The latest range of NVIDIA graphics cards, the RTX 30 series, have hit the shelves and buyers are clambering to grab the limited supplies. Sounds great – but if you’re in the market for a GPU replacement, then you’d better make sure that the rest of your machine is up to the job.
NVIDIA RTX 30: 2nd Generation Ampere Technology
NVIDIA’s newest graphics have certainly grabbed the headlines by packing a phenomenal quantity of technology into the package. The all-new NVIDIA Ampere architecture comprises of the 2nd generation Ray Tracing Cores alongside 3rd generation Tensor Cores for greater productivity throughput and gaming power. The RTX 30 Series also enhances NVIDIA’s groundbreaking AI rendering system (called DLSS – Deep Learning Super Sampling) which improves image quality and framerates on selected gaming titles.
NVIDIA RTX 30 Series: Choose your flavour
The RTX 30 series cards are available in three flavours – the entry level RTX 3070, the mid-range RTX 3080 and all-powerful RTX 3090 – but before you splash a considerable amount of cash, let’s check that you won’t have to spend more money to get it running.
Different manufacturers will realise NVIDIA’s technology differently, but many of the variations of the RTX 30 series will be pretty similar. In our example, we’re using Gigabyte‘s VISION OC range. The first thing to check is the card’s length. The RTX 3090 & 3080 are 320mm long whereas the RTX 3070 is a shorter, but sizeable, 286mm. If you’re unsure of the internal dimensions of your PC’s case, then grab a screwdriver, remove the side panel and measure it. If the space is too small, check that your case doesn’t have removable drive bays to accommodate full-sized GPUs.
Another size metric to observe is the card’s height. All three of the RTX 30 Series are classified as triple height cards which means that they cover three slot on the case and therefore cover a large section of your motherboard. If you’re using other PCIe cards (wireless, sound, USB etc) then work out if an RTX 30 would have enough clearance. If you need to move the other PCIe cards, then ensure you have enough free ports.
NVIDIA RTX 30: Have you got the Amps for Ampere?
Once the physical dimensions have been checked then it’s time to turn your attention to the power supply unit (PSU). If you’re not sure what type of PSU is installed into your machine then you’ll find a make and model number plastered to the side of it. The RTX 3090 & 3080 requires a PSU of at least 750w whist the RTX 3070 would like at least 650w. This doesn’t mean that a 750w PSU will see you home and dry as this rating is only the requirement for the GPU, all your other components need consideration too. A great way to check to use a PSU calculator such as this one from Coolermaster to get an idea of the requirements for the whole machine.
Get hooked up
Voltages and amperage are only part of the story. The RTX 3090 and 3080 require two 8-pin 12v power connectors and the RTX 3060 requires one 8-pin and one 6-pin so check you have enough connectors to connect the PSU to the GPU. Preferably, you should run one 12v cable (aka a rail) for each connector as using a single one (with an adaptor on the end) can cause performance issues including insufficient voltage delivery when the card is under load – which is usually at that critical part of the game when victory is a moment away!
PCIe 3.0 vs PCI 4.0
Another facet of the new RTX 30 series is that they utilise PCIe 4.0 – but don’t panic if your machine only has PCIe 3.0 (check your motherboard details to be sure). NVIDIA says that this isn’t something to be too concerned about, stating that the performance degradation between the PCIe 4.0 and 3.0 will only be a few percent. A bigger differentiator is CPU power; there are no specifics on this detail yet, but the implication seems to be that older CPUs will be a bottleneck which would prevent the RTX 30 series from hitting their full potential.
There is no doubt that NVIDIA’s new RTX 3090, 3080 and 3070 are stunning bits of kit, but at the price you’re going to pay, it’s imperative that you know in advance if your investment is going to function for you. If you follow this Big Tech Question guide then you’ll know if your existing system is up to snuff, or if it’s going to need more cash throwing at it to get the best out of NVIDIA’s latest and greatest.