Computing

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090: An Expensive Powerhouse

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 is a graphics card that is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s both a waste of money and the most powerful GPU ever created. However, whether it’s worth the steep price tag is a different story, especially for the average PC gamer looking to upgrade their system.

Nvidia RTX 4090: Shrouded in Controversy

Debuting Nvidia’s new Ada Lovelace architecture, the RTX 4090 has stirred up controversy and become the symbol of rising GPU prices. Despite its hefty cost, the RTX 4090 delivers exceptional performance, especially with the enhancements provided by DLSS 3. However, it’s unlikely that you should save up your hard-earned money or sell your car to get your hands on this GPU. Instead, view it as an exciting demonstration of the potential of this technology.

Video Review

Nvidia RTX 4090 Specs

The RTX 4090 and RTX 3090 sitting on a table side-by-side.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

As previously mentioned, the RTX 4090 introduces Nvidia’s Ada Lovelace architecture and employs TSMC’s more efficient N4 manufacturing process. While it’s impossible to make a direct spec-for-spec comparison with the previous generation, we can gather insights into what Nvidia prioritized with the Ada Lovelace design.

Clock speeds take center stage. The RTX 4090 boasts a 2.52GHz boost clock, surpassing the 1.8GHz limit of the RTX 3090 Ti. This increase in clock speed comes with the same 450 watt power consumption and greater core count. While it’s unclear how much the additional cores truly matter for gaming, the current 40-series family suggests that the boosted core count isn’t a major selling point.

Synthetic and Rendering Performance

RTX 4090 performance in 3DMark.
Image: Used with permission by copyright holder

Before diving into the full benchmark suite, let’s examine the overall performance. Tests using 3D Mark’s Port Royal and Time Spy clearly demonstrate the impressive scaling of Nvidia’s latest flagship GPU. The RTX 4090 exhibits a 58% gain over the RTX 3090 Ti in Time Spy, and a staggering 102% increase in performance over the RTX 3090 in Port Royal.

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It’s important to note that 3D Mark isn’t the most accurate reflection of real-world gaming performance, as it heavily relies on CPU power, especially at higher resolutions. However, the RTX 4090’s performance in actual games surpasses what these synthetic benchmarks suggest, especially when it comes to ray tracing.

RTX 4090 performance in Blender.
Image: Used with permission by copyright holder

Blender testing reveals the RTX 4090’s exceptional performance in content creation tasks. With its impressive CUDA cores, this GPU outperforms the RTX 3090 and RTX 3090 Ti by more than double in various scenes. Other GPUs, like those from AMD that lack CUDA cores, can’t even come close to this level of performance.

4K Gaming Performance

Geomean of the RTX 4090's performance at 4K.
Image: Used with permission by copyright holder

Now, let’s dive into the juicy details. In my tests, conducted with a Ryzen 9 7950X and 32GB of DDR5-6000 memory on an open-air test bench, the RTX 4090 delivers outstanding performance in 4K gaming. Across various tests, excluding Bright Memory Infinite and Horizon Zero Dawn, the RTX 4090 consistently outperforms the RTX 3090 Ti by 68% and the RTX 3090 by almost 89%.

These performance improvements are substantial, surpassing the 30% boost observed in the previous generation with the release of the RTX 3080. What’s impressive is that these figures don’t even account for upscaling. The raw performance of the RTX 4090, coupled with its ray tracing capabilities, places it well ahead of its predecessors.

DLSS 3 Tested

DLSS has been a standout feature of RTX GPUs for several generations, and DLSS 3 brings significant advancements to the table. The introduction of optical flow AI frame generation allows the AI model to generate unique frames alternately, effectively doubling the performance in theory.

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DLSS 3 performance on the RTX 4090 in 3DMark Port Royal.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

In real games, the gains are not as dramatic, but DLSS 3 still impresses. Testing with A Plague Tale: Requiem demonstrates a 128% increase in average frame rates at 4K with maxed-out settings using DLSS in Auto mode. More aggressive image quality presets yield even higher gains.

DLSS 3 consists of two parts: DLSS Super Resolution, which is available on previous RTX generations, and DLSS Frame Generation, exclusive to RTX 40-series GPUs. Frame Generation generates a new frame every other frame, resulting in a computational load. As a result, Nvidia Reflex engages whenever Frame Generation is active, and you can’t disable it.

While Frame Generation theoretically doubles the frame rate achieved with Super Resolution alone, this isn’t always the case. In Cyberpunk 2077, for instance, the Frame Generation results show that the GPU renders only about 65 frames, with the rest being generated by the AI. When Super Resolution is used independently, the frame rate increases by almost 30 fps. This discrepancy is due to the overhead of DLSS Frame Generation.

DLSS 3 performance in Cyberpunk 2077 with the RTX 4090.
Image: Used with permission by copyright holder

Nevertheless, Frame Generation provides superior performance, and Super Resolution remains a viable option. However, DLSS 3 still requires some refinement in terms of image quality. HUD elements, for example, are prone to artifacts in DLSS-generated frames. Despite these imperfections, DLSS 3 significantly enhances gaming performance, making it a valuable feature.

Should You Buy the Nvidia RTX 4090?

A hand holding the RTX 4090 GPU.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

If you have $1,600 to spare for a GPU, the Nvidia RTX 4090 is undoubtedly a top-tier choice. However, it’s essential to consider whether this graphics card is the right fit for your needs. For most people, especially the budget-conscious gamer, the RTX 4090 isn’t a viable option. The price tag alone makes it an extravagant luxury.

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Ultimately, the RTX 4090 is a remarkable GPU, but that doesn’t mean you should rush to buy it. It’s crucial to remember that the next generation of GPUs is right around the corner. The RTX 4080 models are set to launch soon, and AMD is also preparing to release its RX 7000 GPUs on November 3. It’s wise to exercise patience and wait for a complete picture of the market before making a decision.

For those who desire the best performance and have the means to acquire it, the RTX 4090 is a compelling choice. It surpasses average gaming requirements and establishes itself as an exceptional flagship graphics card.

Editors’ Recommendations:

  • Despite mixed reviews, the RTX 4060 is moving the needle for Nvidia
  • Nvidia doesn’t want you to know about its controversial new GPU
  • Should you buy Nvidia’s RTX 4060 or RTX 4060 Ti?
  • Nvidia RTX 4090 cables may be melting in a worrying new way
  • Nvidia defies pushback, defends 8GB of VRAM in recent GPUs

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