The Nvidia RTX 4090 is finally here, and with it comes one of the most powerful graphics cards ever created. But, is it worth the steep asking price?
The Nvidia RTX 4090 was born to be a fast GPU. It is currently the most powerful card in the current stack of 40-series graphics cards. With the rest of the 40-series GPUs still to land, the RTX 4090 offers an excellent insight into what we can expect from the entire Lovelace stack, including the RTX 4080 and 4070 when it comes to features.
|GPU||PNY GeForce RTX 4090 24GB XLR8 Gaming VERTO EPIC-X RGB|
|Clock speed||2235 MHz|
|Boost clock||2565 MHz|
|Memory bus width||384-bit|
|Size||13.06″ x 5.39″ x 2.8″ (3.5-slot)|
|Display outputs||3x DisplayPort 1.4a, 1x HDMI 2.1|
The PNY XLR8 Gaming Verto Epic X RTX 4090 is certainly a mouthful. However, compared to PNY’s 30-series GPUs, the new GPU shroud design is certainly a looker. Sporting a triple-fan setup, in addition to a plastic shroud, the GPU looks great. There are RGB lines going through it the center of the card, which can be customized, making for a good-looking card. One gripe we have with these shroud designs is that when you are dropping upwards of $1600 on a graphics card, you expect a slightly more mature-looking design.
While the plastic shroud is functional, it would have been nice to see more premium materials used. Nvidia is currently leading the pack in our opinion when it comes to the look of their Founders Edition cards, and we hope that more companies will follow suit in time.
Sandwiched between the shroud and PCB is the huge thermal solution, with dense fins and heat pipes running throughout the card. It results in a surprisingly thick GPU, but the fins help keep the card cool. On the side profile of the GPU, you’ll find an illuminated XLR8 logo, in addition to the brand-new 16-pin connector.
The connector is now fully fitted with a sensor that monitors the wattage used by the GPU. However, in order to take full advantage of that, you’ll need a brand-new ATX 3.0 PSU. If you don’t have an ATX 3.0 PSU, the card also comes with a 16-pin to 4x 8-pin PCIe power adaptor. This makes for a horrific cable management problem and doesn’t really look good in any respect. It’s well worth picking up a new PSU for the card if you’re looking to pick one up. Additionally, the new 16-pin connector also juts out of the graphics card by around two inches while using the adaptor. This could make for clearance issues in some PC cases.
Up at the top, we can see the metal backplate, which features a flow-through design for the PCB. If anything else, this RTX 4090 is a monster for its cooling capabilities alone. We only wished that the shroud itself contained slightly higher-quality materials.
The card is large, but not so large as to not fit in our Lian Li Lancool II mesh case. We also found that thanks to the strength of the backplate, there was minimal GPU sag, even though there’s an included support in the box.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 performance
The RTX 4090 is really no slouch when it comes to performance. Naturally, the cards exceed expectations in just about every way when it comes to raster performance. However, there are much keener developments on the AI and Ray-Tracing side of things, too. DLSS 3 introduces frame generation, a fancy new technology that seemingly generates frames out of thin air, which can improve framerates drastically. However. you’ll want to be running at a fairly high resolution in order to get the most out of it.
Speaking of which, the RTX 4090 is a GPU that you’ll want to use on the fringes of what’s really possible on current tech at the moment. That means high-refresh gaming at 4K, otherwise, you’ll be running into CPU bottlenecks no matter where you go. With not many high-refresh 4K monitors on the market, and even fewer 360Hz 1440p panels, it makes the RTX 4090 almost too powerful for its own good.
RTX 4090 4K gaming performance
The RTX 4090 is born to perform at 4K. In most modern titles, it manages to run just about everything that we threw at it without breaking a sweat. However, it should be noted that any 4K performance over 120Hz is automatically limited by the RTX 4090’s DisplayPort 1.4a standard.
Nvidia should have chosen a higher standard, in order to not bottleneck this card at high resolutions, with high framerates. It’s a very strange choice to essentially limit the number of frames you see onscreen. A good workaround for this is to use DSR (Dynamic Super Resolution) on a 1440p monitor. Then, you’ll still be able to render at 4K and enjoy the benefits of downsampling, while not bottlenecking the card. It’s a clunky workaround and we were disappointed that Nvidia seems to have not thought this one through.
- Forza Horizon 5 (Ultra): 153 FPS
- Cyberpunk 2077 (Ultra, RT Ultra, DLSS Performance, Frame-Generation on): 116 FPS
- Cyberpunk 2077 (Ultra, RT Ultra, DLSS Performance): 90 FPS
- CS:GO (High, Dust II): 416 FPS
As you can tell from the results of our testing, the RTX 4090 manages to shine at high framerates at 4K. However, the real story is in heavier titles like Cyberpunk 2077. Without DLSS 3’s frame generation, we attained 90 FPS at 4K, which is no small task. This is pushed even further when we kick DLSS 3’s frame-generation features on.
We suspect that DLSS 3 is making up for some of the performance left on the table as a result of CPU bottlenecking with its frame-generation features. This idea further bears fruit when testing at lower resolutions.
RTX 4090 1440p gaming performance
When using the RTX 4090 at 1440p, you begin to bump up against CPU bottlenecks. In our humble system, the RTX 4090 was simply too quick. Potentially, this is something that can be alleviated in CPU generations to come.
- Forza Horizon 5 (Ultra): 172 FPS
- Cyberpunk 2077 (Ultra, RT Ultra, DLSS Performance, Frame-Generation on): 127 FPS
- Cyberpunk 2077 (Ultra, RT Ultra, DLSS Performance): 112 FPS
- CS:GO (High, Dust II): 649 FPS
If you are looking for a high-refresh-rate 1440p panel for esports gaming, this might be your sweet spot, as you’ll need as many hertz as possible to throw at the RTX 4090, since it looks like the GPU eats frames for dinner. It’s quite remarkable, however at the same time, we know that these results could be better. We just need the technology to keep up with Nvidia’s antics.
RTX 4090 synthetic benchmarks
The RTX 4090 also performs immensely well in synthetic benchmarks. We tested the card in a variety of benchmarks, including Heaven, Port Royal, Time Spy, Time Spy Extreme, and Speed Way.
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark: 6512 (262 FPS)
- Speed Way (3DMark): 10310
- Port Royal (3DMark): 22598
- Time Spy Extreme Graphics Score (3DMark): 18578
- Time Spy Graphics Score (3DMark): 23312
Needless to say, the RTX 4090 in our system managed to blow past pretty much every other graphics card by a pretty significant margin. While we do not have a 3090 Ti to hand, you can be safe to understand that there’s an extremely wide gap that the RTX 4090 creates here. There is indeed a smaller gap between the RTX 4090 and other GPUs, but the performance increases are there for all to see.
The RTX 4090 is almost too quick for its own good
The uplift in rasterization performance, in addition to new technologies, makes the RTX 4090 an undoubtedly attractive proposition for high-end users. This includes content creators who may want to make use of AV1 encoding, something introduced by Nvidia in this generation of GPUs. The $1600+ MSRP of the card might put some users off. However, for those that need it most, the RTX 4090 delivers in droves and is a fantastic upgrade from the RTX 3090, and the RTX 3090 Ti, which only launched earlier this year.
However, limitations on its DisplayPort 1.4 spec are disappointing, as the GPU can easily push past the limitations of that particular standard.
PNY XLR8 Verto Epic-X GeForce RTX 4090 thermal performance
In all of our observed stress testing, the RTX 4090 we tested, PNY’s XLR8 Verto Epic-X was more than up to the task of cooling this GPU, which tops out at a total of 450W TDP.
In sustained 100% workloads, the RTX 4090 boosted to around 2745 MHz, faster than its rated clock speed. However, the GPU managed to stay cool at 55 degrees celsius all the while.
We barely saw the GPU move past 55 degrees, even with our case fans off and tempered glass panel on. The 3.5-slot RTX 4090 from PNY just doesn’t even approach getting hotter and is therefore able to reach higher clock speeds.
The thermal solution is excellent, but we can’t help but feel as if it’s just a little bit too good. Just what were AIB partners like PNY preparing for? Could the RTX 4090 originally have been intended as a dual-bios GPU with two different power targets? We can only speculate as to why the cooler has been overdesigned in such a manner.
This is not a bad thing for those wanting to pick up an RTX 4090, just be aware of the sheer size of the GPU before you buy.
Fan noise? What fan noise?
While the GPU is kept cool, the fans are also incredibly quiet, there is a small err of coil whine from the card when it’s running heavier loads, or while in-game. However, this is very minimal, and we would not consider it an issue of any kind.
Running at 100% the fans can get loud, but they don’t spin up to that degree under even the heaviest workloads. In normal operation and during gaming workloads, the RTX 4090 is whisper-quiet.
PNY XLR8 Verto Epic-X GeForce RTX 4090 power consumption
The RTX 4090 is rated at a staggering 450W TDP. This is a huge number and requires anyone that wants to purchase this particular GPU to equip themselves with an 850W power supply at a minimum. Since the PSU also requires either 4x 8-pin PCIe connectors, you need to ensure that your power supply comes with enough cables plugged into the PSU to function. We attempted to do this using our Cooler Master MWE GOLD V2 unit and didn’t get the PC to post at all.
However, when we replaced the unit with a 1300W EVGA PSU, it booted just fine. We suspect that our previous power supply didn’t really cut the mustard to run a GPU of this caliber, but a higher-quality 850W unit should work just fine.
Under 100% load in 3DMark’s Speed Way benchmark, we saw the GPU drink up to 439 Watts of power, observed in HWinfo. This is close to its rated 450W limitations. In Cyberpunk 2077, we saw power usage jump to 327 Watts, presumably the card has more performance left on the table that it’s not using.
Cutting the RTX 4090’s power target
Using EVGA Precision X1, you can cut the power target of the RTX 4090 significantly for a minimal performance loss. We cut the power of the RTX 4090 to 60% of its power target and only lost 16% of our total score in 3DMark’s Speed Way benchmark.
There’s clearly more efficiency that can be had out of the RTX 4090, and for those concerned about running such a powerful GPU every day, you might want to look into it. You cannot undervolt the RTX 4090 right now, so cutting its power target might be your best bet for power-conscious users.
There’s clearly a performance-per-watt integer you can hit for this GPU, and it’s clear that you get diminishing returns nearer to 100% of its power target. Could the RTX 4090 have been a 350W card or less? Like speculation about dual-bios, we can only wonder.
Should you buy it?
Let’s get this straight. The RTX 4090 is not a GPU for most people. If you want to play AAA games with pretty settings, you might want to wait for another GPU in the lineup. However, if you want the fastest framerates, at the highest possible resolutions for esports gaming, or if you are just planning for the future, the RTX 4090 is an astonishing graphics card.
Compared to the previous generation, the RTX 4090 manages to scream ahead of the previous GPUs in this price tier, making us feel that while the card is expensive, it manages to justify the cost in pure performance.
PNY’s excellent cooler manages to keep things cool, even when testing the card with heavier loads. For the RTX 4090 in particular, it feels like a GPU that we rarely see, a Halo card with oodles of features, that turn previous-generation GPUs into dust.
The only part where the RTX 4090 falters is in its DisplayPort 1.4a configuration. The card is capable of more than that, we hope there will be a revision that includes an updated standard. The cooler, while managing to do its job, does feel slightly overdesigned. The same can be said of the GPU itself when testing how well the card works when cutting power targets.
Could Nvidia have been planning more for the RTX 4090? Regardless, PNY’s offering to the smorgasbord of AIB GPUs is a delight, it looks good and performs exceedingly well.
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