Reviews

Impossible power and impossible price — GeForce RTX 3070 Founder’s Edition review

We dug deep when we got our hands on the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, showcasing just how powerful this incredible device truly is, as you can see in our review. There’s no doubt that it’s the most powerful GPU on the market today, outside of the 3090. Fast forward a month and now we’ve gotten our hands on the GeForce RTX 3070 — an even more aggressively-priced card from NVIDIA. In the initial pitch from CEO Jensen Huang’s reveal he claimed that it would be even more powerful than the flagship card from their last generation, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, but at a cost of less than half that of its predecessor. It’s hard to even fathom that level of price to performance, so I was eager to get this card into my case to see for myself.

Right off the bat you can see that there is a great deal of change in the externals of the card between the 3080 and 3070. The card is slightly shorter than it’s bigger brother, which is great for those who might want to build an ultra-powered portable LAN box. The 3070 measures 9.5” in length and 4.4” width, taking up two slots, versus the 3080 which measures 11.2” and 4.4”, respectively. It uses the same proprietary connector, but requires only a single 8-pin connector to the power supply, consuming just 220W versus the 3080’s power-hungry 320W. As such, you’ll only need a 650W PSU in your system to keep this card humming along. The 3070 uses a similar flow-through cooling solution that we saw in the 3080 and 3090, but we’ll tackle that in a bit. We’ll need to get a little deeper under the hood to see the rest of the differences.

Just like in our 3080 review, I want to cover some jargon to ensure you have a clear picture of the hardware under the hood in the GeForce 3070. There is one major architecture change from the aforementioned card in the 3070 — the memory. In the 3080 we have 10 GB of GDDR6-X, but in the 3070 is 8GB of GDDR6. What’s the difference? Well, GDDR6-X uses some amazing new architecture to introduce four instructions per cycle instead of the usual two we’d find in a typical memory architecture. GDDR6 is what you’ll find in the 2080 Ti, and it’s certainly the top shelf of memory beyond this brand new experiment from Micron. To whit, the RTX 3080 has 19 Gbps of memory throughput to the 3070’s 14 Gbps. While it seems like the GDDR6-X experiment is working out, and it’s very likely we’ve not seen the fully realized power of this architecture change, there’s nothing wrong with GDDR6, rest assured.

There is one hitch with the 3070 — the amount of memory on the card. The 3080 felt light at 10GB, but the 3070 cuts that back to 8GB. Stacking up features on a game can use quite a bit of RAM, caching the level in VRAM. Higher refresh rates combined with higher resolution means pushing more pixels per second, with 4K literally pushing into the billions. The higher the resolution, the more VRAM you’ll need. That’s not to say that running out of memory is going to cause you a problem, because that’s not how any of this works, but it could mean another trip back to the storage through the backplane, and that can add a little bit of extra cycle time. The benchmarks suggest we aren’t hitting that point yet, but it’s worth noting if you intend to play at higher refresh and resolution.

The largest difference between the 3080 and 3070 beyond the memory architecture is the number of Cuda cores. The 3080 has 8704 cores, whereas the 3070 ships with 5888. Additionally, the 3070 has 184 Tensor cores versus the 3080’s 272. That said, let’s dig into the rest of the tech.
What is an RT Core?

Arguably one of the most misunderstood aspects of the RTX series is the RT core. This core is a dedicated pipeline to the streaming multiprocessor (SM) where light rays and triangle intersections are calculated. Put simply, it’s the math unit that makes realtime lighting work and look its best. Multiple SMs and RT cores work together to interleave the instructions, processing them concurrently, allowing the processing of a multitude of light sources intersecting with the objects in the environment in multiple ways, all at the same time. In practical terms, it means a team of graphical artists and designers don’t have to “hand-place” lighting and shadows, and then adjust the scene based on light intersection and intensity — with RTX, they can simply place the light source in the scene and let the card do the work. I’m oversimplifying it, for sure, but that’s the general idea.

The Turing architecture cards (the 20X0 series) were the first implementations of this dedicated RT core technology. The 2080 Ti had 72 RT cores, delivering 29.9 Teraflops of throughput, whereas the RTX 3080 has 68 2nd-gen RT cores with 2x the throughput of the Turing-based cards, delivering 58 Teraflops of RTX power. Where does the 3070 fall? Well, with 47 RT cores, it can deliver 40 Teraflops of shadow-processing, real-time ray tracing, shading, and compute power — a substantial increase over the 2080 Ti.
What is a Tensor Core?

Here’s another example of “but why do I need it?” within GPU architecture — the Tensor Core. This relatively new technology from NVIDIA had seen wider use in high performance supercomputing or data centers before finally arriving on consumer-focused cards in the latter and more powerful 20X0 series cards. Now, with the RTX 30×0 series of cards we have the third generation of these processors. The 2080 Ti had 240 second-gen cores, the 3080 has 272 third-gen Tensor cores, and the 3070 comes with 184 of them. Don’t fall into the trap that more is better though — the third generation of tensor cores are double the speed of their predecessor. That’s great and all — but what do they do?

Tensor cores are used for AI-driven learning, and we see this more directly applied to gaming via DLSS, or Deep Learning Super Sampling. More than marketing buzzwords, DLSS can take a few frames, analyze them, and then generate a “perfect frame” by interpreting the results using AI, with help from supercomputers back at NVIDIA HQ. The second pass through the process uses what it learned about aliasing in the first pass and then “fills in” what it believes to be more accurate pixels, resulting in a cleaner image that can be rendered even faster. Amazingly, the results can actually be cleaner than the original image, especially at lower resolutions, and having less to process means more frames can be rendered using the power saved. It’s literally free frames. DLSS 3.0 is still swirling in the wind, but very soon we may see this applied more broadly than it is today. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for that one, but when it does release, these Tensor cores are the components to do the work. That’s all fancy, but wouldn’t you rather see it in action? Here’s a quick snippet from Control that does exactly that.

DLSS 2.0 was introduced in March of 2020, and it took the principals of DLSS and set out to resolve the complaints users and developers had, while improving the speed. To that end, they reengineered the Tensor core pipeline, effectively doubling the speed while still maintaining the image quality of the original, or even sharpening it to the point where it looks better than the source! For the user community, NVIDIA exposed the controls to DLSS, providing three modes to choose from — Performance for maximum framerate, Balanced, and Quality which looks to deliver the best quality final resultant image. Developers saw the biggest boon with DLSS 2.0 as they were given a universal AI training network. Instead of having to train each game and each frame, DLSS 2.0 uses a library of non-game-specific parameters to improve graphics and performance, meaning that the technology could be applied to any game should the developer choose to do so. Game development cycles being what they are, and with the tech only hitting the street earlier this year, it’s likely we’ll see more use of DLSS 2.0 during the holiday blitz, and even more after the turn of the year.

Frametime vs. Framerate:

It’s important to understand that these two terms are not in any way interchangeable. Framerate tells you how many frames are rendered each second, and Frametime tells you how long it took to render each frame. While there is a great deal of focus on framerate and the resolution at which it’s rendered, frametime should likely receive equal if not greater attention. When frames take too long to render they can be dropped or desync, wreaking all sorts of havoc including stuttering. If frame 1 takes 17ms, but frame 2 takes 240ms, that’s going to make for a jittery result. Realize that both are important and don’t become myopically focused on just framerate as it only tells half the story – even if a device is capable of delivering 144fps, if it does so in an uneven fashion, you’ll see a choppy output.

What is RTX IO?

Right now, whether it’s on PC or consoles, there is a flow of data that is largely inefficient and our games suffer for it. Storage platforms deliver the goods across the PCI bus, to the CPU and into system memory where they are decompressed. Those decompressed textures are then passed back across the PCI bus to the GPU which then hands it off to the GPU memory. Once that’s done, it is then passed to your eyeballs via your monitor. Microsoft has a new storage API called DirectStorage that allows NVMe SSDs to bypass this process. Combined with NVIDIA RTX IO, the compressed textures instead go from the high-speed storage across the PCIe bus and directly to the GPU. Assets are then decompressed by the far-faster GPU and delivered immediately to your waiting monitor. Cutting out this back-and-forth business frees up power that could be used elsewhere — NVIDIA estimates up to a 100X improvement. When developers talk about being able to reduce install sizes, that comes directly from this technology. So, what’s the catch?

NVIDIA RTX IO is an absolutely phenomenal bit of technology, but it’s so new that nobody has it ready for primetime. As a result, I can only tell you that it’s coming and talk about how awesome this concept and technology is; I can’t test it for you. That said, as storage platforms shift towards incredibly high speed drives that unfortunately have very low storage capacity, you can bet we’ll see this come to life and quickly. Stay tuned on this — it could be a huge win for gamers everywhere.

NVIDIA Broadcast:

There is an added bonus that comes with the added power of the Tensor cores. While the AI cores do handle DLSS, they also deliver some additional smoothing in an app NVIDIA is calling “NVIDIA Broadcast”. This app can improve the output of your microphone, speakers, and camera through applying AI learning in much the same way that we see it in the examples above. Static or background noise in your audio, artifacting when you are streaming with a green screen (or without one as Broadcast can simply apply a virtual background), distracting noise from another person’s audio, and even perform a bit of head-tracking to keep you in frame if you are the type that moves around a lot. Not just a gaming-focused application, this works for any video conferencing, so feel free to Zoom away while we are all stuck inside.

Inside the application are three tabs – microphone, speakers, and camera. Microphone is supposed to let you remove background noise from your audio. I use a mechanical keyboard and I’ve been told more than once that it’s loud. Well, even with this enabled, it’s still loud — my Seiren Elite doesn’t miss a single sound.

The second tab is speakers which is supposed to reduce the amount of noise coming from other sources. I found this to be fairly effective, removing obnoxious typing noises from others — hopefully I can do the same for them one day.

The final tab is where the magic happens. Under the Camera tab you can blur your background, replace it with a video or image, simply delete the background, or “auto-frame”. Call software like Zoom and Skype can do this as well, but even in this early stage I can say it doesn’t do it this well. Better still, getting it pushed into OBS was as simple as selecting a device, selecting “Camera NVIDIA Broadcast” and it was done. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

The software has fully launched at this point, delivering a lot of value for the low price of free! In practice I saw a marginal (~2%) reduction in framerate when recording with OBS — a pittance when games like Overwatch and Death Stranding are punching above 150fps, and it works with fairly terrible lighting like I have in my office. A properly lit room will look miles better.

Gaming Benchmarks:

I think it’s important to include the 3080 in our analysis, as well as the previous generations of cards in our benchmarks, so I’m including them in our benchmarks on the 3070. (I’ll be able to show you what Watch Dogs: Legion that looks like on the 28th, so stay tuned) We’ll be updating this graph as shiny new RTX-powered games hit the market, so stay tuned — this graph is going to get very exciting. That said, realize that I’m running pre-release drivers –these numbers will likely improve and spread out as the game releases hit and NVIDIA’s drivers mature.

ANALYSIS:

There are a lot of interesting bits of information glean from these benchmarks. Sure the standouts are the big number jumps, but it also indicates something subtle as well. Games that take advantage of new lighting like RTX instead of performing complex calculations for lighting and shadows see a sizable boost over their contemporaries without that tech. By way of example, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is notoriously CPU-bound, so throwing more hardware at it will only go so far. If the game were to take advantage of tech like RTX, we could see that constraint removed, likely granting huge gains.

When you look at the differences between 4K and 1440p, we see where the RTX 3070 lives. Obviously every game has its own specs to juggle, but the 3070 is able to deliver 4K at or near 60. If you are like me, though, you’d prefer to run 1440p at a higher rate instead. All of the benchmarks were run at the highest possible settings, including the notoriously rough Red Dead Redemption 2. Despite throwing the kitchen sink at this card, it’s still able to handle Rockstar’s flagship title at 4K and 60fps — impressive considering this is NVIDIA’s current “value” card.

Speaking of value, we need to talk about the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. As the most powerful consumer-focused card released last generation (we aren’t counting the mega-cards like the Titan), the 2080 Ti delivered a hell of a lot of power, but came with a $1200 price tag. What’s amazing is that the GeForce RTX 3070 delivers that same power, but it does it at a price tag of just $500. In nearly every single benchmark I could throw at this card, it was able to either meet or exceed the power of the 2080 Ti. Even when it couldn’t beat the 2080 Ti, it was able to come within a half dozen frames. That said, let’s talk about next-gen performance.

Right now we only have Watchdogs: Legion to compare, but it does represent our first entry into the next generation of games. Sporting a great deal of RTX love, Legion’s performance is remarkably consistent across all three cards. Able to nearly hit the golden 4K/60 mark with every setting maxed, and easily exceeding it when using DLSS 2.0, the 3070 is capable of handling Legion fairly easily. Given that at the time of writing we are still without the upcoming driver release that should push title-specific improvements, as well as any day-1 patches that will likely hit, we should see these numbers improve. Even if they didn’t, it’s impressive to see what this card can deliver ahead of launch. It’ll be interesting to see how it handles games like Cyberpunk 2077 and other holiday 2020 and spring 2021 titles.

It’s important to note that many of the games on our current benchmark list are CPU-bound. The interchange between the CPU, memory, GPU, and storage medium create several bottlenecks that can interfere with your framerate. If your graphics card can ingest gigs of information every second, but your crummy mechanical hard drive struggles to hit 133 MB/s, you’ve got a problem. If you are using high-speed Gen3 or 4 m.2 SSD storage that drive can hit 3 or even 4 GB/s, but if your older processor isn’t capable of processing it, it’s not going to be able to fill your GPU either. Supposing you’ve got a shiny new 10th Gen Intel CPU, you may be surprised that it also may not be fast enough for what’s under the hood of this RTX 3070, and we see some of that phenomenon in the benchmarks above. NVIDIA is once again ahead of the power curve, and processors, memory, and even the PCI bus need to catch up before all this power gets fully utilized, much less taxed.

COOLING AND NOISE:

It’s one thing to deliver blisteringly fast frame rates and eye-popping resolutions, but if you do it while also blowing out my eardrums with a high pitched whine as your Harrier Jet-esque fans spin up to cool, we’ve got a problem. Thankfully NVIDIA realized this, as well as the need to cool a staggering 28 billion transistors (the 2080 Ti had 18.9 billion), and they redesigned the 30X0 series of cards to match. Like the 3080, the 3070 has a solid body construction with a new airflow system that displaces heat more efficiently, and somehow does it while being 10dB quieter than its predecessor. I’d normally point to that being a marketing claim, but I measured it myself.

Normal airflow through a case with a standard setup starts with air intake at the front, pushing it over the hard drives, and hopefully out the back. I can tell you that the case I picked up from Coolermaster was incorrectly assembled on arrival with the 200mm fan on top blowing air back into the case, so it’s always best to check the arrows on the side to make sure your case follows this path. The 2080 Ti’s design was that of a solid board that ran the length of the card with fans on the bottom pushing heat away. Unfortunately this requires that it circulates back into the path of the air flow, having to billow back up and then travel out the top and rear case fans.

The RTX 30X0 card’s airflow system is a thing of beauty. Since the card has been shrunk effectively in half thanks to the 8nm manufacturing process, this left a lot of real estate for a larger cooling block and fins, as well as a fan system to match. The fan on the top of the card (once it is mounted in the case) instead draws air up from the bottom, going through the hybrid vapor chamber heat pipe (as there no longer a long circuit board to obstruct the airflow), and pushes it directly into the path of the normal case air path. The second fan, located on the bottom of the card and closest to the mounting bracket at the back of the case, draws air in as well, but instead of passing it through the card, it pushes the excess heat out of the rear of the card through a dedicated heat pipe vent. While we are using the 3080 to illustrate, and the case of 3070 is slightly smaller, the concept operates precisely the same:

You can see the results while running benchmarks. The RTX 3070, just like the 3080, never pushed above 79 C, no matter how hard I pushed it or at what resolution I ran it. In fact, it stayed in the low to mid 70s nearly all the time, and at an amazing 35 C when idle. More than once I’ve peeked into my case and saw that the fans for the card aren’t even spinning — this is one amazing piece of engineering.

Impossible Value

As the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launch you are going to hear a non-stop barrage of advertisements around 4K gaming and how both platforms can deliver 120fps. What we’ve seen with the few hands-on moments we’ve had with the new consoles is that capability isn’t always matching reality. Dirt 5, ExoMecha, Gears 5, Halo Infinite (multiplayer), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Orphan of the Machine, Second Extinction, and Metal: Hellsinger are all purported to run at 120fps and at 4K resolution, but that’s a very short list. Upgrades to already-released titles may pad this out some, but there’s an underlying issue — HDMI 2.1, your TV, and your receiver. Much like the issue with processors, RAM, and motherboards, all of your components need to match to maximize what your GPU can produce. On a console all of that is self-contained and set in stone, but the problem remains. While both consoles provide support for HDMI 2.1, the newest standard which is capable of delivering up to 8K output, your TV and receiver also have to support these — and very few do. In reality, you likely have a 4K TV which supports 60Hz, if even that. This brings me to the GeForce RTX 30X0 series of cards.

NVIDIA’s newest series of cards need hardware to match. They support HDMI 2.1, 8K outputs, high refresh rate and high resolution monitors, and they do it while having RTX and DLSS enabled. Seeing DOOM Eternal in 8K is something to behold, but most of us are a long way away from realizing that at home. What we can do, however, is enjoy 4K gaming at 60+ (often WAY past 60) without compromise. Sure, the newest consoles will advertise 4K/60 or even 4K/120, but can they do it with all the sliders to the right? I sincerely doubt it.

For what it’s worth, seeing Wolfenstein Youngblood, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and F1 2020 meet or exceed the 144Hz refresh of my monitor on a $500 card is breathtaking. Seeing that same RTX 3070 handle Watch Dogs Legion with all of the bells and whistles cranked to the maximum hit 60fps at 4K, and with DLSS set to performance to keep it steady, is encouraging for the future. Upcoming titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Ghostrunner, Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, Bright Memory: Infinite, and Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 (eventually), on the immediate horizon, it’s easy to get excited about RTX at a value price. Seeing it kick the ass of its $1200 younger brother is just icing on the cake.

My complaint with the RTX 3080 carries over to the 3070, and I suspect will continue for other 30X0 series cards — the removal of the dedicated VR port. This USB-C port allowed me to easily connect my VR headsets without digging at the rear of my machine, and unfortunately it has been removed. Still, trading that port for VR framerates in the hundreds seems like a small price to pay.

PRICE TO PERFORMANCE:

There are no bones about it, cards like the Titan, the 2080 Ti, and the 3090 are expensive. They represent the approach of not worrying about whether they should and simply whether they could. I love that kind of crazy as it really pushes the envelope of technology and innovation. NVIDIA held an 81% market share for the GPU market last year, and they easily could have sat back and iterated on the 2080’s power and delivered a lower cost version with a few new bells and whistles attached. That’s not what they did. They owned the field and still came in with a brand new card that blew their own previous models out of the water. The GeForce RTX 3070 has more power than the 2080 Ti and it costs $500 versus the $1200+ you’ll fork out to get your hands on the previous generation’s king. Similarly, the RTX 3080 eclipses everything on the market, even their Titan RTX, and at $699 it does so in a fashion that beats it and takes its lunch money. We haven’t seen a generational leap like this, maybe ever. The fact that NVIDIA priced it the way they did makes me think they had a reason, and I don’t think that reason is AMD.

Sure, I’m certain the green team is worried about how the new generation of consoles could impact their market, but as someone who has worked in tech for a very long time, there can be another reason. When you go to a theme park there are signs that say “You must be this tall to ride this ride,” they are there for your safety. But safety is rarely fun or exciting. We’ve been supporting old technology like mechanical hard drives and outdated APIs for a very long time. Windows 10 came out five years ago, but there are still plenty of folks who want to use Windows 7. Not pushing the envelope stifles innovation, and it stops us from realizing the things we could achieve. By occasionally raising that “this tall” bar to introduce a new day and a new way, we send a message to consumers that it’s time to upgrade, and we send a strong signal to developers that they can push their own envelopes. That’s how we get games like Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s how we see lighting like we do in Watch Dogs: Legion. It’s what takes us from this, to this. There’s no better time to embrace the future than right now, and at a price to performance value that has seemed impossible, the RTX 3070 is a smart choice for gamers who want their play sessions to be as eye-popping as they are memorable.

90

Excellent

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Founder's Edition

Review Guidelines

With performance that exceeds that of the $1200 RTX 2080 Ti, the RTX 3070’s price of $500 seems insane. While 8GB seems a little light in the long run, the numbers don’t lie. As we approach the next generation of games, this card is ready and able to handle anything you can throw at it for the foreseeable future.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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