NVIDIA and AMD have launched their next-gen GPUs, and these promise to be some of the best graphics cards for gaming moving forwards. But there’s still space in the market for previous-gen GPUs like the RTX 3090.
This is why comparing the RTX 4090 vs 3090 is important: the 4090 is currently the best-performing consumer GPU on the market, but the 3090, while still expensive, is a lot cheaper and still offers stellar performance across all resolutions.
Deciding between the two comes down to whether the 4090 is worth the steep extra cost for this admittedly fantastic performance boost.
But which of these graphics cards you should pick also comes down to the 4090’s next-gen feature set, and whether this helps justify the increased cost.
- Best RTX 4090 Graphics Cards
- Best RTX 3090 Graphics Cards
- Best RTX 4090 Prebuilt Gaming PCs
- Best RTX 3090 Prebuilt Gaming PCs
- Best RTX 4090 Laptops
What is the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090?
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 is currently the fastest graphics card on the market. Launching in October 2022, it was the first 40-series GPU to be released by NVIDIA.
Manufactured on TSMC’s 4N process node, NVIDIA’s ‘Ada Lovelace’ RTX 4090 boasts not just flagship rasterization performance, but also a host of new technologies.
What is the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090?
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 was one of the fastest consumer graphics cards on the market, offering close to flagship performance until NVIDIA’s 40-series GPUs hit the market. It launched in September 2020, giving it two years in the near-flagship spotlight.
Manufactured on Samsung’s 8N process node, the ‘Ampere’ architecture RTX 3090 has enough raw power to churn out frames at any mainstream resolution, as well as a whole host of RT and Tensor cores for ray tracing and AI-aided upscaling.
3090 vs 4090: New Features
The RTX 4090 is faster than the RTX 3090, but its new Ada Lovelace architecture also offers some new features that aren’t present in 30-series GPUs like the 3090.
Shader-Execution Reordering (SER)
The RTX 4090 has a new feature called Shader Execution Reordering (SER) which improves GPU pipeline efficiency by reordering shader execution workloads when it’s most efficient to do so. This should improve ray tracing performance in supported games.
Developers must currently implement SER via a bespoke API, but NVIDIA hopes to implement the technology into DirextX 12 and other standard APIs soon for easier game implementation.
The 4090 features new Tensor Cores that are primarily used to upscale images using the latest version of Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), DLSS 3.0.
DLSS uses the GPU’s deep learning capabilities to render games at low resolutions and then upscale them to your native display resolution. It provides a significant frame rate boost with little noticeable visual quality loss.
By using DLSS 3.0, in supported games, the 4090 can use Deep Learning to generate frames between those that your GPU renders. DLSS 2.0, which the 3090 and other previous generation NVIDIA GPUs use, lacks this frame generation feature.
Dual AV1 Encoding
The NVIDIA RTX 4090 has another thing the RTX 3090 lacks: AV1 encoding support. While the RTX 3090 supports AV1 decoders, they lack the 4090’s AV1 hardware encoder, which allows for AV1 content creation.
With its two NVENC encoder chips, the 4090 supports H.264, H265, and AV1 formats. Thanks to this hardware, AV1 videos can be quickly encoded at full resolution.
Some software already supports AV1 for recording videos, but not for streaming. Sites like Twitch first need to add AV1 encoding support before you’ll be able to use the 4090 to stream using its AV1 encoding hardware.
3090 vs 4090: Price Comparison
NVIDIA’s RTX 3090 has an MSRP of $999, and the RTX 4090 has an MSRP of $1,599, making the next-gen GPU about 60% more expensive at recommended pricing.
Both these GPUs currently retail for a few-hundred more dollars than their MSRPs. We can often find the 4090 for $2,200-$2,700, while we can find the 3090 retailing for $1,300-$1,600. This makes the cheapest 4090 about 69% more expensive than the cheapest 3090.
The RTX 3090 and RTX 4090 are new or relatively new high-end graphics cards, which means you won’t be able to get similar performance from older GPUs.
If you want performance closer to the RTX 4090 than the RTX 3090, you could opt for an RTX 4080. However, the price-performance offering of this card is worse than that of the 4090. Alternatively, you could wait for AMD’s new GPUs to launch in December 2022 or wait to what new GPUs NVIDIA has in store in early 2023.
On the other hand, if you’re happy with performance similar to an RTX 3090, you could try AMD’s RX 6900 XT or RX 6950 XT. These GPUs perform about the same as a 3090 but have worse ray tracing performance and lack some NVIDIA-specific features, like DLSS.
Graphics Card Specs
|Clock speed (base/boost)
|2.23GHz / 2.52GHz
|1.4GHz / 1.7GHz
|Power connector (reference)
The RTX 4090 has better specs than the RTX 3090 in all respects.
It has about 50% more CUDA Cores, SMs, RT Cores, and Tensor Cores. It also has a higher base clock and boost clock than the 3090, and slightly faster memory.
Even if the 4090 had no architectural design optimisations—which it has—we would expect big performance gains jumping from the 3090 to the 4090. And we would expect this performance increase to show in rasterization, upscaling, and ray tracing.
We should also note that the RTX 3090 has very similar specs to the RTX 3090 Ti, which was the flagship GPU from NVIDIA’s 30-series. The major difference comes from the 3090 Ti’s higher boost clock and its memory configuration, which is the same as the 4090’s.
|RTX 3090 (FE)
|RTX 4090 (FE)
NVIDIA’s 3090 and 4090 are two very large graphics cards, with the 4090 being a little smaller despite its extra horsepower. These GPUs will struggle to fit in many PC cases, so you should check your case dimensions before making a purchase decision.
Apart from case size, you should also consider your power supply wattage before deciding to purchase one of these cards.
Also Read: The Best Power Supplies Right Now
RTX 3090 has a TDP of 350W and NVIDIA recommends a 750W PSU to run it, while the RTX 4090 has a TDP of 450W and NVIDIA recommends an 850W PSU to run it. This might swing things in the RTX 3090’s favour if you own a 750W PSU and don’t want to upgrade to host a new GPU.
There have been some issues with RTX 4090 power adapters melting. But these failures are reportedly only happening to only about 0.05% of 4090 cards.
Based on their specs, we can expect both the RTX 3090 and 4090 to perform exceptionally well across all resolutions, with the RTX 4090 nevertheless performing significantly better thanks to its better specs across the board.
For 1080p gaming, both the RTX 4090 and 3090 are probably overkill. Both GPUs should churn through more than enough frames for high refresh rates in pretty much any game at max settings at this resolution.
Even the most demanding titles like Cyberpunk 2077 should run at over 100fps on either card at max settings. And competitive shooters like Apex Legends should run well over 200fps with either card, with other titles like Overwatch having even higher framerates.
Benchmarks show that the 4090 performs about 33.3% faster than the 3090 at 1080p when it’s paired with a powerful enough CPU, but this probably doesn’t justify its 60-70% higher price tag given that both GPUs give such high frame rates at this resolution.
The RTX 4090 is a much better proposition for 1440p gaming than for 1080p gaming.
Also Read: Is 1440P Worth it for Gaming?
While both the 4090 and 3090 should net enough frames for high refresh rate gaming in most titles at this resolution, the 4090 will push past the 120fps and 144fps barrier in some games at max settings where the 3090 struggles to do so.
On average, benchmarks show that the RTX 4090 performs about 46% better than the RTX 3090 at 1440p. In the most graphically demanding games, this might mean the difference between a choppy 45fps and a smooth 85fps. In most moderately demanding titles, it might mean the difference between 120fps and 180fps.
If you’re only playing on a 60Hz monitor, the RTX 3090 might make more sense at this resolution because only extremely demanding titles will make a 3090 struggle to hit 60fps on max settings. But if you’re using a 120Hz or 144Hz gaming monitor, a not insignificant number of games will surpass these framerate thresholds on max settings with a 4090 where the 3090 will struggle.
The RTX 4090 comes into its own when gaming at 4K resolution.
Benchmarks show that the RTX 4090 performs about 60-70% better than the RTX 3090 at 4K resolution on average. Crucially, this is about the same as the difference in price between the two cards.
This isn’t to be sniffed at, given the 4090 is a flagship GPU, because we usually expect a flagship GPU to cost more than its performance benefit. (Whether this speaks more to the 4090’s performance or current GPU market prices is another question.)
The 3090 should get you over 60fps on max settings in all but the most demanding of games at 4K resolution, but the 4090 will have you covered in those few extra demanding titles. It will also have you hitting over 100fps in many more games, which makes it a much better buy for 120Hz 4K gaming.
Ray Tracing and Upscaling
While the RTX 3090 can certainly hold its own when ray tracing at any resolution, it doesn’t hold a candle to the RTX 4090. Thanks to its abundance of RT Cores and new SER technology, the 4090 nets about twice the number of ray traced frames as the 3090, on average.
Possibly the most impressive thing about the 4090 compared to the 3090, however, is its DLSS performance. By utilising DLSS 3.0’s frame generation, the 4090 can more than double its non-upscaled frame rates. This boost pushes the DLSS 3-enabled 4090 to a point where its frame rates are double the DLSS 2-enabled 3090’s frame rates—as we see in TechSpot’s Cyberpunk 2077 testing.
DLSS 3.0 might introduce a little more latency, but the frame rate increase often offsets this, and it shouldn’t be too noticeable in anything other than competitive shooters.
Both the 3090 and 4090 perform very well at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions.
For most gamers, both GPUs are overkill for 1080p gaming, and it therefore makes little sense to opt for the much more expensive RTX 4090 at this resolution.
At 1440p and 4K, however, these cards are perfect for a high-end gaming PC. If you’re okay dropping a couple of settings, the 3090 will get you high enough frame rates for high refresh rate gaming in almost any game at 1440p, and in most games at 4K. If you want to max out these games and still game at over 100fps in most titles at 4K, however, a 4090 is worth its extra cost.
This is especially true when we add DLSS 3 into the mix. DLSS 3’s frame generation boosts frame rates to obscene heights and makes 4K ray traced gaming a smooth experience—something that was hitherto a pipe dream. The performance improvement is unprecedented but very welcome.
More Performance Comparisons
- RTX 4070 vs RTX 4090
- RTX 4070 Ti vs RTX 4090
- RX 7900 XT vs RTX 4090
- RX 7900 XTX vs RTX 4090
- RTX 4090 vs RX 6900 XT
- RTX 4090 vs RTX 3090 Ti
4090 vs 3090 Verdict: How Much Faster is NVIDIA’s Next-Gen GPU?
NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 4090 is the fastest GPU on the market, so if you’re looking for the best performance possible, it’s the card for you.
That isn’t all it has going for it, though. Although it costs an arm and a leg, the fact is, pretty much every GPU costs a lot these days, and the 4090’s price-performance offering isn’t bad at all. For a 60-70% extra cost, you get a GPU that performs well over 60-70% faster than the 3090 at 4K, and not far off that at 1440p—even without accounting for DLSS.
On the other hand, this is only a bonus if you want to game at high refresh rates on more demanding games at max settings. If you don’t mind playing on high settings instead of max, or you aren’t playing demanding games to begin with, then the 3090 is great for high refresh rate gaming. And if you just want to play on max settings at over 60fps, it has you covered there, too.
But if longevity is your thing, the 4090’s inclusion of DLSS 3 might tip the scales in its favour. As more and more games implement DLSS 3, and as the technology’s quirks get ironed out, it will probably become the tech to beat, and the 3090 could look dull in comparison to the 4090 for this reason alone.