Sure, the RTX 4090 offers massive performance gains over its still-strong predecessors, but it’s also currently less available — and more expensive — than the RTX 3090 Ti’s plummeting pricing. The original GeForce RTX 3090’s price has fallen even further, making it a potential great price-to-performance option. And don’t forget: The GeForce RTX 4080 16GB and AMD’s next-gen RDNA 3 Radeon GPUs are almost here, throwing a wrench into the GPU battle.
For now, let’s focus on what we have currently available, but keep that in mind. We’ll discuss how the RTX 3090 (and its Ti variant) stacks up against the big, badass GeForce RTX 4090 with performance, pricing, and practical matters such as GPU size. What goodies embedded in the RTX 4090 are you missing if you go with the top performer from last generation? Let’s find out!
Nvidia RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 (and Ti): Price and availability
The GeForce RTX 4090’s $1,599 MSRP is significantly less than the $1,999 whopper of a price that the RTX 3090 Ti launched with. It’s also $100 more than the original RTX 3090’s debut $1499 price. Good news, however – the RTX 3090 Ti has dropped to a much lower $1099 for the Founders Edition, and sometimes can be found for less. The 3090 can often be found for under $900, and even closer to $700 if you’re OK with a used graphics card.
Availability gets more complicated: The GeForce RTX 4090 has been steadily sold out since its October 12 launch, making acquiring one a game of “catch me if you can.” The RTX 3090 Ti has been much more available, along with the rest of the RTX 3000 family – but it also can still sell out at its lower price. The vanilla RTA 3090 is fairly easy to find, meanwhile, but retail pricing may still be a bit high in comparison to the Ti version.
Many will argue that $500 extra bucks is justified for the 4090 due to its impressive performance, but that’s not always the case. The 3090 Ti is still very capable, especially at less than 4K resolutions or if your 4K display maxes out at 60Hz, as we’ll find out in the performance section.
Nvidia RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 (and Ti): Performance
For the one enthusiast left in the room that cares about this: Unlike the RTX 3090, the new RTX 4090 lacks any NVLink or SLI support whatsoever. It was already a non-issue for the 3090 and 3090 Ti when the vast majority of games have abandoned multi-GPU support, but you could at least hook them up physically if you really wanted to use the might of two titan GPUs for content creation or machine learning.
With that out of the way, let’s talk numbers. Yep, the RTX 4090 absolutely crushes anything that came before it in an almost “meme-tastic,” hilarious way. There are some caveats that will become clearer, especially with certain games such as Gears Tactics, because the 4090 is so insanely fast that it can become limited by even top-end CPUs, even at 4K resolution. Wowza.
First let’s look at Cyberpunk 2077 as a good example of the 4090’s dominance. In both traditional rasterized performance and ray tracing with graphics options maxed-out, it steam rolls ahead. The RTX 3090 falls short of the 60fps goal for 4K (though it could hit that by dropping some graphics settings), and even its 3090 Ti variant can barely scratch that golden standard. The 4090 clears the bar easily, pulling a significant lead.
Things get a bit more interesting when we look at Gears Tactics. The 1440p performance difference is reasonable as all of these are monster GPUs pushing the game (and your CPU) to its limits, but the 4k performance gap is even more pronounced.
We uncovered another novelty during our 4K testing for Gears Tactics: While it ran 67 percent faster than the 3090, it was bottlenecked by the CPU seven percent of the time. This is highly unusual at 4K, where the GPU is typically the entire bottleneck. It demonstrates how capable the RTX 4090 truly is, as it could theoretically achieve even more if unleashed fully.
This means that if you’re going for the GeForce RTX 4090, even at 4K, you’ll want to pair a highly capable modern CPU with it, such as the AMD Ryzen 7950X or Intel Core i9-13900K. You’d expect most users to do so anyway due to the pricing tier, but now the 4090 demands the fastest possible chip you can throw at it, even at higher resolutions. (It’s still not the case with every 4K or above game, as most are still GPU bottlenecked, even with a 4090.)
On the other hand, the GeForce RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti will typically not bottleneck or show any performance difference amongst many varying CPUs at 4K, and even 1440p often has negligible variations. You’ll still want a good, fast chip – but it doesn’t need to be a screamer like the RTX 4090 demands.
That’s why the 3090 and 3090 Ti are still especially great choices for those at 1440p and below resolutions, and for gaming at 4K on a 60Hz display. The performance gains under 4K on the 4090 aren’t as significant, especially when accounting for CPU bottlenecks. The true gains will be at higher resolutions, so many gamers may find the 3090 class GPUs are more than enough.
We can’t talk about performance and not bring up Nvidia’s piece de resistance: DLSS 3.0. The RTX 4090 contains much more powerful hardware in the form of its optical flow accelerators. While the 3090 and 3090 Ti contain some flavor of this technology, they are not powerful enough to convincingly pull off DLSS 3.0. Frame generation with its AI chops really bring healthy gains not found in the regular DLSS 2.0, as impressive as that one is.
Is this a big deal? It can be if your game supports it. It will be especially useful with ray tracing, which traditionally gives you a performance penalty – but that can be negated with DLSS 3.0 even more.
Demanding games such as Flight Simulator 2020 are perfect examples of impressive gains: You can often double your frame rate while keeping visual fidelity high. In a case such as this, where even a 3090 Ti will struggle with DLSS 2.0 to maintain high frame rates, your use case for a 4090 may very well be justified. Note, however, that while DLSS 3.0 is able to greatly accelerate raw frame rates by inserting AI-generated images every other frame, you won’t necessarily feel like the game is performing faster, as responsiveness can be affected by those AI insertions. Check out the DLSS 3.0 section of our RTX 4090 review if you want a deeper dive into its capabilities.
The performance advantages of the RTX 4090 are clear and no arguing its dominance. (This is especially true at 4K, and when DLSS 3.0 and ray tracing enter the mix.)
At the right price, however, the RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti still put up a valiant effort that are more than enough performance at 1440p or 4K/60Hz levels, while not requiring the fastest CPU like the RTX 4090.
Nvidia RTX 4090 vs 3090/3090 Ti: Power and other things to know
Technically both the GeForce RTX 4090 and 3090 Ti share a TDP of 450W, while the original RTX 3090 draws “only” 350W. The RTX 4090 has recently come under scrutiny with its new 16-pin 12VHPWR power adapter, as some remote cases have shown some users with some melting problems due to the cable potentially being bent. It’s too early to tell if these are isolated cases or perhaps a potential issue, but regardless, all three of these GPUs are certainly hot, power-hungry beasts.
The GeForce RTX 4090 puts out significantly more performance over the 3090 Ti for similar power usage, which is impressive. You may run into other issues, however: All RTX 4090 graphics cards are physically massive.
Many people have had trouble fitting them in their cases with the side panel fully closed, as they’re significantly larger than even most 3090 Ti GPUs for the third party AIB models. Founder Editions are still chunky, albeit slightly less so than AIB flavors.
Verdict: Is the RTX 4090 a no-brainer, or do the RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti still have game left in them?
Have $1,599 (or more) bucks to spend on a GPU? Plan to play at 4K 144hz with all the settings ultra-fied? Don’t mind also buying the fastest CPU out there? Have a pretty-big case to fit it?
If you answered “Yes” to the above, and if you can stand in line long enough, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 is for you. It’s an impressive feat of technology for those who simply demand the absolute best performance. You’ll also have to be willing to put up with the quirky power connector issues, fast CPU requirements, and getting it to fit your case.
Keep in mind the GeForce RTX 4080 16GB is coming soon at a MSRP of $1199. This may end up being more ideal for some users, but it’s yet to be seen. AMD’s next-gen “RDNA 3” Radeon GPUs will spring up soon, too, with a reveal due November 3.
How about the RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti? It’s a tough call. It will depend solely on price and your use case performance-wise. If you’re after an RTX 3090, a used one may be your best bet if it was well taken care of. (VRAM thermal issues were an issue with some Founders Edition GPUs.) If you get it cheaply enough, the RTX 3090 may still be very suitable for you. At 1440p, it still crushes many games, even with ray tracing, and the RTX 3090 remains no slouch at 4K/60 gaming either. DLSS 2.0 is not as capable as the electrified DLSS 3.0, but it still is very potent.
The RTX 3090 Ti is a more “refined” version of the RTX 3090, with slightly more performance, and typically better thermal design with VRAM. Once again, it all depends on the price that you can get it for—its $1099 retail price is significantly cheaper than before, but quickly approaching the MSRP of the impending RTX 4080 16GB at $1199, and potentially whatever RDNA 3 competitor pops up from AMD.
Either of these graphics cards will serve you well. But at this point, if you aren’t splurging on an RTX 4090, we would advise waiting for both the GeForce RTX 4080 16GB and AMD’s RDNA 3 counter-punch to materialize, as we’re very close to both hitting the streets. They may make more sense than the 3090 and 3090 Ti depending on pricing. Their existence will at least push down the price of the RTX 30-series GPUs even further, making your bounty more plentiful if you’re patient.
Otherwise, it’s clear the RTX 4090 is the dominant GPU for now—if you can find one and don’t mind paying an eye-watering price for eye-watering performance.