Nvidia has put forward a powerful trio of new graphics cards this fall: the GeForce RTX 3070, 3080, and 3090. Polygon’s own Chris Plante tried out the RTX 3080 in September, which costs $699 and can play modern games on a 4K monitor at 60 frames per second (or at a higher frame rate than that, where possible). I’ve been testing the $499 card, the RTX 3070, this past week on my own PC. I’ve got a 1440p monitor, so I can’t test out how these games would run at 4K, but I’ve still seen a marked improvement in how my games look.
For me, the RTX 3070 actually represents an even more significant leap because of how price-conscious I’ve been over the course of building my last two PCs. I built my current computer in mid-2017, right after Nvidia released the GTX 1080 Ti. At that time, I opted for the regular GTX 1080 rather than the 1080 Ti, figuring I didn’t need to spend more money on a slightly higher upgrade.
As I said, there’s also the matter of my monitor. It’s a 1440p display with a 144 Hz refresh rate. I bought it in 2019, and with my mid-2017 PC build (including the ol’ GTX 1080), it felt like a huge upgrade. Right away, I could see a visual difference in my games.
That’s how I feel about the RTX 3070, but more so. I skipped a generation of cards, having stuck with the GTX 1080 since 2017. Like many people, including some here at Polygon, I didn’t think I needed to make another expensive upgrade to the RTX 20-series line (and it was weirdly expensive, especially compared to these 30-series cards). This all means I now get to enjoy the huge uptick in raw power offered by the RTX 3070, and now that more games have introduced ray tracing effects, I get to enjoy them on a card that’s been tuned to display them well, without being as expensive as the 20s were.
One of the more interesting comparisons to make for the RTX 3070 is actually the GTX 2080 Ti. Nvidia made the comparison directly in a post about the RTX 3070, saying it “delivers similar or faster performance than the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (which sold for twice the price)”. I don’t have an RTX 2080 Ti to allow me to compare them directly, but that card’s capabilities sound comparable to the measurements I took of the RTX 3070 — and, of course, this GPU doesn’t cost $1,199 at launch.
Basically, gamers like me who waited out the 20-series line, assuming the tech would get cheaper eventually, have been rewarded at last. The only hitch in this plan is that the RTX 3080 and 3090 have already experienced supply shortages. It seems likely that the RTX 3070 will be in even higher demand, given its more affordable price tag.
As a GTX 1080 owner, I’d grown very familiar with the dance between boosting the visual settings within a game, but not up to the point of compromising on frame rate. It’s become a delicate decision, particularly in demanding games like Control, which never quite looked as good as I thought it should. The GTX 1080 had offered me some perks, of course, which I got to enjoy after I upgraded my monitor in 2019. It let me downsample from 4K resolution using Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution tool, even though I don’t have a 4K monitor, and it still offered me some limited ray tracing.
As of this week, I now see how much better Control can look, thanks to the RTX 3070. I can enjoy all of the in-game settings pumped to the maximum, including a more comprehensive ray tracing implementation and the DLSS feature that was new to the Nvidia 20-series line I’d skipped out on. With every graphical slider turned up and my 1440p monitor displaying a shrunken-down 4K display via DSR, the frame rate hovers at 60-70 frames per second, even as I direct Jesse Faden to fling projectiles and cause massive explosions of particles, laying waste to her enemies while her reflection appears on every mirrored surface. Her facial features and the loose tendrils of hair escaping her ponytail look all the more detailed throughout, and even far-off objects stay crisp and clean. If I change the rendering resolution to 1440p rather than DSR’s version of 4K, I can get an easy frame rate boost up to 144 as Jesse’s just walking around the Bureau, with that rate dipping down to 120-130 when she gets into any type of supernatural trouble. In short, Control looks damn good now.
Destiny 2, a game that’s entered my regular rotation during the pandemic, also looks significantly better now. Right away, I saw my Guardian’s armor sharpen and glisten in ways it never had with my old GTX 1080. More important than my Guardian cutting a spiffier figure, though, was the new card’s impact on the overall visual noise of battles. Even during massive firefights, my frame rate could easily climb to 90 and stay there, with my monitor still rendering tons of colorful attacks and allowing distant enemies to stay crisp.
For the gamer who’s been upgrading all along, looking for incremental differences and power boosts wherever they can find them, the RTX 3080 or even the RTX 3090 will be your card of choice this fall. You’re probably not even reading this review. If you are reading this, you’re someone like me — somebody who upgrades their setup every few years, not every time a new card hits the market. Maybe you’re somebody who has to save up for an upgrade and still thinks $499 is kind of steep, but ultimately worth it for something that’s going to make the oncoming generation of games look gorgeous. It may be framed by most reviewers as the price-conscious choice, particularly compared to the other cards on offer, but it’s still a luxurious gift to give to yourself, and one that will presumably pay dividends whenever your future self manages to save up for a 4K monitor. And by “you” I also mean “me.”
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 will be released Oct. 29. The GPU was tested on the reviewer’s personal PC with an Intel i7-7700K CPU, 32 GB RAM, and a 1 TB SSD. The reviewer used a Founders Edition RTX 3070 provided by Nvidia. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.