RTX 4090 vs. RTX 3090: In terms of performance, the old graphics card can no longer hold a candle to its successor. The comparison reveals whether the RTX 3090 is still worthwhile.

On October 12, 2022, Nvidia launched its RTX 4090. The graphics card manufacturer’s recommended retail price for its current top model was 1949 euros, and three months later the card is around 100 euros cheaper. The predecessor of the current top model, which is now two years old, is almost 450 euros cheaper: the RTX 3090. It is clear that the new card logically calculates faster than its predecessor. How fast and whether it’s worth the extra charge remains questionable.

RTX 4090 vs. RTX 3090: The technical specifications

So let’s compare the two graphics cards with each other based on the following technical specifications:

RTX 4090 vs. RTX 3090: More cores, more power

The table clearly shows what Nvidia has been working on for the last two years: More processing units that clock higher. The RTX 4090 offers almost exactly 56 percent more CUDA cores compared to the RTX 3090. This is mainly due to the production of the chips: While Nvidia still manufactured its RTX 3090 using the 8-nanometer process, the manufacturer halved it with the new generation 4 nanometers.

Simply means that Nvidia can theoretically build twice the number of computing units on the same chip size. However, that would be too much of a good thing, because twice the number of computing units would also result in more power consumption and waste heat, which a heat sink has to dissipate.

Nevertheless, the leap between the generations is considerable, because the 56 percent more computing units on the RTX 4090 consume only around 28 percent more power than the RTX 3090, according to the manufacturer. In addition to the number of computing cores, their clock rate is also noticeable: it increases in comparison 48 percent in boost mode and 59 percent in base clock.

We can state: Within two years, Nvidia has managed to implement 56 percent more computing cores that calculate 48 percent faster under load. Unsurprisingly, it is already clear that the RTX 4090 is at least one step ahead of its predecessor.

Improved ray tracing and artificial learning

The second nose ahead is somewhat hidden in the details and probably also explains the advertised almost fourfold performance advantage. On the one hand, Nvidia has improved its “Deep Learning Super Sampling”, i.e. the learning artificial intelligence for calculating images. Its third generation is reserved for the RTX 4000 series, the RTX 3090 still works with the second generation of DLSS.

Compared to DLSS 2, the third-generation artificial intelligence calculates every second frame, as notebookcheck.com reports, which doubles the frame rate of the AI. The RTX 4090 also has 512 fourth-generation Tensor cores. That’s 52 percent more cores than the RTX 3090’s Tensor cores.

Different technology, same game: The manufacturer also made significant improvements to the ray tracing performance. In the RTX 4090, 128 third-generation ray tracing cores calculate the light rays. In the RTX 3090 there are only 82 of the second generation. So the creators of the RTX 4090 gave 52 percent more computing units for ray tracing.

But all of this only makes up for the advertised fourfold increase in performance when combined. So the software has to be able to enjoy all the innovations at all and so far only one game can do that: “Cyberpunk 2077”. It’s the only game on the market to date that has implemented Nvidia’s Raytracing Overdrive technology. As PCGamesHardware reports, this is about the efficient use of several features of the RTX 4090 such as DLSS 3 and shader execution reordering.

The weakness of the RTX 4090

It remains inexplicable why Nvidia is denying its new graphics card PCIe 5.0 and DisplayPort 2.0. As a reminder, the motherboard’s PCIe lanes are the computer’s information superhighway. The newer the generation, the higher the data throughput of the individual PCIe lanes. This is important for people who like to use a lot of NVM memory. A PCIe 5.0 graphics card only occupies eight PCIe lanes on a PCIe 5.0 mainboard for 31.52 gigabytes (GB) of data throughput.

This leaves more lanes for storage. PCIe 4.0 cards, on the other hand, need 16 lanes for the same data throughput. Nor may that be irrelevant to most consumers. But if you want to use the card for the next five to six years, you could get annoyed with the future upgrade of the mainboard and processor.

The same applies to DisplayPort 2.0. According to Nvidia, DisplayPort 1.4a is sufficient for most consumers because the interface enables 4K at 120 Hertz. That’s also true, but there are already 4K monitors that work with a 240 Hertz refresh rate. They are still extremely expensive, but here too it is true that more and more gamers will be able to afford them in the next one to two years. Competitor AMD is already using DisplayPort 2.0 for its RDNA 3 graphics cards. And that’s what a buyer can expect from a graphics card for almost 2000 euros.

RTX 4090 vs. RTX 3090 in Spielen

Linus Tech Tips took a closer look at the performance of the RTX 4090 in games. Unsurprisingly, the RTX 4090 significantly outperforms its predecessor. Without DLLS and ray tracing, the RTX 4090 calculates 62 percent more frames per second in “Cyberpunk 2077”, 82 percent more in “Forza Horizon 5”, 75 percent more in “Assassins Creed: Valhalla”, and 80 percent more in “Shadows of the Tomb Raider”. Only “Counter Strike – Global Offensive” is an exception. Here the RTX 4090 is only 6.5 percent above its predecessor.

However, this is probably not due to the card, but to the fact that the processor simply cannot calculate more frames per second. If gamers turn on ray tracing in the games, the RTX 4090 trumps the RTX 3090 in “Cyberpunk” by 91 percent. The situation is different with ray tracing and DLLS: Here the lead in the game melts to “only” 77 percent.

Fazit: RTX 4090 vs. RTX 3090

The gap between the generations is huge. Gamers can get hold of an RTX 3090 on Amazon for 1399 euros. The cheapest RTX 4090 costs 1838 euros from the shipping giant. This results in a price difference of around 32 percent. With the compared technical specifications and performance data, the price of 1399 euros for the RTX 3090 in 2023 makes no sense. Here you should definitely reach for the RTX 4090.

If you don’t want to spend more than 1400 euros, you shouldn’t use the RTX 3090 either. An RTX 4080 is ideal here, which also has more power than the RTX 3090 and costs around 1429 euros on Amazon. The RTX 4080 is even a spark faster than the RTX 3090 Ti for 1599 euros. If Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series does not drop significantly in price, you should definitely grab the new generation (as of January 31, 2023).

Sources: nvidia.com, youtube.com/LinusTechtips, PCGameshardware.de

This article contains so-called affiliate links. Further information are available here.