers on the end of the EVGA FTW3 Ultra.

EVGA also equipped the FTW3 Ultra with a PWM fan header on the end of the card. You can plug one of your case’s PWM fans into it and have the fan be intelligently controlled by the graphics card’s temperature directly, rather than by your motherboard. Cards like the similarly high-end Asus ROG Strix have offered this before, and it proves especially handy if you use your card to control a front case fan pointed directly at the GPU. Next to the fan header, you’ll find an ARGB header that you can plug into your motherboard to tie it together with your graphics card’s chosen lighting.

Both features can be controlled via EVGA’s clean, easy-to-use Precision X1 software, which also provides access to iCX monitoring, an on-screen display that shows vitals during gaming, and overclocking controls—including an easy-peasy OC Scanner tool for modest one-click overclocking tied to your specific GPU’s particular capabilities.

dsc01106 Brad Chacos/IDG

Let there be light.

dsc01109 Brad Chacos/IDG

Let there be more light in the EVGA logos on the top and end of the FTW3 Ultra.

On that note, EVGA filled the RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra with customizable RGB lights that can also be managed with Precision X1. A large, bedazzling strip on the side of the card defaults to a glimmering rainbow pattern that I found attractive, but it also looks nice when set to a single color. The EVGA logo on the top and end of the card also light up. The MSI Gaming X Trio’s RGB lighting isn’t as striking, by comparison, and the Nvidia Founders Edition’s logo only glows in white.

evga rtx 3080 ftw3 ultra 5 Brad Chacos/IDG

HDMI 2.1 for 8K video, 3x DisplayPort 1.4a connections, and some funky red lips

Finally, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and the source of many Internet jokes. EVGA plopped a red plastic accent strip on the end of its RTX 30-series GPUs, and while tastes can be subjective, well, it doesn’t look great. JayzTwoCents likened it to a sad clown, and once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. The red trim will really stand out in most systems, and probably not in a good way.

EVGA has listened to the feedback and plans to offer a variety of replacement colors free of charge for existing owners. You can see them in the image below, and EVGA says more details will be announced soon.

evga end colors EVGA

Replacements coming soon.

That plays into another reason to consider this card: EVGA is known for being very responsive to customer feedback. The company gets high marks around the web for its stellar customer service and EVGA Step-Up Program.

Now you know everything you need to know about the EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra—except how it runs. Let’s get to that.

Next page: Our test system, benchmarks begin

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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