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Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti: Should you upgrade?

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti: Should you upgrade? How do the spec and expected performance compare for the highest end?

Nvidia recently unveiled RTX 4090 GPU in the GTC Sept 2022 Keynote event. The RTX 4090 is the top-of-the-line offering from Nvidia, providing players up to four times the performance compared to the current RTX 3000 series cards. These new GPUs will be based on the Ada Lovelace architecture that provides superior performance. The GPU will hit shelves on October 12, starting at $1599 in the US.

The RTX 3090 was launched on September 24, 2020. It is the best gaming-grade GPU available in the market. Since its launch, it has established dominance as one of the best high-end GPUs. This line of GPUs was based on the Ampere architecture, Nvidia’s second-gen RTX architecture. The RTX 3090 was initially launched in the US at a starting price of $1499.

Until now, no graphics card has been able to challenge Nvidia’s powerful RTX 3090 Ti GPU in pure performance. However, does that change with the new RTX 4090? Let’s find out in this comparison between the RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti.

Nvidia RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti Comparison (2022)

With the new RTX 4090 exceeding expectations both in terms of features and performance, we thought that it would be interesting to see how this new GPU compares to the last generation’s flagship GPU, the RTX 3090 Ti. In this guide, we will look at the various features and hardware developments that come with the new generation of Nvidia cards and find out how exactly they stack up against the older cards. 

Now, though we can be certain about the fact that RTX 4090 will be faster than the previous generation card, the question that remains is by how much? Is the value proposition of the RTX 4090 undeniable, or is there something everyone is missing? Let’s find out.

Specs Sheet

Before we go on to explore all the new features and details of the RTX 4090, let’s first have a general look at the specifications. The first thing you will notice with the RTX 4090is that there’s a significant bump in almost all aspects of the card, from the CUDA cores to the clock speeds.

Furthermore, these specs bumps are a generational upgrade from the 3000 series and not a minor spec bump like what we saw a few years ago with the coming of Nvidia’s Turing (2000-series) GPUs. That said, here’s how the RTX 4090 compares to RTX 3090 Ti on paper:

SpecificationRTX 4090RTX 3090 Ti
ArchitectureAda LovelaceAmpere
Manufacturing Process4nm TSMC8nm Samsung
Transistor Count75 Billion28 Billion
Core count1638410496
GPU Boost Clock2520 MHz1695 MHz
RT cores8482
Tensor Cores336328
VRAM24 GB GDDR6X24 GB GDDR6X
Memory bus-width384-bit384-bit
TDP450W450W
Launch Price$1599$1999 (at launch)

Architecture & Cores

Now that the general specs overview is done, it’s time to explore the biggest change in the new GPU, and that’s the architecture. The RTX 4090 is built on the new Ada Lovelace architecture. It is based on TSMC’s 4nm process node, which is a significant upgrade from the 8nm Samsung process that Nvidia was using for 3000-series cards. This move toward a smaller manufacturing node has allowed Nvidia to cram more transistors (75 billion of them) on a similar size die. This is an almost 165% upgrade over the RTX 3090 Ti, which is bonkers.

More transistors have allowed NVidia to pack even more graphics cores on the GPU. And this is evident, as the new RTX 4090 has almost 62% more CUDA cores compared to the RTX 3090. Manufacturing improvements have also led to a massive increase in the GPU boost clocks. They have been raised to 2520 MHz on the 4090, from the paltry maximum 1650 MHz boost clock of the RTX 3090 Ti. 

The other big change at the level of GPU architecture is the small bump that the new 400-series card has seen in both RT and Tensor cores. The RTX 4090 has 84 RT cores against 3090 Ti’s 82 cores and 336 Tensor cores compared to 328 on the RTX 3090 Ti. This might not seem like a big jump in terms of raw numbers, but as Nvidia has claimed, these cores are different from the older ones and can’t objectively be compared.

Well, the RT cores in the RTX 4000 series cards are third-generation RT cores that offer twice the ray-tracing performance of “Ampere” RT cores. The new RT cores also introduce two new hardware components: an Opacity Micro map Engine and a Displaced Micro-Mesh Engine. Nvidia claims that these new components rapidly accelerate the calculation of alpha textures, common in elements such as video game foliage, providing for a better experience while gaming.

Coming to the tensor cores, the new cards include the 4th generation Tensor cores that come with exclusive features like the Optical Flow accelerator, the magical tool that makes DLSS 3 possible (more on this later).

The only core component of the GPU that hasn’t seen any massive change is video memory. The RTX 4090 card comes with the same 24 GB GDDR6X memory on a 384-bit bus that the RTX 3090 Ti shipped with. However, some reports suggest that the RTX 4090 might be using the full bandwidth of the GDDR6X, which is around 24 GB/s, rather than the 21 GB/s offered by the RTX 3090 Ti.

Design Comparison

Now coming to the realm of design, at first sight, one could easily think that the form factor of the new RTX 4090 is the same as that of the 3090 Ti. But if you look at the design carefully, you would come to realize that the basic design principle (the dual axial flow-through) is the same as the RTX 3090, but there are subtle differences, like as the way that the fans are designed.

The new fans on the RTX 4090 look to have been slightly extended, and because of that, they seem to be protruding into the outer railing. Even the fan blade design has changed as it now features a flatter blade. Nvidia claims that the new fan design will improve the cooling performance by 10%. But more importantly, the fan redesign seems to be a way to improve the airflow over the memory modules, which were considered inadequately cooled on the 3000 series.

Nvidia has also made minor changes to the colour scheme as the newer RTX 4090 comes with a gilded gold metal railing, while the RTX 3090 had silver ones. All in all, there is no significant design change when it comes to the cooling setup, but this was expected as the 3090 Ti (Founder’s Edition) was already the best in its class.

The cooling solution might be similar, but the part of the card that has drastically changed is the power connector. With RTX 3090 and 3080 GPUs, Nvidia came up with a proprietary 12-pin power pin called Molex Micro fit 3. It was a revolutionary standard that had the capability of delivering up to 600 watts of power. But with the release of the RTX 4090, it seems that the 12-pin standard is dead. The new RTX 4090 and 4080 cards come with a single 16-pin PCIe 5.0 power cable that’s radically different from the old solution. In terms of power delivery, though, it’s the same – with a peak power capability of 600W.

Performance

Now that we’ve gone through the drudgery of looking at the details of the specifications and features, it’s finally time to move on to the most important question – how does the RTX 4090 compare in relation to the RTX 3090 Ti? Well, Nvidia claims that it’s a generational improvement over the previous card, but how much of it is marketing, and how much of it is the truth? Let’s have a look:

At the GTC conference, Nvidia made the recurring claim that the new 4000-series cards will be twice as performant as the corresponding 3000-series card in classical-rasterized games and up to four times as fast in ray-tracing games.

Now, at the outset of it, this claim seems plausible. The new cards don’t only come with a massive upgrade in terms of core specifications like core counts and clock speeds, but also include newer technological features such as shader-reordering and DLSS 3. To illustrate this upgrade, Nvidia showed gameplay footage from Flight Simulator and Cyberpunk, where we saw that the new RTX 4090 getting twice as many frames in Flight Simulator when compared to the 3090 Ti and up to 4x frames in games like Cyberpunk 2077.

RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti: Pricing in the US

Finally, another aspect in which the GeForce RTX 4090 and RTX 3090 Ti differ is the release price. Nvidia unveiled the RTX 3090 Ti GPU on April 2022 for a retail price of $1,999. This was a huge gamble by Nvidia at the time, as it was nearly $500 more expensive than the RTX 3090. And surprisingly, that was only for the founder’s edition card produced by Nvidia. Third-party cards from brands like ASUS, MSI, or Zotac could reach upwards of $2,100, which made it one of the most expensive consumer graphics cards ever released.

The RTX 4090, on the other hand, has been announced at a more palatable (but still absurd) launch price of $1,599. This price is more akin to the launch price of the RTX 3090, which was released at $1,499. The price drop might make one feel like Nvidia is moving in the right direction, but the thing that one has to keep in mind is that the release of the 3090 Ti was already met with a lot of disdain among GPU buyers.

The outrageous pricing of the 3090 Ti sparked a debate about whether Nvidia was using its market monopoly to twist the arm of high-end GPU buyers. The launch price of the RTX 4090 at $1,599 might seem like a bargain in the context of the last few years, but only a couple of generations ago, something like this would have been considered outrageous.

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