Computing

Nvidia RTX 3050 Review: Affordable Graphics Cards Make a Comeback

2022 is proving to be the year when budget-friendly GPUs make their long-awaited return. Just when I thought this category of graphics card was obsolete, Nvidia surprises us with the release of the RTX 3050. Priced at $249, this GPU has the potential to become the go-to option for budget-conscious gamers. Let’s take a closer look at what sets the RTX 3050 apart from the competition.

Pricing and Availability

RTX 3050 graphics card sitting upright.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Nvidia did not provide a reference design for the RTX 3050, but the company did set a list price of $249. There are a variety of options available from board partners such as EVGA, PNY, Colorful, and Asus. I had the chance to try out the EVGA RTX 3050 XC Black, which is currently available for $249.

I received a card with the incorrect BIOS, intended for the slightly more expensive EVGA RTX 3050 XC. This BIOS includes a 68MHz boost to the clock speed, which results in a difference of no more than 3% in extreme cases. However, this can easily be compensated for by manually overclocking.

As with all graphics cards in 2022, the RTX 3050 is expected to sell out immediately. The silver lining is that there are models available at the launch day’s list price. This is significantly cheaper than almost any other graphics card currently on the market, including some older options.

On paper, the RTX 3050 is $50 pricier than the recently released AMD RX 6500 XT. While I haven’t had the opportunity to test AMD’s card yet, the benchmarks I’ve seen indicate that the RTX 3050 justifies its higher price. For an extra $50, you not only get a more powerful GPU, but also Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) and ray tracing capabilities that are actually impressive.

If you manage to snag an RTX 3050 at the $250 price point, I highly recommend doing so. It offers unparalleled value in today’s GPU market. However, for most people, this will not be the reality. Once the initial stock falls into the hands of scalpers, you can expect to pay double the list price. For instance, the RTX 3060 currently sells for around $750 on the secondhand market.

I anticipate secondhand prices for the RTX 3050 to be around $500. In that case, the RX 6500 XT would be around $100 to $150 cheaper. However, in my opinion, the RTX 3050 still offers better value. While its performance may not be as crucial, the fact that it belongs to the 30-series GPU family makes it more impressive than AMD’s competing graphics card.

Specs

The RTX 3050 is a true budget graphics card that matches its specifications. It sits at the bottom of Nvidia’s current lineup, with a lower core count compared to the RTX 3060 and reduced power consumption by almost half. Additionally, the RTX 3050 has a limited amount of video memory. Unlike some recent GPU releases, the RTX 3050 does not face any significant issues based on its spec sheet.

Compared to the RTX 3060, the most noticeable difference is the memory. The RTX 3050 comes with 8GB of GDDR6 memory, but it squeezes this memory through a smaller 128-bit bus, resulting in a reduced memory bandwidth of 224GB/s. Furthermore, the RTX 3050 has about 36% fewer CUDA cores than the RTX 3060.

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Despite these changes, the card operates at a much lower wattage. The base specification requires only 90W, making a 250W power supply sufficient. Power limits continue to increase, and for the first time, we have an RTX 30-series graphics card that runs below 100W.

Compared to AMD, the RTX 3050 stands out due to its PCIe interface. Like most current-generation GPUs, the RTX 3050 supports PCIe 4.0. Unlike the recently released RX 6500 XT, the RTX 3050 offers support for 16 lanes, ensuring uninterrupted bandwidth for systems locked to PCIe 3.0—every platform below 12th-gen Intel and AMD Ryzen 5000.

Gaming Performance

The RTX 3050 stacked on top of another graphics card.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The main competitor to the RTX 3050 is AMD’s RX 6500 XT. While I currently do not have an RX 6500 XT for testing, I wanted to gain some insight into how Nvidia’s latest budget offering compares. To get an idea, I substituted the RX 580 in my tests. Although it is an older GPU, benchmarks indicate that its performance is similar to that of an RX 6500 XT.

To eliminate any CPU-related limitations, I ran my tests on the latest build of Windows 10 with a Ryzen 9 5950X and 32GB of memory. Here are the results at 1080p with the highest graphics preset:

Out of the suite, the RTX 3050 only managed to achieve frame rates above 60 frames per second (fps) in Battlefield V and Fortnite. It’s not particularly surprising, but the card fell short of the coveted frame rate target in Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The RTX 3050 is designed for 1080p gaming, but it doesn’t target the highest graphics presets.

However, the lower graphics presets were much more impressive. The card achieved 64 fps in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and 134 fps in Battlefield V. In 2022, most graphics cards don’t require you to sacrifice graphics presets at the proper resolution. The RTX 3050 does, but this is not necessarily a downside. It highlights the minimal impact of the highest preset and the significant performance boost that can be gained by lowering the settings.

Compared to the RX 580, you can see how much faster a budget GPU should be in 2022. The RTX 3050 outperformed the RX 580 by approximately 40% in 3DMark Time Spy, 41% in Fortnite, and 24% in Battlefield V. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to test the RX 6500 XT yet, I have seen enough to confidently say that the RTX 3050 is the faster card.

However, the comparison should be taken with a grain of salt. When compared to the RTX 3060, the RTX 3050 falls approximately 20% behind in Red Dead Redemption 2 and 25% in Battlefield V. The RTX 3060 occupies a sweet spot that the RTX 3050 cannot quite reach. Nevertheless, considering that the RTX 3050 is about 25% cheaper and only 20% slower, it provides exceptional value.

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There were some issues that arose outside of raw performance due to the memory configuration. These issues don’t necessarily manifest in average frame rates. In Battlefield V, the card initially showed minimum frame rates in the single digits, resulting in stuttering during gameplay. This can be attributed to the smaller memory bus and 8GB of VRAM. In games with high-resolution textures, stuttering was also noticeable as assets loaded into memory.

However, despite these minor setbacks, the RTX 3050 performs satisfactorily. Compared to the current offerings from AMD, it stands out. While I still believe that the RTX 3060 and RTX 3060 Ti offer better price-to-performance ratios, the secondhand market might offer the RTX 3050 at significantly lower prices.

Content Creation Performance

Nvidia RTX 3050 graphics card sitting on its back.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The RTX 3050 is primarily a gaming graphics card, so I would recommend opting for a more powerful option if your primary use is 3D modeling or rendering. Nevertheless, I wanted to run a few content creation benchmarks to see how the RTX 3050 performs in these scenarios. While the results are not terrible, they aren’t exceptional either.

Across the three Blender renders, the RTX 3050 was approximately 32% slower than the RTX 3060 and similarly slow compared to the RX 6600. It fared better in PugetBench for Premiere Pro, but like the RX 6600 and RTX 3060, this benchmark relies heavily on the CPU and system memory.

Compared to the RX 580, the difference is significant. The RTX 3050 leverages CUDA for rendering, unlike the RX 6600 and RX 580, resulting in faster render times than with OpenCL. Render times with the RX 580 were noticeably higher, and in the case of the Koro render, the test could not even be completed.

Make no mistake: the RTX 3050 is not an ideal graphics card for content creation. While it can hold its own, upgrading to a higher-tier graphics card from either AMD or Nvidia will yield far better results.

DLSS and Ray Tracing

GeForce logo on the RTX 3050.
Image: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

For the first time in a while, Nvidia sets itself apart from the competition not in raw performance but in terms of features. DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) is a critical feature for demanding games, and the RTX 3050 offers this feature for titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Control. Additionally, it provides hardware-accelerated ray tracing that outperforms the competition from AMD.

The above results were obtained using the same test bench at 1080p with the highest graphics preset. I included the RTX 3060 and RX 6600 for reference, rather than as direct competitors to the RTX 3050. These two cards belong to a higher performance class and unsurprisingly outperformed the RTX 3050.

However, I was surprised by how closely the RTX 3050 matched the RX 6600. When ray tracing was enabled, the RX 6600’s performance significantly dropped compared to the RTX 3050. In Control, where both GPUs achieved almost identical average frame rates, the RX 6600 struggled more with ray tracing enabled.

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This demonstrates the strength of Nvidia’s ray tracing cores. However, it’s important to note that you wouldn’t want to play games like the ones mentioned above with ray tracing enabled using either of these cards. This is where DLSS comes into play. Even in the modest Balanced mode, the RTX 3050 maintained performance comparable to having ray tracing disabled. In the case of Control, the average frame rate was even higher with DLSS enabled.

DLSS may not be available in every game, but the list of supported titles continues to grow. For many major AAA releases, which would otherwise be unplayable on the RTX 3050, DLSS makes it possible to enjoy these games with all the visual enhancements. It is undoubtedly the best feature of the RTX 3050.

Our Take

The RTX 3050 emerges as the victor by default. When pitted against AMD’s lackluster RX 6500 XT, Nvidia could have released almost any graphics card and still come out on top. On its own, the RTX 3050 is a good graphics card that offers performance that aligns with its price—an excellent option for budget gamers.

DLSS gives the RTX 3050 an extra edge, turning it from a good but not outstanding GPU into a go-to choice for gamers on an extremely tight budget. While current prices are inflated, we can hope to see plenty of $250 RTX 3050 cards by the end of the year—unlike Nvidia’s recently released 12GB RTX 3080.

Are There Any Alternatives?

Not at the moment. Nvidia skipped this price tier with the previous generation, and AMD’s RX 6500 XT does not come close to matching the performance of the RTX 3050. The only alternatives would be Nvidia’s more premium GPUs. However, it is possible that by the end of 2022, you might be able to find an RTX 2070 or RTX 2060 Super for a similar price.

How Long Will It Last?

The RTX 3050 is not designed for the future. It barely meets the requirements for 1080p AAA gaming right now, and within a few years, it may struggle to achieve sustainable frame rates at the highest graphic settings. However, if you are willing to compromise on settings or primarily play less demanding games, it should last you four to five years.

DLSS significantly helps extend its lifespan. Assuming the list of DLSS-supported games continues to grow, you will be able to extract optimal performance from the RTX 3050 for many years to come.

Should You Buy It?

If you manage to find the RTX 3050 at the list price, definitely go for it. After the initial release, the decision will depend on the price at which you can find the RTX 3050. It remains a solid graphics card, but if you can find an RTX 3060 or RTX 3060 Ti at a reasonable price, those options are more favorable.

OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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