Nvidia RTX 4090 review: A stunning new bar for PC graphics performance – with high costs attached

Advancements in PC graphics are always moving at breakneck speed, but it feels like things are moving particularly fast lately. Each recent new generation features jumps that are an order of magnitude larger than the last – although maintaining has also involved breaking the bank, either due to initially high supplier prices or due to a scam ridiculousness motivated by cryptographic nonsense. The trend continues with Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 4090 – a jaw-droppingly powerful new flagship card with a neat party trick: it breaks the performance metric.

What I mean by that is that the 4090 consistently and effortlessly does what I’ve only seen other cards do in very specific circumstances: it reaches the point where games just can’t run – not because of the card, but because the CPU can’t keep picking up what that beastly GPU throws away. This mostly happened at lower resolutions like 1080p and 1440p, but occasionally even happened at 4K – and it happened with relatively recent games like Marvel’s Spider-Man. Perhaps that will change with the imminent release of Intel’s 13th Gen “Raptor Lake” processors that will help this element of the PC catch up.

Regardless of what’s going on there, I feel like it’s a pretty powerful place to start a discussion on the 4090. At £1650/$1600 it’s a crushing price tag, but what you get for this is also an overwhelming performance. This card is the new benchmark, the new watermark – though it’s really only going to be worth it for those with a full setup that can support it – which means at least a high-end monitor and processor, plus a amount of RAM too healthy.

For hardcore

So let’s be clear: even with a high-end PC that costs several thousand dollars to build, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to unleash that card’s full potential from day one. This is, in a sense, a card for the future – although the blistering pace of recent GPU releases suggests that Nvidia will likely replace or update it within 18 months anyway. It’s also not really a necessary card for 1080p or 1440p gaming. At these resolutions, that’s where you’ll hit a CPU bottleneck, wasting money. The 40-series of Nvidia GPUs soon have a few lower-spec siblings, however – and those will likely be more suited to this type of game.

If you’re a 4K Goblin, though, or if you’re gaming in some kind of ultra-ultrawide setup and want ray-tracing as well, this is the card dreams are made of. I love gaming in 4K and I love ray tracing – although on the previous two RTX generations, even with frame-boosting DLSS enabled, it seemed like a compromise, depending on the game. The RTX 4090 is the first card you can throw in your PC and just… forget about it. Mount everything. Throw in your absolute worst. Cyberpunk, in 4K, with maximum ray tracing? With DLSS3, the 4090 crushes it. Even without DLSS the performance is a ridiculous leap over the previous generation which makes things much more playable.

This is an interesting stance for this card, as these cards – the ones ending in “90” – tend to be aimed at true hardcore tweakers, people involved in rendering or creative applications, not just games. But Nvidia has changed the way it markets these builds, putting this one more directly in the sights of gamers. The result is a graphics card that works both ways: as a glorious ‘fire and forget’ maximum power gaming card, and also as a powerful tool for those who want to use it more as a rendering scalpel. At this level of power, the level of subtlety it’s best suited to is a brick through your window, though – and that’s not a bad thing.

In the framework of

Let’s talk a bit about benchmarks. Whatever 3DMark tool you throw at it – Time Spy Extreme, Port Royal, etc. – the story is largely the same. Compared to the RTX 3090 – its direct predecessor – performance is at least doubled. The performance gap is honestly hard to believe – I’m looking at this Excel spreadsheet of numbers and I can’t believe it. Initially, I ran a few things a few times, convinced that there must be a problem somewhere. But no, that’s the real power level.

Move on to games and the same sort of thing repeats itself, although of course this is where the CPU bottleneck can come into play more fiercely. In Red Dead Redemption 2, a beautiful game and one of my benchmark favorites, the RTX 4090 can manage a pretty solid 120fps at 4K. That’s a jump of over 65% from my benchmarking on a 3080Ti, my previous GPU of choice. Hitman 3 blazes well over 130fps, while Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tops the 100fps mark, while the 3080 Ti only got just over 60.

While it’s now so old it’s reaching the end of its usefulness for us to test, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been a staple of the VG247 graphics card review – and it’s still played well with the cards. Nvidia. This saw a jump in frame rates of over 100 per cent over the 3080 Ti and pushing 70 per cent over the 3090 and 3090 Ti – and that’s with all the bells and whistles on. In the ray tracing world, with RT on Control is about 75% faster than the 3080 Ti. For Hitman 3, performance doubles. Just writing it does not affect the power that surrounds justice.

Nvidia also offered a few games as suggested tests. Flight Simulator is one of those games that started hitting its CPU limits even with older cards, but that doesn’t mean you don’t see improvement, mostly thanks to DLSS 3, the latest generation. from Nvidia’s AI. powerful scaling tool. DLSS has proven essential for games to run well with ray-tracing features enabled, and in the early days RTX cards were essential for achieving 60fps with ray-tracing enabled. Now, on the 4090, things are different – ​​and Flight Sim is the perfect example.

Using the RTX 4090, Microsoft Flight Simulator can achieve 60fps in native 4K without DLSS enabled. Hit it on DLSS 3, though, and the game can average an astonishing 120 fps. DLSS 3 works by AI generating brand new images from scratch – and it really does work. These frames very occasionally have the telltale ghost of technology that needs more refinement – ​​but they’re generally amazing. The best way to trigger it is to do something that changes the entire screen, like switching cameras mid-flight during Flight Sim – but this technology feels magical nonetheless.

While there were a host of other compatible games announced, DLSS 3’s other main showcase during the review period was Cyberpunk 2077 – a title that had struggled on all but the buffest releases. The 4090 doesn’t even flinch. At native 4K, with ray tracing disabled, Cyberpunk runs at something approaching 80 frames per second. Enable RT and even without DLSS it can hit a solid 40 fps. Enable DLSS, however, and things start to get tasty. DLSS 2 might bump Cyberpunk up to and over 60fps, but DLSS 3 can push the game beyond 120fps – and that’s with ray tracing enabled. It blows the mind.

All of the tests and ratings above are at 4K, and I don’t see much point in printing anything below 4K. I’ve done a lot of testing and I don’t see the point of using it. I would just give you some massive numbers. This is a 4K card, and it considers anything below that resolution to be puny. As an example, a 1440p run of Control will go over 200 fps without ray tracing or DLSS; pop on ray tracing with DLSS2 and it drops, but only at 180fps. Forza Horizon 5 runs at 250 frames per second – and so on, and so on. 1440p is barely a factor for this card; 1080 even less. The RTX 4090 is made for 4K gaming.

Money where your mouth is

1665782440 584 Nvidia RTX 4090 review A stunning new bar for PC

So – the performance is amazing. This is incredible computer hardware. But can you afford it? I’m not just talking about the $1600 there either – can you afford everything else? For starters, there’s the requirement for an 850W power supply – many will need an upgrade to push that. My PSU didn’t seem to like the included PCIe 5.0 cable adapter, so I had to buy another one from Amazon.

Then there’s the fact that the Founders Edition 4090 is massive – as big as an Xbox Series S. Some of the vendor cards are even bigger, with even higher power requirements. The Founders Edition remains my favorite – Nvidia’s cooler design, slightly revamped this time around, is cool in both a temperate and aesthetic sense. But if you prefer an Asus or Gigabyte card or something like that, it’s probably even bigger. How many will need a new case as well as a new power supply? Then you have the price of operating the thing, with electricity prices skyrocketing. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Back in my review of the RTX 3080 Ti, I finally said the card was a “matter of cost”, concluding that the card was amazing, but its actual use case would depend on how easily you could justify 1200 $. The story is pretty much the same with the 4090, except it’s $400 more. But – and bear with me here – I think the 4090 might be better value now than the 3080 Ti was then.

At the time, the top tier was the 3090, the direct predecessor of this card. It was $100 less than the 4090, but the jump in power from the 3080 Ti or even the vanilla 3080 to the 3090 was relatively moderate. This time around, the power jump is, as stated, absolutely ridiculous – and will, right now, crush just about anything you throw at it with ease. It’s a beast of a thing, and the ultimate graphics card for 4K gaming – but it’s only for those who want the cutting edge at all costs. It’s a Bugatti – exclusive, decadent and, in a way, a bit silly. But I like to be silly. And decadent.

Perhaps what’s most exciting about the RTX 4090 for the masses, however, is what it means for the future. State-of-the-art cards are always a glimpse of what’ll be possible at lower prices just a few years from now – and if it’s a look at that, current-gen consoles are going to be outdated a lot more faster than us. I’m used to it being a bit mind-blowing. The first attempt to offer this kind of performance at a slightly lower price will come next month, when the cheaper but still beefy RTX 4080 arrives.

The RTX 4090 is a striking statement from Nvidia. It’s a monstrous Thanos-sized gauntlet thrown at AMD and Intel – and the point from which all new RTX cards of this generation will run backwards. One thing is clear: this is going to be an exciting two years for PC gaming graphics.

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Nvidia RTX 4090 review: A stunning new bar for PC graphics performance – with high costs attached

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