It’s not often that the stars align on the Nvidia 3000 series product launch. This one arrived in peculiar circumstances; with a crowded conference hall being out of the question, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang found himself instead, delivering a keynote speech from his kitchen, where he unveiled three new cards: the 3070, the 3080, and the 3090, all of which are based on the new Ampere architecture.
1. This is going to be a big deal
— Digital Foundry (@digitalfoundry) September 1, 2020
The leap from Maxwell to Pascal in 2016 was significant. Older gamers may remember the Tesla microarchitecture a decade before that. But this one promises to be a leap that might truly be considered generational. There are double the amount of RT and tensor cores, which, according to Nvidia, will produce twice the performance of the 20 series. Digital Foundry’s Rich Leadbetter has been at the new 3080 card, and reports an across-the-board improvement of around 80% over the 2080. While there’s always a reason to maintain a healthy scepticism when it comes to new hardware, it’s not every launch that creates this much of a stir.
2. Nvidia is worried about the new consoles
The timing of this launch, which arrives shortly before the winter launch of Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, clearly signals Nvidia’s opinion of the marketplace. The pressure usually applied by AMD is coming instead from what might be an unexpected source. Many PC gamers who might otherwise have picked up a new console this Christmas might instead be thinking of treating themselves to a new graphics card.
3. Bottlenecks are getting dealt with
Storage has got faster over recent years. First, we had SATA storage, which offered a huge speed boost over traditional mechanical drives. Then we had NVMe, which did the same thing. And what if this data is compressed? The CPU needs to do a great deal of work to maintain the pace. ‘The CPU is now the bottleneck,’ declares Huang. The solution comes in the form of Nvidia RTX IO, via which the GPU will stream information directly from storage without the involvement of the CPU or system memory.
4. Ray tracing is going mainstream…
Throughout the event, Huang kept emphasising that his company had come up against a hard limit where rasterization is concerned. If games are going to get prettier, they need to be simulating bounced light in real-time – and to prove the point, they’re rolling out support for RTX and DLSS (more on that in a second) for Fortnite.
5.…and so is DLSS
Deep-learning super-sampling is having an enormous impact on the way games are rendered. If something is sluggish at 4K, why not just render it at 1440p and use a deep-learning AI to upscale it? In some cases, especially around text items, the results can actually look even better than the native rendering, at more than twice the frame rate. What is this witchcraft!?
6. Deep learning is the future
While super-sampling might be the most immediately effective form of deep learning for gamers, it’s just one way in which AI might be changing things. We were shown cloth being simulated, lips being automatically synced to speech, and, perhaps most excitingly, noise being intelligently removed, meaning that fewer rays need to be cast to achieve convincing results. Anyone working in arch-viz is sure to be familiar with this sort of thing; its effect on gaming is sure to be gobsmacking.
7. Streaming is about to get easier
Nvidia is quite keen to cater to the sizeable minority of gamers who’d like to share their exploits with the wider world. Right now, doing so requires investing in some fairly fancy hardware – not least of which is a green screen. We’re about to receive some special tools that’ll allow us to dispense with that stuff. AI-driven denoising, virtual backgrounds and head-tracking combine, allowing for professional-looking results in mere seconds.
8. Our reflexes are about to improve
‘FPS is a PC’s measure of throughput, not its responsiveness’ – or so says Seth Schneider, the company’s man in charge of e-sports products. Latency is a fact of life for gamers. Click a mouse button and all manner of processes need to occur before the shot is fired. Nvidia’s ‘Reflex’ technology is about to help gamers measure latency more accurately, and deal with it too. While this will mostly be of interest to gamers who have massive cash prizes resting on a few milliseconds, it’s sure to help out the rest of us, too.
9. High-end cards are big business
When Nvidia launched the super-enthusiast ‘Titan’ series, it vastly underestimated demand. It seems that there are large numbers of high-end gamers out there who are willing to sink more than £1,000 into a graphics card. Moreover, there are professional applications for these cards that weren’t anticipated. Rather than being a freakish curiosity, cards like this are actually quite useful – and worth the money. As such, from now on the high-end cards will have normal-sounding names ‘3090’, rather than being called the ‘Titan’. It’ll have 24GB of video ram, allowing us to game at 8K, which now seems ludicrous in the best possible sense.
10. Jensen Huang’s kitchen is quite nice, actually…
We’ve got used to peering into other people’s homes over the course of the lockdown. And rarely has such a serious announcement been made in front of such an ornate cooker. So intriguing was Mr Huang’s collection of multicoloured spatulas that we failed to clock the next-gen graphics card hiding behind it. Now that the 30 series is out in the open, we suspect it will be rather more difficult to overlook.
You can expect the 3080 and 3090 to turn up in the Cyberpower store later this month. The former is slated for a September 17th launch, while the latter will land a week later, on the 24th. As for the 3070, you’ll have to wait until October – which should give you plenty of time to put together a new machine for Cyberpunk 2077.