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Is The RTX 3090 The Budget Workstation Card You've Been Waiting For?

Published: 10-14-2020

The RTX 3090 isn’t the flagship card for Nvidia’s new line of Ampere-based 30-series GPUs. That honor goes to the RTX 3080 which, for $700, promises to offer about double the performance of the RTX 2080 card that occupied it’s slot in the range previously. For current owners of the RTX 2080 that’s an incredible deal, though existing 2080 Super and Ti owners will probably be in no rush to upgrade until cards with similar uplifts appear at some point in the future.

Despite not being the main focus of Nvidia’s marketing push however, the RTX 3090 stands at the top of the pile in terms of performance and not just by a little bit. It’s also much more expensive than the 3080, more than twice the price! So who is this card for and is it actually a massive bargain for professional users? Let’s figure it out!

The Eye-watering Specs (And Price!)

Let’s quickly go over the specifications, so that you know how much beef this “BFG” card actually has. We can’t compare CUDA core counts between generations, since of course these new cores are each more capable individually than those from Pascal or Turing. What you should know is that the $700 3080 sports 8704 CUDA cores while the 3090 has a whopping 10496. That’s an amazing number, but you’ll also notice you aren’t getting twice the chip for twice the money. So why does the RTX 3090 cost so much? The other big number here is the VRAM. You get 24GB of GDDR6X compared to the mere 10GB on the 3080. There’s also a slightly wider memory bus with 384-bits vs 32-bits. Clearly this doesn’t matter much to enthusiast gamers looking to get a 4K fix, but for professional applications it has promise.

What About The Titan Cards?

Nvidia has said outright that the 3090 is a “Titan-class” GPU. Whether this means that the Titan brand will be retired is anyone’s guess, but the RTX Titan sold for a whopping $2500. That’s still cheap compared to a Quadro card, but a whole $1000 more than a 3090. The specification difference between the RTX Titan and the RTX 3090 is massive. It has less than half of the cores and they are last-generation to boot. Though you get the same amount of total VRAM, GDDR6X offers a significant bandwidth uplift as well. It’s not looking good for the Titan RTX at all.

Why Should Professional Users Consider The RTX 3090?

First off, if you’re already using a Titan RTX for your professional use case, then go right ahead and write that check for the RTX 3090. This card is better in every way, costs significantly less and also offers major improvements for real-time ray-tracing and machine learning acceleration.

You can almost buy two 3090 cards for the price of one! Which is actually a very important point because the RTX 3090 is the ONLY new Nvidia card that still supports multi-GPU linking. There’s no SLI connector to be found on any other announced or released 30-series card at the time of writing. For gamers, who Nvidia have also tried to include in their 3090 marketing, there’s little to be gained from NVLink. However, those who need GPU power ot crunch massive datasets or render professional grade GPU visual loads can get great scaling from the technology. Just be sure to get two of the SAME cards, since the NVLink connector position does not seem to be standardized across brands for the 3090.

The simple fact of the matter is that the 3090 is the most powerful and most affordable card for professional GPU workloads you can buy today.

When Should Computing Pros Stay AWAY From The RTX 3090?

Which does not mean this is for every professional user! If the RTX Titan was not appropriate for you, the 3090 does nothing to change that. Though Nvidia has been offering “Studio” drivers for all its cards to help people who use Photoshop, Premiere and other productivity apps in the same vein keep downtime to a minimum, you still aren’t getting the Quadro support, certification, accuracy or reliability.

For everyone else the RTX 3090 is both a price and performance revelation. So get your credit cards ready folks, because they are selling out fast!