Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 3000-series is seriously impressive. If the GeForce RTX 2000-series brought dedicated ray-tracing hardware and smart graphics rendering techniques to PC gaming, then the RTX 3000-series supercharged it.
This has seen a lot of PC fans declare that the PC is once again the gaming machine of choice, and dunk upon the PS5 and Xbox Series X. In terms of raw performance that’s true; the 12 teraflops of the Xbox Series X isn't going to challenge the 36 shader teraflops of the GeForce RTX 3090. But in other terms, the next-generation consoles are far from redundant. Allow me to explain why.
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The $699 GeForce RTX 3080 is offering 4K, 60 frames per second gaming and dramatically improved ray-tracing prfmance over the $999 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. And the $499 GeForce RTX 3070 also promises to trounce the RTX 2080 Ti, meaning it’s shaping up to be one of the best value graphics cards of 2020.
If you’re a PC gaming fan, then you might think it’s worth opting for the RTX 3070 or RTX 3080 over spending some $500 on a PS5 or Xbox Series X and be limited machines that can’t tap into the vast range of games, old and new, that a gaming PC can.
As someone who has a gaming PC, I’d agree with that in essence. But in practice there's some nuance here. And a compelling argument to be had that even if you love PC gaming, you shouldn’t dismiss the next-generation consoles.
Let’s start with the basics. If you’re good at assembling IKEA furniture or building Lego, then upgrading your PC is easy on a practical basis. However, a lot of PC tech has evolved over the past few years. While you could stick a GeForce RTX 3080 or RTX 3070 into your PC, if it’s not partnered the latest and most efficient Intel or AMD processors as well as speedy RAM and SSDs, you could effectively hold back the performance of your shiny new graphics card.
My gaming machine has a Ryzen 7 1800X, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a Radeon RX 590, all sitting in a motherboard that’s a few years old and has a very fiddly name. It’s a solid gaming machine able to run most games with settings maxed out at 1080p. But if I was to pop an RTX 3070 into it, the GPU would be held back by the first-generation Ryzen CPU, despite the processor sporting eight cores.
So for me to get the most out of all the tech Nvidia has put into its RTX 3000-series, I’d need a new processor, a new motherboard, and likely new RAM. And while I’m there I might as well upgrade the power supply unit.
All that costs money, turning a $499 GPU into a $800 PC upgrade. Suddenly that $500 PS5 with ray-tracing support and 4K at 60fps performance seems like a bargain, even if it means games might not look quite as good.
OK, let’s say you do have a PC with the latest processor, RAM, SSDs, and motherboard: a new GeForce RTX 3080 might seem like a tantalizing upgrade over say an RTX 2080 or GTX 1080. But then you have to consider if you have a display that will take advantage of the power of an RTX 3000-series.
Does your monitor have a 1440p or 4K resolution, and does it support high refresh rates, such as 144Hz? If not then all that new Nvidia power is potentially going to waste.
I have a 1080p 60Hz display plugged into my gaming PC. It’s a perfectly serviceable screen, but a GeForce RTX 3070 would be overkill for it, even with my PC bottlenecking the GPU. Yes I’d get access to ray-tracing but it wouldn't really be enough to justify getting a new graphics card over buying an Xbox Series X — which also promises ray-tracing support — and just plugging it into my monitor.
Before any PC enthusiasts zip to the comments to lambast me, yes I know there are some of you with the right PC setup that are just aching for a GeForce RTX 3000-series card. Heck, I imagine there's a few of you even eyeing up building a monstrously expensive gaming PC with the $1,499 GeForce RTX 3090 at its heart. And more power to you, just don't forget to get an 8K monitor... if you can find one.
One thing I would highlight though, is a lot of games are multi-platform titles, developed to cater for the lower common denominator. In the case of the next-generation games consoles, that means the PS5 with its 10.28 teraflops of GPU power.
As such, it may be a while before you get any PC games that will take advantage of the graphical grunt of even a GeForce RTX 3070; it’ll likely be years before an RTX 3090 is pushed to its limits. You'll get better frame rates and crisper textures, but I’m not sure you’ll see a massive jump in visual fidelity when comparing a game running at 4K on a PS5 and the same resolution on a PC.
After all, thanks to various software and hardware optimizations, it’s often the case that a powerful gaming PC is needed to match the performance of a games console, even though on paper the PC’s specs all but embarrass the console’s hardware.
I just want to play away
Before I go on, I don’t want to cheapen what Nvidia has achieved with the GeForce RTX 3000-series; it’s done a stellar job. It’s got three powerful GPUs to cater for people who want a strong or high-end gaming PC, as well as those who want a machine that will make mincemeat of games for years to come.
But Nvidia hasn’t given us a compelling reason not to buy a next-gen games console. I have been gaming on PCs for years, but the new consoles are still hugely compelling, especially the PS5 with its batch of exclusive games.
With the next-gen consoles, we're looking at plug-and-play gaming boxes that will actually be able to take advantage of 4K TV, as well as throw a huge amount of other tech into the mix — custom SSDs, 3D audio, the DualSense controller. And while I like digging around in my PC, there’s a lot to be said for beaching myself on my sofa and playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection on an Xbox One X, even if my PC offers better frame rates and mouse-based aiming precision.
Convenience is king in a lot of things, especially for people short on time. And that’s why even in the face of Nvidia’s new GeForce graphics cards the PS5 and Xbox Series X cannot be dismissed, despite the cries of PC fans.