Nvidia has lifted the embargo on its new flagship graphics card the $1,600 monster that is the GeForce RTX 4090 is now able to have its performance laid bare for all to see. The question is, just how fast is this hugely expensive card in games and can it get anywhere near justifying its price tag?
That’s maybe a silly question, because Nvidia’s flagship models have rarely been about value and cost far more today than they did just a few years ago – it’s 60% more than the RTX 2080 Ti cost at launch. Still, this is a step above that, with the RTX 4080 and it’s two variants will different memory amounts the more comparable products.
Who’s it for?
The RTX 4090 is for those that have a suitably large wallet and either have some serious need for it – perhaps high refresh rate monitors, smooth frame rates at 4K with all the eye-candy turned on or just because they want the best. Today, we’re mostly disregarding value and seeing instead how fast this enormous graphics card is.
Is my PSU powerful enough?
Firstly, a word about power supplies. Despite early rumors, most power supplies will be able to handle the RTX 4090, with Nvidia saying you’ll need a minimum of 850W. The second requirement is a minimum of four 8-pin power connectors, since the RTX 4090 comes with a 4-way splitter cable and ideally you’ll want to feed separate cables into these rather than daisy chaining.
You do not need to connect 8-pin cables to all four connectors, though. Nvidia states that three will suffice for standard operation with four needed if you’re overclocking.
Alternatively, you can use a PSU with a new PCIe 5.0 connector such as the one included with the Thermaltake Toughpower GF3 power supply I used for testing.
This cable can dish out up to 600W on its own and looks a heck of a lot nicer too. Nvidia states either the 450W or 600W versions of this new power connector are compatible with the RTX 4090.
My test system drew around 600W in games, so 850W is a bare minimum with an RTX 4090, with 1000W+ providing more headroom and also likely seeing the PSU fan spin up less frequently.
Is my case big enough?
This is a big graphics card. it’s 5.4in wide, requires three PCI slots and plenty of clearance underneath for cooling. It’s also 12in long. Most standard cases will be fine, but it’s worth checking these requirements, especially with smaller cases.
Test system and benchmarks
The test system uses the Nvidia release driver for the RTX 4090 and the latest drivers as of October 8th for other Nvidia and AMD cards along with a fully up to date version of Windows 11. I used an Intel Core i9-12900K, Asus ROG Strix Z690 Apex motherboard, Kingston 6,000MHz Fury DDR5 memory, a Kingston Fury Renegade SSD and Thermaltake Toughpower GF3 1350W PSU.
Other GPUs were the RTX 3090 and RTX 3090 Ti OC, courtesy of Palit in the form of its GameRock models and AMD RX 6950 XT
I started testing at 2,560 x 1,440 as the RTX 4090 makes no sense for 1080p gaming, and used a mixture of ray tracing/DXR tests, enabling DLSS mostly at the top of the resolution scale to show fps scaling.
Below you can see Rainbow Six Extraction, which is fairly easy to achieve high playframe rates. The RTX 4090 saw some of its best gains here over other cards, offering nearly double the frate rates of the RTX 3090 at 1440p.
Stepping up to 4K and it’s a similar story with near 100 percent gains over the RTX 3090 and RX 6950XT with the RTX 3090 Ti a long way behind. A very impressive showing from the new flagship.
Adding DLSS into the mix saw the AMD card fall away and over 100fps added to the minimum 99th percentile of the RTX 4090, again with huge leads over the other cards.
Forza Horizon 5 was quite as easy to run or as competitive for the RTX 4090, but it was still a long way ahead of the RX 6960 XT and even further than the two other Nvidia cards.
If you chucked out your RTX 3090 and installed an RTX 4090, you’d probably be pleased with the increased frame rates at 4K below too, easily smashing the 100fps barrier and managing a healthy average of 157fps, even with ray tracing enabled.
Watch Dogs: Legion, despite being an elderly title, remains a tough one to achieve smooth frame rates in, but the RTX 4090 is the first card to hit 100fps average at 1440p with DXR enabled – double that of the RX 6950 XT.
Stepping up to 4K and it was till the RTX 4090 with a massive lead over the other cards, with the RX 6950 XT struggling here, but even the RTX 3090 Ti was barely able to manage half the RTX 4090’s average frame rate.
DLSS makes a sizeable difference here and the RTX 4090 offered nearly identical frame rates at 4K to it’s 1440p results, dominating the field and staying above 50fps on both results.
Metro Exodus is still a tough game to achieve high frame rates in but the RTX 4090 did an excellent job here, doubling the average frame rate of the RX 6950 XT and offering a huge amount more performance than the other Nvidia cards at 1440p.
Stepping up to 4K and with more load on the GPUs, the RTX 4090 edged out a more significant lead, more than doubling the average frame rate of every other card and nearly doubling the 99th percentile minimum frame rate of the RTX 3090.
With DLSS enabled it was much the same although the other Nvidia cards benefitted too here, closing the gap in percentage terms, but still a long way behind.
Far Cry 6 is a relatively easy game to play at high frame rates which can see it lean more on the CPU than some other titles, but the RTX 4090 still edged out a decent lead over the other cards, albeit not by a significant amount.
There was more of a difference at 4K, though, with it being the only card to top 100fps on the 99th percentile and an average frame rate at least 40 percent higher than the rest.
With DXR reflections turned on, this lead increased, with the RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti not even managing to stay within 30fps of the 4090’s minimum 99th percentile and sitting nearly 40fps below its average frame rate.
Flight Simulator is a tough game to run at very high frame rates and there are usually bottlenecks elsewhere in a PC, especially below 4K. Interestingly, DLSS 3 could help here as it generates entirely new frames independent of the CPU. As we can see here, even with a Core i9-12900K, there’s very little difference between the cards here.
At 4K, things lean more towards being CPU-bound, but we’re still not seeing the kind of benefits you’d expect given the performance on offer. Clear other bottlenecks are at work, although the RTX 4090 does at least now have a lead.
DLSS in its current guise still doesn’t improve things much, although all Nvidia cards saw some gains. More on DLSS 3 in a minute.
Halo’s multiplayer popularity has certainly been in the news, but the Campaign is just as rewarding, even if it lacks the wow-factor of the original Combat Evolved. It’s a relatively easy game to achieve high frame rates in on a high-end GPU, but the RTX 4090 was again streaking out ahead of the field here.
4K looked great and the RTX 4090 smashed the 100fps barrier again, getting close to double the frame rates of other cards.
DLSS 3 testing
Nvidia provided beta access to several games that were DLSS 3 -enabled, albeit in fairly locked-down form. This works alongside DLSS 2/DLSS Super Resolution and for now is only compatible with RTX 40 series GPUs.
DLSS 3 differs from its predecessor in that it generates entirely new frames using AI. This works independently of the usual graphics pipeline and also of the rest of the system, so it can boost frame rates even when the game is bottlenecked by the CPU.
As RTX 40-seires GPUs are needed to run DLSS 3, there’s no way to run comparison numbers with older cards. The Flight Simulator beta – the key game I’d been hoping to test, didn’t allow me to run my usual benchmark either and with review samples of other Nvidia cards having been returned before I got this far, I was sadly unable to add those into the mix. Still, the key comparisons are here – the improvements DLSS 3 can make.
Cyberpunk 2077 sees an enormous benefit here, with the settings I used resulting in four times the 99th percentile frame rate compared to no DLSS and nearly double that of DLSS 2 with little to no difference in image quality.
Flight Simulator seemed to have DLSS either on or off, with DLSS being on equating to DLSS 3. It saw a massive improvement in frame rates and finally the game was regularly sticking well above 100fps and was silky smooth even at 4K. Once the game is updated to have DLSS 3 support as standard, I’ll be returning to this test to grab results with the RTX 4090 with my own benchmark for more comparison numbers.
The power consumption, while high, wasn’t exactly devastating. In fact, the RTX 4090 drew less power than the Palit RTX 3090 Ti GameRock I used for comparison. 600w is still a huge amount for a PC to draw in games, though, so 850W is certainly a bare minimum here as far as power supplies go and I’d highly recommend 1000W, especially if you do anything that sees high load on the GPU and CPU at the same time.
Value is always of little concern when talking about Nvidia’s flagship graphics cards, but it seems to be getting even less so with each new generation and higher prices. At $1600, the RTX 4090 is more than many people spend on their entire PC, indeed more than most spend on their CPU, GPU and motherboard too. However, there is still a market for cards like this for people that can afford it, otherwise Nvidia wouldn’t produce them.
I still lament the loss days when flagship GPUs cost less than $600, but ultimately we’re here to work out whether this monstrous graphics card is worth buying for anyone that has this kind of cash laying around. Ultimately, if money is of little consequence, the answer is yes.
It’s hugely powerful and had a huge edge over previous generation cards in practically every situation. Even when it doesn’t, for example in CPU or otherwise non GPU-limited games, DLSS 3 can potentially solve that issue too. There are down sides, though, aside from cost, such as as the huge size that will limit its case compatibility. You’ll also need a powerful GPU and to avoid your PC looking like a mass of spaghetti, you’ll likely want to opt for a PSU with a PCIe 5.0 power connector too.
THe RTX 4090 is a graphics card that the vast majority of us can only dream about owning, but that doesn’t stop us lusting after super cars and hyper cars for the same reasons. It’s also without doubt the new fastest graphics card on the planet, with a price to match of course.